What Does It Take to Become a Sommelier?

tuesday_1It’s one of those wine words, not unlike Gewurztraminer, that is difficult to pronounce. For some, this adds allure to the pursuit of wine wisdom. For others, it’s just another source of frustration.

But just as learning how to pronounce Gewurztraminer (ga-VERTZ-trah-mee-ner) can open up a whole new world of delicious vinous delights, learning how to pronounce sommelier (suh-mel-yay) can make one less shy about asking for assistance in selecting a wine when dining out.

Of course, not every restaurant that serves wine employs a sommelier. Often, the restaurant owner or chef plays that role, because they are well equipped to know the restaurant’s menu and understand the types of wine that would pair well with specific dishes.

But when you find a restaurant with a certified sommelier on duty, you would be wise to place your wine selection in their capable hands. They are trained not only to make pairing suggestions, but also to ask you questions that will result in the selection of a wine you are virtually guaranteed to love.

So what does it take for one to become a sommelier? It’s much like getting a college degree in a specific course of study. Visit the website of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and you’ll see that there’s an Introductory Sommelier Course and Examination… a Deductive Tasting Method Workshop… a Certified Sommelier Examination… an Advanced Sommelier Course and Examination… and a Master Sommelier Diploma Examination. You can read more about the Court and its educational programs here.

Becoming a sommelier requires not only vast knowledge of the world’s wine regions, but also the ability to identify specific types of wine from specific areas. A whole lot of reading is accompanied by a whole lot of wine tasting. (Hey, somebody has to do it…) And then, after all that, one must pass a pressure-packed test that most fail, at least on the first try.

A documentary called “Somm,” released in 2013, provided a glimpse of the process, and probably served to scare a lot of people away from the pursuit. Its accompanying soundtrack, a mix of classical and jazz music, provides a great dinner party playlist. Both the movie and the soundtrack are available on Amazon.

Once you understand what goes into becoming a sommelier, you’ll never question one of their wine suggestions.


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Posted in Wine Buzz, Wine FAQ
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