What It Takes To Be A Master Sommelier

Master SommelierGone are the days when Sommeliers or Somms, as they are now more popularly called, merely opened bottles and poured copious amounts of wine into client’s glasses. All over the world, there is a growing amount of respect and recognition for this profession. And rightly so. In 2012, the world was given a glimpse of what it was like for Sommeliers to earn the right to be called Master Sommelier (MS) thru the documentary Somm. The exam is so tough and the preparation for it so rigorous that some have referred to the MS exam as the toughest exam in the world (forbes.com).
So what does it take to become one of the world’s Master Sommeliers? The title belongs to ONLY over 200 people worldwide and is most definitely no easy feat.  Yes, there is the test to prepare for but you don’t just sit the exam and expect to pass. There are several levels you must go thru before you become eligible to be invited by the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) to take the Master Sommelier exam.

Level 1
The first step to hurdle is the Introductory Sommelier Course. This beginner level will teach you proper wine service, blind tasting and a general overview of the various wine-growing regions in the world. It will also introduce you to other alcoholic beverages and spirits. This 2-day course culminates in a written, multiple choice exam. Successful candidates will have to score a minimum of 60 percent.

Level 2
After earning a passing grade in the Introductory Sommelier Course, it is now time to delve a little deeper with a 1-day examination to earn the right to be a “Certified Sommelier.”
Since this is a level higher, one must come professionally dressed in business attire for wine service during the exam. You should also have all the necessary equipment for serving wine at this time. This means, you need to have a corkscrew, an ice bucket, the appropriate types of wine glasses and a tastevin (a silver cup that somms wear around their necks). Unlike the first test, this is a 3-part exam that fully covers all aspects of your wine knowledge. There will be a blind tasting of two wines. After this, a written exam worth 40 points will fully test your wine, beer, spirits and service know-how. Finally, there will be the service component wherein a sommelier’s skill in Standard Wine Service, Champagne Service and Decanting Service will be put to the test.  It is also at this point that one’s ability to make wine and food pairings, suggestions on aperitifs and digestives as well as knowing the proper serving temperature and having the ability to talk to clients about wines will be graded.

Level 3
Now this is where it starts to get really intense. The Advanced Sommelier Course consists of 3 days of intensive wine tastings and lectures given by Master Sommeliers.
The actual test is completed over another 3-day period and puts a huge emphasis on a person’s salesmanship and ability to serve wine in a restaurant setting.
The 3-part examination is divided into:

  1. Practical beverage service in a dining room set-up

  2. Written theory exam

  3. Blind tasting of SIX wines!

This level is where it starts to get tricky. According to the CMS website, approximately 30% of applicants pass this exam. So what happens to the rest, you ask? Well, they may reapply to sit the exam ONCE every calendar year until they achieve a “pass.”

Level 4
What It TakesA year after one has (hopefully) successfully gone thru the Advanced Sommelier Course, it is time to go BIG and try one’s hand at the Master Sommelier exam.
The format is very similar to the Advanced Sommelier Course BUT the minimum passing grade is 75% not 60%.
So what do the exams look like?
The first part deals with the more practical aspects of being an MS such as service and salesmanship. This includes discussing, recommending, and serving the different aperitifs, digestives and wines to go with the restaurant menu.
Part two is all about theory. At this point in the Sommelier’s career, he or she is expected to have a thorough knowledge of the wine grape varieties, winemaking regions of the world, wine laws, vinification, spirits and liquors, etc.
Part three is the practical tasting component. In 25 minutes, an MS candidate should be able to clearly and accurately make a verbal description of 6 wines including grape varieties, country of origin, district, appellation as well as vintage.

To know more about the CMS examinations, head on over to https://www.mastersommeliers.org/default.aspx