The Court of Master Sommeliers has welcomed three new members, but several times that number failed to get past the body's strict examination policy.
Those now able to add MS to their names are UK-based Katherine Larsen, of Zuma in the UK, Belgian sommelier Aristide Spies, who came third in the last world sommelier competition, held in Tokyo, and Sebastien Crowther from Australia, who devised an award-winning wine list at the Royal Mail hotel restaurant in Victoria.
There were 24 candidates in total at last week’s exams, held in London. Although the proportion of those who passed is small, it is still up on the exams in Dallas, Texas, earlier this year, when a single student out of 70 earned the MS initials and pin (pictured).
‘We now have 218 Master Sommeliers [globally],’ said Ronan Sayburn MS, who sat on the panel that fired questions at the MS hopefuls in London.
He said there is no truth to speculation that the Court has made the MS exams tougher than they used to be. After Dallas, ‘a lot of people started saying that we’d changed the exam to make it harder, but we haven’t changed it at all’, Sayburn told decanter.com.
It’s extremely rare for candidates to pass all three exams in one sitting. ‘A lot of the time, people will pass one, and then they have three years to pass the rest,’ Sayburn said.
He added that pass rates ‘usually go in cycles’ to reflect that.
As shown in the film Somm, the path to achieving MS status, or not, is a rigorous and emotional process. In the oral tasting exam in London, Sayburn said that candidates were given 25 minutes to blind taste and describe six wines, with a pass rate of 75%. ‘It means that they have to get five out of six wines pretty much exact.’
There is also an oral exam for students to show their wine knowledge, and a serving and recommendations exam, which includes a Champagne pour. These also carry 75% pass rates.
Dozens of Master Sommeliers, many who are running wine programmes and visiting wine regions, are involved with writing the exams. A sommelier cannot apply for the MS programme, but must be invited to study.
Written by Chris Mercer