The title Sommelier is most commonly associated with the person that takes the wine order in a restaurant. Ironically the original meaning of the word had nothing to do with wine whatsoever.
It was first used in the old Occitan language from the South of France (Saumalier - a pack animal - who might have carried wine). Between the 14th and 16th centuries, a Sommelier was a court official responsible for the transportation of the royal family's baggage when they moved residences.
During the reign of Louis XIV, the Sommelier (Butler) was also responsible for choosing the wine, table settings, and desserts. He used a silver saucer that hung from a thick chain on his neck to check the king’s wine for poison.
Since the 19th century, the word has been the name used for a wine waiter or wine steward.
A modern-day Sommelier is a highly knowledgeable trained wine professional who dedicates their career to the achievement of one sole objective - to ensure that wine is presented in its finest form to consumers.
What is a Sommelier?
A Sommelier is a wine professional who works in the hospitality industry. Many Sommeliers have completed their qualifications in professional hospitality studies where they learn how to provide the perfect etiquette to ensure the dining experience for each client.
Some have not had professional studies and have gained experience by working in top-end establishments in the hospitality industry. Anyone can serve wine, but qualified Sommeliers have undergone endless hours of studies and have extensive experience in their area of specialty.
They have taken rigorous examinations to earn their professional qualifications.
A Sommelier does not just serve wine, they take enormous pride in the entire ritual of presenting, opening, and pouring the wine as well as sharing their wine knowledge with others.
The be a successful Sommelier, the individual must have an in-depth knowledge of wines and other alcoholic beverages.
It all began back in the 14th century in London, England. There were dozens of trading companies and guilds in the UK, offering commercial, social, and educational gtherings.
Among them was the Vintner's Company, which was a guild established to facilitate the importation, regulation, and sale of wines. Before the government supported businesses, these Guilds would help each other.
The Worshipful Company of Vintners existed for hundreds of years but with the passage of time, deregulation stripped them of many of their powers, thus weakening their organization.
Despite these setbacks, they continued to play an important role in the wine industry, and in 1953, they along with the Wine and Spirits Association, merged to offer advanced wine exams to 21 people.
Six of the people passed the exam and received the title of Master of Wine, and subsequently became the pinnacle of wine education through the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW), which now is offered to those who graduate the 4 levels offered by the Wine Spirit & Education Trust, commonly referred to as WSET.
Unfortunately, the wine professionals in the service industry were excluded from taking the exam. It was decided that in order for high-quality wines to be sold, the people selling them needed to have extensive knowledge so products could be sold and served correctly.
In 1969, the first examination was taken by wine professionals at Vintners Hall in London, it was decided that Sommeliers should become credible professionals by taking examinations that would prove their knowledge of their trade.
The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) was established in 1977, the mission is to ensure that specific training is given to wine professionals in the service industry to ensure that they are proficient in the areas of tasting, service, and theory, so that the highest standards of beverage service in hotels and restaurants is maintained.
Courses are available throughout the world. The court, along with WSET, has been the most widely recognized and respected examining body for Sommeliers, and brought to fame by the Somm trilogy of documentaries.
In addition to WSET and CMS, there is the Wine Scholar Guild, Society of Wine Educators, the International Sommelier Guild, and various others.
There are four different levels of CMS Sommeliers
|Introductory Sommelier||Interest in a career in the hospitality industry and wine service.
Students are introduced to three basic fields of study that are needed to become wine professionals.
-Theory of wines and beverages.
-Introduction to the Deductive Tasting Method.
-Wine service etiquette from the basics of cleaning a decanter to opening an expensive bottle of wine.
Mandatory attendance of a two-day course before taking the exam.
|70 multiple choice questions which must be completed in 45 minutes with a minimum 60% pass.|
|Certified Sommelier||Candidates must have passed the Introductory Sommelier course in the past three years and have worked for a minimum of three years in the hospitality industry. A one-year minimum of in-depth wine studies is also recommended before sitting the Certified Sommelier Exam.||One-day exam in three parts.
1. Wine tasting test where candidates have to correctly identify two red and two white wines.
2. A 30-minute written profile of the wines that have been identified in the tasting test.
3. 45 short answer and multiple choice questions that test the candidate's knowledge of the world of wine, beverage, and the sommelier trade and must be completed in 35 minutes.
The exam must have a minimum score of 60% to pass.
The Certified Sommelier certificate is the minimum qualification that is required for a job as a Sommelier in the hospitality industry.
|Advanced Sommelier||In order to take the assessment, candidates must have passed the Certified Sommelier exam and must wait at least one year after taking the Certified Sommelier exam so that they have sufficient time to prepare for the Advanced exam. They must have at least three years of experience in restaurant service and be employed in either the beverage or hospitality industry. Mandatory attendance of a three-day Advanced Sommelier course that covers what is expected of candidates who wish to take the upper-level exams.||The exam is an in-depth exploration of The Court of Master Sommeliers' standards in regard to service and sales in the industry. Consisting of three sections the exam covers theory, verbal tasting, and practical service and salesmanship skills. Candidates must achieve a minimum 60% pass rate on each section and the entire exam must be completed within one calendar year.|
|Master Sommelier||Advanced Sommelier||The assessment is similar to the Advanced Sommelier Examination consisting of a written theory section, then three years are allowed to complete the verbal blind tasting and practical wine service sections. Each section must be passed with a 75% or more score. If the exam is not completed within the three-year time limit, then the entire process must be repeated. An average of 25-30% of candidates pass this exam and in doing so, receive the highest qualification that a sommelier can achieve. They automatically become members of The Court of Master Sommeliers.|
The title of Master Sommelier is coveted throughout the world and only 274 men and women have succeeded in attaining this diploma since the first exam in 1969.
A sommelier has many different responsibilities to perform in their job.
|Customer Service||Ensuring that the customer has a memorable dining experience through the provision of excellent customer service, by being attentive to their requirements and answering questions, making recommendations, and suggesting wines that will complement and enhance the food that the client is enjoying.|
|Wine Selection||Maintain the wine list by selecting and purchasing wines for the establishment that they work for.|
|Wine and Food Pairing||Assist the guest in choosing the perfect wine that will compliment their meal, considering the budget and personal tastes of the client. A Sommelier must have a well-developed palate in order to understand the different aromas, flavors, and styles of wine in order to make the best recommendation for the consumer.|
|Wine Service||Ensure that wine is served at the correct time, and temperature, and in the correct glasses.|
|Wine Education||It is important to stay up to date with different trends in the food and wine industry. Educating guests about the different types of wines, their origins, and tasting notes, as well as attending different wine events to discover new wines is essential to maintain a successful career as a Sommelier.|
|Cellar Management||Ensure that wine is stored properly in the correct conditions such as humidity and temperature as well as ensuring that the quality of the wine in stock is assured.|
|Budget Management||The sommelier must ensure that high-quality wines are offered while staying within the budget of the organization that they are working for.|
The Head Sommelier (Wine Manager) will be responsible not only for their team of Sommeliers but also may work alongside the chefs to help develop wine pairings to complement new dishes.
They are also responsible for the continued training of their staff, maintaining and expanding the wine list, and ensuring that adequate stock of wines and other beverages is available at all times. More here.
What is the most prestigious award that a Sommelier can receive?
Every three years the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale offers candidates the opportunity to participate in an exceptionally difficult exam which consists of three different sections:
Written theory examWine service to the judges on the panelBlind tasting
The winner of the World’s Best Sommelier is revered throughout the world.
Recognized as being at the top of their profession, winners are inducted into the Sommelier Hall of Fame and even become a kind of wine celebrity.
Winners of this award can do anything that they wish in the wine industry as their knowledge is recognized and valued.
A few of the top Sommeliers around the world
|Arvid Rosengren||2016||Swede Arvid Rosengren abandoned his studies in Nanotech Engineering (much to the disappointment of his father) to pursue his true passion, a career in gastronomy where he studied food and wine. He currently owns Legacy Records an Italian-American Restaurant in Soho NYC. He also travels the world offering his expertise through lectures, tastings, and wine competitions.|
|Andreas Larsson||2007||Swede Andreas Larsson gained his love for wine while attending catering school. He spent seven years as a chef before discovering his passion for wine during a trip to the Burgundian wine region in France.|
|Enrico Bernardo||2004||The youngest recipient of the award at 27 years of age, Italian Erico Bernardo was introduced to wine by one of his culinary school teachers. He is a well-known author and wine expert.|
|Gérard Basset||1996 & 2010||Twice winner, French Gérard Basset (1957-2019) was the recipient of many different top sommelier awards and was responsible for creating the UK deluxe chain of hotels in 1994 known as Hôtel du Vin. He also was a mentor for young sommeliers that were on the rise to career success.|
If you are lucky enough to have a sommelier at your favorite restaurant, know that this is a trained professional that is passionate about what they do.
Take advantage of their knowledge and you might be surprised by some of the amazing things that you will discover about your favorite and other wines on offer.
Your sommelier is not only on hand to serve your drinks but is also very qualified and delighted to share the wine knowledge that they have acquired during their career.
Take advantage of their skills!