Pronounced “suh-mal-yAy,” a sommelier is both a restaurant wine steward and also something so much more than that. He or she is a highly trained and knowledgeable wine professional, who specialises in all areas of wine service. Not only do sommeliers perform a valuable front-of-house service in fine-dining restaurants, helping patrons select the right wine to match both the occasion and their food choice, but they also have many additional responsibilities. These include training wait staff, wine procurement and storage, and wine cellar bottle rotation. They often also take responsibility for the ordering and delivery of wine, as well as working closely with the executive and head chefs to help pair and recommend wines to go with menu items.
Strategically, a sommelier today is on a par with the chef de cuisine, or head chef, and their role is much broader than only working with wines – although this does make up a large portion of their responsibilities. But their knowledge also encompasses all aspects of beverage service, including wines, beers, coffee, spirits, non-alcoholic beverages and cocktails. Good sommeliers will have undergone extensive training, and many are accredited through internationally respected professional organisations, such as the Court Of Master Sommeliers or the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
The more you understand about what goes into becoming a sommelier, and the role they play in making your fine dining experience that much more special, the better able you’ll be to take full advantage of their knowledge and expertise.
So, let’s take a look at what it takes to become a sommelier.
How To Become A Sommelier
Sadly, there are some people who feel that simply working with wine in a restaurant entitles them to call themselves a sommelier. However, a certified sommelier has extensive formal education and training.
Naturally, becoming a sommelier is not something you’d choose unless you have a deep understanding of, and appreciation for, good wine. But you also need to have a lot more than that. Becoming a sommelier is hard work, lots of rigorous study and plenty of practice to develop a sensitive and educated palate.
Depending on where you study, it can take months, but more commonly years, to become a certified sommelier, and even longer to reach more advanced levels.
The two most respected organisations through which to study are the Court of Master Sommeliers in the United States, and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, or WSET, in the United Kingdom.
The Court Of Master Sommeliers
The Court of Master Sommeliers is one of the most talked about certification organisations in America. The Court has four levels, and only the top one is the Master Sommelier level. The title of Master Sommelier is so prestigious purely because of its rarity. The course is famously demanding and has a pass rate of less than 10 percent. In fact, since the Court held its first exams back in 1969, only 236 people in the world have ever held this title. Of these, 149 are from the United States, and the rest from the UK, France, Holland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
The exam is made up of three sections: a blind tasting, in which candidates must successfully identify the grape, region of origin and vintage year of six wines in 25 minutes; an oral exam, where the candidate discusses wine theory with two Masters for 25 minutes; and a service section, in which examiners pose as difficult customers to test the candidate’s diplomacy, patience and service skills. On top of this, candidates also have to memorise the characteristics of every one of the 10 000 wine grape varietals in the world.
Only then do they receive their master sommelier diploma and become a certified Master Sommelier.
The Wine And Spirits Education Trust
WSET offers the best in class qualifications, education and training aimed both at empowering and also in inspiring wine and spirits professionals from around the world. Their qualifications are recognised globally, and, in 2015, WSET was recognised with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade.
Bringing Master Sommeliers To You
At Beyond Curated, we understand that the perfect wine pairing can turn a wonderful meal into something truly spectacular. This is why we go to great lengths to ensure that when you book one of our unique, luxury fine dining experiences, you have the expertise of your personal sommelier to help elevate your evening beyond even your most extravagant imaginings.
Let Beyond Curated design an indulgent and exquisitely insightful experience to remember forever. To arrange a consultation, contact me on +44 7502 432558 today, and let’s begin your journey.