Last fall The Wine Enthusiast Magazine published an interesting article on Sommeliers and how they get their stars. The article talks about how much information they need to learn regarding wine regions, the tens of thousands of wine producers, and the numerous of different grape varieties. As well as the thousands of wine tastings they do to learn how to judge the quality and value. They even compared the study and training of Somms as to medical or law school. And here is what they had to say regarding the three more common routes on “how Somms get their stars”:
Court of Master Sommeliers
Restaurants commonly call their wine folk sommeliers, but, technically, only a few institutions can award the official title, most notably the Court of Master Sommeliers. The Court program has three levels and is mostly self-guided (although most participants study in groups and work with Court mentors). The program is geared toward determining quality and mastering the art of recommending, serving and running a wine program. As seen in the documentary Somm, those seeking the top title of Master Sommelier devote years of their life to flashcards, maps, blind tastings and work to become unflappable on the restaurant floor. Many take the annual Master test, but most fail: This year 65 people in the U.S. took the exam, but only five passed.
Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
The WSET program has four levels, culminating in a famously difficult diploma test, which requires years of intense studying, memorizing and tasting to pass. WSET is far more structured than the Court, with textbooks and regular classes. While WSET has no wine-serving component, many restaurant workers still enroll. Both programs stress judging quality when tasting, but WSET students also try to determine the value of a wine or spirit.
Wine smarts are there for the taking. Anyone can explore it, study it and, if driven and passionate enough, become an expert on the stuff. And unlike many professions, wine knowledge is the true measure, not letters following a person’s name. Waiters, wine shop workers, winemakers, even wine sales and marketing execs have gone on to create and oversee some of the world’s most celebrated lists.