A Basic Guide To Sommelier Certifications

Posted by: Ellis McDermott DVM at 03/12/2021 4,500 views

In fine dining, the sommelier is the go-to person for recommendations for the best wine in the house. These ‘wine stewards,’ as they’re also known, work their extensive knowledge to pick the bottle that fits the customer’s preferences. They’re also responsible for keeping a restaurant or bar’s stock of wines in perfect condition.

Anyone can become a sommelier, but it entails quite the effort. An aspirant will need to enter the restaurant industry somehow, develop a wine-tasting palate, and read up on anything wine. Once ready, the next step is sommelier certification, which won’t be easy. 

The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), which is the premier institution for sommeliers worldwide, has four levels of certification. Anyone seeking to achieve the highest level must complete the levels in order. 

coupons up to 9Here’s a closer look into each level and what one needs to get sommelier certification:

Introductory Sommelier

The journey to becoming a great sommelier starts here: the introductory sommelier course. It’s also known as Level One Certification or Award in Wines, consisting of a two-day lecture and the exam on the third day. (1)

This level covers the basics of winemaking––from vineyard best practices to wine production––and wine pairing and tasting. While it may seem like a crash course on wines, the winemaking lesson prepares students for the technical aspects of wine pairing and tasting. As such, the CMS advises having above-average know-how in wines before pursuing this certification. (1)

Some of the skills the introductory sommelier course’s graduates will develop include:

  • Explain factors that determine wine quality

  • Discern traits that go in wines of wine-producing countries

  • Become aware of other alcoholic beverages

  • Know basic wine selling and pairing principles (1)

In the case of other sommelier institutions, they split this level into two. The first level focuses on developing basic wine knowledge, with the second level on blind tasting. The industry may classify this as Level Two Certification, Foundation Certificate, or Award in Wines and Spirits.

Certified Sommelier

If planning to work as a sommelier in the industry, entry-level certification won’t cut it in most cases. The hospitality industry settles for the next tier: the certified sommelier certification. It’s also known as Level Three Certification. 

Unlike the previous tier, this level only consists of a three-part exam and no lecture session. The exam consists of a 40-item multiple-choice and short-answer paper test, blind taste testing, and a practical service test. (2)

The lack of a lecture means takers will have to do some self-study, focusing on topics like wine regions and wine laws. Fortunately, the CMS allows taking the certified sommelier certification test within three years of passing introductory certification. Experts recommend taking this time to further wine knowledge and industry experience. (2)

One good source of such knowledge can be this video. This example talks about wine components, which is also a core aspect of the certified sommelier program. Attending a law school that offers wine law courses also helps.

Advanced Sommelier

Also known as Level Four Certification, the advanced sommelier certification is designed for those with extensive experience. The program is five days long, equally divided between the lecture session and the exam itself. (3)

The test in this level is similar to the previous one but has more items to answer on the paper test and a shorter timeframe on blind tasting and practical service. It’s also the only level to host the Riedel Trophy, an award given to the highest-scoring prospect for the year. (3)

Among the skills advanced sommeliers can do include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Recommending various alcoholic beverages 

  • Proper selection and orientation of glassware

  • Pairing wines with specific dishes

  • Training beverage servers

  • In-depth analysis of classic wines (3)

Master Sommelier

As the highest of the four levels, the Master Sommelier certification (also known as Master of Wines or Master Certification) creates sommeliers that customers and executives can vouch for in anything related to wine. It grants the right to add the MS suffix to their names. (4)

However, being the pinnacle of sommelier certification also means it has the most challenging exam. Since its inception in 1969, the CMS has produced less than 300 Master Sommeliers, with an estimated third in the U.S. The passing score of 75% for this test, compared to 60% for the other levels, is a testament to the difficulty. (4)(5)

It’s not unusual for candidates to retake parts of the Master Sommelier exam, which the CMS allows within two years of taking it. Takers also have to do so before a panel of CMS members (only Master Sommeliers can join the organization), adding to the already-tense event.

Endnote

Like any job, a sommelier isn’t for everyone. With enough dedication to all things alcohol (and a bit of patience), the long journey to become one won’t be as arduous as it appears to be. Let this piece serve as a guide on what to expect along the way.

Sources:

  1. “Introductory Sommelier Certificate – 3 Days,” https://www.courtofmastersommeliers.org/qualifications/introductory-sommelier-certificate-3-days/

  2. “Certified Sommelier Examination – 1 Day,” https://www.courtofmastersommeliers.org/qualifications/certified-sommelier-examination-1-day/

  3. “Advanced Sommelier Certificate – 5 Days,” https://www.courtofmastersommeliers.org/qualifications/advanced-sommelier-certificate-5-days/

  4. “Master Sommelier Diploma,” https://www.courtofmastersommeliers.org/qualifications/master-sommelier-diploma/

  5. “WHAT IS A SOMMELIER?” https://www.winecountry.com/blog/what-is-a-sommelier/

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