The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) is an organization established in April 1977 to sponsor improved standards of service, especially wine and cuisine pairing, in hotels and restaurants. It was founded by several trade groups and wine companies in England; That included the Vintners Company, The British Hotels & Restaurants Association, The Wine & Spirit Association of Great Britain, and The Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association.
The Court of Master Sommeliers is best known for its Master Sommelier exam, which they claim is the hardest test in the world. The movie SOMM and the tv show “Uncorked” both feature the Master Sommelier exam.
“In future,” Mr. Gazzi said, “Britain’s wine butlers will be able to obtain a Master Sommelier’s Diploma to prove their expertise. This will lie open to practising wine butlers with at least five years’ experience and who are members of the guild.
Brewing Trade Review, 1969 (first published reference to a Master Sommelier exam)
All professional wine schools offer a set range of certifications, the Court of Master Sommeliers included. This ranges from beginner levels (levels 1&2) to the very highest (level 5). A breakdown of these certification levels can be found here: Sommelier Certifications.
Along with CMS, several other certification programs offer Master Sommelier equivalent diplomas. However, the Court of Master Sommeliers trademarked the term “Master Sommelier” to prevent other schools from using the term. A comparison of these programs can be found here: Comparison of Sommelier Courses.
Origin of the Master Sommelier
Although they own the trademark to the term “Master Sommelier”, the Guild did not invent the exam or the term. There were Master Sommeliers before the Court of Master Sommeliers was was formed in 1977.
Master Sommelier certification was was work of an earlier group, The Guild of Sommeliers. They were pioneers in accrediting sommeliers; the first Master Sommelier (aka Level 5) exam was held in 1969. Even back then, it would take years to earn your level 5 diploma, which is still considered the highest level of wine certification available. The exam has earned it’s reputation notoriously difficult, with a large percentage of students failing every year.
Unlike other wine certification agencies, the Court does not run wine schools. Instead, they offer seminars and exam held in hotel conference rooms. Interested in seeing the top-secret exam? We have a copy of it (and the answers) right here: Master Sommelier Exam Answer Sheet.
Certified Sommelier Examination (Level 3)
- 30 Minutes: deductive tasting. The student has to taste and identify four wines.
- 35 Minutes: written exam. A 45 question multiple choice exam.
- Waiter Skill Exam. The student will have to open a bottle of wine and make pairing recommendations.