A sommelier (// or //; French pronunciation: [sɔməlje]), or wine steward, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing. The role is much more specialized and informed than that of a wine waiter: In fine dining today the role is strategically on a par with that of the executive chef or chef de cuisine.
A sommelier may also be responsible for the development of wine lists, and for the delivery of wine service and training for the other restaurant staff. Working along with the culinary team, they pair and suggest wines that will best complement each particular food menu item. This entails the need for a deep knowledge of how food and wine, beer, spirits and other beverages work in harmony. A professional sommelier also works on the floor of the restaurant and is in direct contact with restaurant patrons. The sommelier has a responsibility to work within the taste preference and budget parameters of the patron.
In modern times, a sommelier's role may be considered broader than working only with wines, and may encompass all aspects of the restaurant's service, with an enhanced focus on wines, beers, spirits, soft-drinks, cocktails, mineral waters, and tobaccos.
The modern word is French, deriving from Middle French where it referred to a court official charged with transportation of supplies. This use of the term dates to a period when pack animals would be used to transport supplies. The Middle French probably finds its origin in Old Provençal where a saumalier was a pack animal driver. Sauma referred to a pack animal or the load of a pack animal. In Late Latin, sagma referred to a packsaddle.
Education and certification
Though 'sommelier' is a job title potentially anyone may claim, becoming a professional certified sommelier often requires some combination of experience, long training, formal education, classes and examinations. Though one can be a sommelier through only experience in the restaurant or wine industry as a qualification, many choose to become certified or educated by one of the many certifying bodies. The certification is offered by a wide range of educators: though a basic education may be attained for US$800–$3,750 over the course of six months, advanced professional certification requires many years of costly study, practice and experience.
In France the Union des Sommeliers (UDS) was founded in 1907 to ensure social protection for its members, both sommeliers and cellar masters in Paris region. The approach and role of the association developed throughout the years as it lost its autonomy by merging with the Mutualité Hôtelière in 1959. Ten years later, sommeliers regained their independence as the Association des Sommeliers de Paris (ASP) was founded in 1969. In the same year the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) was created and federated other organisations in the world and in 1970 the old UDS was renamed in Union de la Sommellerie Française, UDSF, which supervises today the 21 regional associations in France (including ASP). The title of Mention Complémentaire Sommellerie (MCS) and Brevet Professionnel de Sommelier (BP) can be achieved studying for many different approved providers and the final qualification of Maître Sommelier (Master Sommelier) can be achieved after an accurate career assessment, requiring at least 10 years of professional experience.
In Italy the Italian Sommelier Association, 'AIS', being founded on July 7, 1965 is one of the oldest sommelier association of the world. It is officially recognised and legally acknowledged by the Italian government. Italian Sommelier Association is part and founding member of the Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA), which is officially recognized throughout the world. It is actually the largest sommelier association ever featuring over 33000 members only in Italy, featuring either high curriculum level and high quality service standards. AIS / WSA is worldwide famous for its technical tasting approach and methodology, patented food & wine pairing technique, publications, service standards and three-levels course structure which leads to the Certified Sommelier qualification. A Professional Sommelier qualification and diploma is issued by AIS after candidate's career assessment for those sommeliers actually working in a food & beverage establishment.
The Wine & Spirit Education Trust, often referred to as 'WSET', is a British organisation which arranges courses and exams in the field of wine and spirits. It was founded in 1969, is headquartered in London and is generally regarded as one of the world's leading providers of wine education. WSET courses and qualifications are offered in compliance to the new UK Qualifications and Credit Framework, from level 1 to level 3
The Court of Master Sommeliers, (CMS) established in 1977, is an independent examining body that offers the 'Master Sommelier Diploma', the 'Advanced Sommelier Certificate', the 'Certified Sommelier Certificate', and the 'Introductory Sommelier Certificate'; and was created under the supervision of the following British based institutions: The Vintners Company, The Institute of Masters of Wine, The British Hotels & Restaurants Association, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association of Great Britain and The Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association. Since the Master Sommelier Diploma was introduced in 1969, 214 people from around the world had become Master Sommeliers by the end of 2013. The Court also offers intermediate levels of education including the annual "Advanced Sommelier Course", which prepares invited candidates to sit for the Advanced Exam, generally offered 2-3 times per year. Taking the Advanced Course and passing the Advanced Exam are mandatory before sitting for the Masters Exam.
Founded in 1979 in South Africa, the 'Cape Wine Academy' introduced the Cape Sommelier™ programme, leading to certification as a Cape Wine Master. This was in response to a huge demand, and support from the hospitality industry, for a suitable professional qualification, and to ensure that South Africa's service levels compete globally.
The International Sommelier Guild (ISG) is another organization that educates and certifies sommeliers in Canada, China and the USA. It was founded in 1982 and the programme consists of Level 1 Wine Fundamentals, Level 2 Wine Fundamentals and a Sommelier Diploma. They also offer a 'Certified Sommelier Instructor' diploma
More recently, the North American Sommelier Association is another organization that provides Sommelier Certification. "NASA", as it's sympathetically referred to, was founded in 2006 and is the official representative in the United States and Canada of the Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA). NASA's Certified Sommelier course is divided into 3 phases but is offered as 1 entire course and includes extensive class time, lectures, educational visits to wineries and educational dinners. Differently from others, the North American Sommelier Association possesses only 2 tiers of Sommelier qualification : Silver-Pin & Gold-Pin, whereas the Gold-Pin certification is obtained through a series of extensive requirements and certifications (Master Wine Taster, Master Of Service...) as well as proof of experience in the industry. Aside from the Sommelier Certification, the North American Sommelier Association also provides various smaller proprietary specialization courses like the 'Italian Wine Specialist', 'American Wine Specialist' and various master-classes such as 'Master Of Terroir', 'Master of Sangiovese', 'Master of Service' and 'Master Wine Taster'.
Other types of sommelier
The terms beer sommelier and sake sommelier are sometimes used for beer and sake. In Japan, sommelier describes not only wine experts but other fields of expertise, for instance music sommelier, or vegetable sommelier which is a certification delivered by the Japan Vegetable Sommelier Association (日本野菜ソムリエ協会).
- Beer sommelier
- Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin
- Maître d'
- Master of Wine
- Wine accessory
- Court of Master Sommeliers
- Italian Sommelier Association (AIS)
- Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
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