Sommelier Certification

I have been doing some online research about getting certified as a sommelier. There seems to be a number of associations and programs available. Where would be a good place to start? Which are the most reputable and widely recognized? Any input is appreciated.


Original Post
Hi Mark,

Probably the best-known sommelier certification programs are offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, the American Sommelier Association and the Sommelier Society of America. I know some top sommeliers who have one or two of these certifications.

Is your goal to become a sommelier? Where are you in the process? Are you currently working as a sommelier? Or a waiter?

Many sommeliers start off as waiters and then move on to the wine side of the business. Certification is not necessarily required.

And Ines -- it will help to answer your questions if I know your goal. Is it to learn about wine for your own pleasure? To become a sommelier? To work in the wine business?

How recognised are WSET's AC and diploma in the USA? Naturally they aren't geared towards sommeliers per se, but since there is no real standard for what a sommelier is do they carry any value over there for employers?

I'm going to a university level sommelier programme right now. 2 years of fulltime studies including 5 weeks international practice. My goal, although it may have to be changed later is to have a WSET Diploma by the time I graduate.
I do not currently work in the hospitality industry nor do I really intend to. My intentions are to further enhance my love of wine in a more structured way. I really don't have any goals in mind at this time but I don't see myself working in the restaurant industry. As a entrepreneur, I may do something business related with the knowledge I would attain.

I have run in to The Court of MS, Interntaional Sommelier Guild, ASA, SSA, also Society of Wine Educators, Institute of Masters of Wine, etc.

It really is confusing out there on the internet to find out what is really good, what is recognized by the industry as the best and which direction to go.

As someone who has been self-employed my whole life, I can make my own schedule to attend the courses in a manner that is very flexible if that makes a difference.

I certainly appreciate all of your input!

Mark in San Diego
hi mark,

i've got the WSET diploma myself. the people in my section were a broad cross-section of winelovers not in the industry, waitstaff, distributors, sommeliers, pr folks, etc.

the materials are okay, but much of the integration and all the memorization is up to you.

i still have all the 3x5 index cards i used to study on the subway, while waiting for the bus, during lunch, etc. (it's definitely a geeky endeavor.) i did learn a bunch, but there really was a lot of memorization.

worth it? sure. but you can pick up good books or take Understanding Wine at Wine Spectator School (full disclosure: I've written all the courses at WSS) and learn a lot.

anyone out there have any of the other certifications? were there classes (if so, what where they like) or was it just an exam? why did you take that certification and what has it done for you?

and for thorn, the WSET is recognized in some industry circles. the MW is more broadly recognized than the diploma.

certification of any kind is respected, but certainly not a prerequisite to working in the industry as a sommelier or in another capacity. i've got an MBA (told you i was a certified member of the geek patrol), but i've got some friends without MBAs who've started their own businesses and are wildly successful.


You have been so helpful I can't thank you enough for starting to clear some of this up.

I guess I would hate to get certified by an organization and then be working professionally in some capacity (writing, teaching, or whatever) and have a MS or a MW say that my "degree" was worthless for some reason.

Your Wine Spectator course looks great, but I have a concern about getting immediate feedback on tastings as it seems like that might be a relatively interactive part of the learning curve?

Hi Gloria,

Great info so far as I have read.

To answer your question- I have worked as a Sommelier previously in Sydney at Wildfire Restaurant, on of the top fine dining restos in the city.

Currently I work at a Hotel and Restaurant Management School teaching Beverage Management. I have self educated myself on wine basically through tasting, winery trips, and research. The Founder of my school wants me to be certified.

As for myself, my goal is eventually to be a MAster Sommelier- which I know takes years. I am relatively quite young- but the sooner the better!

Unfortunately I only have time over the summers, which in Manila runs from end of March-June. Hoepfully in a year or two I may get a sebbatical from teaching where I can have more time.

Hope that helps!


"Carpe Vinum!"
Ines, I have to ask: Where is it you work? Are you referring to the american certification?

There definately seems to me like there is a need for a worldwide certificate, with the internationalisation of the business and all. What a sommelier is, is quite diffuse. By tradition it's a trade learnt through practice but with the education available today it's hard to tell what means what.

For example, like I said before, I'm currently enrolled in a university programme for Sommeliers. I'll graduate with a Bachelor (or maybe Masters, not quite sure yet) in Culinary Arts with Sommeliere specification. This is one of three programmes in Sweden that grant me entry into the national Sommelier association. There are a multitude of smaller, say one month courses that are also called sommeliereducations. These however can not join the sommelier association.

Time to get ready for school, six hours of Rhône tastings is what's on the schedule or today. Wink
I work at a new international college for hotel and restaurant management ( in the Philippines.

My company's original plan was to send me to the CIA campus in Sonoma to do a six week intensive wine immersion course that would certify me as a wine professional. It sounded great at first (and I have never been to the wine country in Cali) but folks have told me that it is only a certification that is recognized in the U.S. That's fine for now, but eventually I would like to look into shorter, more internationally recognized courses.

Unfortunately I don't have the time at the moment to go back to school and get a full on masters, but like I said, I am quite young and that may be a consideration in a few years Smile
I am also interested in learning lots more about wine, not sure if I have time to go to the sommelier level, but would love too. I am currently a personal chef in NYC and have educated myself quite a bit on wines. I would like to learn more to better serve my clients who constantly ask about wine and recommendations for some of the parties I do. With all the diffent vineyards, regions and new winemakers popping up, it's difficult to keep up. Does anyone have suggestions or further guidance advice? Thanks.
Originally posted by mhstuart:

Your Wine Spectator course looks great, but I have a concern about getting immediate feedback on tastings

I'd like to here from Gloria on this.

The WSS does have some fans here in my industry, many say it helps- though my concern mirrors Mark
As with graduate degrees, there is no one universally recognized top degree in wine (I have and MBA from Kellogg and the diploma from the WSET -- but Harvard MBAs will prefer to hire other Harvard MBAs and folks with the Master Sommelier prefer to hire other MSs).

When I'm hiring, the most important factor is that the candidate has aggressively pursued some course of study and that they have actively presented wines to their friends or customers. The particular avenue is less important to me.

Plus, personality fit is important. I've done a lot of interviewing for Kellogg applicants. All are brilliant. Not all would be a good fit.

With wine jobs, I believe that there is a similar winnowing.

There is no one path. Just be passionate about the path you take.

I'm here if you have more questions.

But, in the meantime, have a glass of wine and remember to enjoy it. And, share it with a friend -- that's the most important part.

And, since I have written all the materials for WSS (this would be the disclaimer part of my response), I am glad that many folks studying for the WSET diploma and the SWE degrees and the MS have taken Wine Spectator School courses to help them prep for their exams -- and have found them to be very helpful.

I recently earned the Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits from WSET and I too am considering going for the Diploma. To those who took it, how was it? Was it an enjoyable learning experience? Also, I am a but concerned about some of the essays and papers. Can you respond to them by merely tasting and reading? DOes the WSET give you good library access or a list of books that will help you succeed? Finally, what were the tasting exams like? I still ahve trouble guessing the correct grape but am improving on making deductions. Please shed some light on whatever you can tell me about the Diploma program.

Cheers to all and happy tasting!
Response to Thorn:

I took the WSET certificate course and have found that the diversity of student backgrounds there was varied. Some were servers while others were in the wine business but not strictly in restaurants. From my having spoken to industry leaders, it does not appear that restaurants are comparing one wine program with another. They seem to respect any kind of certification.
I too earned the WSET Advanced cert and am now plotting the next steps in my wine education.
I took the Society of Wine Educators' Certifed Wine Specialist exam as well, finding the exam questions similar in difficulty to the WSET Advanced. The study guide did not cover spirits at all but the information contained was notibly more current.
I have registered for the Society's Certified Wine Educator exam but am not entirely certain what to expect as I have not yet heard back regarding what I anticipate to be a huge reading list. Anybody have experience with the scope of the Wine Educator exam?

The sommelier education available to me locally (Seattle)was through the International Sommelier Guild and is quite intensive. Obviously this is service oriented career direction, and I am veering now towards an educator career. We'll see if I have enough in me to tackle the WSET Diploma next year. Like 'John in NYC', I would love to hear more about this.

Through discussions with sommeliers and industry people I do believe that most of the certifying organizations are recognized - with the almost universal qualifier that new certificate/diploma holders are experience weak, arrogant and often wrong in functional knowledge. But then I've heard similar thoughts on Culinary School graduates! I imagine all the wrinkles get ironed out in the fires of on-the-job performance.
On WSET and WSS -- I find they work well together. I can't believe the amount of work required for my advanced wset class - a new country, and all the wines it includes, each week! And we'll be tested on it all! WSS reinforces what I learn from WSET and vice versa.

You can't possibly taste enough!

At restaurants, give friends a price range, limit them to a single grape, and force yourself to pay close enough attention to correctly blind taste the result.

If I was hiring for a restaurant, I'd go with someone who can instantly read a customer in terms of personality type than any degree. This is a "service business." Lots of times sommeliers admit that they ask a client what wines they already like to make sure they are on the same page.
hi fork,

i'm pretty visual in the way i approach studying, so the other approach that helped was to write in the different types of wines directly on the regional maps. and i used color-coded dots for each type of wine: yellow for bubbly, green for white, orange for sweet, pink for rose and red for red.

as for the tasting portion (hmm... maybe that was on the diploma and not advanced?), really pay attention to the STEPS for identifying the wines. they're more interested in methodology and reasoning than in the final correct id.

i also made charts for each country, so i could compare the wines and regions. i put the regions in columns and the pertinent characteristics in rows.

I'm here if you have more questions.

Thanks schoolmarm, this is very helpful! I take my book everywhere but haven't yet planned an organized method, such as you excellently describe. 1) Love the dot idea! 2) Yes, we have a tasting portion and I download some literature reiterating what you said about methodology. The new sotheby's wine encyclopedia also has a great section on this. 3) In terms of charts, great idea - I see I will be very busy.

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