• Dominic Perri

The Road to Sommelier - Part I

Updated: May 26

Like many others, watching the movie Somm got my grape juices flowing. Do I have what it takes to be a sommelier? Was I up for the challenge?


After finishing the movie, I ran to the local CVS and bought a fat stack of flashcards. I printed out questions that might appear on the test. I read through them, flipped them over, challenged my memory, and then promptly tucked them away to never look at them again. Why? Because becoming a sommelier is super hard!

Ok, so maybe you're a little more driven than I was at becoming a sommelier. It is quite a distinction, even if you don't make it to Master Sommelier. I mean, there are only 200ish worldwide Master Sommeliers anyway.


So, what if you are serious about becoming a sommelier? What do you do? There are many how-to guides out there, but we wanted to create a roadmap for our readers to ease into the process.


Join us on the road to becoming a sommelier.


If you're curious about the recommended readings, view our Sommelier Book List.



What is a Sommelier?


A sommelier is a wine professional who normally works in a restaurant environment to recommend wines and food pairings. They study wine as a service. Sommeliers are not professional wine historians or oenologists who study wine and winemaking. Although many do tend to know a great deal about those topics anyway.


Since sommeliers are able to expertly talk in length about various wine topics, many vineyards also leverage the wine knowledge of sommeliers at their locations.


Although the word "sommelier" can be broadly used by anyone, many associate it with individuals who have received a professional sommelier certification. In landing a sommelier job, you'll need to go through one of these organizations below, most particularly the Court of Master Sommeliers.

  • The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), in the United Kingdom

  • Britain & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), in Britain

  • The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), in the United Kingdom

  • North American Sommelier Association (NASA), in Canada and the United States

  • Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS), in Italy

For this article, we'll be focusing on the steps in receiving a certification through the most well-known and respected one, the Court of Master Sommeliers.


“Preparation takes so much out of you and you really have to put everything in your life on hold; especially family life and career.”

Emily Pickral-Papach of Chappelet Vineyards in Napa



View and purchase all of the required readings for the sommelier exam on Yahyn's Sommelier Book List.

How to Become a Sommelier?


From the very beginning of your sommelier pursuit to receiving the distinction of a Master Sommelier, know that it might take upwards to 20 years to complete and cost your thousands of dollars. I don't say this to scare you off, but to provide you with a realistic expectation. Don't be frustrated if you don't get it done in four years or so. Mastering the art of fine wines takes time!


There are four levels of certification and once receiving one you have five years in between to take the next test. These tests are administered by a group of wine professionals.

Introductory Course


The first step in becoming a sommelier is enrolling in the introductory course, which is two-day commitment with an 8-hour class and a shorter class the day of the exam. You'll be given a CMS Introductory Course Workbook, the exam is multiple choice, and nearly all of the answers you'll find in the recommended readings. You'll need to score a 60% or higher to earn that trusty lapel pin. But you must pass this introductory course in order to qualify for the Certified Exam.


Background knowledge about wine is a plus prior to entering this introductory course, but the classes do a great job at covering all of the essential topics that will be included in the exam. Although it's a lot of information to digest over two lecture days, many groups have 100% pass rates.

Tips:

  • Pay special attention to the wine regions of the world.

  • Know which grapes grow where.

  • Geographic terroirs are important.

  • Don't forget sake, beer, spirits, and fortified wines.

Recommended Readings:

Next week, We'll be covering the next step in your sommelier journey, preparing and taking the Certified Sommelier Exam!

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