The Toughest Test You’ll Ever Take
Would you spend years studying for a test if you knew there was only a pass rate of less than 10%? The Master Sommelier examination is viewed as the toughest test in the world – only 236 people have passed. Many people on the outside wonder, “what’s the point? Why is it worth it?” But for those who are looking to become a Master Somm, they are in it for the long haul.
Becoming a Master Somm means achieving a dream long in the making. “The journey to become a MS is something you do for yourself, never for someone else,” says Sally Mohr, M.S. and leadership team member of the Wine Ring app. Sally became a Master Sommelier after purchasing a wine retail business and coming to the realization she need to take her wine knowledge to the next level.
If you’re a female looking to break into the business, don’t let that deter you, but rather fuel you. As Mohr tells us, “Becoming a M.S. gave me credibility and helped to pave the way for other females in the profession. Now there are 24 of us in the North America!” It’s a years long process that takes dedication and the willingness to learn.
A Master Sommelier is the highest achievement one can make in the wine world but also in the hospitality industry. Before you can take the Master Sommelier examination, there are some other steps in between. In order to become a Master Sommelier or even just get your Sommelier certification, you must go through the Court of Master Sommeliers, which is different than SommGuild or the Master of Wine program.
The road to becoming a Master Somm starts with taking the Introductory Course and Examination. This is an intensive two-day course overview for those in the hospitality industry; students will learn deductive tasting as well as beverage service (that’s right – becoming a sommelier isn’t limited to just wine knowledge). But as Mohr points out, “If you don’t find the process of learning about every beverage in the world fascinating, you may be in the wrong business.
There is always something new to learn, so don’t expect the process to ever stop.” It ends with a multiple choice exam and should you pass, you’ll be ready for the next step: the Certified Sommelier Examination. The exam was created 11 years ago to help people perpare for the Advanced Sommelier Examination. Taking this exam (and passing) ensures the title of Sommelier. It is a more extensive exam than the first still containing tasting, service, and theory. However, you need to take the Certified Sommelier Examination within three years of taking the Introductory Course.
Even just taking the Certified Exam and becoming a Sommelier is something to be proud of. It’s no easy task to make it that far. But to continue your pursuit of the Master Sommelier diploma, the next step is the Advanced Sommelier Course and Examination. In order to take the Advanced Examination, you have to complete the course first. Once you take the course, you can take the exam. The exam is three days and contains the same sections first introduced in the Certified Course: service, deductive tasting, and theory. You must pass all three sections in order to be able to take the Master Somm exam. It is possible to pass one section and then take the two tests again (within the timeframe) but if you can’t pass all three sections after three successive attempts, you must wait one year before re-applying.
Should you pass all three parts of the Advanced Sommelier Examination, then you’ve made yourself eligible for the Master Sommelier diploma. Those who go after the diploma devote everything to it. They sacrifice relationships, spend thousands of dollars, and spend years working toward their goal.
Like the Advanced Examination, there are three parts to the Master Sommelier exam. However, students must first pass the theory portion, before they can take the other two sections. Should you not pass service or tasting on the first try, you can re-take both of these sections again. Students have a three year period to pass all parts of the exam.
The theory portion of the test is verbal, not multiple choice, and is fifty minutes long. You must know all about the different wine regions throughout the world and the wine that comes from them; different grape varieties and where they are grown; wine laws; as well as knowledge about spirits and liqueur and cigars. Like Sally says, “don’t just learn about the wine/beer/sake/liquor; learn the history, the food, and the culture associated with that beverage. You’ll have more stories to tell and a better understanding of the subject.” Once you’ve passed the theory section, you are able to take service and tasting. As far as service goes, it’s not just about serving wine or other alcohol. It’s about recommending the right wine with the right food; preparing and serving the wine correctly; and displaying a knowledge and class while serving.
Last but certainly not least is a blind taste. When taking the blind tasting portion of the exam, there are three whites and three reds to taste. In the twenty-five minutes allotted, the student must uncover possible grape varieties, the country of origin, and region of origin. “Taste wines with purpose; don’t just blind taste everything, every day. Compare and contrast similar wines until YOU can discern the differences between them,” Mohr advises. Over the course of their preparation, students will drink hundreds of bottles of wine, studying and dissecting each of them. Mohr recommends, “Continue to observe and learn from others. Always be adding to your personal ‘toolkit’.”
There’s nothing easy about the road to becoming a Master Sommelier. It takes years, sacrifice, money, and a lot of determination. There are people who have taken the test multiple times and may never pass, but still they try, try again. It’s an honor should you get that diploma, and even bigger sense of personal accomplishment.
To learn more about the process toward becoming a Master Sommelier or if you’re interested in starting it yourself, be sure to visit Court of Master Sommeliers Americas. If you’d like to learn more about Sally, be sure to visit her website and download the Wine Ring app, which “helps consumers understand their personal preferences through machine learning and artificial intelligence.” There is also the documentary Somm and the docu-series Uncorked (yes, the same ones mentioned in this post – so if you haven’t watched them yet, what are you waiting for?) that follows the lives of those preparing for the test.
If you’re interested in learning more about wine and talking to a local sommelier, join us for a tour!