There are many institutions that offer certificates in wine education; however, there are only a handful of highly recognized programs to prove someone’s in-depth knowledge of wine. All the different schools specialize in honing different skills, whether the goal is to have a career as a wine expert or simply to expand one’s knowledge of wine. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) are two of the world’s most respected wine education institutions, and while both programs offer a four-tiered program of courses and examinations, there are a few characteristics that set the two apart.
There are many factors to consider when deciding on a wine certification program and which will work best for an individual. CMS is primarily targeted at individuals who want to work in the hospitality industry as sommeliers or wine/beverage directors, whereas WSET is for anyone and everyone with an interest in wine, whether for personal joy or professional aspirations. CMS requires that candidates have a certain number of years of hospitality experience in order to enroll. Courses are intended to be taken consecutively, with each level requiring students to have passed the previous within a certain timeframe. Aside from being of legal drinking age, WSET has no prerequisites to enroll. As long as a student can demonstrate the necessary knowledge to enroll for the way more demanding WSET 3 and 4, courses do not have to be taken consecutively.
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 WSET classes first. WSET classes are highly structured and provide people with stepping stones to gain ever more wine knowledge, and while it is encouraged, no preparation is required before starting. This approach, coupled with learning to taste wines blind, can help students build toward the CMS.
While WSET does offer separate certification levels for spirits and sake, WSET focuses mainly on wine. The program is also more “communications” focused and offers a progressively detailed academic understanding of wine, with more tasting experience the further you go. CMS teaches students about all beverages: wine, spirits, beer, cider and sake. CMS’s program is more “service” oriented and includes a lot of practical training in beverage and wine service, as well as professional tasting.
Whether a student is an enthusiast with a passion for wine and spirits looking to expand their knowledge or a professional hoping to gain the title of Master Sommelier, any certification program will require money, a significant time commitment, and disciplined study.