Wine Sommelier evaluating a glass of wine - THEGRAPE

What is a Wine Sommelier?

Today In Wine 101: What is a Wine Sommelier?

You may have heard the term sommelier and wondered what the heck is that fancy French word? And even thought, “How do I pronounce it?” Fear not fellow wine enthusiasts, we’ve all contemplated these thoughts and may have been too shy to ask. Hopefully after reading this article you’ll have a better understanding of what a sommelier is and how they can assist you in the future.

A sommelier, pronounced (summel-yay), is a term that was birthed during the middle ages. Coming from the middle French word saumalier, who was a person responsible for transporting animals and supplies. Supposedly, during the French Revolution the term, “Grand Echanson” was switched to Sommelier by King Phillip V. The Grand Echansons were cupbearers to royal members of the French monarchy who filled and served wineglasses and were responsible for sampling the wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.


What is a wine sommelier?

Today a sommelier is known as a wine steward, wine director, or beverage manager who is educated and trained in the realm of wines (or other beverages – e.g. beers, liquors, ciders, etc.) and usually works in the fine dining industry. Their role is to put together a wine program, by communicating with the chef and creating a list of wines that complement the cuisine of the restaurant. The sommelier also deals with suppliers, maintains the restaurants inventory of wine and makes pairing suggestions for restaurant patrons.

Have you ever sought the advice of a sommelier? Consider this, by communicating with a restaurant’s sommelier many individuals are introduced to new wines or learn of a number of terrific selections that not only accommodate their budget but the food they’ve ordered. Therefore, do not hesitate to ask for the sommelier on staff. Contrary to what you may think they are not at all pretentious or snobby, they are (very) respectful, resourceful and hospitable individuals who aim to make your dining experience more pleasurable.


How Do You Become a Sommelier or Wine Steward?

There are many institutions that offer programs for individuals looking to become a sommelier. Whether you’re someone who works in the fine dining industry or simply have an affinity for wine – becoming a sommelier is a great way to expand on the education you already have, learn more about wine or add another skill and/or certification to your resume. So what can you expect to come across when researching courses on how to become a sommelier?

This can depend on whether or not you’re looking to build your credentials for professional reasons or just looking to broaden your view of wines. Before taking the first level course one must have at least 3 years of experience working in the fine dining industry or have experience as a wine server. There are several different educational levels to becoming a sommelier. Every course has different coursework as well as a timeframe to complete each course or exam.


Sommelier Certification Courses: Intro & Level II

According to The Court of Master Sommeliers, those looking to become professional sommeliers and expand their wine knowledge should consider enrolling in the Introductory Sommelier Certification course first. This is a basic program that only lasts for a couple of days and includes coursework, lots of studying and a big exam at the end. Many begin with this course to gain the kind of foundation that will help them understand the progression towards higher sommelier certifications. However, employers do not always recognize this level of certification. Individuals are often asked to obtain a higher level of certification in order to achieve sommelier status.

After completing the introductory level, students must then complete Level II, known as the Certified Sommelier Certification. This is a one-day exam presented in three segments that include: a blind tasting of two wines, a written exam, and service exam. Once you’ve completed and passed this course you will receive confirmation of being certified by the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers.


Sommelier Certification Courses: Advanced & Master

The next step is to complete and pass the Advanced Sommelier Certification course that is a total of 3 days. Students must have an understanding of wine theory, practical restaurant wine knowledge, salesmanship and stellar service skills, with an ability to pass a blind tasting of six wines. If you’re looking to give yourself more of an edge and be able to compete in the fine dining job market, this certification will help increase your chances of landing a job. Not to mention, it is the step before becoming a Master Sommelier. Why not go all the way?

After completing all the previous courses and passing every exam you have the option of taking the Master Sommelier Diploma course. This is one of the most advanced courses and most recognized. It can take 6 months to 3 years and it consists of 3 sections:

  1. The practicalities of restaurant wine service, customer service and salesmanship.
  2. The theory of wine.
  3. A blind wine tasting of 6 different wines.


Students have 25 minutes to identify and discern each varietal, its origin, district, appellation and vintages of the wines tasted. If however, you fail any of the three exams you have up to 3 consecutive years to try and pass the failed courses before you’re able to receive your Master Sommelier Diploma.

As with any educational program, in order to become a “Certified Wine Professional,” you must enroll in an accredited program or school. There are a number of institutions that offer courses to become a sommelier. Some offer certifications, diplomas, and even a master course. Each program is unique and tailored to suit individuals looking for the different certification levels they’d like to obtain. Some programs last a couple of days while others last several months or years.


Where can I study to be a Sommelier?

There are different programs that offer, introductory, certified, advanced and master sommelier courses. Some of the top schools for sommeliers are:

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA)* – offers an excellent program that is highly respected. The program lasts a little over 6 months and is packed with intense coursework.

The Court of Master Sommeliers * – offers 4 level courses that help both novices and professionals of the wine and fine dining industry become sought after personnel. This is an accredited and highly respected program.

The International Wine Guild* – offers 5 diploma options, four diplomas for working professionals and one for wine aficionados looking to expand their knowledge of wine.

International Sommelier Guild* – offers 4 wine programs in a friendly environment and strives to help their students succeed. Courses range from a day or two to six plus months.

Institute of Masters of Wine – offers a three-year program to students looking to become a master sommelier and students must complete a dissertation at the end of the course.

International Wine Center – offers an array of courses both for wine and other spirits too. Terrific option to consider! Courses last a couple of days to several weeks.

Washington Wine Academy – offers students courses on wine, beer, and spirits and offers courses in both Washington D.C. and Virginia.

Note: * Upon graduating from CIA you can add Certified Wine Professional (C.W.P.) to your resume. International Wine Guild is another top accredited institution. International Sommelier Guild offers a master’s degree program that leads to Grand Sommelier.


If you’re someone with a love and desire to learn more about wine, consider enrolling in a course that will help you become more acquainted with the subject. Hopefully this article was able to shed some light on what a sommelier is, how to pronounce the word, their purpose, certification levels, and schools that offer programs. From now on, try to think of a sommelier as a wine-matchmaker. They pair wine with foods that bring out the best in both and then some!


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