I’m the first to admit that my French is not muy bueno. So I am enlisting the help of our friends at Merriam-Webster to provide the correct pronunciation of “sommelier.” According to the word experts, it is: səməlˈyā.
You’ve probably heard the term used in a fine-dining restaurant, or any restaurant that has a good-sized wine list. But what, exactly, is a sommelier?
In my experience, he or she can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
First, let’s define the job. A sommelier is “a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing.”
In most cases, a sommelier carries some form of certification. A sommelier without a certificate often is referred to as a wine steward. Same job, different title, and perhaps a different level of experience and expertise.
On the surface, having someone who is knowledgeable about a restaurant’s wine list, including which wines pair well with which dishes, would seem to be a good thing. And it is, presuming the sommelier is honest and not being pressured by the restaurateur to sell the most expensive bottle possible.
Restaurant owners like that do exist, unfortunately, often out of necessity. The restaurant business is a brutal, low-margin business, and many depend on wine sales to keep the doors open.
So before you do anything else, scan the restaurant’s wine list to get a feel for the upper price range. If the sommelier suggests a bottle in that range, there’s a possibility you’re being taken advantage of.
On the other hand, being placed in the hands of an honest sommelier at a restaurant with an honest proprietor is akin to hitting the vinous lottery. Such a sommelier can direct you to the best dishes on the menu and pair them with a reasonably priced bottle of wine, creating a culinary experience you’ll long remember — without killing your budget for a month.
Check with friends to see which restaurants in your area have the best, most trustworthy sommeliers. Getting to know the good ones will elevate your dining-out experiences.
Meanwhile, when dining in, think of American Cellars Wine Club as your own personal sommelier.