Master Sommeliers and the Worshipful Company of Vintners
In 1363, the story of Master Sommeliers began with the formation of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, which was one of the Great 12 Livery Companies of London. All these companies functioned under the Royal Charter, which was responsible for regulating and looking after certain trade aspects. For instance, they would regulate wages, working hours, and matters of imports and exports.
These companies were of a religious type and worked together as a family. In case of a crisis situation for one company, they would help it together. The primary job of the Worshipful Company of Vintners was to control and regulate wine matters.
For example, it was responsible for the sale and import of wine. In 1364, the company gained the Royal Charter, which enabled it to have an absolute monopoly over the wine trade, and it achieved the right to deal in the wine trade without a license. Consequently, the Worshipful Company of Vintners became one of the most influential companies in the wine trade.
During the mid-20th century, the Wine and the Spirit Trade Association and the Worshipful Company of Vintners conducted a unique exam among 21 candidates to evaluate their mastery of winemaking and corresponding knowledge. Subsequently, six candidates passed the examination and were granted the title of Master of Wine.
This designation is considered the highest accolade of excellence for a wine professional. In 1969, the first Master Sommeliers diploma was initiated in the United Kingdom (UK). In 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was established, which conducts exams for sommeliers.
The title of Master Sommelier is awarded to wine professionals who can demonstrate proven quality and expertise in the field of wine. The corresponding exam consists of three levels. The first level is a blind tasting test, the second is an oral exam, and the third one is a wine service examination.
According to many experts, the Master Sommelier examination is the most challenging wine exam. For instance, the blind tasting of wine involves the identification of grape varieties, the wine regions, and the years of wine preparation. A typical test is tasting three red and three white wines in 25 minutes. Similarly, the oral exam includes information about the village, region, and history of wine.
The service portion is the skills test of the best food pairing, spirits, and distilling methods. In 1984, Fred Dame became the first person to clear all exam levels at once. This feat is known as winning the Krug Cup.
In 2018, a cheating scandal was reported in the Master Sommelier examination. Actually, all the relevant details of two of the six wines for the tasting portion were leaked. Consequently, twenty-three of twenty-four contestants, who passed the exam, had their titles rescinded.
The only individual whose title was retained was the one who had cleared the tasting portion the previous year. It was unclear who got the leaked information, so the exam was held again. As a protest, not everyone retook the examination. Nonetheless, six people passed the exam the second time.
Currently, 269 people have been granted the title of Master Sommelier. Among them, 172 individuals received the title as a part of the American chapter. Twenty-eight of them are women.