What is a Sommelier and What do They do?
Sommeliers have trained for many years to give you the best wine experience possible. Make the most of their knowledge to find a bottle or glass you’ll like that also pairs with your meal.
What is a sommelier?
A sommelier is a trained wine professional, typically found in fine-dining restaurants. The sommelier’s job isn’t only to put together an interesting wine list with diverse flavour profiles and origins – they’re also there to find out what kinds of wine you like and help find one within your budget that pairs well with the meal you’ve ordered.
A great sommelier has excellent people skills and finds a way to talk about the wines they’re serving in a way that engages their customers.
How do you become a sommelier?
Most sommeliers – and certainly those in leading restaurants, for example any awarded with Michelin stars – will have formal training. Wine education bodies, such as the Court of Master Sommeliers, provide official certifications.
The most distinguished of these is the Master Sommelier Diploma, which takes around three years and is difficult to obtain (there are fewer than 300 people in the world with this qualification). In addition to rigorous written work and ‘blind’ tastings – where wines must be identified solely on aroma and flavour characteristics – sommelier exams typically include practical service elements. In short, becoming a sommelier at the highest level takes years of study and practice, but it can be richly rewarding.
How to get the best experience from a sommelier in a restaurant.
Sommeliers are there to help, not intimidate – so never feel like you have to impress them with your wine knowledge. While a good sommelier should ask questions about your taste preferences and what you’re eating to find the perfect wine for your meal, don’t forget to ask them questions, too.
If you love or dislike a certain wine style, grape or producer, tell them – they should always be able to recommend something similar. Use the sommelier’s expertise as an excuse to be a bit adventurous. These professionals know their wines and the restaurant’s menu better than anyone, and if they suggest a pairing you might not normally try, put your trust in them. You’ll very rarely regret it.
Most wine lists will feature bottles at many different price points. And sommeliers should be able to suggest options that will pair with your food at the low, medium and high end. If you are shy about stating your exact budget, they are excellent at taking hints. For example, subtly point to a wine on the list that is about what you’re looking to spend. Tell them that you’re looking for something similarly priced, but to match with your particular meal.
Finally, use their expertise if you’re not sure if a wine is quite right. If you think a bottle might be corked, ask them to check it for you. They will always replace it if necessary. And if you are worried you might not like a wine, ask if you can taste it before ordering. If the wine is sold by the glass, they will almost always oblige.