A sommelier or wine steward, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing. Sommeliers usually practice in fine restaurants, but also have a role in wine stores.
According to the Court of Master Sommeliers, to become a licensed master sommelier, a candidate must successfully pass three examinations: Introductory Sommelier Exam, Certified Sommelier Exam, Advanced Sommelier Exam. With these accomplishments under their belts, sommeliers then apply (and must be accepted) to take the exams for Master Sommelier. Only 230 professionals worldwide have received the title of Master Sommelier since the first Master Sommelier Diploma Exam in 1969.
However, a Master Sommelier is not to be confused with a Master of Wine. The Master of Wine program is more theoretical, focusing on knowledge in a more academic sense rather than management and service. A Master of Wine also places all of his focus on wine, rather than learning about spirits or beer. There are currently 338 Masters of Wine, since the founding of the institute in 1953.
Typical responsiblites of Sommeliers can include
- Creating wine lists for restaurants
- Knowing what wine will pair best with certain foods
- Maintaining and properly storing the wine
- Training employees about the basic knowledge of wines
A good sommelier should know all the current trends in the food and wine industry. They should also help patrons feel comfortable with tasting wines and choosing a delicious wine in their price range that will enhance the flavor of their meal.
That being said, there are some things a sub-par sommelier can do to hinder your wine experience. Sommeliers have tasted some truly spectacular wines, and some may have an advanced (dare I say snobbish) palate. A sommelier should never push you towards an esoteric wine by guilting you out of your choice of a more simple chardonnay or pinot noir. Nor should they make you feel bad for the price you want to pay, as a good sommelier will understand there are great wines at all price points.
So next time you have the chance to chat with a sommelier, make sure to take advantage of her knowledge, and enhance your wine experience, without letting them dissuade you from what you truly want!
The traveling sommelier
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Pauline Fink, Staff