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What is a Sommelier?

What is a Sommelier? You’re not the only one asking.

There are many people out there who don’t give a second thought about what they put into their bodies, perhaps because they aren’t passionate about food or maybe they are just in survival mode. And then there’s that percentage of the population that have refined taste, and enlist the help of people like seaux chefs and sommeliers to create a palette of food, and the dining experience they are seeking. But, a good sommelier, who is familiar with everything a sommelier should know, will be the one to take the meal from ordinary to extraordinary. 

So, what does a sommelier do anyway?

A sommelier is a person who is trained to understand everything there is to know about wine and how it pairs with certain foods. There are other kinds of sommeliers, such as beer sommeliers, coffee sommeliers, and milk sommeliers, but in this article we will be telling you all about wine sommeliers. 

Wine sommeliers are obviously connected to an upper-echelon part of society, and only people who dine at high-end restaurants have the luxury of getting insights from the most sought-after sommeliers. High-end restaurants usually employ sommeliers in order for their customers to have the dining best experience possible to keep their customers coming back to their restaurants. Although certainly anyone can make the claim that they are indeed a sommelier, the claim is usually backed up by schooling and/or a credential of some kind, which will be discussed further in the article. 

How to Pronounce Sommelier and Other History

Sommeliers, also known as wine stewards or waiters, can be a difficult to roll off the tongue if you try and catch every consonant. While the role is quite chic, the pronunciation is less than fancy. Sommelier, is pronounced suh-muhl-yei. You can listen to a soundbite of the pronunciation of sommelier from the Cambridge English Dictionary here.  Apply the K.I.S.S. method and remember – sommelier rhymes with everyday; like the amount of times per week you should enjoy a glass of red wine.

Sommelier is a French word, and the role also entails the services of creating wine lists and training restaurant staff on their knowledge in order for everyone to be well informed and confident when it comes to suggestions regarding food pairing. Although everyone may have their different tastes, there is a universal agreement as to which foods, wines, beers, spirits, soft drinks, etc., work best and in harmony with their solid counterparts; hence the value and benefit of having an expert like a sommelier nearby. Without a sommelier, a person will order food and their beverages according to their preferred tastes of both individually; unknowingly depriving themselves of an optimal dining experience. Still not convinced on the value or wondering when you should hire a sommelier?

Here’s how to become a certified sommelier:

  • The Court of Master Sommeliers

    • This organization started in 1977. It is an independent examining body that gives one the choice of getting a ‘Master Sommelier Diploma’, the ‘Advanced Sommelier Certificate’, the ‘Certified Sommelier Certificate’, and the ‘Introductory Sommelier Certificate’. By gaining one of these certificates, one is qualified to officially be declared an actual sommelier. 
  • International Sommelier Guild

    • This guild gives an education and certifies aspiring sommeliers in Canada, China and the United States. The guild was created in 1982 and it offers Level 1 Wine Fundamentals, Level 2 Wine Fundamentals, and a Sommelier Diploma. These are great credentials if you are thinking about pursuing a career as a sommelier. 
  • International Wine and Spirits Guild

    • For those who live in the United States, the International Wine Guild was created in 1998 and monitored by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. This is accessible and easy to join. As long as you keep up with your coursework and studies, you will end up being a sommelier in no time. 
  • North American Sommelier Association

    • The great thing about this organization was that it was created recently- in 2006- and is the official representative in the United States and Canada of the Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA). The sommelier course is split up into three phases but is offered as one entire course and is made up of time spent in class, lectures, educational visits to wineries, and educational dinners. It is unique from the other groups mentioned because it has two levels of sommelier qualifications: Silver-Pin and Gold-Pin.
  • National Wine School

    • Another modern school for would-be sommeliers is the National Wine School, which was started in 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The great thing about the school is that it gives  ANSI-compliant professional certification for the wine trade in the U.S. In addition, they also give five levels of wine certification. They have their own way of doing things, so to learn more about their process, be sure to google their website. 
  • Union de la Sommellerie Francaise

    • This is an older French organization that is well-recognized in the sommelier world. The goals of going through this schooling is to gain the title of Mention Complémentaire Sommellerie (MCS) and Brevet Professionnel de Sommelier. These titles can be achieved by studying for many several sponsored providers. The final qualification of the Maître Sommelier can be achieved after an accurate career assessment, which actually requires at least 10 years of professional experience. So it is a very rigorous education, but it is definitely worth it and will make you a very worthwhile sommelier. 
  • Associazione Italiana Sommelier

    • This association is known as AIS in Italy. It was started on July 7, 1965, and is acknowledged as one of the oldest sommelier associations of the world. It’s also the biggest sommelier association ever, as it features over 33,000 members only in Italy.

As you can see, if you have any interest of being a sommelier, you now understand that there is a lot of training one must do. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a matter of having intuition about what foods go good with which wines and vice versa. There is an actual learned science to the art of being a sommelier, and learning the impressive skill will make anyone an absolute asset to whichever restaurant, or even wealthy individual, they are working for; and of course the expertly crafted wine list they will compile. Since new recipes and different drinks are developed constantly, the market for connoisseurs is always evolving, always stimulating, and always interesting. An expert like a sommelier possesses a unique skill that, while is different in scope, is otherwise much like the captain of the ship needing a specific skill to move the vessel he or she will serve wine on. 

Now, perhaps you yourself are not interested in becoming a sommelier, per se, but you’ve always wondered about the qualifications of a sommelier and had some interest in understanding the research and training that goes into the position. We hope we’ve left you more informed than you were and have conveyed the art and science of being a sommelier. Helping to express that it is an art-form worth appreciating!

In fact, people spend years and decades of their lives perfecting their professional sommelier careers, because they have a passion for wine, new foods, and recipes that are always being thrown into the equation. And, they understand that there is an audience that’s eager to learn more about creating memorably dining experiences around sommelier suggested wine and food pairings.

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