WSET.CMS.CSW.CWE. A Look Behind (some) Wine Certifications
WSET, CMS, CSW… Deciphering all these wine certifications can be less than quaffable in deciding which route to take. If you’re climbing the restaurant ladder into the position of Sommelier or Wine Program Director, then the Court is most likely the best option. But what about the rest of us in sales, hospitality, or purchasing?
The Court of Master Sommeliers first began in the UK in 1969, in which year it held the first Master Sommelier exam. It wasn’t until April of 1977 that an official body, the Court of Master Sommeliers was formed. The potential for the course holds four levels geared toward the wine/service industry, especially with those in the profession of sommelier – a trained and knowledgable wine professional working in fine restaurants who specializes in all aspects of wine service. He or she is involved in developing restaurant wine pairings alongside the chef de cuisine. Level 1, the Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam, is a two-day intensive overview of “the world’s wine producing regions, elements of wine service and several tasting exercises where candidates will learn the CMS Deductive Tasting Method.” A 60% passing rate is required for the exam at the end of day two. Only after passing Level 2, the Certified Sommelier Exam (exam only), can one call him or herself a “Certified Sommelier.” Beware, you have only three years to take this after passing the Intro, before you’d need to retake Level 1. The three-part exam covers blind tasting, written theory, and the much feared service practical. From there, candidates can go on to the Advanced Certification, an exam “exponentially more challenging than the Certified Sommelier Examination.” It requires a honed palate and an intellectual understanding of the wine world. Then, one may have the opportunity to be invited to the Master Sommelier exam, but scaling this ladder sometimes takes years, classes and hours upon hours of study and service time.
But if you aren’t a practicing sommelier — and would therefore never encounter the intimidating and unrealistic position in which you’d need to provide perfect Champagne service to a table of Master Sommeliers — then don’t worry, there is another option.
The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) actually began around the same time the Court was founded. Founded in 1969 in London, the organization’s goal is to “provide high quality education and training in wines and spirits.” They are quite possibly the most recognized international wine and spirits educational program today. Like the CMS, there are four levels – and beyond, depending on your ambition. For those with little to no wine/spirits experience or just want to learn more for pleasure, can enroll in Level 1, a basic introduction to wine including food pairings.Level 2, suitable for students and wine professionals, takes a little deeper look into the world’s wine regions, still and sparkling, sweet and fortified wine production, lab terminology, spirits, as well as a look into pairings. Continuing onto Level 3 means a detailed look at topics from Level 2, in-depth tastings to identify wine and styles, sales and staff training advice. Level 4, the Diploma, earns a “specialist qualification where detailed knowledge is combined with commercial factors and a thorough system for the professional evaluation of wines and spirits.” The diploma is held in very high regard and is the gateway into the Institute of Masters of Wine. Jancis Robinson, MW: does she ring any bells? The program is completed over three years and grants you indeed a Master of Wine. The rigorous self study program requires educational seminars and complete four theory essays and a three practical blind tastings within a year. When all parts are completed, and they must be within the following two years, candidates will then have six months to write a dissertation to earn the complete title.
The third program, offered by the Society of Wine Educators, is the Certified Specialist of Wine. The certification requires a multiple choice test, but it’s typically preceded by a course, depending on the institution from which you acquire the certification. If you take this route, be sure to sign up for membership at the Society of Wine Educators. You can save a bundle by signing up for the test and using the online course for free rather than paying for a full course. This certificate is also a prerequisite for becoming a Certified Wine Educator, which involves a theory exam, blind tastings and a skills test of presenting information. To receive this qualification, CWEs must also obtain the Responsible Beverage Alcohol Service certification (don’t serve the visitor who can’t stand up straight, please).
Any way, it’s a long and trying road to reach these certifications. If you’ve got any of them, congratulations, it’s an accomplishment to be proud of. The wine industry is becoming more and more competitive; however, these certifications can give your resume the extra edge that could sway the decision of that dream job in your favor. If you’ve already got your foot in the door, they can accelerate and propel your career in wine forward, as you’ll be more versed in brand or sales manager. Finally, you’ll create connections and build lasting relationships with other highly motivated wine professionals on the same path you are.