What Is A Sommelier?

You have probably heard of a sommelier, or a somm as the shortened version, and have wondered what the title means and what you have to do to be qualified as one.

The title sommelier is a description of a certification needed for the title.

It is a passion based job that requires extensive knowledge and testing on the subject matter.

There are various levels of sommelier with various requirements for the titles.

What Is A Sommelier?

For example, there are very few people who can be labeled as a master sommelier due to the amount of knowledge needed to obtain the title.

This article will define a sommelier in detail, go over what is needed to obtain the title, and what you are qualified to do once you have the title.

If you are interested in becoming a sommelier or just interested in learning about them, read on!

Definition Of A Sommelier

A Sommelier (which is pronounced as suh-mul-yei) is defined as someone who is trained and knowledgeable about wine and everything that surrounds it.

This includes wine theory and wine tasting. They are often known as wine stewards and often work in restaurants or similar establishments.

To become a sommelier you will need a proper education in wine, and you will need proper certification after training.

The word for sommelier has an origin in Latin etymology and comes from French.

The Latin phrase for a packsaddle being the bag strapped to animals to carry objects was ‘sagma’ and in French this became ‘somme’ and the people who looked after these animals were sommeliers.

One of the most common cargo for these animals was wine, leading to the definition of the word transforming into what it is today.

So the term sommelier has historically, and is still, used to describe someone who is an expert on wine but is more modernly used as a description of someone with an official certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

They did not invent this word, but they now control who is officially certified as one. In the world of beer, a cicerone has a similar role.

What Does A Sommelier Need To Be Able To Do?

To fully understand the role of a sommelier the easiest way to learn this is looking at how the Court of Master Sommeliers test for the certification and what separates the 4 different levels of sommeliers.

To get the certification, you are taught on 3 topics in detail and will need to know a certain amount on each to get a certain level of qualification.

These 3 topics are; wine theory, wine tasting, and finally wine service.

We will go over these subjects to get a better understanding of what each of them means!

Expertise In Wine Theory

Expertise In Wine Theory

This is the most theoretical aspect of becoming a sommelier, and to fully understand this aspect of being a sommelier you will need to have a good amount of knowledge on different types of grapes, the history of wine, as well as knowledge of the classic wine regions and their geography.

To be a sommelier you will need to be able to speak extensively and expertly on all of these subjects.

They will not need to know as much as a specified wine historian or an oenologist (being a scientist who specifically studies wine as well as winemaking).

The study is less focused on these more technical aspects and more about wine as a service.

Compared to these studies, the work of a sommelier is significantly more practical than theory based, and the training reflects this.

Sommelier used to mean wine steward, but now it is more accurate to describe a sommelier as a steward of the experience of wine.

This experience is more focused on in the next two aspects of being a sommelier.

Expertise In Wine Tasting

Part of the test to become a sommelier is a blind taste test, and there is an expectation that sommeliers will be able to identify different types of wine through this tasting process.

A proper sommelier who passes this test will be able to understand how wine interacts with all of our senses.

This encompasses; the taste, the mouthfeel, how the wine looks, and how the wine smells.

Because of the depth of knowledge needed, there is a massive amount of terminology used as descriptors, many unique to this field.

Because being a sommelier is so focused on wine as an experience, a sommelier needs to be able to accurately label the experience of all the wines they work with through expert levels of tasting skill.

Having this level of knowledge helps a sommelier with their communication when it comes to working with clients, as well as pairing wine when it comes to formulating meals.

Having a good skill in wine tasting is arguably one of the most essential skills of a sommelier.

Expertise In Wine Service

Finally, there is the level of skill a sommelier has in wine as a service.

Sommeliers are often served to enhance the experience for clients in having wine and because of this, it is still a service position, and having top level skills in serving wine is expected.

This is why the knowledge and theory of wine is so specific to wine as a service and less as a process.

Sommeliers are expected to be able to help guests with any questions they have about wine, anything they can do to enhance the experience, whether that is aiding in the preparation or being able to give good recommendations.

To be a sommelier you will be expected to have a great level of skill at specifically serving wine and everything that comes with this.


Sommelier is a massive umbrella term often used to describe any specialist in wine, but more specifically it is a certification given by a board to help identify a person who has a level of expertise on wine.

Hopefully this article has put into perspective all that is expected of sommeliers!

Rachel Edwards
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