Sommelier Job Description - Training, Skills, Duties
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What Does a Sommelier Do?
A sommelier is a wine professional who is responsible for selecting and serving wines. A sommelier’s most important skill is their tasting ability, i.e. the ability to accurately assess and analyse the organoleptic properties of a wine, identify the wine type, its chromatic characteristics, olfactory properties and condition. But a sommelier is far more than just a simple wine taster. They also need to possess a wide variety of skills and abilities, including a knowledge of food and wine pairings, tableside wine presentation and service and wine cellar management skills.
Sommeliers work in the restaurant and hotel trade (especially in luxury and high-end hotels), as well as in wine bars and, wine shops. Alternatively, they may provide external consultancy services to wine producers and to the wine and food industry in general.
Sommeliers working in a restaurant or bar use their wine tasting and assessment skills to choose effective wine and food pairings and to design the wine list, which is usually prepared by the sommelier together with the head waiter (or maitre d’), the chef and the restaurant manager. The aim of a good wine menu is to complement and enhance the food prepared by the chef. In addition to selecting which wines to include on the wine list, sommeliers are also responsible for placing orders and for managing the restaurant’s wine cellar, ensuring it is kept properly stocked at all times with the full complement of white, red, still and sparkling wines, as well as wines from a range of different countries and regions.
A sommelier is part of a restaurant’s waiting staff and is required to provide guests with an attentive and professional service and look after their needs. A sommelier’s duties include taking drinks orders and suggesting wine pairings for the dishes diners have chosen. When describing a wine’s characteristics, sommeliers need to be able to use both technical wine terminology and ordinary language that will be clearly understood by diners. A professional sommelier’s goals should include achieving both high levels of tableside service and customer satisfaction, as well as securing the sale of the suggested wine, which represents a significant source of revenue for a restaurant.
In smaller restaurants, the maitre will often assume the functions of sommelier, while in larger establishments there may be several sommeliers coordinated by a head sommelier.
In addition to a knowledge of wines and the winemaking process and the ability to provide impeccable table service, other important skills for a sommelier are manual dexterity and mastery of the tools of the trade, which include the tasting glass (often used instead of the silver cup or ‘tastevin’ traditionally used for tasting), the corkscrew, the serviettes used for serving wine, and a thermometer. Another key element of the job is the sommelier’s uniform, which should be elegant and functional and distinguish the sommelier from the rest of the waiting team.
Duties and Responsibilities
A sommelier’s responsibilities include:
- Designing the wine list
- Selecting and purchasing wines
- Managing the wine cellar and ensuring it is always well-stocked
- Taking orders for wine and drinks
- Advising customers on wine and food pairings
- Performing tastings for customers
- Monitoring the effectiveness of the wine list in terms of customer satisfaction and making adjustments where necessary
- Controlling and analysing the quality of the wines on offer and of the wine cellar in general
- Looking after the wine cellar on a daily basis, ensuring it is clean and checking the inventory
How to Become a Sommelier: Education and Training
Becoming a sommelier requires specific wine knowledge, which can be obtained through professional training programmes. Courses for sommeliers will include content on viticulture (the cultivation of grapevines), enology (the study of wines), enography (relating to the geographical distribution of wines and grape varieties), tasting techniques and wine and grape-related legislation. Another aspect that is covered in-depth is wine pairing, as it is essential for a sommelier to be able to pair wine with food, knowledgeably and successfully.
A sommelier also needs to be able to articulate the results of a wine tasting effectively and describe a wine or a pairing using an engaging manner that will convince the customer to follow his or her advice. For this reason, it is very important for a sommelier to have good communication skills, while a knowledge of the most common foreign languages is also a must when working with an international clientele.
Being responsible for a wine cellar of a restaurant or bar requires specific management skills, including an ability to analyse requirements, plan a budget, draw up a wine purchasing plan, assess and select suppliers, negotiate purchase prices and suggest changes and additions to the wine in stock.
All of the above skills need to be backed up by constant and ongoing wine tasting training and practice. Sommeliers should always be looking out for new wine producers and labels with the aim of broadening their knowledge of wines and enhancing their professional abilities.
Job advertisements for sommeliers often indicate a preference for candidates holding a sommelier qualification from a recognised body, as well as prior experience in the role.
Skills and Qualifications
A professional sommelier needs the following skills:
- Knowledge of wines and winemaking
- Knowledge of wine-tasting techniques
- Ability to create effective wine and food pairings
- Wine cellar management skills
- Strong perceptive, gustatory (taste) and olfactory abilities
- Communication skills
- Excellent memory - e.g. ability to recall names and characteristics of wines and grape varieties
- Knowledge of table service rules and etiquette
- Flexibility and ability to work as part of a team
Sommelier Career Path
Training as a sommelier may lead to a career in the luxury or high-end restaurant sector. Candidates with a talent for designing wine lists and ensuring high standards of service, for example, may progress to the position of head sommelier, which involves coordinating a team of sommeliers and reporting to the restaurant manager.
The career of a sommelier is of course not restricted to the restaurant sector. A sommelier may work as a self-employed consultant, for example, helping wine producers to improve their wines and make their marketing and communication materials more effective and engaging (wine marketing), organizing and conducting wine tastings sessions in wine cellars and accompanying guests on visits to local producers.
The food and wine sector also offers a number of interesting opportunities, such as wine education and communication, i.e. helping to educate consumers and create a culture of wine and helping to organize tastings and other wine-related events.
Top Reasons to Work as a Sommelier
People deciding to embark on a career as a sommelier usually have a strong passion for the world of wine and enogastronomy. Working as part of the waiting team in a restaurant is an opportunity to work in close contact with other people and assist customers with a variety of tastes and preferences. A good sommelier should be able to help customers choose wines and create effective and original pairings that will delight diners’ palates.
To ensure they can offer diners the best possible service, sommeliers need to be constantly working to educate and refine their nose and palate and expand their knowledge of wines, producers and wine-making regions. For this reason, the job also offers an opportunity to travel and experience a variety of destinations and cultures from a new and interesting perspective and to contribute to the promotion of a culture of wine.