In order to qualify to take the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam, students must first have passed the Court of Master Sommeliers' previous courses and tests, including the Advanced Sommelier Exam, which only about 25 percent of students tend to pass. After this qualification is met, the aspiring Master Sommelier must pass a three-part test that covers the areas of practical restaurant wine service and salesmanship, the theory of what a sommelier needs to know and a practical tasting exam. According to the Court of Master Sommeliers, only about 10 percent of aspiring Master Sommeliers successfully make it past the theory portion of the exam.
The Master Sommelier exam is extremely challenging, and as of 2013, only about 200 people had ever actually attained this level of qualification. The practical portion of the exam requires the applicant to discuss, select, recommend, prepare and serve different types of wines and glassware. This is essentially a way for the testing panel to see how well the sommelier does his or her job in practice. The theory portion of the exam covers grape varieties, the world's wine-producing regions, international wine law, liqueur and spirit distillation, cigar production and the proper storage of the products discussed (wine, spirits and cigars). The few who get past this stage in the exam must then taste and describe six different wines within 25 minutes.