If you’re involved in the wine industry, either as a consumer or due to your career, you’ve likely heard the term wine taster in passing. Perhaps you’re diving into the topic further and are curious about the duties of a sommelier. If that’s the case, the below article will help guide you through what a sommelier does and who they are.

What Is a Sommelier?

The word sommelier simultaneously describes a wine certification and a job specific to wine professionals. As a certified sommelier, it is one’s job to be fully versed in all things wine-related. A professional sommelier must fully understand topics such as grape varietals, wine history, wine regions, etc., to properly perform their duties. Essentially, a professional wine taster is a wine steward who helps guests at high-end restaurants and hotels enjoy their experience more fully. It’s part of the sommelier’s duties to recommend a wine, pairings, offer tastings, and offer wine service.

In some cases, people may use the word sommelier to refer simply to a wine expert. However, it’s more often used for those who have completed their sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers.

What Does a Sommelier Do?

To put it simply, a sommelier connects consumers and wine producers by acting as a middleman. This is a role for an individual that wears many hats. On the producer side, sommeliers are in charge of vetting wines for their establishment. On the consumer side, it’s their job to educate and provide a top-tier experience for customers. Thus, the role is essential for high-end establishments.

Inside the Daily Life of a Sommelier

A sommelier’s daily tasks consist of more than wine service and wine tastings; it’s their duty to assess the quality of a wine and create a memorable experience for customers at the establishment. To perform these duties, a sommelier will be responsible for sampling wine to assess which options align with the desired quality, price point, and establishment objectives. Additional responsibilities include creating wine lists, beginning with purchasing and ending with monitoring the sales, managing the wine inventory, educating waiters on wine, and curating wine and food pairing menus with the help of a chef.

How Does a Sommelier Provide Wine Service?

As mentioned, part of the daily duties of a wine taster includes wine service, which helps create a positive experience for guests. For these responsibilities, sommeliers will aid customers in selecting wines according to their preferences, offer advice on menu pairings, orchestrate wine tastings, and refill their wine glasses.

Wine Sommelier Levels

four clear glass goblets

Goblets Glasses | Source

Four levels of wine sommeliers exist, starting with beginner and ending with Master Sommelier. With each level, sommeliers gain additional knowledge and a title to match. Below are each of the levels with additional details.

Beginner – At this level, there is no certification involved. It’s simply for those who want to grow their wine education. Perhaps you work in a wine-tasting room and want to improve your wine knowledge. This class teaches beginner topics, such as wine terminology, grape varieties, and a brief dip into the tasting method.

Certified – During this level, you’ll learn additional information about tasting, theory, and service relating to wine. For sommeliers to pass the certification, a blind tasting of four wines, a written exam, and a service exam are performed.

Industry Experienced Pro – For this level of certification, two years of wine industry experience are necessary according to the CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers) eligibility requirements. It is highly recommended to be mentored by an industry expert to pass this level of certification. Like the certified level, those interested in the Advanced Sommelier certification will be tested on service, theory, and tasting.

Master – The Master Sommelier Diploma (or Level 4 Diploma, depending on the program selected) is the highest title that those in the wine-tasting industry can earn. This title requires a three-year wait after passing the Industry Experienced Pro certification. Once a wine professional reaches the Master Sommelier exam, an oral theory, six wine tasting, and service exams must be passed. There is only a 10% pass rate for this certification.

Why Was the Sommelier Certification Invented?

In 1363, twelve guilds were created to help support each other. One of these guilds was the Worshipful Company of Vintners, which focused on importing, regulating, and selling wine. Over the years, the guilds were subjected to deregulations which removed much of the companies’ power. Then, in 1953, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Wine and Spirits Association came together to test 21 individuals on wine. Those who passed went on to become the leaders of the Institute of Masters of Wine.

Eventually, organizations began pushing for skilled professionals in the wine industry to help with high-quality wine sales. Because of this, a test was created to encourage wine professionals to learn more about wine. The initial test was deemed too difficult, so additional certification levels were added in 1977.

CMS vs WSET: What’s the difference?

For those interested in pursuing a wine taster career, two programs can lead to certification – the CMS and the WSET (the Wine & Spirit Education Trust). Both programs are beneficial for those who wish to work in the wine industry. However, their primary focuses differ, so selecting an option that works best for your needs is essential.

Keep in mind the CMS program focuses on service, while the WSET is geared toward wine educators, sales representatives, and other wine-related careers. It’s important to note the certification titles differ depending on which program is selected. The CMS program offers beginner, certified, advanced, and master titles to those who pass each level’s exam. The WSET program provides a level 1 through level 4 diploma.

What Is the Difference Between a Sommelier and a Master Sommelier?

As mentioned, a few major differences exist between a sommelier and a Master Sommelier. The first difference is the amount of knowledge each possesses. A beginner or certified sommelier has a basic knowledge of wine. In contrast, a Master Sommelier has typically dedicated 5+ years to understanding the nature of wine and how to present it to others in an informative manner.

A certified sommelier can teach friends, customers, and colleagues about what they’ve learned during their certification process. In contrast, a Master Sommelier can (and is expected to) train professional sommeliers. The primary goal of a Master Sommelier is to propel the wine industry into new and exciting directions.

Are There Other Types of Sommeliers Besides Wine?

Many other areas in the drink and food industry have similar positions as a sommelier. In fact, seven industries title professionals in their field as sommeliers. In past years, the sommelier title was reserved only for those in the wine industry who had passed their certification. While there has been some pushback due to the rigorous training required to become a wine sommelier, the fact stands that other industries have adopted the term to describe those experienced in the field.

The seven industries aforementioned include water, mustard, tea, coffee, beer, cannabis, and honey. The sommelier title in these categories often pairs with service industry jobs, though it depends greatly on the category. For example, a water sommelier will likely work in a luxury hotel. Some of these categories require training to be known as a sommelier, while other categories (like honey) are based on experience.

How to Become a Master Sommelier

Becoming a Master Sommelier requires one to dedicate 10,000+ hours to learning the ins and outs of winemaking. It’s a certification geared toward those truly passionate about wine production and the wine industry. With this certification, it’s expected that one teaches those with lower certifications and less wine knowledge, as mentioned above. Those interested in becoming a Master Sommelier must pass all four exams/courses according to the CMS guidelines.

Important Wine Master Sommeliers

As mentioned, the pass rate of the Wine Master Sommelier is quite low. Thus, only 269 Master Sommeliers exist in the world currently. These master sommeliers have proven themselves knowledgeable on wine quality as well as shown their expertise on various wine topics to receive their Master Sommelier certifications. While the CMS was not established until 1977, the world saw its first Master Sommelier in 1969 in the UK. Three people were awarded the title in the UK in 1969. Below are a few notable wine Master Sommeliers.

Fred Dame – Fred Dame has an impressive wine-related resume, beginning in 1984. During this year, he was the first ever person to pass three Master Sommelier exam parts in one year. This accomplishment earned him the Krug Cup of the British Guild of Sommeliers for the same year. Since then, Fred Dame has also created the American Branch of The Court of Master Sommeliers and holds the title of President of the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation, among other accomplishments.

Madeline Triffon – Madeline Triffon is the second woman to receive the title of Master Sommelier. She received this certification in 1987, making her one of the small percentage (15%) of MS who are female. This certification led to her furthering her career in the wine industry.

Aldo Sohm – This Master Sommelier won one of the two annual World’s Best Sommelier competitions in 2018. This competition win led him to additional opportunities, such as collaborations with wine-related products. Now, Aldo is a wine director and sommelier for a 3 Michelin star eatery in New York.

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: February 29, 2024Last Updated: February 29, 2024

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