About Master Sommeliers

Having achieved one of the most challenging and esteemed accomplishments of the wine industry, Master Sommeliers are considered experts of beverage theory, blind tasting, and wine service.
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As one of the most highly coveted and sought-after accomplishments in the hospitality industry, the Master Sommelier title signifies a tremendous amount of wine knowledge and an unparalleled sense of discipline and dedication. Many people refer to the Master Sommelier Exam as the hardest exam in the world, and passing is often regarded as an achievement of a lifetime.

Origin Story

The history of the Master Sommelier title can be traced back to the mid-20th century when the concept of professional wine service and expertise in Europe began to gain recognition and importance.

Master Sommelier Diploma close up shot
A vineyard at sunset with fallen leaves on the ground.

History

Before the mid-20th century, wine service in the United States and many other countries was an aspect of formal service in European-style fine dining restaurants, but there were few recognized standards or certifications for sommeliers. Wine expertise was held by individuals with a natural passion for wine.

The Master Sommelier title and the Court of Master Sommeliers Organization

These concepts were introduced in 1969 when the first-ever Master Sommelier examination was held in London. The exam was proctored by the Institute of Masters of Wine and other esteemed members of the trade. The Court of Master Sommeliers was subsequently established in 1977 to formalize and standardize the training and certification of sommeliers, to improve the quality of wine service in the restaurant industry.

In 1987…

The first Master Sommelier examination outside of the United Kingdom took place in Monterey, California. This marked the beginning of the Court of Master Sommeliers’ expansion into the United States, significantly elevating the level of wine service and knowledge.

Vineyard harvest
A tunnel filled with wine barrels.

Today…

Master Sommeliers remain prominent figures in the world of wine and hospitality, contributing to all aspects of wine service and education. Their influence extends beyond the dining room, making them significant contributors to the broader wine community and society as a whole.

How many Master Sommeliers are there today?

There are 273 professionals around the world that hold the title of Master Sommelier. Of these 273:

170

have earned their title as part of
the Americas chapter.

In the Americas chapter,

there are 145 men and 25 women

As of today, there are Master Sommeliers from the UK, USA, Germany, France, South America, Austria, China, Poland, Bulgaria, Japan, Turkey, Greece, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

 

How do I become
a Master Sommelier?

The road to becoming a Master Sommelier is demanding, requiring years of dedicated study, practical experience, and an unwavering passion for wine. Candidates must demonstrate the highest level of proficiency and knowledge in the three core disciplines of the exam: theory, tasting, and practical. Before attempting the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination, candidates must first go through the three mandatory prerequisite levels of certification, as described below.

The Master Sommelier Diploma examination

There are three components to the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination: Theory, Hospitality & Service, and Tasting. They are designed to thoroughly evaluate a candidate’s theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and sensory evaluations.

stock photo of a wine glass with a book on the background

Theory

This is a one-hour verbal examination to test a candidate’s knowledge of wine regions, grape varieties, winemaking techniques, wine history, service procedures and more. This portion is not limited to only wine-related questions; candidates are expected to answer questions on other beverage-related topics such as beer, sake, spirits, and cocktails.

Hospitality & Service

During this portion, candidates are evaluated on their wine service skills. They are typically presented with a restaurant-like scenario and must demonstrate their proficiency in wine service, including wine presentation, decanting, glassware selection, wine pairing recommendations, business calculations, and wine salesmanship.

A table set with wine glasses and plates for a meal.
A couple writing on paper, holding wine glasses.

Tasting

The deductive tasting consists of 6 wines tasted blind within 25 minutes of time. This portion consists of 3 red wines and 3 white wines, and the candidates must provide detailed tasting notes and analysis. This portion is done verbally in front of a panel of Master Sommeliers. The candidate is expected to assess each wine’s characteristics, identify the grape variety or blend, the region, the vintage, among other details without any prior knowledge of the wines.

How long does it take to become a Master Sommelier?

Becoming a Master Sommelier is a long and rigorous journey that typically takes several years of dedicated effort, extensive study, and practical experience in the wine and hospitality industry. On average, it can take 5 to 10 years, or even longer.

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