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A master sommelier is a person who has gone through four levels of sommelier training in order to gain a MS Diploma. This diploma is handed out to select candidates by the Court of Master Sommeliers, which was founded in 1977. This group of master sommeliers conducts training programs and holds examinations for those who wish to become sommeliers at any level.
Prior to becoming a master sommelier, candidates must first take an introductory course followed by a basic examination. This course is offered throughout North America and Europe. The introductory course covers all aspects of a sommelier's duties including viticulture, viniculture, and various production methods.
Once the introductory course has been successfully completed, students must pass a certificate level, which covers all of the materials studied during the introductory course plus additional in-depth material related to wine and wine making. Nearly sixty-five percent of all students who apply for certification pass the examination. Those who complete the certificate examination can then move on to the advanced stage.
As with the introductory examination and certificate examination, the advanced course and examination delve even further into the wine process. The advanced course is fast-paced, and meant for those who understand the complexities of wine thoroughly. In order to pass the advanced course, one must complete a two-day examination that includes three parts.
The first part of the advanced examination consists of a written exam. The second part consists of a blind tasting judged by a master sommelier, and the third part consists of a service exam that is judged by a panel of master sommeliers. In order to complete the last portion of the exam, students must pour wine, suggest wine and food pairings, and discuss six wines in less than twenty-five minutes. Only twenty-five percent of people who reach the advanced course stage pass this examination.
Those who have completed the advanced stage do not necessarily become master sommeliers. A master sommelier candidate must be invited by the Court of Master Sommeliers to attend a verbal examination. This examination is held in front of a panel of judges, and it consists of complex questions related to wine regions and wine production. Candidates who fail any section of this examination may retake the exam within a three year time period. Ever since the Master's Examination was devised nearly thirty-three years ago, only one hundred forty-two people have passed this exam. Thus, the term master sommelier is a well-earned title.