The Reason We’re Called ‘Master’

“Is it good for the wine industry?”

That is the question that sparked a lively debate recently while I was in Napa Valley. The “it” to which this person was referring is the Master Sommelier program. More specifically, the question was directed toward the growing number of individuals and their impact on the industry as a whole.


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A perfectly ripe and gorgeous nose of spiced black cherries and strawberry fruit roll-ups

You probably would assume that I defended it staunchly, and you would be correct.

It goes without saying that passing the Master Sommelier examination is a huge accomplishment wrought of tireless years of practice, tasting, study, working and no small amount of sacrifice, sweat and some tears (not all by just the person who takes the exam). To date, there are only 211 people in the world who’ve attained the title of Master Sommelier (yours truly was No. 69 in 2005). The people who pass are truly talented, extremely intelligent, gifted and passionate when it comes to wine and more. This translates to some of the finest people and assets that any wine company, winery, distributor, hotel or restaurant could employ.

Their knowledge of wine is perhaps the highest in all the industry, along with Masters of Wine. From wine to spirits and sake to beer, we must be well-versed in all beverages.

But knowledge in itself has no value until it is utilized or passed on. Utilizing that knowledge to run a brilliant wine and beverage program or business is key. MS’s also educate all the time. Whether it is within their own establishments to staff, other buyers, sommeliers and the public (guests, special events, festivals, dinners) we have the opportunity to spread that knowledge to others.

A key ingredient in the MS program is the service aspect of the restaurant. I can say without a doubt that the service in any restaurant can improve with an MS at its helm or working in it. And we teach the MS standards wherever we go, whether in the restaurant or hotel we work in or any of the trainings we do. Not to mention MS service standards are the gold standard in the industry.

The luster of having an MS working for a company also can give credibility, respect and even a bit of authority to its stature. MS expertise can go a long way toward building respect for the company they work for. The MS program also provides perhaps the finest network of wine professionals in the world. The collective wealth of contacts through those who have already passed, those who are in the program and those who are soon to be in the program is immense. It has grown geometrically in recent years since I passed the exam. Imagine the vast knowledge and multitudes of experiences being shared and spread.

The Master Sommelier program is not perfect. No system is, but the amount of positive influences that it exerts within and outside the industry is undeniable. Is it really good for the wine industry? Hell yeah!

Recommendations: 2008 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino ($60) Hello, all Brunello lovers! This is a wine that will put you back into your seat. It has a perfectly ripe and gorgeous nose of spiced black cherries and strawberry fruit roll-ups. It has plenty of grip and the flavors really stain the palate, leading to a super-long finish. This also will age really well. 2012 Wind Gap Trousseau Gris ($25) Who cares if you are not familiar with this grape? It has beautifully ripe citrus in the bouquet with a hint of alpine flower and green herbs. It is more than lively in the mouth with refreshing zing and medium to light body. Exotic and delicious!

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.