THE HOLY GRAIL OF SOMMELIERS
Almost every profession has developed an elite of highly qualified specialists. In the sommelier craft arguably the highest level of qualification is the Master Sommelier title.
The first Master Sommelier exam took place in the UK in 1969 and by 1977 The Court of Master Sommeliers has been established. Their main goal was to improve wine and beverage service standards in hospitality. CMS is considered to be the most prestigious organization training wine professionals. CMS is a small organization, based in the UK but it operates globally. Most of the courses take place in Europe (UK, Austria, Germany, Greece and other countries) but CMS is also present in the Americas, Asia and Australia. All the courses are run in English. The courses are recommended for people working on the restaurant floor as the big part of the exam is based on the practical part of the wine service. The courses are focused on providing a proper revision rather than teaching from scratch. All the candidates are advised to spend a considerable amount of time on revision prior the examination. CMS provide courses at four levels and one has to pass the first level in order to be able to attend the second and so on up to the Master Sommelier exam.
The Court of Master Sommeliers offers the following 4 courses:
1. INTRODUCTORY – 3 days, the exam checks basic wine knowledge, service skills and table manner. In order to pass candidates also need to represent a good understanding of food and wine pairing and should be able to recommend spirits and cocktails. Cost around £600.
2. CERTIFIED SOMMELIER – exam only, a one day examination requiring from candidates a much more in depth wine knowledge and more advanced service skills. Blind tasting of 2 wines and champagne service are also part of the exam. Cost around £200.
3. ADVANCED SOMMELIER – 5 days, this very intense course encompasses 3 exams. A very difficult theory test, blind tasting of 6 wines and a difficult practical exam. This test is a good worm up before the MS exam and not many sommeliers pass it. Cost around £600.
4. MASTER SOMMELIER – Since the first exam took place in 1969 only 230 individuals have managed to pass it. It is a set of tests and practical exams that lasts 3 days. The theory exam is oral and it covers just about everything related to wine including wine regions, subregions, grape varieties, appellations, winemaking technics, viticulture, producers etc. Candidates are asked more or less 100 very difficult questions and they do not get much time to answer which adds on to the pressure. The blind tasting of 6 wines has to be completed in 25 minutes which gives 4 minutes 10 seconds per wine. Candidates are expected to describe the wines orally and to identify grape variety/varieties, country of origin, region, appellation and vintage. Blind tasting is probably the hardest and the most unpredictable part of the exam. Practical test lasts less then an hour and it is a set of service scenarios where the candidates have to physically serve customers in this case Master Sommeliers who are marking them and answer many difficult questions on the spot. Practical exam usually includes – decanting, service of champagne, wine and food pairing, business scenarios, blind tasting of spirits, snappy scenarios and many more tasks. If a candidate passes one of the parts has to complete the other two parts within the next two attempts but if he or she fails to do so has to start blind tasting, practical and theory all over again from scratch. A candidate can take the exam only one time a year. The pass rate for the exam is something between 5-8% which means that a candidate has 95% chances of failing it! I know from my own experience that preparations for the MS exam last months. The revision takes up all your free time and consume considerable amount of money spent on wines for blind tasting and traveling. The exam itself cost around £600. I recommend to watch a documentary film called “Somm” where the filmmakers follow a group of MS candidates. The film captured very well the emotional roller-coaster that candidates go through few weeks before and on the day of the exam.
Adam Pawlowski MS