Wine Certifications MW, CWE, WSET and MS? Differences AND Why You Want To Know

Why Should a Wine Consumer Care?

You are attending a wine tasting, wine class, an attendant is recommending a wine at a restaurant, buying a wine at a shop, or deciding which vintage to pop from your cellar… If you are an average consumer and “Two Buck Chuck” (okay, probably $4 now) is your thing, please move on to the next article of interest. If wine selection is a bit more important to you read on…

Most wine enthusiasts are faced with these situations frequently and try to make sense of the value proposition. Do you trust recommendations? How could wine professionals understand what you enjoy? Should I pay $20 for a bottle, or maybe splurge and spend $30? What IS a quality wine and how does it taste different? Which food tastes better with which type of wine?

If you spend any time asking yourself these questions, you need to know the difference between these certifications. Well, why should you trust my explanation? If a certification helps to define my content here… I have trained formally, tested and passed the first two levels of Sommelier certifications. Strictly speaking, I am a certified Professional Sommelier. The next level is Advanced and then Master Sommellier. There are a little over 200 MS certified individuals in the world and just the Master test requires a 3 day commitment for the Theory, Service and Tasting sections. Even with a fair amount of experience, it would take me a year (or more) off work to study for that one! All of these certifications require much preparation and are quite an accomplishment. The failure rate for all of these tests is high.

What is a Master of Wine (MW)?

The certification body is the Institute of Masters of Wine and requires a research project and paper. This should give you an idea of the direction here. The path here is Stages 1,2 and 3, prior to the Master designation. An MW will KNOW virtually everything about all wines around the world: all varietals, how they are farmed, all individual world Terroir, vineyard strategies, winemaking techniques, wine taste variation, etc. Where do these people play in the industry? Usually, they work as technical consultants to media, wineries, publications, distributors and importers, etc. There is much to learn about wine from one of these individuals, IF they know how to teach it.

What is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE), or a WSET L4 certified Consultant?

The certification bodies here are the Society of Wine Educators and Wine & Spirits Education Trust. The path to CWE can be to study and test for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), or not. The path to WSET L4 typically goes through L1-L3. These are the most prestigious wine education organizations in the world and they certify as you might guess… the teachers of wine. Why is this distinction important? Think of these people as the educators. If you were to take a wine class, it would be good to have a teacher with one of these certs. It validates their level of knowledge and that they have been introduced to a methodology for teaching wine.

What is a Master Sommelier (MS)?

The most prestigious certifying body here is the Court of Master Sommeliers. I was certified by the International Sommeliers Guild (ISG). They are connected to the Food & Wine education programs at the Art Institutes in major cities in the U.S. In my case, the Phoenix Art Institute and we had the opportunity to work with the chef education program there for food pairing training. The path to MS is already described earlier in this article.

I have a real bias towards these people. The difference here is, you are trained on Theory, Tasting and SERVICE. Why is this different than the other certs? Yes, I was trained to understand how different varietals and styles TASTE and I was tasked to learn about wine production and growing, but the big difference here is the focus on FOOD and matching an individual palate. I was mentored to believe that there can be a difference in wine quality, but wine flavors only apply to an individual palate. There is no “bad tasting wine”, only wine flavors appreciated by different clients. I was trained to learn HOW to pair different flavors (both FOOD & WINE) with different clients and their perception of an enjoyable EXPERIENCE. In essence, this certification focuses on recognizing HOW & WHY people enjoy different foods and wines and how to build an experience that is tailored to an individual. Look for these certified attendants at RESTAURANTS. They will know their stuff and if you can get some one-on-one time, they will enhance your dining experience.

The Difference Based on Your Need

I think you will find this quick guide helpful and easily understandable. If you are taking a wine class, look for WSET and CWE certified individuals. If you have decided to start some sort of business in the wine industry, an MW as a consultant would be a good choice. If you are at a restaurant, a Sommelier on staff would be a good indication of the quality of their wine program. All of these individuals have a level of wine knowledge that can offer much to your personal wine experience, but there are differences as noted above. If you are participating in a wine tasting, any of these people could lead a group successfully with very interesting and rich content for you to enjoy.

So, keep an eye out and ask about certifications. There are a million so-called wine experts. In fact, some can be amazing. I have spent time with wine collectors that would blow you away. Although, if you want to be sure that your money is being spent wisely for classes, education, or dining… Look for the folks with formal training and certification testing. You will have a better chance of getting the most for your money and a much improved experience!




Filed under Food Pairing, Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

8 responses to “Wine Certifications MW, CWE, WSET and MS? Differences AND Why You Want To Know

  1. I had a request from a reader to define the PATH to each of these certifications, as those discussed here are primarily advanced. So, if there are readers interested in pursuing formal education, I did not define the early education/certs that are available. I have added a short description for each cert. Article modified and posted 9/5/17. To those taking the time to read my contribution to the wine industry, a very heart-felt Thank You! I am more than happy to share what I can in the way of additional detail, as requested.


  2. Doug,
    I applaud your support of wine certifications validating the knowledge and skillsets of wine professionals and how it can help set a consumer’s mind at ease knowing who they’re getting advice from. I also like that you differentiate between the credentials and the focus of each organization. Most importantly it’s great that you acknowledge that a consumer’s personal tastes trump any technical recommendation. However there are some inaccuracies in your blog and links to sources might be helpful for those wanting more. I have first-hand knowledge of this as I am both a Master Sommelier (MS) and a Certified Wine Educator (CWE). The levels within the Court of Master Sommeliers are actually Introductory, Certified, Advanced and Master. There is no such credential as Grand Master Sommelier. There are currently 236 Master Sommeliers worldwide (not sure if this includes the 3 who passed in the UK last week). Details on the levels and all MS worldwide can be found at . It would also take far more than a year to pass the MS exam. The average of the 3% who eventually pass is roughly 8 years. Here is info on International Sommelier Guild (ISG) which is not as widely recognized – . I agree with Brian’s comment above that CSW is not comparable to WSET Diploma. CSW from Society of Wine Educators is comparable to somewhere between Court of MS Cert & Advanced and also to WSET level 3. CWE from SWE is more comparable to WSET Diploma. Here are links to both and . There are also great wine professionals and collectors who have zero certifications and people with certifications who test well but don’t deliver in real life. Travel, tasting, reading and work experience are needed to truly be professional. I find great value in credentials as a way to push yourself for personal growth, identify personal areas of weakness and strengthen yourself in those areas. Credentials also set you apart from other candidates in the industry. I have written several blogs about these issues at and teach people from all over the world to pass them and, pass or fail, to expand their passion for the world of wine.
    David Glancy, MS, CWE
    Founder, San Francisco Wine School


  3. I looked at the documentation online for both organizations for this piece, but nothing beats actual experience. Thank you for correcting the suggestion they are equal. I will put that info in my pocket for the future. My hope was to clearly make the distinction between business, education and service in the industry. I find the knowledge and skillsets to be quite different, but I don’t hear much discussion on the topic and I know most consumers are unfamiliar with the distinction and find all the certs confusing. Thanks for commenting on the blog!


  4. Doug, I would say that putting a CSW and a WSET L4 at the same tier is probably inaccurate. I have done both and there is a significantly higher level of tasting, studying and testing done to achieve the L4 than the CSW. Not to take anything away from the Society of Wine Educators, but this particular tier of qualification is much more broad and basic. The CWE (Certified Wine Educator) qualification would be a more appropriate comparison.


  5. Doug, great informative article. As a new wine blogger I should take a deeper look into what certification would help me along.
    Thank you


    • Hi Lew, thanks for the comment. From a writing perspective, it probably depends on your personal interests, or (if you are attempting to monetize your writing) the goals and planned impact of your writing. For me, I do monetize some of my writing, but mostly this is just my passion. I write about what I choose to, regardless of the appeal, or interest. I learned how to do interviews and really enjoy talking to passionate winemakers. Some here in the U.S. are just process engineers, but the ones who are invested are fascinating people and the reason for their passion is always different. If you want to meet other bloggers, join us at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma this year! Good luck!