It takes a good deal of hard work to join the elite club of Master Sommeliers, with just 100 professionals who hold the title in North America and only 177 worldwide. This is the highest distinction available to the beverage industry where four separate exam passes are required to obtain this exclusive certification beginning with:-
1) Introductory Sommelier Course
This two day intensive course concentrates on building up knowledge of the wine producing regions of the world. Also covered are the spirits, beers and cigars available. Service is another important part of the two days, culminating in a written exam.
2) Certified Exam
This can only be taken upon completion of the Introductory Course. The one day course is examined in three ways, a blind tasting test, a written exam and also an examination of service skills. On completion of this level a Certificate is given to the candidate alongside a pin to be worn on the lapel.
3) Advanced Course
At this level the course becomes quite challenging and a detailed knowledge is expected for example ‘the districts of Chianti’ or ‘the AVA’s (American Viticultural Area) of Sonoma County. A minimum of five years experience in the beverage industry is a prerequisite and there is usually just a 25% pass rate.
4) The Master Sommelier Diploma Examination
The culmination of the learning obtained from the three previous levels and a large amount of study time results in the ultimate beverage industries test, taken in three parts.
Part 1 Restaurant Services and Salesmanship
Discuss, recommend and serve aperitifs, displaying a sound knowledge of the products and the ability to serve them correctly.
Select, prepare and position glassware necessary for the service of drinks in the lounge, restaurant, function room or private suite.
Discuss menu content and wine list, recommending wines to accompany food, displaying a sound knowledge of the products, their vintages and characteristics.
Present, offer, prepare, (decanting when necessary) and serve wines, demonstrating a high degree of efficiency and proficiency.
Present, offer, prepare and serve brandies, liqueurs and cigars.
Handle queries and complaints with skill and diplomacy.
Discuss the sizes of measures that may be expected from each.
Part2 What does the sommelier need to know?
Speak with authority on the wine areas of the world and their products.
Know the principal grape varieties used in winemaking and the areas of the world where they are cultivated.
Answer questions on international wine laws, including the European Community, United States, Australia and other global wine regions.
Display knowledge of fortified wines, their vinification, storage and handling.
Describe the various methods of distillation and the making of spirits and liqueurs.
Knowledge of cigar production, with special reference to Havanas, will be required.
Explain the process of making beers and ciders and the reasons for the variations in style between different products.
Discuss how the products should be stored to ensure that they remain in the optimum condition.
Part3 Practical Tasting
The tasting examination is scored on the candidate's verbal abilities in clearly and accurately describing six different wines. Within twenty-five minutes he or she must:
Identify, where appropriate, grape varieties, country of origin, district of origin and vintages of the wines tasted.
When all of the above criteria have been successfully met then the prestigious award of joining the Court of Master Sommeliers, and the 84 men and 16 women, in the US who have joined this illustriousness can be attained.
Photos courtesy of flickr fcphoto and Johntylerwin.