The UK sommelier world has reacted with disbelief, sympathy and anger to the news of the US Master Sommelier (MS) exam tasting scandal that broke earlier this week.
The controversy dates back to the last round of Master Sommelier exams, which took place in early September in the US.
An extraordinarily high number of prospective MSs – 25 – passed the tasting element of the exam. But information subsequently came to light that a Master Sommelier had secretly passed on details of the wines in the tasting to the candidates.
The MS in question has been kicked out of the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and barred from attending any future events. The students have had their tasting exam results annulled and their MS qualifications rescinded.
‘Having done some CMS exams myself, it seems surreal that such a thing can have happened, given the secrecy and extreme care given to the course and its examinations,’ said Olivier Gasselin of Hakkasan. ‘Given the level of knowledge, expertise and personal involvement, it is very unfair on those who have not cheated – though 24 candidates passing the exam sounded dubious to be honest, given the [usually] extremely low pass rate.
‘If the CMS wants to keep its reputation and its prestige, they were right to cancel the results.’
Gearoid Devaney and Xavier Rousset, two master sommeliers working on their new industry-only venue TRADE, were also sympathetic to the plight of the innocent students caught up in the scandal and the no-win situation of the Court of Master Sommeliers.
‘It’s a real shame,’ Rousset told Imbibe. ‘I’m sure some people passed who cheated, but I imagine a lot didn’t. I’m with the Americans on this one, you can’t go half way. It’s really sad, but the results need to be taken out. The Court had to make an example.’
‘I’d imagine most of my fellow MSs in the court worldwide would have a lot of sympathy for the people who weren’t involved and passed that exam, but I don’t see any other solution. The exam had been compromised,’ agreed Devaney.
Having the results annulled for the tasting element of the MS is particularly tough, since it’s a notoriously difficult part of the exam, with an extremely low pass rate. Unlike a written paper, where thorough preparation is likely to lead to a pass, there are no such guarantees with the tasting paper.
‘No matter how well prepared you are, you need to have one of your good days and have wines that talk to you,’ said Devaney.
A further area where the trade were 100% united was in their condemnation of the – as yet anonymous – American MS who leaked details of the wines.
‘I don’t understand why you’d do that,’ said Rousset. ‘I hope there was no financial gain…’