The typical sommelier begins his career as an assistant in the hospitality industry, working under and learning from more experienced sommeliers. After a few years, most are working independently, choosing wines for the restaurant and developing and maintaining relationships with suppliers. With much experience in the business, a sommelier often becomes a freelance wine expert and may serve as a wine consultant for several restaurants or for a restaurant group.
Sommeliers have the opportunity to engage in a number of competitions held throughout the world. Requirements may vary as to who can enter -- young sommeliers, sommeliers who work in Texas and so on -- but most are judged on the same factors. Competitors take a written exam, compete in practical exercises in which their service skills are showcased and display their fine senses in blind tastings.
Salaries for sommeliers vary greatly depending on where they work and their level of experience. Beginning salaries are around $28,000, while experienced sommeliers can command $160,000 or more [source: U.S. Department of Labor]. The job is more physically demanding than you might imagine. A sommelier is busy throughout service each night, either on the floor or in the wine cellar. Also, it's a job for a night person, since most fine dining takes place in the evening. Sommeliers should also be free and eager to travel. As they advance in their careers, they will need to visit vineyards and wineries around the world, seeing in person what they already are acquainted with in the bottle. Despite some of the hardships, dedicated sommeliers express great job satisfaction. To them there is no greater reward than working with wine and introducing it to others.