What is a Wine Expert Called?

A sommelier! Pronounced suh-mel-eyay, this French word literally translates to butler in English, but more accurately refers to a wine waiter, somebody who has had highly specialized training and can serve as a “professional” in the wine industry.

The popularity of this word as a descriptor probably comes as a result of the Court Of Master Sommeliers.

Serving as the wine industry’s largest professional body, COMS is an educational group that offers lengthy and vigorous certification programs, providing official documentation that proves the authenticity of a wine expert’s qualifications.

Sadly, whilst the majority of sommeliers at restaurants, for instance, are usually only there to serve you your wine and offer suggestions, most if not all of them will have a wealth of knowledge on the subject -far more than they’ll ever need in this setting.

If you’re somebody who’s interested in knowing more about the wine they drink, consider engaging the next sommelier you have in a longer conversation about what they think.

Don’t be offended if the restaurant is busy and they have to run off, though!

Although sommelier is the word used most often, you might also hear certain wine experts refer to themselves as oenophiles.

This is a word to describe a wine connoisseur, or in simpler terms, a very very big fan of the grape-based beverage.

Can anyone be a sommelier?

Yes, provided they are legally old enough to drink alcohol in the state or country where they are applying for the position, there are no restrictions on who can become a sommelier in a restaurant or at a vineyard, for instance.

That being said, you’ll definitely have a better chance of getting a job as a sommelier or resident wine expert if you have taken the time to undergo a relevant certification program.

You’ll find a couple of different ones to choose from, though some have more authority than others in the culinary industry.

There is no requirement for a degree or other certification in order to be eligible for participation in a sommelier course or to get a job in the field.

However, if you are interested in a career in the wine industry, getting your associate’s degree in a subject that allows for a specialization in wine is only going to help you progress further.

However, as the majority of sommelier roles will be public-facing, requiring a great deal of interaction with customers on a daily basis, you will need to meet a certain set of skills to make it past the interview process.

For instance, you need top-notch communication skills – the fancier the establishment, the more formal you’ll be expected to be. No slang words or dropping your ‘h’ – just your best and most polite conversation at all times.

Given that you’ll be handling a great deal of glassware and expensive bottles pretty much every time you go to work, being a sommelier is probably not the career for you if you’re clumsy. That thousand dollar Merlot will come out of your paycheck!

How do you become a certified sommelier?

Though there is not a specific path that one must follow in order to “become” a sommelier, there are two schools recognized as the most popular.

These are the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) – some sommeliers will actually attend both institutions to give themselves the broadest experience possible.

Created back in 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers is probably the most recognizable educational organization in the world of wine.

They work primarily to create measurable standards of quality for serving drinks and the art of fine dining, with a focus on rating vintage, wine tasting, technical skills and which producers to watch out for. 

When studying in a CMS program, you tend to self-teach, occasionally receiving instruction in person once you reach a certain Sommelier Level. There are four certifications that can be completed, and you must complete them in chronological order:

  • Introductory Sommelier Certificate (CMS I)
    Three days of study, followed by a multiple-choice examination and a practical test of your wine service skills
  • Certified Sommelier Examination (CMS II)
    Once you’ve completed the Introductory Sommelier Certificate, you’ll need to conduct some more self-taught studying before you’re ready for CMS II, which involves a theoretical exam paper, a blind tasting test and another test of your wine service skills
  • Advanced Sommelier Certificate (CMS III)
    Lasting five days overall, with the latter half specifically set aside for examinations, CMS III again consists of a written exam based in theory, another blind testing and more evaluation of your practical abilities to serve wine and interact with customers
  • Master Sommelier Diploma (CMS IV)
  • Last but most certainly not least, this is the final test offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers – it is believed you will need approximately three years of study to prepare for this exam, as evidenced by the fact that only 269 individuals have successfully earned the title of Master Sommelier since the court’s conception

Those who have a particular interest in wine but don’t wish to pursue a career in the service industry would probably prefer to conduct a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) qualification.

WSET is the biggest organization to offer a formal wine, sake and spirit course available to professionals or enthusiasts alike.

WSET also offers four tiers of certification, but unlike those from CMS, numbers 1-3 don’t need to be completed in a particular order – it is, however, advisable to have the right amount of knowledge before you embark on a course. 

  • WSET Level 1 Award In Wines
    One multiple choice exam paper, completed following six hours of classroom or self-study
  • WSET Level 2 Award In Wines
    One multiple choice exam paper, completed following 28 hours of educator guided, classroom and personal study
  • WSET Level 3 Award In Wines
    A theoretical examination with practical testing elements, each undertaken after 84 hours of educator guided, classroom and personal study
  • WSET Level 4 Diploma In Wines
  • After more than 500 hours of study consisting of over six different units, you’ll take an exam for each individual unit, each one varying
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