An Introductory Guide to Wine Sommeliers

If you’ve ever ordered wine in an upscale restaurant, your first taste may have been poured by a wine sommelier (pronounced suh-muhl-yay). Sommelier is French for wine steward. But that’s a bit deceiving. A sommelier is so much more than a fancy name for a waiter or waitress. What’s more, a sommelier’s expertise goes beyond knowing one must serve white wine with fish and red wine with beef. 

What is a Wine Sommelier?

A sommelier receives professional training in every aspect of wine service, food, wine pairings, and wine storage. In addition, they develop wine lists for restaurants, train staff on wine service, and work with chefs to develop menus featuring complementary food and wine pairings. Above all else, a sommelier has extensive knowledge about wines, wine grapes, and wine regions worldwide. 

What are the Different Levels of a Wine Sommelier?

As with many industries, there are levels of skill and expertise in the sommelier profession. Sommeliers study, test and are certified at four different levels. They must complete one level before moving on to the next. 

A level 1 sommelier studies basic wine and beverage theory and is introduced to deductive tasting methodology. Additionally, they learn wine service etiquette and other related topics such as corkage fees, i.e., the amount a guest pays to bring their own bottle of wine to a restaurant.

A Certified Sommelier has reached level 2. While level 1 introduced students to the wine basics, level 2 requires proficiency in them. 

At level 3, a sommelier is considered Advanced, while level 4 is certified as a Master. 

What is the Difference Between a Wine Connoisseur and a Sommelier?

Most of the characters in the movie “Sideways” were wine connoisseurs. They all loved wine, knew a great deal about it, and possessed a sensitive palate that allowed them to appreciate subtleties in the flavors of wine. 

A sommelier is a trained wine professional who works in a restaurant and has extensive knowledge of wine and wine service, as well as wine and food pairings. Additionally, they keep the wine cellar and assist diners in choosing wines that pair well with their meal.

How to Become a Sommelier

To become a level 1 sommelier requires a student to attend two full days of in person study. To achieve level 2, students must have passed the level 1 course within three years and pass a one-day assessment on theory, tasting, and service.

To become a level 3 or Advanced Sommelier, students must attend a three-day course, after which they must take and pass an assessment. Students must have already achieved level 2 and have three years of restaurant experience to take the assessment. They must also hold a current position in the hospitality or beverage industry.

To reach level 4 Master Sommelier, a candidate must take a written assessment consisting of a written section on theory, a verbal section on blind tasting, and a section on practical wine service. A candidate must achieve a minimum score of 75% on each section to pass. Upon successful completion, a candidate receives a Master Sommelier Diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. 

Final Thoughts

Clearly, a sommelier is a complex profession that requires many years of study and proficiency. A Master Sommelier earns a salary known to be one of the highest in the hospitality industry. If you are a wine connoisseur, have a sensitive palate, and appreciate excellent wine and food pairings, this may just be the career for you.