Keith Goldston, master sommelier, at the Grill Room in 2015. Photo for The Washington Post by Dixie D. Veree
Keith Goldston, master sommelier, at the Grill Room in 2015. Photo for The Washington Post by Dixie D. Veree

The 2018 wine scandal that won’t be forgotten

By Dave McIntyre for The Washington Post Time of article published Dec 27, 2018

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As the new year approaches, vinophiles look forward to choosing special wines for our holiday celebrations. 

This is also a good time to look back on the year just passed, not only to remember great bottles enjoyed but to take note of events that might affect the taste of wine in the year to come. 

The Court of Master Sommeliers lost some of its luster with a major cheating scandal. 

Over the past decade, the court enjoyed a wave of celebrity, typified by the movie "Somm" and its sequels (the third installment was released this autumn). 

The movies lionized the court's rigorous certification program and the three tests - theory, service and tasting - candidates must pass to earn the coveted red lapel pin of a master sommelier. 

The court came to symbolize the rising professionalism of the sommelier trade at a time when America's restaurants were experiencing a renaissance and diners were becoming increasingly savvy about their vino.

In October, a few weeks after heralding its largest-ever class of new master sommeliers, the court announced that an exam proctor had revealed information on some of the wines in the tasting exam to an unknown number of the candidates. 

2018 was not a great year for the Court of Master Sommeliers. Pexels

The court's board decided to strip all 24 of its new masters of their titles; the offending proctor was excommunicated. 

Six of the defrocked somms passed the tasting test again in December and had their titles restored. 

The court said its drastic response to the cheating was necessary to preserve the integrity of the certification process, but we may never learn how many of the candidates who took the test in September were privy to the leaked information about the wines in the blind tasting.

Ultimately, the sommelier scandal won't directly affect our restaurant dining experiences. But it could tarnish the luster of the master sommelier title, with the professional and financial benefits it conveys. 

Younger somms could be less inclined to pursue the title, or the profession itself. And that would be unfortunate.

* The Washington Post

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