Sommelier Cheating Scandal Leaves Bitter Taste In The Wine World

A wine steward, according to The Court of Master Sommeliers, should be confident but not arrogant, share knowledge with team members, and “educate with an inclusive spirit.” One Master Sommelier apparently took that last bit too far. He or she (less likely because very few are women) cheated. He compromised the confidentiality of part of the test for Master Sommeliers.

As a result of the scandal, the organization has invalidated the results for 23 of 24 people who passed the test earlier this year. This is no small thing. The Master Sommelier Diploma Examination is so tough that only 273 people worldwide have passed it since testing began in 1969. The 2013 documentary Somm followed four men trying to pass the exam.

Devon Broglie, MS, and Chairman of the Board said in a statement, “Our honor and integrity are the best safeguards for preserving the reputation of the Court of Masters, our members, and our industry as a whole.”

Somm describes the test as “nearly impossible to pass.” It takes years of study and thousands of dollars (the test alone costs $995 to take) to prepare for the three-parts: theory, practical, and a blind taste test. It was the tasting section that was compromised after one existing Master released “detailed information concerning wines in the tasting flight.” The source of the information was not identified and it’s not clear who received it. That’s why the Court nullified the results for almost all the students who passed the test.

One person, Morgan Harris, passed the tasting portion last year, so he gets to keep his title of Master Sommelier. Harris told the Washington Post that it took him four years to pass the entire exam. “There are people who have put relationships, marriages, parenting of their children on hold so they can make sure they’re professionally successful at this,” he said. “It sounds crazy, but that’s the whole idea: You pass the exam, and you’re done.”

A candidate gets three years to pass all three sections. So, the day after it voided the results, the Court of Master Sommeliers announced that candidates affected by the scandal will be allowed to retake the test within the next year at no additional cost. Fifty-four people are actually affected — the 23 who passed and the rest of the sommeliers who didn’t pass.

Sommeliers normally work in restaurants, putting together wine lists, buying wines, helping staff suggest pairings of wine and food, and making recommendations to customers.

Putting an MS after your name is prestigious, but it also means money: a Guild of Sommelier 2017 survey puts the median annual salary of a Master at $164,000 versus $87,000 for an Advanced Sommelier, the step below.

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