The Sommelier

If someone is a sommelier, they're an expert in which topic?

And the answer: wine.      

A sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, typically found in fine restaurants. If you need help deciding which wine to choose on a menu, you can talk with the restaurant's sommelier for guidance.

Photo credit: public domain. 

Although any staff equipped to serve and recommend wines can technically be considered a sommelier, there is an extensive certification process required for those who wish to take the next step. Depending on individual knowledge going in, it can take months of studying to become a certified sommelier, and even years to achieve advanced status. To date, there are fewer than 300 certified sommelier masters in the world.

Advanced sommeliers must pass three exams to become a master. The first is a theory portion, covering the history of wine and its creation, the second is a demonstration of a perfect pouring and wine service, and the third is the most difficult: the blind tasting. The third and final step requires applicants to identify the origin, grape, year, and quality of six wines based on taste alone. On average, about 10-12 percent of applicants pass each year.

In a formal advanced or master blind tasting examination, three white wines and three red wines are poured blind. Only 25 minutes are allotted to decipher the six different wines and no notes are allowed. That all adds up to only four minutes and ten seconds for each wine!

Interestingly, though, many master sommeliers report that much of the knowledge of the blind-taste test comes from the smell of the wine. While taste can be affected by circumstance – meals eaten that day, environment, mood, and time of day – smell is a more finely tuned sense that tends to be slightly less susceptible to outside effects. In fact, the human body has more sensors to identify smell than taste buds in the mouth. As some sommeliers say, "your nose knows." Smell will give testers about 60-80 percent of the analysis of a wine, while the rest will come from sight and taste.

Learn more about the sommelier test below.

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