The Court of Master Sommeliers is an organization created in 1977 dedicated to expanding and perfecting the knowledge of wines held by top restaurant wine stewards. The title "sommelier" is used to refer to an expert wine steward fully trained in the various aspects of wine and wine and food pairing. Wine stewards interested in taking their knowledge and careers to the next level can apply to become a Master Sommelier. The certification process consists of four course levels, each with its own qualifying exam. Once all four exams have been passed, the student is bestowed the title of Master Sommelier and eligible for membership in the court.
If a wine professional is interested in attaining membership in the Court of Master Sommeliers, he must begin by taking and passing the Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam. This course is open to any professionals wishing to advance their knowledge as a wine expert, including stewards as well as retail wine distributors. It covers a variety of basic wine knowledge, including tasting techniques, regional vineyard knowledge, and basic food pairing.
Once a candidate has successfully completed the Introductory Course, he may continue his studies and progress to the second level of the Court of Master Sommelier training regimen, the Certified Sommelier Exam. Unlike the first level, the second level consists of an exam only, not a training course. It is assumed that anyone pursuing the title of Certified Sommelier has already gained the appropriate knowledge needed to successfully pass the exam. The exam consists of a written component, a blind tasting examination, and a service examination.
If a candidate is granted the title of Certified Sommelier and wishes to continue his education further, he may take the Advanced Sommelier Training and Exam. The third level involved in the pursuit of a membership in the Court of Master Sommeliers requires the individual to attend a two-day training course covering the same basic categories as the Certified Sommelier Exam at a much more detailed level. The exam also has the same format as the level two test, but is judged on a more stringent grading structure and involves more aspects of each individual portion of the test. Once passed, the individual is granted the title of Certified Sommelier and may proceed, if desired, to the final level of testing.
The highest title that can be bestowed in a wine professional is that of Master Sommelier. This is the final phase of testing before one can apply for membership in the Court of Master Sommeliers and involves the most intensive course of study of all four levels. Structured in an identical format to the Certified Exam and Advanced Exam, the Masters Exam covers an even more extensive level of knowledge and requires a much higher passing score. If passed, the individual receives a Master Sommelier Diploma, one of the greatest distinctions in the wine service industry.
Anyone who holds a Master Sommelier Diploma is eligible to be considered for membership in the Court of Master Sommeliers. Membership is highly exclusive, and those invited to take the Master Sommelier Exam are hand-picked by the current court members. There are only 170 professionals worldwide that hold the title of Master Sommelier.