How to Become a Sommelier

By: Martha Barksdale

What Does a Sommelier Do?

Ordering wine in a fine dining establishment can be an intimidating experience, but it doesn't have to be. A good sommelier enjoys working with diners as they choose the correct wine for the food they'll be eating. Sommeliers must also be knowledgeable about beers, ales, ciders and even after-dinner cigars. The sommelier must be familiar with both the restaurant's menu and the selection of wines he has available in the wine cellar. He has a hand in compiling the wine list or perhaps puts it together alone. The sommelier must maintain the list's integrity while providing variety between good, lower-cost varieties and higher-priced vintages. Choosing a house wine is one of the most crucial duties of a sommelier. The house wine must complement the cooking style of the restaurant and is the wine most commonly ordered by customers.

A good sommelier can take the customer far beyond the basic rules of red wine with red meat, white wine with fish and into another realm of dining nirvana. He knows about every wine in the cellar and every dish on the menu and understands when to choose a wine that complements the food and when to select one that will provide a contrast. Even diners who are familiar with wines can benefit from the expertise of the sommelier. Sommeliers enjoy talking about wine and like to hear about wines their customers have tried.


After the sommelier and the diners have selected the wine pairings for each course, the sommelier orders the bottles from the cellar. If necessary, he decants the wine. Decanting means pouring the wine from the bottle into another container for serving. It is usually required for red wines that have been aged more than 10 years. Decanting oxygenates the wine, a process that's necessary to bring the wine to its full robust flavor. The sommelier brings the wine with its appropriate glass to the table. He pours a small amount for the host to sniff, sip and approve, telling her what she should be looking for as she samples the wine. This is when the sommelier gets to use those descriptive phrases such as "fresh and crispy notes" and "the combined aromas of blueberries, oak and the spice box." Sometimes the guest will invite the sommelier to have a taste. The sommelier will repeat the process of pouring and describing for each course.