How to train for the world's most elite wine exam

Fewer than 300 people have ever passed.

The master sommelier exam has a reputation for being impossible to pass. Becoming certified is so difficult that, to date, there are fewer than 300 master sommeliers in the world.

Most aspiring masters fall at the last hurdle — the blind tasting portion of the exam — where they're required to describe and identify the origin, grape, year, and quality of six wines — just by tasting them.

But last year’s results were unprecedented — a record 24 sommeliers passed. Allegations soon emerged, however, that someone leaked information about the exam in an email, and 23 had their titles revoked.


Among them was Vincent Morrow and his housemates Andrey and Jeremy. They live together in San Francisco where they're training for a retest.

"As devastating as it was at first, I am not going to stop trying to pass it. I am preparing for the worst and hoping for something better than that," Morrow told VICE News.

The test was established in 1969 to distinguish and certify the cream of wine professionals — those deigned specialist enough to work in the finest dining in the world. On average only about 10 to 12 percent of those who attempt the test pass each year.

Training for the exam is renowned for being mentally, emotionally, and financially taxing. But although the byzantine process is all-consuming, there's a life-long payoff for passing: The combination of profound knowledge of wine and exceptional palates can double a master sommelier's salary.

VICE News spent some time with Morrow and his roommates in the weeks leading up to the retake and tested their blind tasting skills.

This segment originally aired January 24, 2019, on VICE News Tonight