Sunday, September 16, 2012

Overview of Professional Wine Certifications

It's amazing how many wine certifications exist in the world.  Here's a listing of the principal ones available in the US, that I know of.  Please let me know if I've missed any.  This is why, when you ask a wine nerd "what certifications do you have?" you may be in for a lengthy answer!   (Note that I'm not reviewing local classes here - I'll do that in a future post.)

If you are interested in obtaining professional wine credentials, be sure to investigate which certifications will be most useful to your interest level or career path, as some are more education-focused and others are more service-focused.  Also, some of these certifications are offered in combination with a prep course, while some are only an exam, where applicants are expected to have prepared on their own.

Offered by the Society of Wine Educators:
  • Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)
  • Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS)
  • Certified Wine Educator (CWE) (CSW is a prerequisite)
As the name suggests, these certifications are education focused.  The CWE even requires a "presentation skills demonstration."

  • Wine Fundamentals 1 and 2 (usually offered together)
  • Sommelier Diploma Program (Fundamentals 1 and 2 are prerequisites)
Fundamentals 1 and 2 are focused on general knowledge, but the Diploma level includes a service portion on the exam.

  • Level 1 - focusing on wine, spirits, or service
  • Level 2 - focusing on wine & spirits, or spirits only
  • Level 3 - focusing on wine & spirits
  • Level 4 - diploma in wine & spirits
  • Level 5 - honors diploma (individual research project)
This group is based in the UK, and the courses are focused more on general knowledge than service.

  • Level 1 - Intro course and exam
  • Level 2 - Certified Sommelier exam (no course)
  • Level 3 - Advanced Sommelier course and exam
  • Level 4 - Master Sommelier diploma exam 
The level 1 exam is written, but beginning with level 2 these exams cover written theory, blind tasting, and practical service.

Offered by the French Wine Society:
  • French Wine Scholar (FWS)
  • Bordeaux master level
  • Burgundy master level
  • Languedoc-Rousillon master level
  • Rhone master level
  • Provence master level
  • Champagne master level (coming in 2013)
These are written exams.  Depending on where you live, you may have access to a local course that helps you prepare for the exam.  The French Wine Society also provides extensive web-based instruction and resources.

  • Italian Wine Specialist
  • Certified Sommelier
  • Master of Service
  • Master Taster
These are all presented as courses with exams at the end.  And yes, the group does use the acronym "NASA," for reasons I can't begin to imagine.

  • Master of Wine
This is the highest level designation I'm aware of.  There are only a few hundred people in the world who have qualified, and years of extensive individual study and training are required.  Blind tasting is a significant portion of the exam. 

Copyright © 2012 by Joanna Opaskar
All rights reserved.

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