In the world of wine, the title of Master Sommelier (MS) is a highly-coveted designation only bestowed upon those with the most discerning of palates who have completed countless hours of training and passed an exam that has been compared in its level of difficulty to the legal bar or medical boards.
The people who do pass become the rock stars of the wine world, commanding the respect of the hospitality industry as well as lucrative positions at high-end restaurants and wineries across the country. So why would a Master Sommelier risk a prestigious designation that took years to achieve by leaking insider information about the blind tasting portion of the MS exam?
This is the question at the center of a scandal that has shaken the wine world. Last week, the Court of Master Sommeliers, the governing body that administers the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination, announced that it would be taking away the MS designation from 23 of the 24 individuals who passed this year after its Board of Directors “found sufficient evidence that the tasting portion of the 2018 Master Sommelier Diploma Examination was compromised by the release of detailed information concerning wines in the tasting flight.” The Court has said since it announced the scandal that it will refund all fees collected for the tasting portion of the 2018 exam and offer retesting opportunities to those affected.
Just how difficult is it to pass the MS exam? And what might motivate someone who has spent so much time and money to obtain the MS designation to leak confidential information about the tasting portion of the exam?
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Jason Wise, writer and director of the “SOMM” series, an ongoing documentary series about the wine experience; the series' third film, “SOMM 3” premieres this week in New York City; he tweets @JasonBWise