A sommelier, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service.” That definition is pretty basic and in today’s wine world we can add quite a bit to it. A sommelier needs to be knowledgeable and trained in the art of food and wine pairing. They also need to be a guide to the customer who increasingly wants to know “why” a wine is the way it is and the story behind where it comes from. If you are interested in becoming a sommelier there are several steps you can take, including WSET courses in your training.
Some Sommeliers go through the Court of Master Sommeliers to become formally certified. There are also several regional organizations around the world including the North American Sommelier Association. Many of these groups offer levels of courses to help you develop sommelier skills. We have found that starting with a WSET Level 2 or 3 certification helps make ultimate certification success and job confidence much stronger.
WSET certificate holders are not sommeliers. Still, the style of learning with an emphasis on the theory behind wines that WSET courses emphasize can help prepare people to enter the Certified Sommelier program and achieve quicker levels of success. WSET students learn what makes a wine unique – the natural and human factors at work in the vineyard and winery – and then taste those wines to see that theory in a real glass of wine. WSET students learn a systematic way to taste wine that delineates the components that determine both quality and how that wine can be best paired with food. The result is a stronger foundation for the sommelier certification exams.
Some sommeliers never become certified as such but still have successful careers using the sommelier title. Sommelier is not in and of itself a controlled term, so no specific education is required. That stated, we recommend that people take some level of wine course before going into the industry. These course build confidence through knowledge development and begin to train palates so that better food-wine pairings can be made. In short, they empower future sommeliers for success.
So, what steps to take? First, we recommend getting a job or even an unpaid internship working with a restaurant sommelier. Learn from them. You may start as wait staff in a restaurant and offer help to the sommelier. Ask the sommelier there to let you attend tastings or do inventory. At first this may be on your own unpaid time but if you prove valuable your basic waiter job description may expand.
Second, take a wine course to build your confidence. Some of these courses will be easy and just confirm what you already know – or think you know. That confirmation is important because some things you think you know you might be off the mark. Correct these imperfections early. Course such as WSET Level 2 are a good place to start.
Continue to take higher level courses. Wine success relies on continuing to build knowledge WSET Level 3 or courses by the Court of Master Sommeliers will help you do just that.
Finally, if this is a career you really want to pursue, become a certified sommelier through the Court. These courses are offered in cities around the world and having a certification on your resume will definitely stand out to employers.
Whichever direction you take make sure that you are having fun and keeping everything in perspective. Consumers drink wine for enjoyment. As a sommelier it will be your job to make sure they achieve that goal.