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What is a Sommelier (and how do you pronounce it) ??

This is probably the question I get asked the most. Followed usually by, "what level are you?" There's some grey areas here so let's hash it all out.




First-how do you say this word?? No one really ever seems to know, or are comfortable trying to say it. (Just another example of the wine world keeping things confusing)


Som - mull - yay. Like, yay, wine!!


Ok so technically a sommelier is a wine steward, or someone who serves you wine. So in reality, anyone who is pouring your wine can be a sommelier. Now if they are a Certified Sommelier, they have studied through the Court of Master Sommeliers. This is where we start getting into 'levels' of being a somm. If you study through the court, you begin at Introductory, then move to Certified Sommelier, then move up to Advanced Sommelier, and if you have the knowledge, palete and money for it, you can become a Master Sommelier.


Maybe you have seen some of the movies following those trying to pass the Somm tests-they are incredibly difficult and pass rates are typically low. These tests are service orientated. There were a few scandals over the years relating to alledged cheating and sexual harrassment. But it remains a highly prestigious title that few in the world possess.


Others tend to study via WSET, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. This is a global organization that holds study courses and tests for wine & spirits (clever). They also have levels: Level 1 is a 6 hour class followed by a test. If you attend the class you'll likely pass for level 1. It asks basic wine questions that if you've ever attended a wine tasting, or just read the material they gave you for the course, you'll nail it.


Levels 2 & 3 get much harder with Level 4 requiring no less than 500 hours of studying. They each touch on wine making techniques, varietals, types of wines, etc. These tests tend to be more communication orientated; how can you best describe the wine. Tests are multiple choice and written, with some service requirements as well. Since this is a global organization, I assume this is what most people are alluding to when they ask "what level are you."


There is another way to receive wine certification and that is through the Society of Wine Educators. I opted for this route and I'll explain briefly why:

-My Certification does not expire

-There are no levels-you only pay once. But they do say it's comparable to WSET L3

-No alleged scandals associated with the Society (see Court of Master Sommeliers above)

-WSET only requires a score of 55% to pass ( I was wildly unimpressed thinking people could score 55% and be certified)

-This is not skewed more towards service or communication, it is all encompassing

-You need a pass rate of 75% or better to achieve certification


So, I studied on my own for 1 year and got my Certification. I took a test of 100 questions and was given 1 hour to complete. I only missed 3 questions.


Each way of studying is different for everyone. WSET is the most recognized, the Court is the most prestigious, but I felt the Society offered a bit of both and that felt right for me. Each person should choose their own path that fits them best. No one is better than the other, or inferior either.


So when people ask me what level I am, it's a complicated answer. But isn't everything in the wine world?



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