Friday, November 20, 2009

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Q & A

What is a Sommelier?

This is the most commonly asked question after I tell people what I do for a living.
It actually started in the days of the Pharaohs when there was constant rivalry for the throne and they needed someone to taste their food and drink before them to make sure it was not poisoned. It has, of course, developed since them into something more refined and civilized. It is in a way a form of artistic expression; pairing wine and food perfectly to balance flavor, acid and textures, performing decanting and Champagne through a restaurant service, being in tune with your senses to detect a flawed or corked wine ensuring it does not reach guests, having a keen skill of organizing to keep track of an extensive inventory and an extensive memory and knowledge base of wine regions and producers from around the world and communicating this to guests.

Does that mean you are from Somalia?
This one is my favorite and puts a smile on my face nearly every time.

How does one become a Sommelier?
The most well recognized program called the Court of Master Sommeliers and is based out of London. They proctor exams on a bi-weekly, monthly and annual basis depending on the level. There are 4 levels to the exam, the Introductory, the Certified, the Advanced and the Masters. There are only 171 Master Sommeliers in the world so it is an extremely prestigiuous title. The exams are based on 3 sections; blind tasting, service and theory. Training is all self taught, on site training and resources such as the Internet or textbooks like The World Atlas of Wine or Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia.

So you are saying I can become a Sommelier by drinking a lot?
This one is guaranteed to piss me off. It would be like me going up to a lawyer and saying, you mean I can become a lawyer by arguing a lot? Or going up to a psychologist and saying, you mean I can become a psychologist by listening to peoples problems? These are, of course, generalizations, but seriously? Wine is a lifestyle, not just a profession. It is a form of art, and just as the colloquialism of a starving artists, a Sommelier is starving until they have made a name for themselves. The amount of dedication, invested time and emotion that goes into studying for the exams cannot be described in words. Being a Sommelier is a career for people who want to continuously be humbled, challenged and learn something new, because the world of wine is always changing faster than you can possibly keep up with. So to reply to your question: you may see me in action for the most enticing part of my job, tasting your wine before you do. But do not assume that is all I do, you know what they say about assuming....

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