What is a Sommelier?

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If you’ve been to a winery or fine dining establishment, you may have enjoyed being served wine by a sommelier. Also known as a wine steward, sommeliers can be considered the executive chef of wine, wine pairing, and wine service. When it comes to all of the above, they provide vast knowledge and expertise for curious customers—no matter how new or experienced they are to the wine world.

What do sommeliers do?

Sommeliers are the maestros of wine. Derived from a french word for a pack animal driver, saumalier, these modern day wine aficionados are connoisseurs of the fermented grape juices we know and love. Sommeliers craft wine lists for tastings, source wines for restaurants, and suggest food pairings.

How can sommeliers help?

Sommeliers provide guidance about everything when it comes to wine. They can advise what to taste for in vintages, educate customers about the region and winemaking process involved in specific wines, and suggest delicious wine pairings. They’re especially good at recommending wines based on price and budget.

What qualifies someone as a sommelier?

Much like chefs, some sommeliers are self-taught while others are certified through training and schooling. Sommeliers may achieve basic certification after six months of classes or pursue a higher degree of professional certification by signing up for additional schooling. There are sommelier schools all around the world—some of the oldest in Italy and France. However, no matter where a sommelier is schooled, they’re challenged to become an expert on all types of wines.

What does it mean if a restaurant or vineyard has a sommelier on-site?

If you arrive at a restaurant or vineyard with a sommelier, you know they’re serious about their wine. And if you’ve come to learn and taste a variety of interesting wines, you’re in luck! Sommeliers carefully curate a list of wines that compliment the menu or highlight a winery’s diverse palate. It also means they’re interested in educating you, the customer, about wine and food. Just ask these professional wine stewards about your next dinner party menu and they’ll be able to suggest delectable wine pairings that go far beyond the typical rule: red for red meats and white for chicken and fish. Depending on your budget and preferences, they can create a special pairing suited to your likes and dislikes.

Do I tip a sommelier?

At a restaurant, you can rely on tip-sharing protocol to reward your sommelier for their service, but if you go to a vineyard where the sommelier is waiting on you, separate tipping is always appreciated. No matter what, tipping is always up to the discretion of the patron, so go with your gut: if they just filled it with delicious wine, then consider giving them something extra.

What questions should I ask a sommelier?

Sommeliers can educate you about each of the wines you taste—from grapes to vintage to vineyard histories to flavor profile. Here are some great questions you can ask a sommelier to make your outing to a restaurant or vineyard more enjoyable:
  • How did you develop your wine list?
  • What wines will go well with my meal?
  • What rules of thumb guide pairing wine with food?
  • Why have you made this wine recommendation?
  • What would you recommend as a go-to red and white for any occasion?
  • What wines would you recommend within my price range?
  • What’s the most amazing wine you’ve tasted?
  • What’s a safe wine choice to bring as a gift when I attend a party?
  • How do I conduct my own wine tasting at home?