What Is a Sommelier and How Can I Become One?
Whether you’re an amateur enthusiast or a professional in the wine industry, developing a sommelier’s skillset is an extremely worthwhile endeavour, opening the door to a greater enjoyment of wine – and to a range of amazing jobs.
What is a sommelier?
In short, a sommelier is a wine expert who is in charge of serving wine at a restaurant – but there’s a lot more to it than that!
Sommeliers are trained to have an in-depth knowledge of wines from all over the world, to describe flavours in both technical and layman’s terms, to choose wines that will best match any meal, and to serve wine in an elegant and appropriate manner. Away from the table, sommeliers work in conjunction with the head chef to choose which bottles to keep in stock and to decide on the ideal house wine for the restaurant.
Ultimately, their job is to ensure that the wine complements the food and that patrons have an incredible dining experience.
A modern profession… from medieval origins
The history of the profession is a fascinating one. Once butlers for royalty and nobility, the original sommeliers’ responsibilities included sourcing wine for their patrons. They would bring in the good stuff for the king’s consumption – and choose the “table wine” for the guests.
The French Revolution brought an end to the nobility – and their patronage – so chefs and sommeliers were forced to seek employment in the latest gastronomical innovation: the a la carte restaurant! The subsequent explosion in the popularity of this style of dining shaped and sculpted what it meant to be a sommelier, and ultimately led to the trained, certified, and well-paid professionals of today.
What job opportunities do sommelier training courses provide?
Sommelier training can offer a variety of job opportunities in the world of wine. Different levels of certification can help you gain positions as diverse as taster, reviewer, distributor, importer, educator, marketer, manager, or director. Trained sommeliers can choose from a variety of workplaces. Restaurants, hotels, resorts, casinos, cruise ships, country clubs, vineyards, newspapers, and magazines all need resident sommeliers, and according to US figures, salaries range from $28,000 to $160,000+.
Where can I take a sommelier training course?
There are a wide range of sommelier courses available, from a collection of competing bodies. Choosing the right course for you depends on your personal or career goals.
The most common route is to work your way through the levels of an internationally recognised programme such as that of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) or the Italian Association of Sommeliers (IAS). Both are perfect starting points for amateur enthusiasts and industry professionals alike, and they will enable you to build your CV as you progress through the levels.
You can find a nearby WSET course by entering your location in this handy interactive map. Each national sommelier association offers an IAS study programme. Click here to find more information for Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and the UK.
For those really looking to forge a reputation as an elite sommelier, the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers course culminates in a Level IV Master’s Diploma. Beware though, you really need to be a master to earn this title! The notoriously difficult diploma examination has a stunning 90% fail rate – in fact, there are fewer than 250 “master sommeliers” alive today!
Tasting the finest wines the world has to offer. Developing an expertise that is guaranteed to make you popular at parties. Sharing your knowledge and passion with new people on a daily basis. It is easy to see why sommeliers have such high job satisfaction rates!
If this sounds like a career that might interest you, why not sign up for a beginner’s course? Who knows – you just might develop a taste for it!