The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) was established to improve and elevate the quality of beverage knowledge and service throughout the hospitality industry. CMS expands the rich heritage of its organization through mentorship, rigorous preparation and examination along with charting the course for current and future Master Sommeliers worldwide.
The first successful Master Sommelier examination was held in the United Kingdom in 1969, and by April 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was established as the premier international examining body. CMS’ intensive educational program guides aspiring Master Sommeliers through four increasingly rigorous levels of coursework and examination, culminating in the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination.
CMS teaches students about all beverages: wine, spirits, beer, cider and sake. The program is service-oriented and includes a lot of practical training in beverage and wine service and professional tasting. CMS is primarily targeted at individuals who want to work in the hospitality industry as sommeliers or wine/beverage directors, and candidates should have a certain number of years of hospitality experience before they enroll. Courses are intended to be taken consecutively, with each level requiring you to have passed the previous within a certain timeframe.
Level 1 Introductory Sommelier Course
The Level 1 Introductory Sommelier Course and Examination requires two full days of in-person study and is taught exclusively by Master Sommeliers. The course covers three primary topics at an introductory level: a review of wine and beverage theory, an introduction to deductive tasting methodology, and wine service etiquette. There are no requirements of years of experience in the hospitality industry to sign up for the Introductory Sommelier course. At the end of day two, students take an examination consisting of 70 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within 45 minutes. A minimum score of 60% is required to earn the Introductory Sommelier Course and Examination certificate and lapel pin along with being eligible to take the Certified Sommelier Course.
Level 2 Certified Sommelier Course
The Level 1 is designed to introduce students to the three basic fields of study for a wine professional, but the Level 2 Certified Sommelier Course demands candidates demonstrate proficiency in them. The Certified Sommelier Examinations focus on a candidate’s ability to demonstrate proficiency in deductive tasting, wine & beverage theory, and both technical as well as salesmanship skills in table-side service.
To sit for the Certified Sommelier assessment, candidates must have passed the introductory course within three years (or five years if vouched for by a Master Sommelier by whom they’re directly mentored). A minimum of three years in the hospitality industry is strongly recommended. It’s also recommended that one year be used for study between passing the introductory level and sitting for the Certified Sommelier evaluation.
The Certified Sommelier Examination is a one-day examination with three sections. In the tasting examination candidates must describe and identify four wines (two white and two red) to the best of their ability. This is a written tasting that must be completed in 30 minutes. The theory examination tests candidates’ knowledge and understanding of the world of wine, beverage and the sommelier trade. The test consists of multiple choice, short answer, simple math and matching questions. Candidates must complete the 45-question examination within 35 minutes. The practical service examination approximates a real restaurant environment, and candidates are expected to demonstrate salesmanship and knowledge while performing a variety of tableside tasks. Candidates may be asked to open still or sparkling wines, to recommend cocktails or spirits, to discuss food and wine pairing options, and to generally show their abilities as a restaurant sommelier.
Candidates must achieve a minimum of 60% on each section within one sitting. Successful candidates will receive a certificate and lapel pin signifying their certification as a sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Level 3 Advanced Sommelier Course
To become an Advanced Sommelier, candidates must attend the three-day Advanced Sommelier course. The course explores CMS standards in beverage sales and service in greater depth. It is a presentation of specific topics designed to give candidates a template for upper-level exam study and a clear understanding of expectations at both the Advanced Sommelier Examination and Master Sommelier Diploma Examination. After that, they sit for the three-day Advanced Sommelier assessment.
Applicants should wait at least one calendar year after passing the Certified Sommelier Examination in order to adequately prepare for the Advanced Sommelier Course. To qualify for the course, applicants must be a Certified Sommelier, have a minimum of two years of restaurant service experience, and have not previously taken the Advanced Sommelier course. To qualify for the assessment, applicants must have taken the Advanced Sommelier three-day course, have a minimum of three years of restaurant service experience, and be currently employed in the hospitality or beverage industry.
The Advanced Sommelier Examination tests CMS’ standards in beverage and sales and service. The examination represents a significant increase over the Certified Sommelier Examination in required experience, knowledge and skill level. The examination consists of three sections, a written theory exam, verbal tasting exam, and a practical service and salesmanship exam. Candidates must achieve a minimum of 60% on each section within one calendar year. Candidates who are unsuccessful in passing the Advanced Sommelier Examination after three successive attempts, despite passing one or more sections, are required to wait one full year from the time of their examination before reapplying.
Level 4 Master Sommelier Course
A Master Sommelier is a wine professional who has passed the fourth and final level of sommelier certification. Doing so earns them a Master Sommelier Diploma from CMS, the highest level of sommelier possible. The current Master Sommelier list includes 269 people, with 172 of those professionals belonging to the Americas chapter.
Students who pass the Advanced Sommelier Examination (on average, about 25-30%) are eligible to apply to take the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination itself. The pass rate for the Master Sommelier Diploma Theory Examination is approximately 10%.
The Master Sommelier Diploma Examination is similar in format and content to that of the Advanced Sommelier Examination in that it consists of three parts: a theory examination (an oral examination and not written), a deductive tasting of six wines and a practical wine service examination. The minimum passing score for each of the three sections is 75% as opposed to 60% for the Advanced Sommelier Examination. Students must first pass the Master Sommelier Diploma Theory Examination and then have three consecutive years to pass the remaining two parts of the examination. If all three parts are not completed within three years, the entire exam must be retaken.
Classes for CMS are more of a quick review of material with studying happening in a self-paced and self-guided manner. Students are expected to arrive for class already knowing all or most of the material. While there is an overview of required knowledge given, study is very much on the student, which can be very difficult for some people more used to supervision and following a schedule, as it requires a lot of self-discipline. This is why a lot of people who do the CMS actually attend the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) classes first.
A dining establishment with a Master Sommelier has an improved wine service and helps to raise the standards of foodservice throughout the hospitality industry. The Master Sommelier diploma distinguishes a service professional worthy of the title and is known throughout the hospitality business worldwide. The Master Sommelier title guarantees to an employer and diners that they are among the most qualified in the industry, with outstanding tasting and evaluation skills, wine knowledge and outstanding abilities in service and beverage department management.