An expert in all things related to wine
A sommelier is a trained expert in all facets of wine service. Typically, a fine-dining establishment will employ at least one sommelier, and the most prestigious restaurants and hotels often find it a necessity to employ a master sommelier.
A sommelier is responsible for developing a wine list, as well as managing wine storage (including cellar rotation) and purchasing. Another typical duty of the sommelier is to work in association with the executive chef in order to find wines that complement the restaurant's menu items. In fact, it can be said that a sommelier is a creative equal to the executive chef in terms of developing the unique tastes and culinary diversity of a restaurant.
A sommelier is also responsible for spending time on the floor of the restaurant interacting with its patrons. The best sommeliers learn to suggest wines that are within a customer's budget and keenly matched to his or her tastes and the food that was ordered. A sommelier isn't to be confused with a wine waiter, which is a much less specialized role.
In order to become a sommelier, there are a few characteristics that you should possess. These include:
- A great sense of taste and smell
- A working knowledge of food chemistry
Becoming a Sommelier
It can be quite difficult to become a sommelier, as it requires a great deal of formal culinary arts education and can be quite expensive. Some sommeliers obtain their position based on extensive work in the wine industry and a "natural instinct" for wines, but most have at least some degree of formal training.
The Court of Master Sommeliers offers a Master Sommelier Certification program. This involves taking an introductory course and then a lower level exam. This earns you certification as a sommelier. Most students stop at this point.
For those who wish to push forward, the next step it to take an advanced course leading up to the Master Sommelier exam. The final exam consists of three core sections. First, the student is tested on his or her ability to recommend and discuss wines, other liqueurs and even cigars. After this, the student must discuss wine regions and laws, as well as explain how wine is made. Finally, there's a taste test in which the student must accurately identify a number of wines, including being able to tell their region and vintage.
There are currently over 100 Master Sommeliers in the world, with approximately 80 of them residing in North America.