Steps You Need to Take to Become a Sommelier

So, you want to become a sommelier, do ya? Well, it's not as easy as it looks...

If there's one thing that can be safely said about wine culture, it's that being a sommelier is a major status symbol. It's a sign that you really know your wine. You will become the person people go to for the best wine and chocolate pairings, the best wine cocktail recipes, as well as the person who somehow manages to figure out the best wines to pair with Indian food

Not everyone can be a somme. In fact, in order to officially become a sommelier, you have to be certified and take tests to show that you know what you're doing. This is no easy task, and many people either give up or fail as a result. 

Sommelier certification is impressive. It's a statement about how much you love wine and how much time you have spent to learn about it. Want to give it a try? Here are the steps you'll need to take in order to be a real sommelier. 

Before you even grab your next bottle of wine, make sure you have good wine gear.

Though it's possible to become a sommelier without having wine gear, let's be real, it's highly unrealistic. Part of being able to enjoy wine properly, serve it well, and pour it properly is having the right tools for the job. So, before you try to take any more steps, get a good wine kit. 

This wine set from Wine & Cork has an aerator, a stopper, a foil cutter, and a professional-grade wine bottle opener, too. Overall, it gives you the basics you need in order to ensure that you will be able to kick off your wine tastings well. 

Most sommes would also get a wine thermometer, an ice bucket, and a towel to have on hand for serving wine at the right temperature. 

Next, learn to take good notes and really taste wine.

Before you can even think about getting certified as a sommelier, you need to make yourself adept at tasting wine like a connoisseur and taking notes. This means that you will need to learn how to taste wine correctly. 

Not sure where to begin? This article on The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Tasting Wine will help you learn the basics. One thing that will differ, though, is that you won't just be looking at the color, flavor notes, or scent profiles. 

You will need to do a lot of note taking. It's a good idea to spend a couple of nights just trying a new wine or two, and just work out the kinks in your note-taking process. 

Take your time to read up on wines from around the world.

You cannot become a sommelier without serious in-depth knowledge about wines. This kind of knowledge won't come from simple online guides, either. 

A good way to enhance your knowledge before you take sommelier course would be to read Wine Follow: The Essential Guide to Wine. This book is created by the people behind one of the largest wine tasting sites on the net, and regularly is cited as great reading for anyone about to take a sommelier course. 

You'll need to brush up on proper serving protocols, too.

Part of the reason why it's so prestigious to be able to say you're a certified sommelier is the fact that there's so much elegance involved in it. To become a sommelier, you can't just enjoy wine. You also have to be aware about serving techniques, manners, and wine etiquette. 

You will need to know who to serve first (women), last (the host), how to open a bottle of wine properly, and much more. To become a sommelier, you need to perfect that art of presenting and serving wine—and that's not going to be easy. 

Begin working in the restaurant industry—ideally in the fine dining industry.

Getting a job is usually part of the road to becoming a certified sommelier, but most people don't realize that. You might need to get a job without any experience. Thankfully, if you're knowledgeable about wine, this will not be a problem. 

A good fine dining job will allow you to get access to wine tastings, learn more about wine, and get on-the-job skills involving wine presentation. Your goal is to get a job that involves wine in some way, shape, or form.

Not sure where to start? Well, Rick Smilow's Culinary Careers offers a lot of tips for people who want to enjoy ultra high-end wine careers.  

Now, you'll need to start stocking up on wine and cash.

The one thing people don't tell you about learning to become a sommelier is the price tag. It's definitely not a cheap endeavor. You can expect to have to pay around $1,000 or more for sommelier certification. (That's not including wine, either.)

Hopefully, the tips you get in the service industry or hospitality industry will make it happen. 

Once you have enough experience and knowledge, you can try a sommelier course.

You will need to find sommelier courses near you, and yes, you will need to complete all the coursework. As of right now, there are four main wine sommelier courses to choose from. Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses, so you may want to choose wisely.

  • International Sommelier GuildThe ISG is one of the best course groups to work with if you want to make money as a wine distributor or general manager. This is a 9 to 12-month course pair that covers wine basics, and is designed for moderate wine managers in mind. Only 20% of entrants graduate, so don't think it's a light course.
  • Court of Masters Sommeliers: This name even sounds fancy, doesn't it? A person who gets the highest rank from the CMS is someone who will have a lot to brag about. This course is meant for lead wine managers, head sommeliers, and other high-ranking positions. Grueling coursework and blind taste tests are included. Only about 200 people have earned the Master Sommelier certification from the CMS since its debut.
  • Institute of Masters of Wine: If you want to get into the IMW, you'll need to pass an entry exam and also pass the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 4 course. Blind taste tests, 10,000-word essays, and lots of required recommendations from pros make this as elite as it gets. Needless to say, this is not for newbies and even a typical wine director will break a sweat. 
  • Wine and Spirit Education Trust: WSET is one of the better classes for people who want to become a sommelier but don't want to go through too heavy an entry. This allows newbies to get basics in their Level 1. The intensity of courses goes up with levels, with a Level 4 certification being an official sommelier.

It's worth noting you *technically* don't need a certification to be called a sommelier. However, if you want to officially be one, it's a must. 

Once you choose a course, you're going to need to apply and take the classes.

The classes for each kind of sommelier course will vary in time and intensity. Just applying for a class doesn't mean you're going to get in. In some cases, you may have to reapply. 

Typically, you can expect classes to take one or two days per week over the course of six to nine months. Some courses are more intense, others are less intense. Either way, you will need to sharpen your skills and your taste buds to understand excellent wines. 

The tests are the hardest part.

Once the coursework is complete, you will need to take (and pass) a test to become a sommelier. The tests are the hardest part of your path to being a somme. Most, if not all, sommelier courses will require a written test as well as blind taste tests to prove your mettle. 

It's a very, very wise idea to study. We strongly suggest reading the Sommelier Prep Course from M. Gibson to refresh yourself before you decide to take the test. 

Once you pass the test, you can become a sommelier.

After passing your test, you're officially seen as a sommelier. You will get certification, a pin, and a lot more respect in the wine world. Use that knowledge with a little responsibility. After all, you're one in a very select few!

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