A Complete Guide to Prepare for the Master Sommelier Diploma

By Rohit Dalal

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The exam for the Master Sommelier Diploma is conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers which is an educational organization that was established in April 1977. It was established so that quality standards for beverage services can be improved in hotels and restaurants.

The first exam for the Master Sommelier Diploma was conducted in 1969 in the UK and it has four stages of certification and upon the completion of a particular stage, a badge and certificate are awarded. As of now, only 269 people have passed the final Sommelier Certification level and 172 of them are from the US.

Syllabus

Since there are 4 levels, each level requires different sets of skills and knowledge on various topics. The 4 different levels are:

  • Introductory Sommelier- This is a three-day course that requires you to have a brief knowledge of different grape varieties, origin, technical skills of wine service, production process, and flavors of Spirits and Liqueurs.
  • Certified Sommelier- This is a one-day course for which you should have cleared the introductory course and exam. It has three sections and those are:
  • Tasting exam- In this the candidates are given four wines; two red and two white and have to identify and describe them and this is a written test that has to be completed within 30 minutes.
  • Theory exam- This section tests your knowledge of wine, beverage, and the sommelier trade. The exam consists of 45 questions and it contains MCQs, matching questions, etc and should be completed within 35 minutes.
  • Service exam- In this, a restaurant type of environment is created and the candidates have to showcase salesmanship when they are assigned various tableside tasks. Candidates might be asked to open still or sparkling wines and discuss food and wine pairing options and will showcase their abilities as a restaurant sommelier. To pass, a minimum of 60% is required in each section.
  • Advanced Sommelier-This a five-day course which explores the standards of beverage sales and service in greater depth and the topics are designed in such a way that it gives the candidates a template for upper- level exam and this also contains three sections; Theory, Tasting, and Salesmanship.
  • Master Sommelier Diploma-For this also there are 3 sections like the Advanced one and in each section a minimum of 75% is required to pass and these sections are: 
  • Theory exam- The theory exam is verbal and is 50 minutes long where the contestant must know the principal grape varieties, wine laws and must describe the method of making beer, ciders, spirits and liqueurs.
  • Practical exam- In this section, the candidates must serve Aperitifs and must select, prepare and position glassware when serving beverage and must discuss various food and wine pairing options. Preparation and presentation of various beverages such as wines, brandies, liqueurs and other spirits must be done showing a high degree of proficiency and the candidates must acknowledge queries and complaints with diplomacy.
  • Practical Tasting- In this, the candidates will be given six wines and within 25 minutes, the candidate must identify the grape varieties, country of origin and vintages of the wines tasted. 

Studying Tips

  • For Theory exam- Sommeliers should know exactly which vineyard a wine came from and should also know about the geographical location from where the bottle was imported. If someone asks about a vintage wine, then the candidate must describe the type of wine, the grape it’s made from etc. Other important information such as international wine laws and the process of wine making should also be known.
  • For Practical tasting- The candidate will be asked to taste red and white wines and must fill out a written grid. This grid also asks the level of sugar, alcohol, etc and hence it takes a lot of practice to perfect this. For practice, it is suggested that you should create a study group and let other people ask questions, so that you can get a good chunk of practice.
  • For Practical exam- Since you are supposed to serve wine to other people, you should know the proper way to open the bottle; you have to make sure that the glassware is clean and polished. In addition to this, candidates must also know food and wine pairings, the correct method of holding the tray and glassware and should always cater to the needs of the table.

Some recommended books for Sommelier aspirants

  • Secrets of the Sommeliers- This book is written by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay and gives a glimpse into the world of sommeliers.
  • The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition- This book is a great encyclopedia for wine knowledge and is a good reference book for wine experts.
  • Wine: An Introduction- This book is written by Joanna Simon and is a complete guide for buying, tasting, serving and storing wine.
  • Understanding Wine Technology- This book is written by David Bird which explores the science of wine and explains how wine is made in an unscientific way.

General Advice

  • A person must have cleared the 2nd level i.e. achieving the certified sommelier certification in order to start his/her career in the hospitality industry.
  • Becoming a Master sommelier ensures you a higher salary than the rest 3 levels and also provides you with more recognition within the industry.
  • It is always good to have a mentor who can guide you and even better if a Master sommelier can vouch for you.
  • It is also advised that the person taking these examinations should have had some prior experience in the hospitality industry or some sort of restaurant service experience as it will prove to be quite useful for these examinations.
  • The pass rate for the Master Sommelier examination is less than 10% and so people find this exam challenging and take the test as many as 6 times and till now only 9 people have passed the exam in the first attempt.

By Rohit Dalal, Hisar

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