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Sommelier Certification | Sommelier Career Information

by Aimee Pokwatka
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 19, 2011

For a wine aficionado, a great meal is incomplete if it's not accompanied by a glass of wine. If you always choose the perfect bottle to complement your meal, then a job as a sommelier might be the perfect culinary career for you.

What is a Sommelier?

A sommelier is a wine steward, or a restaurant employee who serves wine and has in-depth knowledge of wine and food pairings. Above all, a sommelier has a love of wine and a desire to impart this appreciation to diners by describing the taste of wines, as well as sharing their knowledge on wine-producing regions, types of grapes, vineyards, and vintages.

A Day in the Life of a Sommelier

In a restaurant, a sommelier may be responsible for creating a wine list and promoting those wines to customers. The day may usually start with a thorough inventory of the wines in the restaurant's cellar, placing orders, and meeting with vineyard representatives. A few of the other responsibilities of the sommelier may be:

  • Recommendations. During meals, a sommelier spends time in the dining room and recommends wines that suit the diners' tastes. A sommelier must be sensitive to budgetary limits and should recommend wines that will complement a meal.
  • Serving. After the wine has been ordered, a sommelier brings the wine to the table with the appropriate glasses and decants the wine if necessary. A sommelier encourages the diner to smell the wine before drinking it and is able to describe the components of the wine.
  • Acquisition. The job of a sommelier may also require frequent travel, as a sommelier is responsible for acquiring new wines, negotiating prices, and maintaining working relationships with wineries. A sommelier may travel to the same region year after year and may taste numerous wines over the course of one day.

 

Getting the Job

Because choosing a wine may require a great deal of culinary knowledge, many sommeliers begin by training at a culinary school, where they learn to refine their palates. Other sommeliers begin by working in restaurants or at vineyards and by taking wine classes to learn about the industry.

In 1969, the first Master Sommelier exam was given in the United Kingdom, and by 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was known as the primary examining body for professional sommeliers. The MS certification is given only to the best sommeliers in the world, and the extensive testing process requires years of studying. A Master Sommelier candidate is first tested on restaurant service, including glassware, menu content, as well as knowledge of liqueurs and cigars. The second part of the test involves theoretical information, such as handling and storage of wines, the process of wine making, international wine laws, and knowledge of wine products from around the world. The last part of the test is a tasting, in which the sommelier must be able to identify wines during a blind taste test.

A typical sommelier can make between $45,000 and $60,000 a year, but with an MS, a sommelier can make between $80,000 and $160,000 a year. Sommeliers are also hired by hotel and restaurant chains as consultants.

On the Job

Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson has parlayed her love of wine into a successful career. Her books, television appearances, and DVDs have made her a household name. Robinson began her career at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where she attended culinary school and later became the Dean of Wine Studies.

Robinson's approach brings energy and clarity to wine pairings for the public, and she has consulted for a variety of clients, including Target, Marriott and Hilton hotels, and the Olive Garden. She's one of only fourteen women in the world to become a Master Sommelier.

Deciding on a wine to go with a meal can be intimidating for someone with little wine or culinary knowledge, but according to the Wine Market Council, over 240 million cases are consumed in the U.S. each year. If you have a passion for wine and you want to share that love with the public, then a culinary career as a sommelier might be waiting for you.

Sources



About the Author

Aimee Pokwatka is a graduate student at Syracuse University and holds a B.A. degree in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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