Wine education programs: comparing the Court of Master Sommelier program to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust program
I have taken and passed WSET courses 1, 2 and 3 and am a current diploma (level 4 ) student have also taken CMS courses 1 and 2 and received the Walter Clore Scholarship for having the highest score in my group of the Certified Sommelier exam.
Both are great programs, however, there are some major differences you should be aware of when choosing which path you want to take when continuing (or starting) your wine education.
WINE AND SPIRIT EDUCATION TRUST
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*Also note, during the pandemic in person courses may be limited and lots of places are offering online programs.
WSET 1: This is a one day course with an exam at the end. When you pass, you receive a pin and certificate. It is a fairly easy course if you have some basic knowledge of wine and the majority of the class passes. The focus of the course is on food and wine pairing and learning what works and why.
There is also a focus on learning about the noble grape varieties and learning where they come from. If you have a decent amount of wine knowledge, I’d recommend skipping ahead to WSET 2 as WSET 1 is not a requirement. This course is approximately $300.
WSET 2: This one is a big jump from level 1. This is an 8 week course with an in-person class once a week for 8 weeks and the last week being the written exam. Each class covers different regions and you get to taste different wines. This also includes a course book and work book. Once you receive your passing results, you receive a pin and certificate. This course is approximately $800.
WSET 3 is 30 hours of coursework and recommended 80 hours study time outside of the course. The exam is multiple choice and short answer as well as a blind assessment of 2 wines. At the completion, students receive a certificate and pin. This course cost is approximately $1300.
WSET 4: is the diploma level. This is 6 unit and exam program and is 500+ hours of study time (116 hours in course and the remainder self study). This takes 18 months to 3 years to complete. This exam consists of multiple written exams, 12 wines to blind taste and minimum 3000 word essay. As you can see, this is quite the accomplishment! Cost of this level is approximately $1200 per course plus wines
The WSET program is based in London, therefore results may take up to 12 weeks. WSET also offers awards/courses in Sake and Spirits.
COURT OF MASTER SOMMELIER
CMS 1: Introductory Sommelier – This is a two day course. It is a fast paced and intense course. It is really just a review of the information and students are expected to come prepared with a prior understanding of the material. During the course, there is also a tasting component where students are exposed to the deductive tasting method for blind tasting. With my experience, the Master Sommeliers are fairly intense and expect the students to have some experience with blind tasting. However, blind tasting is not on the final exam. There is also a service demonstration so students can begin to learn the proper techniques. There are service questions in the exam, but not demonstration. At the end of the 2nd day, a written-multiple choice exam is given. Shortly after the exam, is an awards ceremony where students receive their results. It is only a pass or fail score and not everyone passes, but majority do. Passing students receive a certificate and pin. I prepared 6 months prior to the exam. Level 1 expires after 3 years and is required to continue to level 2. Approximate cost of the course is $700.
CMS Level 2: Certified Sommelier- (click here to read my post about my entire experience of the CMS 2 exam) There is no course work for this exam, it is all self study, unless you pursue a program such as the Culinary Institute of America. It is a 3 part exam of blind tasting, theory and service. Only at the completion and passing of this exam are students allowed to call themselves a Sommelier. It is recommended 3 years of working in the wine industry and preferably the service/hospitality side of wine before attempting this exam. This is a very difficult exam of 50-60% passing rate and a lot of preparation required. Not only should applicants have some service experience, I recommend joining or creating a blind tasting study group to build tasting skills. (Check out my post on how to create your own blind tasting group here) CMS offers an additional deductive tasting course as well (learn more). There are many recommended resources for self study. (See here). After the exam, there is an awards ceremony where students immediately receive results and names are called out one by one. Upon success students are given a certificate and pin. Results are only pass or fail, however, they do give you papers with feedback and areas that could use improvement. The course cost is approximately $600.
Level 3 is Advanced Sommelier which first students must take a qualifying exam offered once a year. If selected from the qualifying exam, then students may take the official Advanced Sommelier course and exam, which is a very difficult exam with a low passing rate and usually requires the recommendation of a master sommelier. The application fee is $100. If accepted, the course fee is $1500 and the exam fee is $1200.
Level 4 is Master Sommelier. There are only 270 (and counting) Master Sommeliers in the world and has been rated by Forbes Magazine as potentially the worlds hardest exam. There are some really fascinating documentaries called “Somm” that show a deeper look into the lives of students studying for Master Level of Sommelier. In total this one costs about $3000 as well (not including travel).
Hopefully this is helpful for you! Please drop any questions below! Happy to help!
Casleah-Certified Sommelier and WSET Diploma Student