Be like me...

Be like me...

By Kristin Olszewski

I'm often asked what exactly it takes to become a sommelier? Whether you’re an aspiring wine professional or simply curious about becoming one, here’s an inside peek at what it takes to become a sommelier.

First things first, what is a sommelier? A sommelier is a trained wine professional who specializes in all aspects of wine service and pairing. Traditionally associated with fine dining establishments, sommeliers play a key role in curating wine lists, making recommendations, and ensuring guests have an exceptional wine experience.

Becoming a sommelier is a journey that requires dedication, education, and practical experience. Here's what it takes to become a sommelier:

Passion for Wine

A genuine passion for wine is essential. This passion often translates into a strong curiosity and willingness to explore the nuances of different wine regions, styles, and producers.

Education and Certification

*Formal Education:

  • Culinary School: Some aspiring sommeliers begin their journey with a degree in culinary arts or hospitality management, which provides foundational knowledge of food and wine pairing.
  • Wine Schools and Institutions: Institutions like the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) offer comprehensive courses for wine professionals.

*Certification Programs:

  • Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS): Offers four levels of certification from Introductory to Master Sommelier.
  • Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET): Offers Levels 1-4, with Level 4 being the prestigious Diploma in Wines.
  • Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW): Offers the Master of Wine (MW) qualification, which is one of the highest honors in the wine world.
  • Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW): Offered by the Society of Wine Educators, it focuses on broad wine knowledge.

Practical Experience

*Restaurant Work:

  • Many sommeliers start in entry-level roles like servers or bartenders before moving to wine steward positions.
  • Practical experience helps develop knowledge of wine service and guest preferences.

*Tasting and Blind Tasting:

  • Regular wine tasting, including blind tasting (tasting without knowing the wine's identity), is crucial to developing palate recognition and analytical skills.

*Wine Events and Competitions:

  • Participating in wine events, tastings, and competitions helps build expertise and credibility.

Knowledge of Wine and Beyond

*Wine Regions and Styles:

  • Sommeliers must understand the characteristics of wines from key regions worldwide, including France, Italy, Spain, Australia, the United States, and more.

*Viticulture and Winemaking:

  • Knowledge of grape growing (viticulture) and winemaking processes provides insights into how different factors affect a wine’s flavor.

*Food Pairing:

  • Mastering food and wine pairing is essential. Sommeliers must understand how flavors and textures complement each other.

*Spirits, Beer, and Non-Alcoholic Beverages:

  • Sommeliers are often responsible for the entire beverage program, requiring knowledge of spirits, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks.

Becoming a sommelier requires dedication, passion, and continuous learning. I truly believe that immersing yourself in the world of wine is a journey worth taking.