What Is a Wine Sommelier?
When talking about wine with foodies or wine connoisseurs, it's almost impossible not to hear the term 'sommelier'. In the past, this may sound like a foreign word. But with the rise of TV series, like Uncorked and the documentary Somm, this profession has been catapulted into the limelight. In fact, the role of a sommelier is associated with a little bit of a celebrity status these days.
It's amazing how a sommelier can pick out the best wine from a large wine rack to pair with any food. That's how much they know their wines. However, many people are still confused about what a sommelier does.
In a nutshell, sommeliers serve wine at restaurants, but there's so much more to this job than meets the eye.
What does a wine sommelier do?
Not everyone can pick a bottle of wine from a huge white wine rack and actually know what they are getting—but a sommelier can.
In the most traditional sense, sommeliers are wine stewards. They are knowledgeable and trained wine professionals who typically work in fine dining establishments. Sommeliers are experts in all aspects of wine storage and wine service, as well as wine and food pairings.
The modern version of sommeliers, though, is no longer confined to the floor of a restaurant serving wines to guests. These days, they have started taking on more responsibilities which include:
- Develop a restaurant's wine programme and wine list
- Manage wine inventory
- Train restaurant staff members about wine
- Determine ideal wine-and-food pairings while working with the culinary team
- Work with chefs to develop new dishes that will complement a certain type of wine
- Share expert knowledge of all the beverages offered in a restaurant, including beer and spirits
- Interact with guests and make wine recommendations
Sommeliers know exactly what bottle to pick from a large wine rack that will go well with any meal or occasion. However, to be able to reach this level, they need to undergo extensive training.
How do you become a wine sommelier?
If you want to be a sommelier, you should have a deep passion and appreciation for wine, as well as a lot of drive. That's the only way you will get through the whole training process. We're not going to sugarcoat it. The road to becoming a certified sommelier requires rigorous study and a lot of practice to develop the necessary wine-tasting skills. The four sommelier certification levels which can be completed with the Court of Master Sommeliers include:
- Introductory Sommelier
- Certified Sommelier
- Advanced Sommelier
- Master Sommelier
These four certifications must be completed sequentially. A Master Sommelier is the highest level you can achieve as a wine professional. However, only a few ever reached this level because of the advanced wine-tasting skills and extensive wine knowledge required.
Don't worry, though. Even as a Certified or Advanced Sommelier, you can already easily identify the different bottles on a large wine rack. You can also make recommendations to any guests on which wine pairs well with their meal.
Benefits of becoming a good wine sommelier yourself
As good wine sommelier, you are not there to recommend random wines to guests. Your knowledge of wine can help increase their dining experience. Your expertise will also come in handy when developing a wine and food pairing list.
Furthermore, you can help develop a unique experience specifically tailored to certain guests, which helps leave a lasting impression. As a result, they will be back to dine again. And, the more satisfied and happy customers you serve, the restaurant owner will value you and your contributions to their business more. Hence, you become an indispensable asset.
Should you ever decide to start your own restaurant business, you can use your expertise in wine to help grow your business.
How do you excel as a wine sommelier?
Anybody can be a wine sommelier, but not everyone can excel as one. So, how do you become an excellent sommelier?
For starters, be respectful.
Even though you don't agree with the wine list of the restaurant you work for, someone (or a group of people) spent a lot of time and effort to come up with that list. Likewise, the wines may have been specifically chosen to go well with the food. So, avoid saying anything bad about the wine list just because it doesn't have your favorite wine.
Additionally, you're not expected to critic the wine. Sommeliers care more about how a type of wine pairs with certain foods and if customers will enjoy them than scores. So, trust the opinions and judgment of the sommelier in charge, especially if you're a new member of the team.
Keep in mind that, as a sommelier, you are expected to provide a positive dining experience to guests. So, use your expertise to good use and treat the guests and the other restaurant staff with courtesy at all times. Respect and listen to their opinions.
You’ll never know. The things you learn will help you become the best wine sommelier!