3 (Not so Easy) Steps to Becoming a Sommelier

Earning the title of certified Sommelier is no walk in the park. Wine lovers that want to make a career out of their passion must go through rigorous steps to earn the salary that comes along with the job. Not only do you have to prepare yourself to take the tests, you have to keep up with the ever-changing industry to impress the guests that come through the door. Thinking about taking the leap? Let Uncorkd give you an idea of what to expect during your journey to becoming a Sommelier.

1. Prepare Yourself Before the Exam

Before you even think about taking the exam, be sure take the initiative to learn about wines and their regions on your own. It is essential to know how to evaluate a wine by sight, smell, and taste. The smallest details count, such as identifying if a wine was fermented in an oak or steel barrel. Recording your tasting notes can assist you in remembering specific qualities of certain wines or help you compare and differentiate later wines sampled. It is also beneficial to learn the basic pairings for each wine, as most of your future guests will be coming into the restaurant to order a meal. Knowing where a wine comes from is of equal importance. Wine can be produced nearly everywhere, but more areas are more popular than the next. Be sure to learn about all aspects of the zone, such as region, sub-regions, and appellations. To help in your studies, consider buying a book or doing research online for easy referencing.

2. Be Present in the Industry

Before settling down with the idea of becoming a Sommelier, make sure to get some experience within the hospitality industry. Look for jobs that allow you to be on the floor of a restaurant that has a large wine selection. This gives you the opportunity to learn how to present yourself and a bottle of wine. Be sure to dress appropriate and act in a professional manor that reflects the restaurant. Next, learn wine-presenting process. There’s more to serving a bottle of wine than uncorking and pouring. The etiquette involves displaying the bottle, physically opening the wine, knowing the order of who to serve, and checking in with guests after they had a chance to enjoy. Before committing to a restaurant, it is important to ask if they offer any additional benefits, such as incentives for increased wine sales or if they offer a special wine tasting and training program. Working in a restaurant that values their wine program can greatly increase your knowledge and better prepare you for the next step.

3. Take the Exam(s)

Technically, you don’t need a certificate to become a Sommelier. But getting certified will only help your chances in the competitive industry. The tests help solidify what you already know while preparing you to help the guest have the ultimate experience within a restaurant. There are four tests that one needs to pass in order to reach the highest level of Master Sommelier. What level you would like to achieve is up to personal preference. However, each test does not come cheap. Tests can range from $500 to $1000, pending on where you decide to take them and past experience.

The first level is the Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam. It takes place over a two-day period in which candidates receive intensive review, instruction, and training by Master Sommeliers. They review wine and spirit knowledge, proper wine service and a blind taste test. The program ends with a 70 question exam the next day. Completing this program does not give you the credentials of a Sommelier, however. People will need to continue to the next step in order to get legitimate certification.

Next, a person in pursuit of a Sommelier career will take the Certified Sommelier Examination. The test is conducted over the span of one day and includes a blind tasting of two wines, a written theory examination, and a practical serving examination. There are no lectures or tastings provided beforehand. Completing this exam is considered the minimum service standard for those who work on the floor of a restaurant.

The third test is the Advanced Sommelier Course and Examination. In 2014, they changed the program to include two separate programs that were given at least two months apart. The first section is a three-day educational program. The other portion is the actual exam, which takes three days and is given in three parts. The test includes practical restaurant beverage service and salesmanship in a dining room setting, written theory and deductive tasting of six wines. Students must receive a minimum of 60% in all three sections in order to pass.

Finally, the most prestige of them all, the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination. This test is only held in specific regions and consists of three parts: an oral theory examination, a blind tasting of six wines, and a practical wine service portion. The minimum score for passing for all three sections is a 75%. Testers can pass the theory portion first, then are allowed three consecutive years to pass the other two portions. If all three parts are not passed within the three year period, a student must retake the entire exam. During the exam, the student must dress professionally and bring all required Sommelier tools.

So… are you ready to become a Sommelier? The task seems daunting, but those who succeed make an estimated 48-100k salary that is based on skill level and background. If you are up for the challenge, visit the Court of Master Sommeliers website for more information on how to begin. Best of luck!