The Secret Of Santa Vittoria, Sideways, You Will Be My Son, Back To Burgundy, Wine Country… For many years, the wine industry has been an endless inspiration for movie directors. While some people may assume that the way Hollywood portrays makes sommelier one of the most romantic titles around, I personally think the job itself is already romantic without any glamorization. It requires someone who realizes the artistic side of wine, someone who talks about wine from wine perspective. More than a job title, “sommelier” is a description, a certification, and of course, a passion.
This article will walk you through everything you need to know about this term. Firstly, we will explain the word, its definition, origin, as well as how to pronounce sommelier. Then, we shall go over a sommelier’s responsibilities, how to become one, and some other interesting wine-related careers.
Table of Contents
What Is A Sommelier?
According to Merriam-Webster, “sommelier” stands for:
“a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service; a wine steward”
Meanwhile, Collins Dictionary defines this term as:
“the person in a restaurant, club, etc. who is responsible for the selection of, and for serving, the wines, esp. with French cuisine”
Then finally, we have the definition of the Cambridge dictionary:
“someone whose job is to serve and give advice about wine in a restaurant”
From here, we can see that the most basic meaning of sommelier is a person who makes wine or a wine steward.
However, though not mentioned in most dictionaries, there is a more commonly used definition: A sommelier is a well-trained wine expert with deep knowledge in wine theory, wine service, and tasting.
So, where is this second definition come from? The Court of Master Sommelier (an educational organization to promote better beverage-service standards, especially in wine and food pairing) uses the term sommelier in its rigorous certification program for wine professionals since 1977. Since then, they often use it to talk about a trained wine expert by both people outside and inside the F&B field. To truly define ‘sommelier’, though, one must consider all of its meanings.
As you have grasped an idea of what a sommelier stands for in the modern days, let’s take a step further and explore the origin of this word. Interestingly, while some Reddit users mistook sommelier as the French word for wine (‘vin’ is the correct word by the way), the root of this word was far more different from wine. It has come to us through a rather bumpy etymological journey.
Etymologists suggested that the word sommelier might have stemmed from the old French words “sommerier”, “somier”, and “bête de somme”. In this old French language, “bete de somme” stands for “beast of burden” and the “sommerier” serves as its herdsman.
Around the 1300s, the latter went through a slight shift in meaning: The official responsible for transporting the French Royalty’s baggage when they traveled. In a great lord’s household, he was also in charge of choosing the wines, table settings, and desserts. The “sommerier” used his tastevin, a silver saucer on a thick silver chain worn around his neck to test the lord’s wine for poison. In addition, he inspected the dishes. If the sommerier died, his master would abstain from eating the meal.
A trio of well-known dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, Oxfords, and Macmillan) all agree that in 1829, the term “sommelier” marked its first appearance in English. Little is revealed about the particular phrase or document, though. We only know that it often appears with the first meaning we mention above.
So, How To Pronounce Sommelier?
Now, let’s get to the tricky part! Since this word is originated in French, how to pronounce sommelier can drive many of us insane. Imagine you finally gather all of your courage to ask that cute girl out for a date, and she said yes. You reserve the perfect table for two at the fanciest restaurant in town, planning to splurge on something special to surprise her. As you two sit down, though, you suddenly realize that you don’t know how to summon the sommelier.
Okay, perhaps it wouldn’t turn you into a complete fool. Knowing how to pronounce sommelier correctly, however, will give you a lot of bonus points. After all, an experienced man is cool, right?
The correct way to pronounce sommelier is “sə-məl-’yay”, rhymes with “every day”, with the accent on the “yay”. A female sommelier is a sommelière, pronounced as “sə-məl-’lyair”. In English, you can as well call them sommeliers and don’t have to differentiate. However, this piece of information might be useful if you decide to visit Paris.
Synonyms Just In Case You Prefer Other Words
I know, I know. Despite all the dictionaries, pronouncing sommelier correctly is still challenging for some (as it is for me). As we mentioned, a sommelier simply stands for a wine expert. In many cases, this term is used interchangeably with other words that describe working wine professionals. Below is a list of similar terms:
- Wine specialist
- Wine expert
- Professional/trained wine taster
- Wine professional
- Wine server
Keep in mind that wine servers or wine stewards don’t always have to be wine experts. If you want to avoid mispronouncing “sommelier”, you can select one of the above depending on the situation.
What Does A Sommelier Do?
To understand what does a sommelier does, let’s take a brief look at the three topics the Court of Master Sommelier tests for certification. Upon going through each, you will have an exact idea of this job title.
Wine Theory Expertise
To become a sommelier, you need to have deep theoretical knowledge. This includes grape types, wine history, classic wine regions, and geography. A qualified sommelier must be able to speak at length, expertly, about these subjects.
Of course, they are not obtaining the knowledge to be wine historians or oenologists. They study wine to provide guests the best service. Upon learning about the theory of wines, sommeliers understand what affects the taste of a particular wine. From there, they can help customers choose the most suitable ones.
The next two responsibilities of a sommelier surround the practice and experience of wine beside the study: Wine tasting and wine service.
Higher levels of a sommelier exam involve blind taste tests. It is not just about realizing the taste of a certain wine: An expert is expected to understand the way it interacts with our senses. That includes texture, how it feels in our mouths, sight, and smell. This expertise is communicated through a special wine-tasting term system.
Wine is not meant to be drunk. It is meant to be experienced. Hence, for the sake of elevating the wine-drinking experience through sensory perception, the ability to characterize wines through the senses and communication is essential. Being a skilled wine communicator makes it easier for a sommelier to guide guests through a wine list.
This test also helps sommeliers to suggest a wine pairing (and probably upsell cocktails as well). Thanks to this, guests shall have the context and tools to fully enjoy their wine.
We still need one more piece to complete the puzzle. After selecting the right vintage or the right wine and the right dish to come with it, it’s serving time, right?
A sommelier’s position is primarily one of service. They are not here to contribute academic knowledge to wine theory. Their main role is to take guests’ wine experience to the next level. Theory and taste are used to achieve this goal.
As soon as you’ve decided on a bottle, the sommelier will deliver it to you. When the guest arrives, they’ll show him or her the label to verify the vintage, vineyard, and style. After a tasting, upon approval, the sommelier will pour a standard 5-ounce wine pour for every guest at the table. Depending on the wine, you may need to chill, decant, or aerate before drinking.
A full wine service requires performing all of these actions in a specific order (e.g. how to decant wine). It’s also important to make sure that the wines are ready to be served, having been stored at the optimal wine storage temperature, with the correct wine cellar lighting, and in the ideal wine storage furniture. This process covers in a specific wine storage guide.
So you can see, wine service is the perfect combination of taste and presentation. Sometimes, it also requires explanations, like what a corkage fee means and why it is charged. You don’t have a fixed standard for good wine service. You can only feel it. Mastering this art is the last responsibility of a sommelier.
Other Jobs In The Wine Industry
Becoming a master sommelier takes years of studying, endless effort, and perhaps innate talent. According to the Court of Master Sommelier, only 8% of test-takers get the certification to become a professional. If you are interested in the wine industry, though, there are other options for you.
Winemakers are those who supervise the production of wines. They might operate solely or work in the middle management positions, depending on the scale of a winery. Winemakers apply their understandings of the winemaking process to oversee all the stages such as grape harvesting, crushing, fermentation, aging, blending, and so on.
At a winery, an assistant winemaker works under the control of the head winemaker. It is their job to oversee the entire winemaking process, from planting to harvesting to bottling, and to assist vintners with fermenting and storing equipment or machinery. It’s common to have winemaking or food science degrees, but some learn on the job through apprenticeships.
Wine managers are in charge of choosing and offering wine options for restaurant chains and hotel groups. Even though parts of this job sound similar to a sommelier’s, it also comes with additional purchasing and budgeting considerations.
Aside from that, the responsibilities of wine managers include educating staff on new wines, monitoring inventory, dealing with wine reps, and purchasing new wines. They curate seasonal lists of wines and give descriptive descriptions and suggest pairings with specific menu items.
Unlike sommeliers, bartenders are not specialized in wines. Their job is to mix and serve both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Excellent customer service skills and the ability to multitask when preparing drinks and billing customers are this position’s requirements.
How To Pronounce Sommelier – Final Thoughts
Now, you can confidently say that you know everything about this fascinating term! Hopefully, this article provides you with a more nuanced understanding of the word and how to pronounce sommelier.
Small advice to all those interested in the wine industry: Becoming a bartender might be an excellent stepping stone to learn the skills of a sommelier master. If you got spare time and cash, take your first step and see if this romantic job is for you!
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