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Orange Coast Winery

Douglas Wiens
February 14, 2018 | Douglas Wiens

What to Expect if You’re Told the Master Sommelier will Help You with Your Wine Selection

What to Expect if You’re Told the Master Sommelier will Help You with Your Wine Selection on orangecoastwinery.comFeel honored if one offers to help you select your wine – as there are only a couple hundred of them worldwide.

You were already impressed by the restaurant, but now it just skyrocketed. You’ve just been told that a Master Sommelier will assist you with your wine selection.

You’ve heard the term. You know it means this person knows a lot about wine – a whole lot. But other than that, you’re not quite sure what this person can or should do when they show up at the table. Here’s what you should know.

Master Sommeliers are incredibly rare

The first thing you should know is that you’ll be talking wine with someone who has a designation that has been bestowed on only a couple hundred people worldwide. A Master Sommelier is someone who has earned a diploma by successfully passing a 3-part test given by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

It sounds like an organization that’s been around awhile, but it hasn’t. The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977, though the first exam was given in 1969. Yes, for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the name, this is actually an organization supported by the British Hotels & Restaurants Association, the Wine & Sprit Association of Great Britain, and the Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association.

Which is why the Master Sommelier about to arrive at your table also will be highly knowledgeable about beer and cigars.

What it takes to be a Master Sommelier

In order to earn this rare and exclusive degree, one must pass all 3 sections of a difficult exam:

  1. The first is a verbal exam on restaurant services and salesmanship. This is where the prospective Master Sommelier will be asked to show knowledge and understanding about pairing wines with foods, and also demonstrate their knowledge of all types of liqueurs which are available.
  2. The second section tests theoretical knowledge, including knowledge of international wine laws and demonstrating how to decant or store wines.
  3. The third is the part that gets all the attention. Each participant must, within 25 minutes, satisfy the examiners with his or her ability to accurately identify 6 different wines in a blind taste. They must identify the grape varieties used in the wine, as well as its country of origin down to the district and the wine’s vintage.

The test is so difficult that most candidates must take it anywhere from 2 to 6 times before passing all 3 parts.

4 steps to mastership

The Court of Master Sommeliers has 4 levels of certification.

  1. Level I Introductory: This can be taken by anyone who has general knowledge and experience in the restaurant industry. You’ll take 2 days of classes and then must pass a multiple-choice exam.
  2. Level II Certified Sommelier was first offered in 2005 to bridge the gap between the introductory and advanced levels. It focuses more on service and has a 3-part test that includes blind tasting 4 wines.
  3. Level II Advanced Sommelier certification can only be awarded if you’ve passed the Level II exams and you take the Advance Sommelier course offered twice yearly. You must pass with a 60% or better grade in each of three exams—and all 3 exams must be passed together.
  4. Level IV Master Sommelier certification requires you to have worked in the industry for at least 10 years, above and beyond passing the 3-part test. You don’t have to pass all 3 parts together, but you have just 3 years to pass all portions.

Don’t be misled

There are actually 2 coveted credentials for those who seek to be an acknowledged wine expert. The first is the Master Sommelier (MS), and then there is the Masters of Wine (MW).

This second credential is awarded by the Institute of Masters of Wine. It’s just as exacting in terms of the knowledge that must be amassed. The biggest difference is that someone who holds a MW credential will know more about the entire wine industry, from growers to the general consumer.

The test is similar to the one given to a Master Sommelier. There’s a theory exam, as well as a blind tasting. The final part is more scholarly, though. Each candidate must write a research paper about a wine-related topic. It has to be between 6,000 and 10,000 words in length.

Which credential would be preferable in helping you choose your wine for the evening? Both are recognized as the highest credential awarded in the world of wine. So, individuals with either of these credentials would be extremely knowledgeable about the wines available.

A Master Sommelier, however, has taken an exam that certifies excellence in the hotel and restaurant beverage service. In other words, they may be more pleasant to talk to.


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