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Matt Mills
December 1, 2015 | Matt Mills

"So, are you like a Somm or something?"


Thanks in large part to the popular documentary by the same name, "Somm" has entered the vernacular of even the most novice to wine. While not all of us in the wine industry would call ourselves Somms, most of us do carry the same mission to enhance our own education and appreciation for wine, and to share those experiences with our guests. 

While we are always happy to field questions or give advice there are many educational pathways that are open to everyone at every level of wine experience. 



Court of Master Sommeliers (MS)

Most of the wine industry now recognizes a "Somm" as one who has passed Level 2 of the Court of Master Sommeliers. This distinction is officially bequeathed as "Certified Sommelier" and is awarded by the post nominal "CS" as well as the infamous pin (in this case an oval purple pin) to adorn your lapel. Beyond that is the Advanced Sommelier (Level 3) and the notoriously difficult Master Sommelier (Level 4) which 230 professional globally have earned since 1977. That's only six per year worldwide! Most of these professionals are dedicated to restaurants, as they are well trained in the education, service and pairing of wines. 

While the difficulty increases exponentially with each level, studying and passing Level 1 is accessible to everyone! What amounts to a few weeks of home studying, a classroom session and exam can get you your own starter pin through the Court and one step away from becoming a Somm. 

BONUS FACT: Also at some restaurants you may see wine stewards with a silver cup ( a "tastevin") draped around their neck. While not a Somm, this individual would be a member of La Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an order of around 12,000 individuals devoted to defending the wine and region of Burgundy. 



The Wine & Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) 

WSET is similarly set up to the program offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, with four levels of achievement offered. Level 1 is a great starting off point for people new to wine or looking for an intense weekend course in regions, grapes, styles and how to systematically taste wines. Courses are offered both online and in-person throughout the US. 

The primary differnece between these first two educational programs was described to me as WSET students are concerned with ground to bottling (growing, harvesting and production), whereas the Somms focus on bottle to table (selection and service). Pins are also awarded as a means of professional distinction. 

Institute of the Masters of Wine (MW)

After completion of Diploma (Level 4) of the WSET program, a professional can be considered an applicant for the MW certification. Much like the Master Sommelier achievement, this honor has only been bestowed to a total of 391 individual since 1953 (again only six per year!) and up until a couple decades ago was available only to wine professionals in the UK. 

Society of Wine Educators (CSW, CWE)

The Society of Wine Educators offers two post-nominal letters of distinction (CSW and CWE) which are greater predominantly for already seasoned professinals, Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Wine Educator. While a bit more challenging of an entry level course, the CSW is great credential for many of us working in a Tasting Room. While perhaps more aptly called a "generalist of wine" this program exposes the student to a broad range of topics. 



Other programs

Not as common but often utilized by professionals in the sales of world of fine wines internationally, you can also earn credentials as a Certified Wine Professional, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional or American Wine Expert. These are slightly more focused courses that are attainable to people that may have only experienced wine as a consumer. 

Outside Reading

And should you want to hold off on going back to school, there are plenty of options for learning at home. 

"The Wine Bible" by Karen MacNeil

"The Oxford Companion to Wine" by Jancis Robinson MW

"Understanding Wine Technology" by David Bird MW

"Why You Like the Wines You Like" by Tim Hanni MW

"Wine Folly"



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