The Master sommelier exam was established in 1969, to distinguish and certify the cream of wine professionals — those deigned specialist enough to work in the very finest dining in the world. It 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.
On average only about 10 to 12 percent of those who attempt the test actually pass each year. Last year’s results were unprecedented — a record 24 sommeliers passed. But after allegations emerged that someone leaked information about the exam in an email, all 23 those who took the blind tasting last year had their title revoked.
Most aspiring masters fall at the last hurdle — the blind tasting portion of the exam — where they are required to describe and identify the origin, grape, year, and quality of 6 wines — just by tasting them. Training for this exam is renowned for being mentally, emotionally and financially taxing.
But although the byzantine process is costly and all consuming, there is a life-long payoff for passing. Master sommeliers are revered for a combination of their profound arcane knowledge of wine and exceptional palates, and can double their salaries as a result.
Which is why when allegations of cheating emerged last year, the wine world was scandalized. A few weeks after the record pass rate, the board of examiners revealed that someone had leaked information in an email about the blind tasting wines, and the decision was made to revoke the titles of all 23 newly awarded masters.
Among them was Vincent Morrow, and his housemates Andrey and Jeremy. They live together in San Francisco where they are training for a retest.
VICE News spent some time with them in the weeks leading up to the retake.