Some nice person has made me aware of Wikipedia’s entry for “Master of Wine.” In it, the author of the entry has noted that “the Master of Wine qualification is recognized as being vastly more difficult.” Of course, the entry is merely re-stating something that Ronn Weigand (also a dual MS/MW and the first person to achieve that status) was quoted as saying in a Janet Fletcher-penned San Francisco Chronicle article. Ronn is welcome to his opinion. But so am I.
I think it’s rather subjective (if not reductive) to state that one title is more difficult than the other; it really depends upon the test taker. If someone is skilled in restaurant floor service and are willing to commit themselves to the memorization required of a Master Sommelier, well, then they will likely find it fairly easy. But if you’ve never worked on a restaurant floor, there is no way (imho) that you are ever going to pass the Master Sommelier exam. You might be able to dash off three Master of Wine essays in your sleep, but for you, the MS exam would be overwhelmingly difficult. You see, it depends upon the test taker, because each of these two tests is different.
The Master Sommelier exam tests people’s ability, experience, understanding and skills in a variety of service settings. The successful candidate is likely to know a great deal about a great many things, but as is typical of a hospitality setting, that sommelier isn’t going to need to write an essay about any of those issues. Conversely, the Master of Wine exam is extremely detailed about matters of grape-growing, winemaking and maturation and, perhaps most importantly, the business of wine. The successful MW candidate probably has no idea which grapes are important in Moldova or any other obscure wine region, but I guarantee you that the MS will. It doesn’t make one exam better or harder than the other, but it does make the exams very different.