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What is a Sommelier?

Updated on July 22, 2011

Its all about the Wine

 A sommelier is a highly trained expert on wine and is commonly found in fine dining restaurants. They are responsible for selecting and sourcing the wines on the wine list, managing the cellar, and providing specialist information and recommendations to restaurant patrons.

They often have a team of wine waiters working under them, especially in large modern restaurants.

There are numerous professional bodies offering sommelier education with The Master Sommelier Diploma being the most exclusive qualification, with less than 200 people world wide ever achieving it.

A sommelier is of benefit to diners by offering suggestions on wines, and in particular their pairings with food. When dealing with sommeliers there are a few points to remember:

  • Relax - Many people get nervous talking with sommeliers as they feel unsure of the protocol. The profession has a very formal reputation but times have changed. Sommeliers today do not dictate decisions to you. They draw out information on your preferences through a series of questions.
  • Be honest - It is normal to to set parameters to guide the sommelier. If you have a budget, let them know. If you hate a certain wine or grape or have one you love, speak up. If you have tried anything on the list before let them know your opinions. All of this information helps the sommelier understand your tastes. After all, they are there to help you choose a memorable wine.
  • Be open to suggestion - A special occasion at a nice restaurant is a great time to try something new. Remember the sommelier picked every wine on the list so it is often hard to go wrong. Their reputation rests on that list so they try and have quality across every price bracket.

Its your night

Chances are you will be spending a lot of money if your restaurant has a sommelier. Try not to be intimidated and use them to get the most from your evening.

 It is now also becoming more common for the sommelier to take care of one of the other awkward rituals, the tasting of the wine. They will often try a small sample to ensure the wine is not corked and in the rare case it is, they will get another bottle without a single tainted drop ever reaching you lips.

Even if the wine is tasted for you, it is traditional for them to also give you a taste and await your approval. It makes it much easier to bluff if you don't know much about wine and the expert has already given the thumbs up.

Another option worth considering is choosing the tasting menu with matching wines. These exciting menus contain a selection of the chef's dishes that best demonstrate their style and skills. Each course comes with a wine to match chosen by the sommelier to perfectly compliment the dish. This lets you taste more dishes than usual and of course, more wines.


Most of us will never get used to dealing with sommeliers but that does not mean we shouldn't make the most of the experience on special occasions. I have had some amazing wine experiences thanks to the expert knowledge of sommeliers, with a bit of luck, you will too.

What is a Sommelier?

What is a Master Sommelier?



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