Wine 101: What Even Is a Sommelier?

Sommelier is one of those terms you likely hear at the start of your wine journey, stumble over the pronunciation one too many times, and then dismiss as a fancy wine word you won’t use and don’t understand the significance of. Today, that changes. In this installment of Wine 101, I’m peeling back the curtain on life as a sommelier, so you can finally understand what we do, why we do it, and how we can help enhance your wine experience. Let’s get started.

By the way, it’s pronounced suh·muhl·yay.

A Sommelier Is Your Personal Wine Guru

Wine 101: How to Best Utilize a Restaurant’s Sommelier

Would you believe me if I told you even I use a sommelier when dining at a new restaurant? I do! They’re an amazing and often untapped resource. Sommeliers have an intimate knowledge of their wine menu, and they can guide you toward a selection well within your comfort zone (for your palate and your wallet) or help you venture into the unknown with hidden gems and trusted favorites. All you have to do is tell them what you’re looking for in terms of taste, budget, or special occasion, and let their expertise take over.

A Sommelier Is Not a Thief!

Wine 101: Why Is the Sommelier Stealing My Wine

There’s a common misconception that when a sommelier takes a sip of your newly opened bottle, they’re trying to steal your wine. The truth is, we’re performing a service for you. We want to ensure the bottle is in good condition, and a quick taste lets us confirm the wine is not contaminated or spoiled. More experienced sommeliers might skip the sip and smell the wine before pouring for your table, but for baby somms, tasting the wine is an important learning experience, helping them refine their palate and better understand the characteristics of the wines they sell.

A Sommelier Is More Than Just a Somm

Wine 101: What Does a Sommelier Actually Do? Part 1

Wine 101: What Does a Sommelier Actually Do? Part 2 

Being a sommelier is not always as glamorous as it seems, and requires a lot more than knowing the difference between a Chardonnay and Chablis. A big part of our job is managing the encyclopedia-length wine menu we help people navigate every night. We’re responsible for curating the wine list, unloading, and stocking the shipments, and of course, selling the wine.

And it’s not often that a sommelier is only a sommelier. Most restaurants don’t have a dedicated sommelier position, so we often double as floor managers or bar directors. We also carry out common hospitality tasks like bussing tables, taking drink orders, and other responsibilities that help the restaurant run smoothly. In short, sommeliers wear many hats — and they wear them well.

So, the next time you’re dining in a restaurant with a sommelier, make sure to use their wine knowledge to your full advantage. Remember they’re a trained professional, and they’re there to help you have an all-around enjoyable wine and dining experience.

If you’re ready to take your passion for wine to the next level, or maybe even start your own journey towards becoming a professional sommelier, check out my online wine course. When you register, you’ll get instant access to a wealth of wine resources including videos, worksheets, quizzes, and a final exam.