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What does it take to become a master sommelier?
Step one is to become a sommelier. To non-industry people, it probably sounds like a neat excuse to get paid for drinking-okay, maybe it is. Master Sommeliers take particular pride in their work. It is well warranted. They are a great deal more than a well-informed drinking buddy or someone to call upon a Saturday afternoon when the labels get confusing at the wine shop.
A day in the life of a sommelier reads something like Willy Wonka minus the gore. Being lost in a candy factory of sorts where flavor and composition are like music to your ears. Sommeliers curate wines for the restaurant’s menu; they learn everything there is to know about them. Not just the haughty ‘its a Bordeaux blend’ plus the list of varietals, but down to the careful aspects the winemaker employs to make this creation.
Armed with that, a good Sommelier will take charge of the floor ( restaurant speak for the dining room.) and recommend wines with food pairings, not to mention train the waitstaff. It goes without saying, this is a valuable investment that requires some experience and patience. The good news? It pays well after each stage if done right. You will have to spend hours studying and money tasting. Be warned; it can get quite exhausting.
Know Your Goals
If your focus is merely getting acquainted with wine on an entry-level or even the more coveted prize of Master Sommelier, there are ways to get you there. Know beforehand that it will take time, and try to be easy on yourself if achievements don’t come as swiftly. For most aspiring Master Sommeliers, this can be an investment of a minimum of 10 years! Fundamental knowledge and passion are what will get you in the door.
Determine what wine course works for you
In these articles, we highlighted some sommelier certification programs that you can apply to get you started. The Court of Master Sommelier, National Wine School, and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust are the wine industry’s most recognized educating bodies.
Some of their programs might involve a considerable amount of travel. Others have Approved Program Providers (APPs) that behave like a franchise operation, where you can sit for your paper. Several aspiring Somms take advantage of this and travel the world to take their examinations in different wine-producing regions. This is critical for exposure-do it when you can. In wine, you have to appreciate it to comprehend it. Before you make a choice, you should do a deep dive into a wine school near you.
An establishment like the Napa Wine Academy (one of the best wine schools in America) can offer all these programs under one roof.
Unlearn to Relearn
There is a way you describe wines to a member of the wine trade, a way you would describe the wine to a friend, and when you serve it to a guest. Sommelier training institutions provide a standardized quality check of all three. Ultimately, it has culminated in improved wine service and knowledge within the industry.
There are approved tasting sheets that train on how to approach wine and form conclusions on it. They cover sight, smell, taste and instruct you how to gauge its market value. Taking these helps you to evaluate wine at more than face value. You get a deeper understanding of the mind of the winemaker and the heart of his vineyard.
Start Collecting Wine
Well, not to cellar. To drink! You need to train your palate. A Master Sommelier is intuitive in all things in the glass. Like a good sensei, you have to master the art of concentration. Be able to pause, reflect, and deduct the flavors and aroma of the wine to assess them. Cut your teeth on good wines. You won’t have to rob a bank for a rare bottle of Y’quem but spend some time buying and tasting wines from all over the world. Each wine will show you something new, assisting you to ace that test and hopefully make it to become a Master Sommelier.
Read Wine Books
Wine material is available everywhere. To start your journey to become a Master Sommelier, you should find books written by established wine professionals. Karen McNeil’s Wine Bible is an excellent place to start. Jancis Robinson also has a few. Try “The Taste of Wine” by Pamela Vandyke Price to get a hang on pairings and wine styles. Some online wine schools provide educational videos and articles on their websites that can be handy.
The Dirty Secret Behind Becoming a Master Sommelier
There is a lot of attention to Master Sommeliers of late, not all good. There have been numerous television shows and a few movies featuring sommeliers. And then came the report of sexism and cheating in the upper ranks of the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS). While it used to be seen as the only legitimate way to become a Master Sommelier, it now is seen as a boy’s club that extorts its members, both sexually and financially. The truth is that any number of other schools can certify a master sommelier. Just seek out a school that can offer L5 wine certification, and ignore the drama that is the CMS.