The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) was established in April 1977 to sponsor improved standards of service, especially wine and cuisine pairing, in hotels and restaurants. Several trade groups founded the Court and wine companies in England. The founders include the Vintners Company, The British Hotels & Restaurants Association, the Wine & Spirit Association of Great Britain, and the Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association.
The Court is best known for its Master Sommelier exam, which they claim is the most challenging test in the world. The movie SOMM and the tv show “Uncorked” feature elements of the Master Sommelier exam.
“In the future,” Mr. Gazzi said, “Britain’s wine butlers will be able to obtain a Master Sommelier’s Diploma to prove their expertise. This will lie open to practising wine butlers with at least five years’ experience and who are members of the guild.BREWING TRADE REVIEW, 1969 (FIRST PUBLISHED REFERENCE TO A MASTER SOMMELIER EXAM)
All professional wine schools offer a range of certifications. Certification ranges from beginner levels (level 1&2) to the highest (level 5). A breakdown of these certification levels can be found here: Sommelier Certifications.
Along with Court, several other certification programs offer Master Sommelier equivalent diplomas. However, the Court trademarked the term “Master Sommelier” to prevent other schools from using the phrase. These programs can be compared here: Comparison of Sommelier Courses.
The Court of Master Sommeliers, an organization dedicated to certifying wine experts, has faced criticism over the years for various reasons. Some of the criticisms include:
It is important to note that the Court has taken steps to address some of these criticisms and continues to work towards improving the organization.
It is now known that the Master Sommelier exam has been compromised.
For the current scandals plaguing the CMS –including charges of racism and sexual violence– please refer to this page: Master Sommelier Scandals.
Origin of the Master Sommelier
Although they own the trademark of the term “Master Sommelier,” the Guild did not invent the exam or the phrase. There were Master Sommeliers before the Court of Master Sommeliers was formed in 1977.
Master Sommelier certification was the work of an earlier group, The Guild of Sommeliers. They were pioneers in accrediting sommeliers; the first Master Sommelier (aka Level 5) exam was held in 1969. Even then, earning your level 5 diploma would take years, but it is still considered the highest level of wine certification. Unfortunately, the exam has earned its reputation as tricky, with many students failing yearly.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Master Sommelier?
As of 2017, the total cost of taking the required exams is $2,910. However, the actual price of earning the Master Sommelier pin is over $20,000. That is due to a series of hidden fees. The highest costs are wine, travel, and repeating exams: The average student will have to re-take exams between 2-6 times. Most will also attend a qualified wine school while taking the Court of Master exams.
Count on at least $150 to $300 a week with travel/books/wine/education costs to do this correctly. Yes, that’s up to $15,000 a year.SHAYN BJORNHOLM, MASTER SOMMELIER | EXAMINATION DIRECTOR, COURT OF MASTER SOMMELIERS AMERICAS
Unlike other wine certification agencies, the Court does not run a wine school. Instead, they offer seminars and exams held in hotel conference rooms.
Certified Sommelier Exam (Level 3 Sommelier Certification)
This exam is one of the more straightforward Level 3 sommelier exams. Knowledge of major wine regions, including history and major varietals, is enough to pass the written exam. Knowledge of basic winemaking techniques (malolactic fermentation, for example) is also helpful. The written exam is multiple-choice, making it particularly easy for some students.
While one of the more straightforward exams, it isn’t easy. We suggest attending a level three sommelier prep course at a qualified wine school. For a list of wine schools, go here: reviews of wine schools.
Advanced Sommelier Exam (Level 4 Sommelier Certification)
The three-day seminar and the exam are held separately. Do not rely on the material given in the courses, as much of the exam contents are outside the scope of a three-day program. Less than 20% of students pass this exam.
The exam lasts for two days.
The written theory section comprises 60 short answer questions and 24 multiple-choice questions.
To pass the blind tasting section of this exam, the student must be familiar with deductive wine tasting. The Court refers to this as “The Grid.” In the blind tasting portion of the exam, you will have to identify the grape varietal of six wines. This will be the most challenging part of the exam. Therefore, it is strongly recommended you seek out a wine school (or tutor) specializing in component tasting before attempting this program.
The practical section of the exam covers basic restaurant service. This will be the most manageable portion of the exam if you have a background in classic French service.
Master Sommelier Exam (Level 5 Sommelier Certification)
The pass rate for this exam is between 5-8%: Only several hundred students have ever passed it since it took place in 1969. Whether that makes the Master Sommelier Exam a great or deeply flawed one is up for discussion.
It is comprised of three sections that are held over four days. The candidate must pass all three exam sections to qualify for the Master Sommelier pin. The sections mirror the Certified Sommelier Exam:
The difficulty of this exam is in how it’s executed: it is entirely verbal. In the theory section, a team of Master Sommeliers will ask you around 100 questions, which you must answer very quickly. Expect questions about obscure wine regions, rare grape varieties, viticulture, and other wine-related topics. A focus on obscure regulations is a vital component of the exam.
In the blind-tasting section, you will be blind-tasted on six wines. Grading is based on identifying grape varietal, appellation, and vintage. Then, as in the practical exam, you will give your answers directly to the examination team. For many, this is the hardest part of the exam.
The practical section is relatively easy for seasoned waiters.
The practical exam usually includes – decanting, service of champagne, wine and food pairing, business scenarios, a blind tasting of spirits, snappy scenarios, and many more tasks.ADAM PAWLOWSKI, MASTER SOMMELIER
There are several reasons the Court may not be your top choice for sommelier certification. However, one cannot deny that it is the most famous certification agency. Also on the positive side is that its exams are exceptionally well-designed. You will have accomplished something worthwhile if you earn your Advanced Sommelier certificate from the Court.
The Math Doesn’t Make Sense.
Some significant negatives should be considered. First, over 80% of people fail the Advanced Sommelier Exam, and nearly 95% fail the Master Sommelier Exam. Compare this to the failure rate of a Medical Board Exam (15%) or the failure rate of a Bar Exam (25%).
Think about this for a minute. Should a wine exam have a failure rate higher than one for doctors and lawyers, no matter how prestigious? While some may say the Master Somm Exam is “the hardest exam on earth,” isn’t it more likely it’s the most flawed exam on earth? This is especially true when you consider that the maximum earning potential of a Master Sommelier is lower than the starting salary of a doctor or lawyer.
Minimal Education Opportunities
The Court has developed a series of fantastic exams. However, their educational component is sadly lacking. The steep failure rate of its exams can be attributed to a complete lack of education options for its students. A student will need at least two semesters of wine classes to pass the Certified Exam. The Advanced Sommelier exam requires five to six semesters of classes. That is at least a year and a half of classes. How many does the Court offer? Four days of classes, total.
The price of the exams is only the tip of the iceberg. The unspoken truth of passing the Advanced and Master programs is that the people who give the Master Sommelier exam have hired a private tutor or enrolled in a two-year professional program at a top wine school.
Ironically, if you attend another wine school, they probably offer the same certification provided by the Court at a much lower price. You are effectively paying twice for the same thing.
Zero Grading Transparency
One of the most significant concerns is the lack of grading transparency. There is anecdotal evidence that people should have passed an exam but failed. However, there is no way to prove or disprove these claims, as the Court of Master Sommeliers is not transparent in how it grades exams, nor does it return graded papers for review. This lack of accountability is troubling, especially compounded by astounding failure rates.
No Accreditation or Oversight
Our review of the Court is based on how well they do their job: certify sommeliers. Movies or tv shows are fantastic, but they have only one job: issue professional sommelier certifications.
The Court of Master Sommeliers is not a state-regulated trade school. Instead, it relies on the loosely defined “trade certification” category to issue its sommelier credentials. This poses several problems and raises important questions regarding their certifications’ long-term viability.
One of the most critical elements of government oversight is the ability to verify whether exams are fair and balanced. Without it, there is no way to know whether the Court uses unfair metrics to pass certain people and fail others. In addition, there are standards for trade certification, which we use to rate the Court. All those acronyms — ACAP, ANSI, and ADA– are essential to the proper functioning of a certification body.
Because it’s wine-related doesn’t mean a professional certification agency can ignore its responsibilities to the public and its constituents. Without complying with these regulations, the Court opens itself up to litigation. For more details, please see the supplied documents below.
Let’s not let the woke dictate our thoughts. personally, I find the court too obnoxious for words. Wine don’t need snobs
Read up on this outfit before you start down the path of becoming a master sommelier.