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A Day in the Life of a Sommelier

When customers in an upscale restaurant want to order a bottle of wine with dinner, they may be overwhelmed by or unfamiliar with the selections offered on the wine list. When this is the case, they can ask the sommelier for advice. Sommelier is the French term for cellarmaster or wine steward. Sommeliers are individuals with a love of wine who are eager to impart some of their knowledge to the customer. They can describe the regions, grapes, vineyards and vintages of an assortment of wines. The best sommeliers talk to, not at, their customers and enjoy when customers tell them of a bottle they have recently tasted that they are not familiar with. The sommelier either helps to create the wine list or compiles it on his own. The sommelier recommends wines that suit the customer’s tastes and price range. Even those who are knowledgeable about wine can benefit from the sommelier’s advice. He has tasted the items on the wine list and knows which wines go best with which entrees. Many patrons are easily intimidated by wines and do not understand the terminology used to describe them. The sommelier must be ready to coax from them a description of their desires and be understanding of their budgetary limits. When they select a wine, the sommelier brings it to the table with the appropriate glasses and pours it for the customer to taste. The sommelier should encourage the patron to smell the wine first and should describe its components to him, bringing the wine to life for the patron before it even touches his palate. Sommeliers also decant wines, when necessary. Decanting, usually done to red wines aged over ten years, is the process of pouring the wine into a decanter before serving it. This is done to allow the wine to breathe and to separate it from any sediment that may have settled at the bottom of the bottle. Extensive and frequent travel is part of the sommelier’s career. Many travel yearly to different regions to choose wines for their restaurant. At times, they will leave a promising wine behind, but return to it repeatedly until they feel it has aged properly.

Paying Your Dues

When customers in an upscale restaurant want to order a bottle of wine with dinner, they may be overwhelmed by or unfamiliar with the selections offered on the wine list. When this is the case, they can ask the sommelier for advice. Sommelier is the French term for cellarmaster or wine steward. Sommeliers are individuals with a love of wine who are eager to impart some of their knowledge to the customer. They can describe the regions, grapes, vineyards and vintages of an assortment of wines. The best sommeliers talk to, not at, their customers and enjoy when customers tell them of a bottle they have recently tasted that they are not familiar with. The sommelier either helps to create the wine list or compiles it on his own. The sommelier recommends wines that suit the customer’s tastes and price range. Even those who are knowledgeable about wine can benefit from the sommelier’s advice. He has tasted the items on the wine list and knows which wines go best with which entrees. Many patrons are easily intimidated by wines and do not understand the terminology used to describe them. The sommelier must be ready to coax from them a description of their desires and be understanding of their budgetary limits. When they select a wine, the sommelier brings it to the table with the appropriate glasses and pours it for the customer to taste. The sommelier should encourage the patron to smell the wine first and should describe its components to him, bringing the wine to life for the patron before it even touches his palate. Sommeliers also decant wines, when necessary. Decanting, usually done to red wines aged over ten years, is the process of pouring the wine into a decanter before serving it. This is done to allow the wine to breathe and to separate it from any sediment that may have settled at the bottom of the bottle. Extensive and frequent travel is part of the sommelier’s career. Many travel yearly to different regions to choose wines for their restaurant. At times, they will leave a promising wine behind, but return to it repeatedly until they feel it has aged properly.

Present and Future

The practice of cultivating grapes for wine has been carried on for thousands of years. Drinking habits have always fluctuated around the fashions, politics, and customs of the times. Often these three factors have had much to do with the profit generated from wine making. The early twentieth century saw the beginning of a movement to ensure wine’s authenticity, which culminated in laws stating, for example, that only wine from the French region of Champagne could be called champagne. Since World War II, wine consumption in the United States has grown; the American vineyard has matured and some vineyards in California produce excellent wine. The best European wines are becoming increasingly expensive, causing many to view them as investment opportunities. This has created a demand for sommeliers: Given the complexities and the cost of wines, many people recognize the need for guidance in choosing one.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Most sommeliers begin by working under another sommelier's guidance; apprenticeship under a master is the best way to learn how worth stocking. People enter this profession because they have a "taste" for it, and nearly all beginners report great satisfaction with their choice of career.

FIVE YEARS OUT

The majority of sommeliers work independently now and enjoy the increased responsibilities of choosing the "house" wines (a process typically considered of the utmost importance to restaurateurs). The task of creating the wine list for a restaurant requires diligence and creativity-finding the best suppliers of both the choice, inexpensive wines and the higher-priced vintages-and after five years a sommelier has developed the experience to recommend selections for the type of restaurant he has been working with.

TEN YEARS OUT

By this time the sommelier has probably acquired a reputation and may be quoted in magazines and journals as an authority on wine. Some sommeliers do consulting work for several restaurants, bringing their own flair to each house, while others choose to focus on a single restaurant where they are employed full-time or perhaps share a financial interest. Experienced sommeliers may host wine tasting dinners, write a column for specialty magazine such as The Wine Spectator, or act as mentors to aspiring sommeliers.

MAJORS