Master Sommelier cheating scandal results in loss of titles

If you have ever eaten at a fine dining establishment, you’ve likely used the services of a sommelier, whether to choose a wine pairing or because one was used to develop the restaurant’s wine list. Only the best of the best sommeliers earn the designation of Master Sommelier. The path to that highly desired title includes a battery of difficult tests, the hardest one being a blind tasting. Only a handful of people each year pass all four portions of the exam. This year, 24 people earned the rights to call themselves Master Sommeliers, but a recent cheating scandal has resulted in all but one of them being stripped of the title. 


Since the regimen of tests that designate Master Sommeliers was developed fifty years ago, only 274 people have managed to earn the honor. One of those 274 was implicated in the cheating controversy. He or she passed along information about the six wines used in the blind tasting, in which the applicants have to identify each of the six wine’s grape variety, region of origin, and vintage.

Having advance knowledge would be extremely helpful in passing this test, and that is what is alleged to have happened. There are no details on who provided the information or what exactly the information included, but the best guess on the former is that an exam proctor was the one who spilled the beans – or in this case, the wine. 

It’s difficult for most Master Sommeliers to imagine why someone would do this, because it demeans the entire testing process and has now put a dent in the sterling reputation of the remaining sommeliers who have worked hard to earn the distinguished title. The one member of this year’s class who was not stripped of the title, Morgan Harris, passed the tasting section of the exam last year so he was not implicated in the controversy. He said: “It’s heartbreaking and incredibly disappointing for me and for everyone else who passed the exam in a fair and honest way.”

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