There are three wine certification programs available to whomever has the inclination to enroll. For the service sector, there is the Court of Masters, with four levels. There is a 90% pass rate for the first level, a 33% percent pass rate for the 2nd level, and it drops precipitously from there. Passing the 4th or master level is so difficult and demanding that since its inception in 1977 there have only been 269 people who have achieved that level of mastery. While the level of knowledge required to pass level one is fairly basic, as one would assume, the depth and complexity of the information gets progressively more demanding. That is to say levels two and three have quite a mastery of wine knowledge.
For the retail sector there is the Wine and Spirits Education and Trust. That program has four levels, each progressively more difficult. WSET is often a pathway to the Master of Wine title. Because of the level of depth and complexity of the knowledge required, there are few people who have achieved the Master of Wine title. Since its inception in 1969 there have only been 396 Masters of Wine.
For the writing and teaching sector there is the Society of Wine Educators. That has just two levels, Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Wine Educator. Established in 1977 there have been 8700 certified specialists of wine and far fewer than that for the top level.
By the 2nd level of Court of Masters, the 3rd level of WSET and the 1st level of SWE, the tests are quite rigorous and require quite a lot of knowledge.
What a good certification program will do is guarantee a high level of knowledge in that field. As does happen in many areas of study, there are people who read a few books, or learn a few facts and present themselves as experts. If you want to know that the person teaching a class on wine has the knowledge, ask which of the above certifications they have. If they are not certified, you may as well just read the book yourself.
Here are some things that a person with certification would never say. Can you correct the errors?
The fruit had a fresh, raisinated quality
Tempranillo and Zinfandel are genetically related.
Rioja is a synonym for Tempranillo
The clay soils of the right bank of Bordeaux give Syrah its searing acidity
This Pinot Grigio has a great pyrazine quality
This young Beaujolais needs to be decanted so it can open up.
The oak on this St. Joseph creates some great tertiary aromas.
This is a dry wine with some residual sugar
Some of these are things actually said by wine ‘teachers.’ The point is, as with all things in life, facts do exist. Words matter. Don’t hesitate if you go to a wine class to ask the teacher what level of certification he or she has achieved. If the answer is 2nd level or above through the Court of Masters or WSET programs, or Certified Specialist of Wine or above through Society of Wine Educators, then rest assured you are in the hands of a knowledgeable professional.