What is a Sommelier and Why Should I Trust One?
January 9, 2019
In the world of wine, few are more respected than a sommelier. Their understanding of wine makes them an incredible resource, and often a necessary asset to help develop the best wine and food-focused experience possible. Not to be compared with your typical friend or relative that considers themselves an “armchair expert,” a sommelier is someone who has gone through extensive education, experience, and certification processes to build this unique hospitality skill set.
WHAT IS A WINE SOMMELIER
HISTORY OF SOMMELIERS
The career of wine sommelier as we know it today didn’t come into existence until the late 19th – early 20th century. Most prominent in French restaurants at the time, the need for sommelier’s coincided with a change in formatting for shipped wine which historically had been delivered in a barrel. With the invention of the glass wine bottle, restaurants were able to stock an increased variety of wines which made storage space less of an issue. This meant restaurants would need more educated staff capable of selling the increased variety of wines they could possess.
From this need for trained and learned wine professional came the creation of different organizations founded to educate, train and certify wine sommeliers across the world. Though these organizations may differ in the scope of what their programs educate on, all of their certifications help identify those who have advanced knowledge of wine and hospitality.
WHAT DOES A SOMMELIER DO?
Often sommelier’s work in restaurants that focus on pairing their food with the best wines. Typically, it is the sommelier’s responsibility to develop the wine selection, create pairings based on the dishes offered, and to train the staff on best practices when serving wine. Along with these responsibilities, it is still a sommelier’s job to work directly with customers and be well-practiced hospitality professional. A great example of this in Paso Robles is Somm’s Kitchen, a unique dining experience located in our downtown. It is owned and operated by Ian Adamo, a local sommelier and chef, who creates his own dishes and pairs wines with them.
Outside of restaurants, it is also common for sommeliers to work directly for wineries. This can be to help in the sale of wines on site, or to help with wholesale to distributors and restaurants looking for wines to feature.
HOW TO BECOME A SOMMELIER
As mentioned, there are many different accredited organizations that offer both Sommelier training and certification. For instance, the Court of Master Sommeliers has 4 sommelier levels of certification gained through passing examinations they administer. Each level of exam increasingly require a greater amount of knowledge of wine, and for the more advanced sommelier levels also require an ability to taste and describe wines in detail. This includes understanding how an area’s geography and climate and how a specific vintage affected the tasting notes of any wine. The Court of Master Sommeliers also offers educational courses to prepare aspiring sommeliers and practiced sommeliers looking to increase their level of certification.
To take these courses and their corresponding exams is not only a serious investment of one’s effort but also a considerable financial investment. For the Introductory Sommelier Course and Examination, the lowest level available, the cost is $595. And as the level of certifications increase so do the costs, with later degrees costing more than $1,000 for training courses and the testing. This is most taxing for the master sommelier exam, which consists of 3 parts (Theory, Practical, and Tasting), and each individual portion requires a fee of $995. It’s because of these challenges that certified wine sommeliers are what many consider a relatively small workforce. In the case of Master Sommeliers (those who have received the highest level of certification), this is exceptionally true, with only 274 having earned this title worldwide.
Though the commitment and resources needed to become an Advanced or Master Sommelier are great, once achieved the reward can make it well worth the trouble. It has been reported that Advanced Sommeliers can make more than $70,000 a year. This pay-rate explodes once someone attains the title of Master Sommelier, making them part of an incredibly exclusive workforce who is sought after by world class restaurants, wineries, resorts, casinos, and all other businesses hoping to provide a luxury wine experience.
WHY SHOULD I TRUST A SOMMELIER?
Many of us know friends that have a passion for wines, whether they be avid wine country travelers or individuals that possess an impressive collection that displays their love of wine. It is often those close to us that love wine who help to instill an appreciation for it in ourselves. But no matter how passionate your wine-loving friend is, their ability should never be confused with that of a true wine sommelier.
A sommelier uses their knowledge of wine to increase the experience of a customer. If you are looking at a restaurants wine selection, it’s the sommelier who has developed that list and has personally tried and determined which wines pair best with the myriad of dishes offered. However, it is also their job to not simply tell customers which wine they themselves prefer, but to also take into account a customer’s preferences when helping them decide which wines are best for them. This helps develop an experience more uniquely tailored to the customer that will help leave a lasting impression.
The profession of wine sommelier is one rich with history, and today stands as one of the most exclusive lines of work internationally. It’s their responsibility to help those customers find the perfect wine for their particular needs, utilizing their knowledge and expertise. To be able to do this they need to not only learn about wine generally and build their experience in the hospitality industry, but also commit extensive amounts of time to study all facets of wine to achieve certifications that attest to their considerable skill.
If you have the chance to speak with a certified wine sommelier, be sure to utilize their knowledge as best you can. And know that your questions will be answered by someone who not only has the answers, but also appreciates the opportunity to share what they have learned with you.