While some wine consumers may consider themselves experts, a true wine expert is called a sommelier. A sommelier, also known as a wine steward, is a person that has undergone training in order to become extremely knowledgeable about wine. It can take many years of training to become a master sommelier. Sommeliers are often found working in high-end restaurants where they specialize in various aspect of wine service, including recommending the perfect food and wine pairings. In restaurants in which sommeliers are employed, they are considered just as important as the executive chef preparing the meals.
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Even if you know some of the basics, picking the right bottle at the store is a daunting task. What is the actual difference between older and newer wines? If you like a wine from one region, will others from the same region taste the same? Does the alcohol percentage tell you anything besides how drunk you’ll get? You might not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can learn a lot about a wine by deciphering its label. To sort through it all, we spoke with Cedric Nicaise, Wine Director at Eleven Madison Park.
The history of sommeliers dates back to the 1300s. While sommeliers existed prior to the French Revolution, it was not until this time that their role became more pronounced. They were responsible for preparing service for nobles and royals and were also tasked with tasting the wines prior to serving. This was done to ensure that royalty was not being served poisoned wine. In the 1700s, when more restaurants began to open, sommeliers were employed and began sharing their knowledge of wine with restaurant patrons. In modern times, sommeliers have become much more common. While sommeliers are more common today, there are still very few people that are considered master sommeliers.
In most cases, sommeliers are responsible for procuring wine, storing wine, rotating the inventory in the wine cellar, and providing knowledgeable service to wine consumers. Other duties may include developing a restaurant’s wine list, providing other staff members with training, and delivering the wine service. Sommeliers spend a significant amount of time working with a restaurant’s culinary team in order to suggest wines that will pair perfectly with the dishes on the menu. In order to suggest the best wine to complement a meal, a sommelier must have extensive knowledge of not only wine but food as well. While traditionally, sommeliers were experts in wine, today, their knowledge may also encompass beers, cocktails, spirits, and even soft drinks.
Becoming a true sommelier requires a formal education, so while it may be easy for anyone to claim they are a sommelier, this is not necessarily the case. In addition to a formal education, sommeliers must develop experience during a long training period. They are also required to become professionally certified. Gaining certification requires taking various classes and examinations. A basic sommelier education can be obtained in approximately six months and will generally cost less than five thousand dollars. To obtain advanced certification, and become a master sommelier, one must undergo many years of practice, study, and experience. Becoming a master sommelier can be costly; much more so than obtaining a basic education and certification. As of the end of 2013, only 214 people have obtained the Master Sommelier Diploma which was introduced in 1969.
There are various sommelier associations around the world that offer education and training. These associations differ in terms of curriculum level, and the service standards that are taught. Some of the most prestigious sommelier training can be obtained from associations in Italy, France, and Britain. Once training and certification is completed, sommeliers can find work. Master sommeliers can expect to earn somewhere between 80k and 160k per year while those with less education and knowledge can expect to earn approximately 50k per year.
More About Sommeliers
- What is a Sommelier? – An article explaining exactly what a sommelier is, and the history of sommeliers dating back to the time of the French Revolution.
- How to Become a Sommelier – An article outlining that steps that one would need to take to become a certified sommelier.
- Learn How to Become a Sommelier – The International Wine Guild offers recommendations for becoming a sommelier through proper training and education.
- The Court of Master Sommeliers – The official website of the Court of Master Sommeliers, the premier international examining body for sommeliers.
- Unusual Jobs That Pay Surprisingly Well – A Forbes article that explores unique jobs that pay well, one of which is a sommelier.
- Sommelier Duties – Learn about some of the different duties that a sommelier may be responsible for while working.
- Well Known Sommeliers – Learn about some of the most respected sommeliers around the world, many of whom have won various awards.