Good question!

I’ve been an MW since 2018, and still have close friends asking me “Hey, did you pass that exam from that movie? Aren’t you a Master Somm?”

No, I am a Master of Wine (but feeling like a master is a different thing – I still feel like a perpetual student).

Fun fact: The first MW exam was in 1953. Roughly 20 years later, the MWs saw a need for a separate restaurant-focused exam – So they helped create the Court of Master Sommeliers. Imagine that? But that’s old history.

Today, both credentials have attained unrivaled status in their fields. However, they are entirely separate entities.

Allow me to explain:

· The Court of Master Sommeliers is the premier international examining body for standards of knowledge and service in the hospitality and beverage industry. Master Sommeliers (MS) are recognized globally as having mastered the art, science, and history that informs a sommelier’s work.

· The Institute of Masters of Wine establishes the highest examination standards in all aspects of the production, trade, and marketing of wine, as well as related health and ethical issues. Masters of Wine (MW) are recognized globally as holding the most prestigious credential in non-hospitality sectors of the wine industry.

While we share many friendships, each organization serves a different purpose.

A Deeper Dive

Each credential is best understood by considering its relevant audience. Whereas the MS exam assesses expertise concerning the issues of greatest value to the wine consumer, the MW exam assesses mastery of subjects of greatest value to the wine industry. Relatedly, the respective examination standards are quite different.

MS: For example, the two-hour verbal theory portion of the MS exam consists of a demanding assessment concerning the who (producer), what (varieties, production), where (origin), and when (vintage) of wine. These subjects and the precise manner in which they’re explained are, a priori, most relevant in a restaurant setting while wine is being ordered, consumed, and enjoyed.

MW: By contrast, the thirteen-hour written theory portion of the MW exam is a rigorous series of essays expanding on the “how” and “why” of five broad subjects: vinification, viticulture, handling of finished wine, the business of wine, and contemporary issues. These subjects and the cogent manner in which they’re explored are most relevant to the trade, i.e. the growing, making, maturing, and selling of wine.

Swapping the roles of an MW and MS in a restaurant would not be ideal – imagine the poor dinner guests suffering through a lesson about how vineyard cover crops fix nitrogen to increase nutrient… nevermind, you get the point.

The theory-exam examples are merely illustrative and do not represent the exhaustive scope of both examinations. A link to the full syllabus of the Master of Wine examination is here: https://www.mastersofwine.org/. The Master Sommelier’s exam process is not publicly available, but here is their site: https://www.mastersommeliers.org/.

Who’s got the bigger… decanter?

While the MW and the MS are the dual pinnacle achievements in wine, (MS more familiar in the US, the MW more familiar globally), asking which credential is “more prestigious” starts from an incorrect premise – that they are comparable. They are not. To use an apt analogy, both marathons and sprints measure the speed of a competitive runner, however asking which race is harder to medal in the Olympics misses the point of specialization.