Ever wish you could just drink wine for a living instead of signing online every day? Well, maybe the life of a sommelier is for you if you are a true wine lover! But, just perhaps because becoming a sommelier is no easy feat. Becoming a true certified master is actually tricky. Let's get into this!
So, what is a sommelier anyways? A sommelier, occasionally also known as a wine steward, manages the wine cellar at a restaurant or wine shop. A wine sommelier may also work in sales and assist customers at dinner pick wine pairing to complement their meal deliciously. Additionally, sommeliers and wine professionals use their taster knowledge and expertise to help create wine lists for their restaurants or hotels. It might be a lot different than the wine appreciation class you were offered in school, but knowing the difference between how wine tastes and how to give proper wine service is just the beginning of the process.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Wine Expert?
Here's how the process goes down. The Court of Master Sommeliers, established as one of the profession's leading bodies, has four levels with four tests: introductory sommelier, certified sommelier, advanced sommelier, and master sommelier. And remember how we said that it's difficult? Well, there are only 269 professionals who have earned the Level Four distinction, and the court's inception was in 1969!
Many sommeliers pass the first level, a two-day process that has required education and is followed by an examination, and stop there. This is likely because the tests become more intense as levels increase. In Level Two, the sommelier examination includes:
- A blind tasting.
- A written theory test.
- A live service demonstration of knowledge and tasks for judges includes flawlessly opening and pouring a bottle of wine.
Levels Three and Four are similar to Level Two but more in-depth. For example, they go into greater depth on grape varieties and wine knowledge and other spirits, and even cigars. This is a deeper dive into the world of wine that begins the mastering of what the best wines are and knowing all the differences in an instant between red wine and white wine, while also knowing specific wines just from taste such as Chardonnay.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Sommelier?
Aspiring sommeliers complete training at culinary schools or colleges and earn certificates from professional organizations.
Can I Be a Wine Connoisseur Even If I'm Not a Sommelier?
The truth is, becoming a sommelier is hard work and overwhelming. The good news is there are many ways you can learn about fine wine that doesn't involve such a substantial financial investment. Becoming more knowledgeable about wine isn't for everyone, but it's the best way for wine drinkers to understand and enhance their social experiences and improve their sense of taste.
Other benefits of becoming more experienced and knowledgeable about wine are it'll allow you to be more confident buying wine and understand the taste differences in quality. Learning to identify wine quality is particularly eye-opening....so, if you want to live in delightful simplicity, that might be the route for you. You won't have to Google what is the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio, because you will be your own expert.
How Can I Learn More About Wine?
Here are a few ways you can learn more about wine that doesn't include becoming a sommelier.
The Court of Master Sommeliers has courses across the countries that you can partake in. But starting with a Wine 101 book covering wine history and the tastes we perceive in wine will help immensely. Additionally, there are also magazines that you can subscribe to that will help you learn. For example, Wine Enthusiasts includes new wine lessons in their Wine Basics section.
Try New Wines
The best way to get to know more about wine is by tasting it more. Of course, this means having to be okay tasting and spitting a lot of it out.
The four basic steps practiced by sommeliers universally to sharpen their palate and improve their ability to remember wine include look, smell, taste, and think. The essential aspect of good wine tasting is remaining in the moment and concentrating on your senses: sight, smell, and taste. It also helps a bit if you have wine tasting notes to go off, but it's fun either way.
Practice The Tasting Process
Set yourself apart as a wine connoisseur by nailing the wine tasting process. This is truly an action that divides the boys from men, the girls from women, the wine sippers from wine connoisseurs: swirling it around your can while you're on a boat or at the beach (or the wine tasting). That's how your friends know you've made it.
When the less advanced wine drinkers accuse you of swirling your wine to look like a big deal, you can coyly educate them that first, you are a big deal and why you are swirling your wine: swirling releases the distinct aroma compounds and makes alcohol evaporate the aroma compounds in wine to your nose. They'll be stunned, but you'll be too busy drinking in the delicious smell of wine.
You can also see how much of the residual sugar from the winemaking sticks to the wine glass when you swirl it. This tells you something about how your vino is going to taste. Why is that? Because a dry wine has no residual sugar content. When grape juice transforms to wine in winemaking during the fermentation process, alcohol is created during fermentation because yeast eats the juice's sugar. In many wines, the winemaker will stop the fermentation process before yeast devours all of the sugar, leaving a small amount of residual sugar and allowing the wine to be mildly sweet. For a dry wine, the yeast eats all the sugar up, and therefore there is no sugar, so the wine is dry. If you see the residual sugar, you can, therefore, identify how sweet or dry wine is.
Identify the Origin and Vintage
There is a lot of information you can garner by reading a wine's label. There are five essential elements of a wine label. Here is what they are:
Producer or Name: This is who made the wine.
Region: This designates where the grapes of the wine were sourced.
Appellation: This indicates what grape or grapes are used to produce the wine. An appellation is a legally established and preserved geographical indication used to distinguish where the wine's grapes are grown. When you become a serious wine drinker, you will be able to differentiate the tasting notes.
Vintage or Non-Vintage: The year that the grapes were harvested is the vintage. It is vital to wine connoisseurs because the vintage reveals a lot about wine. The more 'vintage' the wine is, the more expensive you can expect the wine is.
Alcohol by the volume or ABV: This is the alcohol level, which reveals a lot about wine. European wine regions are very strict with their wine and only allow their highest quality wines to have 13.5% ABV and above. Many high alcohol wines are created from riper grapes and, frequently, have more fruity flavors.