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How To Serve Wine: Beginner’s Guide To Becoming a Sommelier

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To become a sommelier, you need practical knowledge, experience and to be able to pass an examination. Enjoying wine is an excellent place to start, but you need to take several more steps to be an excellent sommelier.

Learn as Much as You Can

If you want to become a sommelier, you need to know a lot about wine and how to serve wine.

There’s more to it than being just a wine bartender, and you’ll need to learn as much as you can to succeed.

Read Books on the Subject

Reading books about wine and sommeliers is one of the best ways to learn the theory of wine composition and pairing.

Start by reading The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil to get a good foundation and start working on your sommelier vocabulary. Once you’ve got a better understanding of the basics, try reading The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Jackson and Jancis Robinson.

Take Sommelier Classes

Some people learn better by listening to an instructor rather than reading; if this sounds like you, consider taking a sommelier class.

 

Check out your local community college or downtown arts center to see if in-person classes are available in your area.

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It takes a long time to go from beginner to master, but every journey starts with a single step.

Gain Work Experience

Theoretical knowledge alone isn’t enough to be a good sommelier. Not only do you have to be able to serve and pair wine, but you must also know the type, composition, and notes present in any wine you encounter. This type of in-depth knowledge can only come from practice.

Get a Job at a High-end Restaurant

Getting a job at a high-end restaurant is one of the most effective ways to gain experience. What better way than to learn and get paid at the same time?

 

It’s easier to get a job at a high-end restaurant if you already have some service experience, but it’s not always necessary. You’ll need to be able to work in a fast-paced environment, be an expert in multitasking, and maintain personable service.

Gain Bartending Experience

A more straightforward way to get your foot in the door is to gain bartending experience. While you won’t spend as much time around wine initially, it’s far easier to get a job at a bar without bartending expertise than getting a job at a high-end restaurant without food-service experience.

Gain Practical Experience

Once you’ve got the theoretical knowledge and some work experience under your belt, it’s time to gain practical experience as a sommelier. 

 

Many vineyards and winebars will hire aspiring sommeliers and provide them with on-the-job training in the wines produced and sold at their locations. For this plan to work, you must have a proven work history with at least one year of work experience.

 

If there aren’t a ton of vineyards or wine bars in your area, don’t worry! There are other ways to gain valuable experience.

 

One way is to travel to regions famous for wine production. If you’ve worked in a high-end restaurant or a bar, you’ve likely seen several types of wine, but you need to expand your palate past your place of employment.

 

By traveling to other locations, you can broaden your experiences with different types of wine while gaining practical experience.

 

Another way to gain practical experience as a sommelier is by volunteering for an event.

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Receive Your Sommelier Certification

While it is possible to become a sommelier with theory and practical experience alone, many employers will expect you to have a sommelier certification or be willing to obtain one.

 

Receiving your sommelier certification helps distinguish yourself from the pack and shows that you’re serious and dedicated to wine.

About the Sommelier Certification Levels

The sommelier certification is not a one-step process. Instead, the certification system assigns you mastery levels that help denote your skill levels.

Each level requires specific knowledge and skills and the ability to pass a certification exam.

What You Need To Know for Level One

For the level one sommelier certification, you need a strong background in beverage service. Before attempting this course, the theoretical and experiential knowledge discussed in the previous steps are a must.

While this certification level is known as “introductory,” the Court of Masters Sommeliers suggests having three years of experience before attempting this class.

This program is a one-day class followed by an exam covering the basics of all sommelier information. These basics include:

  • Common terminology
  • Varieties of grapes
  • Regional wines
  • The serving of other spirits

What You Need To Know for Level Two

Level two of a sommelier’s education requires passing a certification exam, and you must take this course between one and three years after completing the level one course. If you take it too soon after passing the level one course, you won’t have had time to gain new experience.

You need to be on your toes between levels, because if you wait too long after passing the level one course, you may have forgotten these foundational skills.

The level two certification tests you on tasting, theory, and service. Being strong in one of these areas isn’t good enough as you must pass all sections to obtain your certification.

What You Need To Know for Level Three

If you are interested in gaining your level 3 sommelier certification, you need to know the minimum requirements to take the exam. 

First, you must have three years of industry experience within the last nine years. Additionally, you should wait at least one year after gaining level two certification before attempting level three.

You are not allowed to take the level three class and the level three exam simultaneously.

Like the level two certification, level three will test you on tasting, theory, and service. However, in your previous one, this exam will require you to go more in-depth and show extensive personal experience with wine.

What You Need To Know for Level Four

Level four sommeliers are known as masters of their craft—and for a good reason! Passing the level four exam requires extensive skills and knowledge, and only 10% of applicants pass on their first try.

Being prepared is essential when taking the fourth level exam because the passing score for this exam is higher than the prior three levels.

The level four exam will test your knowledge of Theory, Practical Restaurant Wine Service and Salesmanship, and Practical Tasting. 

Passing level four shows a level of dedication, mastery, and excellence not found by those who hold lower-level certifications.

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Pulling It Together

Between jumping in to learn to become a sommelier on your own and going through work experience to earn your sommelier certification, you always have a shot at becoming a sommelier.

 

It takes a long time to go from beginner to master, but every journey starts with a single step.

 

If you follow this guide, you’re sure to get there with enough hard work and dedication!

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