January, 03 2019
In every industry, there’s a coveted achievement, and in the wine world, it’s probably the title Sommelier. Originally meaning simply ‘wine waiter’, Sommelier has taken on a wider connotation to become an expert in all things grape and one of the most respected positions in hospitality.
Becoming a Sommelier however isn’t easy, with hiring companies now demanding some pretty extensive evidence of your commitment and abilities. Fortunately, there are plenty of regional wine schools that can develop your knowledge and palate, but if you’re looking for a sommelier course that provides the definitive proof needed, then there are really only two paths – The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the Court of Master Sommeliers.
The Court of Master Sommeliers
Founded in 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was developed primarily for those already working in the wine trade, with a strong emphasis on service. All the exams are issued directly by the CMS and held at varying times across the year in a host of major cities, meaning you’ll probably need to study independently and travel in order to gain your internationally recognised certification.
The Introductory Wine Certificate takes three days to complete and covers everything from winemaking techniques to international varietals, and features your first blind tasting. Next up comes the Certified Sommelier Certificate, a one-day course, with a forty-question exam and two blind tastings that stake your claim to the title of sommelier. After that, there’s the Advanced Sommelier Certificate, aimed primarily at those with extensive, existing wine service experience, followed by the insanely intensive Master Sommelier Diploma, of which there are less than 300 holders worldwide.
Unfortunately, the CMS has been in the press recently for all the wrong reasons, after it was revealed that one of the examining judges for the Master Diploma leaked the blind tasting selections to an unknown number of candidates, causing the CMS to invalidate the entire class, with 23 people stripped of their titles. There has since been a re-sit and 6 masters have been reinstated.
The other globally recognised qualification is the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). Founded in 1969 to promote knowledge in the wine industry and aimed at both professionals and the serious wine enthusiast alike, WSET takes you from beginner to Master of Wine, of which there are just 380 worldwide. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, between CMS and WSET is that WSET is offered directly from an approved and qualified school in your area, with the Tasting Class a key provider for the UAE.
WSET Level 1 is a one-day introductory course that helps you identify and discuss major world wine regions, climates and styles, as well as covering some areas that even diehard wine lovers might not know, like how to pair the right wine with the right food, ending with a thirty-question exam.
Level 2 takes place over 3 non-consecutive days, deepening and extending your knowledge and getting you up close and personal with 43 of the extraordinary wines you’re likely to be working with.
After that comes Level 3, an advanced qualification and the one most top-level sommeliers in Dubai are likely to have. Level 3 requires around 50 hours of home study, but at the end of it you walk away with all the skill and confidence needed to work at the top end of the industry. It’s also at this point that the often-daunting blind tasting is introduced. Contrary to popular belief, the goal is not to guess the precise variety, region and vintage down to the nearest field, but to demonstrate that you can intelligently assess the wine and identify the key flavours, quality and character, which in turn will help identify the varietal – for instance, the high acid, grass and citrus that make up a great Sauvignon Blanc. If you still want more, then you can tackle the super-advanced Level 4 and the coveted Master of Wine. A Master of Wine qualification is up there in terms of difficulty and prestige with being a Master Sommelier, with there also being less than 300 masters in the world.
However, if your aim is to be a working sommelier, then Level 3 will get you scooped up by a restaurant pretty quickly.
Whichever route you choose, the first step is always to taste and enjoy wine, and let’s face it, that’s unlikely to be a hardship.
For more information on becoming a sommelier, as well as upcoming tastings, events and short courses, check out www.thetastingclass.com/events.
The Wines we tasted