Most wine enthusiasts would be familiar with the position of the master sommelier, one of the finest positions the hospitality industry has to offer. It is a position granted by the Court of Master Sommeliers since the year 1977 but the position dates back to 1969. However, most would have missed that there is in fact another title apart from the sommelier, a specialist dedicated to wine and wine only: The Master of Wine.
The Master of Wine is a position and title granted to the most renowned of wine experts and has a history older than the master sommelier. The first exam took place in 1953 by the Institute of Master of Wine, making it a title with a longer history than the master sommelier.
Let’s find out what are the differences between the two, and how do you gain these titles.
How many Masters of Wine are there?
As the title of Master of Wine is one of exclusivity, their numbers are sparse at best. In the span of 67 years since the founding of the institute, only 483 such titles have been granted.
This means that each year, only about seven pass the very hard test and gain the title. Currently, there are only 409 masters of wine, living in 30 different countries across the world.
When placed in comparison with the master sommelier title, of which there are only 269 currently. The master sommelier definitely has a younger history and is catered to a more modernized hospitality industry.
Difference between Master of Wine vs Master Sommelier
Although these two titles commonly cross paths with each other and most people think they are one of the same, they are actually quite different in terms of learning pathways.
Despite sharing a deep passion for the same beverage, signing up as a Master of Wine or a Master Sommelier will take you down very different careers.
Education and certification needed
In terms of getting access to education of both a master of wine or a sommelier, there is no “formal requirement” from the common perspective of having a degree.
It is however favorable to have existing experience in the wine industry. For the master sommelier title, it is also highly recommended that candidates have prior experience in the food and beverages service industry.
Master of Wine education
The Master of Wine course is a three-year long experience that is divided into three stages. Upon qualifying for the course, each candidate is assigned a Master of Wine as a mentor and guide. Each stage ends with a written-exam and the notoriously difficult blind taste test.
Stage one or better known as the foundational stage is where candidates are introduced to the industry and its members. Candidates learn the ins and outs of the wine industry before being tested and qualified to stage two.
Stage two is where candidates study viticulture or the science of wine-making. You will have the opportunity to visit vineyards to gain first hand experience on wine-making processes.
At the end of stage two, candidates are required to submit six written assignments prior to testing. The testing stage is divided into two – theory and practical. First is the theory segment on viticulture, the business of wine and so on. This is then followed by twelve blind tests where each wine must be identified down to the variety of grape used and its geographical origin.
Once you pass both tests, you then proceed to stage three where you will submit a research paper.
The title of the paper is of your own choosing, with candidates proposing wine-related topics pertaining to wine business, popular culture and further topics. At the passing of this final study, you will be granted the title Master of Wine.
Master of Sommelier education
The Master Sommelier title is gained through a four-stage process. You begin your training through an introductory course which is only two days long.
Passing this will gain you entry to the Certified Sommelier exam where you study the service of wine. A theoretical test paired with a written blind taste test of four wines will then qualify you for the next stage.
The Advanced Sommelier certification where you will gain a deeper knowledge of wine service and business. Candidates will also learn about the wine-making process.
To be allowed to test for the Advanced Certificate, candidates are also required to have regional working experience. At the end of the certifications, candidates will be tested via a written test, a service test and a live blind test of six wines.
You must pass all three tests to proceed. Only once you pass the above three tests, will you finally arrive at the Master Sommelier Exam.
It is definitely much tougher to gain access to the Master sommelier exam compared to all previous certifications or even the Masters of Wine. Typically requiring ten years of working experience, it is also only possible to enter the exam via a recommendation.
The study takes on a more global approach in the wine industry and also on the business of wine as well. The final test is one of the toughest tests in the world, with an annual passing rate as low as 3%.
Candidates are tested through an oral theory exam, live service and blind taste before a panel, talk about pressure! This is why there are so few master sommeliers in the world.
When it comes to income, the experts in the wine industry are some of the most well paid in the hospitality industry. This is made even more lucrative if carry the master title. This is for the simple fact that even when combined, there are still less than a thousand masters of wine and master sommeliers in the world.
How much do masters of wine make?
It is not commonly known how much masters or wine make, but we do know that most are elite members of society.
This means that most wine masters are predominantly very well to do. Some are even owners of vineyards and take on the exam to only further their existing expertise and further earn a higher income.
How much do master sommeliers make?
Master sommeliers earn as much as 170,000USD per year. This number changes depending on the location and brand that you work for.
Usually, master sommeliers are headhunted by luxury hotels to improve their services. This makes remuneration packages incredibly negotiable and is more to the advantage of master sommeliers.
In terms of skills, both the wine master and the master sommelier are experts when it comes to wine. Through years of experience and the intensive exams, they are able to identify the origin of a wine just by taste, scent and color.
It is a common skill for both to be able to pinpoint the exact location the grapes come from and even the year they were produced. The very pinnacle of fine and luxury palate. So where do their skills differ?
Skills of a wine master
A Master of Wine is a through and through specialist of wine. Masters of Wine study the beverage from grape to bottle. They understand how best to grow grapes, the climate and the soil that are needed, and the harvesting process.
Masters of wine have first hand knowledge and experience of producing wine as well. From planting, harvesting, macerating to bottling, they are able to understand each step and fine tune them if necessary.
Skills of a master sommelier
The master sommelier is an expert in serving wine. They have an all encompassing knowledge of wine and how it fits in the serving of food and the business that goes with it.
Master sommeliers are not just required to perfectly serve wine, some are able to accurately pour the five-ounce standard by hand!
They are able to recommend the best wine to suit the food being served. Also in their skill set is the ability to work within luxury restaurants, managing the entire wine department and caring for the cellar.
Career path of wine master vs master sommelier
Due to the differences in skills and knowledge found between the two, you will find them working in very different careers.
Master sommeliers will centre their careers around hospitality, working in fine-dining environments or luxury hotels leading the wine department.
Masters of wine however, are likely to be more involved in the business of wine making. As a master of wine, you will work closely with vineyard owners, be involved in wine-making and also quality control.
Despite this differentiation, it is not uncommon to find these titles outside of their common career options. As the wine industry is one that revolves around experience and reputation, it is very normal for masters to find their way into each other’s careers.
Despite their slight difference, we can all agree that both master titles love and enjoy wine. These are experts and specialists who are the best at what they do. They are the elites of the industry whose task is to serve the top of society. With master sommeliers specializing in hospitality and service, and the Master of Wine mastering the art and knowledge wine itself. You can test out the service of a master sommelier by joining our Fizz Champagne & Bubble Club where a personal sommelier will pick out the best champagne for you.