News of an unprecedented cheating scandal shook the sommelier community to its wine-swilling core Tuesday evening, after it was announced that 23 Master Sommeliers had been stripped of certification due to a compromise in this year’s tasting exam.
In an official press release, the Board of Directors of the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), Americas announced it had “unanimously voted to invalidate the results of the tasting portion of the 2018 Master Sommelier Diploma Examination for all candidates,” because of “clear evidence” that a Master breached the confidentiality of the wines presented for tasting.
As yet, it is still unclear who was involved in the information breach, nor which of the 23 candidates are believed to have benefitted from it. The CMS Board of Directors went on to state that it had barred the Master involved from participating in any CMS programs or events, and is initiating terminating their membership.
Chairman of the Board Devon Broglie, MS, said, “Maintaining the integrity of the examination process must be our highest priority, lest we risk diminishing the value of, and the respect earned from, becoming a Master Sommelier.”
Gaining Master Sommelier certification is a rigorous process, involving years of tasting experience and study. The examination is made up of three parts: theory, practical (restaurant service simulation), and tasting. The tasting exam is perhaps the most difficult of the three, as candidates must blind-taste six wines, and identify the grape variety, geographic origin, and vintage of each.
In total, 24 new Master Sommeliers were crowned this year. The number was a record-breaking total, marking the highest number of candidates to ever pass in one year.
Morgan Harris, head sommelier at the Angler in San Francisco, Calif. is the only passing member whose certification remains valid, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, because he successfully completed the tasting portion of the exam in 2017.
Speaking to the Chronicle, Harris said, “It’s heartbreaking and incredibly disappointing for me and for everyone else who passed the exam in a fair and honest way.”
Others in the industry took to Twitter to share their sentiments. Seattle-based sommelier and VinePair podcast contributor Zach Geballe called the situation “massive and shocking.”
This is a massive and shocking story in the world of fine wine and sommeliers. The Court of Master Sommeliers has invalidated the results of the tasting portion of the latest Master Sommelier exam due to fraud. Stunning. #sommlife #wine https://t.co/rAg9TQlmQY
— Zach Geballe (@zgeballe) October 9, 2018
The Master Sommelier exam was the subject of the 2013 hit Netflix documentary, “Somm.” Dustin Wilson, MS, one of the successful candidates featured in the film, expressed his sorrow on Twitter Tuesday evening, saying, “Sad day today.”
Replying to Wilson’s tweet, fellow Master Sommelier Jim Rollston agreed, noting his disappointment for those that had passed legitimately. “So sad for all those that passed that flight,” he wrote.