The Heights of Wine Education: MW vs. MS
Wine education is pursued for a multitude of reasons, ranging from personal enjoyment to career advancement. Formal wine training can be achieved and applied at a number of levels in a number of arenas. For the ambitious few with their sights set on the highest level of education in the industry, there are two paramount credentials often equated as the 'PhDs of Wine Academia': Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. Both require years and years (and years) of dedication, strategic study, and calculated advancement. Candidates usually require multiple attempts at the exams and many never pass.
So, What's the Difference?
In a nutshell, the Master Sommelier Diploma is the highest distinction a professional can obtain in beverage knowledge and service. The oral and practical exams encompass blind wine tasting and in-depth beverage theory, food pairing and formal dining room service for wines of the world, spirits, beer, sake, and even cigars. The equally challenging Master of Wine Program requires a more academic and theoretical in approach. Blind tasting is also required, however the exams are written and focus on wine analysis, international wine business, enology, and winemaking philosophy. MW does not include exams on service, dining room management, cigars, or other beverages.
Want to Join the Club?
Master Sommelier David Glancy, founder of SF Wine School, is one of only 230 MSs in the world and one of only 12 to have both the MS credential and the also rigorous Certified Wine Educator credential from the Society of Wine Educators. An equally tiny club of high-achieving wine professionals, Masters of Wine number a mere 340 worldwide.
According to Glancy, "Master Sommeliers need to access a world of knowledge about wine, other beverages and food quickly and move quickly, but smoothly during service and analyze wines quickly during the 25-minute, 6-wine blind tasting exam. Masters of Wine have 3 days to analyze 36 wines, but must write very well and go more deeply into wine growing, production and chemistry. There are only 4 people in the world who have passed both and MANY have tried."
David Glancy has developed the proprietary Somm Essentials certification as a starting place for those looking to study the beverage and hospitality industries and recommends additional study in theory, tasting and service for those looking to achieve higher level sommelier credentials.
The Institute of Masters of Wine recommends the Wine and Spirit Education Trust curriculum (Levels 1-4) for those looking ahead to the eventual pursuit of MW. Most students can by-pass Level 1 and are ready to begin with Level 2. WSET Level 2 is appropriate for beginners and offers an overview of wine varieties, types and regions, as well as a focus on how to professionally taste wine. WSET Level 3 goes deeper with coverage of every major world wine region and a systematic tasting program as students examine the soil, climate, viticulture and winemaking factors that influence wine style, quality and price. WSET Level 2 and Level 3 programs are both being offered this fall at San Francisco Wine School by Grape Experience.
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