If you want to be a wine expert, there are a few things you need to know. First, it takes time — there’s lots of studying and tastings involved, but it can be an exciting and fulfilling hobby or profession to undertake.
It goes without saying that if you want to be a wine connoisseur, you must have a passion for wine. After all, being a wine expert means knowing a lot about geography, history, climate, types of soils, grape growing, winemaking, and wine tasting. That is how you can become good at wine. If you only want to do it as a hobby or interest, you can take things a bit easier. This is no walk in the park, but your hard work pays off.
Here’s all you need to know to become a wine connoisseur or a sommelier, whether you want a foot in the door of the hospitality industry or to become a better host. If you are reading this post, congratulations! You’re already one step closer to becoming a wine expert. Wine means something to you and that’s a great start!
Wine Connoisseur vs Wine Sommelier
What is a Wine Connoisseur?
A wine connoisseur knows his or her wine. We’re talking about people who drink wine often and attend wine tastings, festivals and other wine-related events. A wine connoisseur is dedicated to learning more about their favourite vintages. There’s no doubt wine connoisseurs have tasted more than a few wine styles, and they can be equally proficient wine tasters as the sommeliers.
Wine connoisseurs may or may not have a wine certification. They can be self-taught by learning from home, buying wine books, talking with like-minded people or taking wine courses online. You don’t need a certificate to become a wine connoisseur.
Of course, being a connoisseur is not the same thing as being a wine professional. Wine connoisseurs may entertain friends and family often, and they are surely regulars at their local wine-oriented restaurants. Still, wine may not be their sole profession; they can have different sources of income, sometimes not related to wine at all. To be a wine connoisseur, follow the tips for becoming a wine expert below. But first, let’s talk about sommeliers.
What is a Sommelier?
Being a wine sommelier is a profession. A specific position at a restaurant. Sommeliers take care of the wine side of things at restaurants, hotels, resorts and cruise ships. Some sommeliers have an administrative role and may be in charge of purchasing wine for a wine distributor, while others work at wine stores, taking care of retail.
All sommeliers are connoisseurs; at least those worthy of the title are, but not all connoisseurs are sommeliers. To become a sommelier, having an official certification is handy, but not necessary. Unlike becoming a lawyer, where you must pass an examination to practise law, sommeliers can do an outstanding job, even without a certificate. In fact, some of the best sommeliers in the world are not certified; some were bartenders or servers at a restaurant and grew from there – experience matters, especially when it comes to restaurant service.
Having said that, the sommelier profession is more competitive than ever. Fine-dining restaurants and wine-related companies only hire certified sommeliers, which has made certification programs quite popular. And although formal training is not the only way to become a pro, a we encourage you to take a wine course.
How to Become a Wine Expert
Whether you want to pursue a career as a sommelier or wish to become a wine connoisseur, mastering the art of wine tasting, its history and essential knowledge are important. But where do you start?
Here’s what you need to know about becoming a wine expert:
Learn your geography. To become a wine expert, you must know where the wine-producing countries are and their geographical traits. In some cases, you’ll need to dig deep into a wine region’s geology and, in others, into their climate.
Learn about grapes. There are hundreds of different wine grapes, and they all produce distinct wines. Learning about the grapes, their differences and their similarities is essential to appreciate the many wine styles available.
Know your history. Wine is an ever-changing topic, and the wine world has evolved. Studying wine is learning about the most noteworthy historical events, from the ancient civilisations to modernity. Wine only makes sense when you understand its place in history.
Know about wine service. Becoming a wine expert means knowing how to store wine, what glassware to use, how to decant wine and at what temperature you should serve each wine style. Etiquette makes wine more enjoyable.
Know your food. Wine and food are two sides of the same coin. Food and wine pairings can turn any wine dinner into a memorable experience, and it’s up to the wine expert to choose the right bottle of wine for dinner.
Study the topics above, and you’ll already be a proficient wine lover. If you want to take your wine education to the same level, you must use all your senses. After all, wine is all about the tasting experience.
Taste, Taste, Taste. No matter how well you know the world’s wine regions, their wine styles and grapes. To become a wine connoisseur, you must learn how to taste and assess the different wines’ quality. Here’s where tasting comes in.
Tasting wine is not the same thing as drinking it. Wine tasting is a systematic process used by professionals and enthusiasts alike to describe wine, including its colour, aroma, flavour and aftertaste. Tasting wine lets you understand the different wine styles and why they’re special. Tasting allows you to learn more about yourself as well! After all, there’s nothing like knowing what you like and what you don’t.
Now, if you want to take your wine knowledge to the next level and be part of the demanding but exciting wine industry, you may want to become a sommelier. And although such a prestigious title is as fun as it sounds, let’s answer an important question: How good is the money?
How Much Do Wine Sommeliers Make?
A certified sommelier in a developed country has an average salary of around US$60,000. Inexperienced sommeliers can earn closer to $40,000, while experts in the craft can earn between $70,000 and $100,000. Sommelier salaries are different in developing countries.
Of course, as in all jobs, experience matters, and so do other qualifications. Becoming a beer expert, a trained bartender or a barista can help you propel your career as a sommelier since one must wear many hats in the hospitality industry. Having worked at a restaurant is a must, even if not as a sommelier. In any way, the path of the sommelier is everything but easy money.
Official Certifications to Become A Wine Expert
To become a certified sommelier, you need an institution to assess and certify your skills and knowledge. Like with any other career, many institutions train sommeliers worldwide, from community colleges to international sommelier associations.
If you want to become a certified sommelier, choose wisely. Although a restaurant or business owner may look at all sommelier certifications as equal, others may prefer a candidate over others based on the reputation of the certifying institution.
Today, on a global scale, there are two main paths to becoming a certified wine professional: the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust WSET.
Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)
The Court of Master Sommeliers is one of the most prestigious certification programs worldwide. Established in 1877 in the UK, now with several branches, the organisation certifies candidates as they pass four proficiency levels, each harder than the last.
The Introductory Certificate doesn’t make you a sommelier, but the knowledge required to pass the written exam is enough to consider anyone a wine connoisseur. The Certified Sommelier Examination, or level two, is much more demanding, as the candidates must prove their knowledge, wine tasting skills, and service skills in a restaurant scenario.
Few people have passed the Advanced Sommelier Certification or level three, but even fewer pass the feared Master Sommelier Certification. Less than 300 have passed such challenging examination in the organisation’s forty-five years.
The Court of Master Sommeliers doesn’t offer a study program. The candidates must find their means to learn everything wine-related, from the best vintages for Bordeaux to the very last detail about the sweet wines from Hungary, from the soils in Champagne to the high-altitude vineyards in the Andes Mountain Range. If you like challenges and don’t mind studying independently, the Court of Master Sommeliers is for you.
WSET, Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
The Wine and Spirit Education Trust was created in 1969 in the UK, and it’s a leading provider of education programs for wine and spirits, offering courses at all levels worldwide.
Unlike the CMS, the WSET doesn’t certify sommeliers, but wine professionals, not necessarily focused on wine service. Wine writers and people in high hospitality or retail positions may find this certification helpful.
The WSET’s wine program covers four levels. The Level 1 and 2 Awards are equivalent to the Introductory and Certified examinations by the CMS, although wine table service is not evaluated. Levels 3 and 4 are challenging, and only 10,000 people have passed the Level 4 Diploma in the last 50 years.
Other Courses and Certifications
There are many other sommelier and wine expert certification programs worldwide, and some are well known and highly regarded, although not as much as the CMS and the WSET.
The Wine Scholar Guild offers fun wine courses, some specialised in specific countries, such as France, Italy and Spain. They also provide online wine courses, which are very much appreciated.
The Society of Wine Educators specialises in certifying wine instructors who play a vital role in the wine world. They don’t certify sommeliers, although they have a hospitality and beverage program that might cover related topics.
The International Sommelier Guild offers courses and wine certificates after attending eight weeks and advanced wine certificates involving sixteen weeks of study. Finally, the ISG provides a sommelier certification after coursing thirty-weeks comprising ten hours a week.
The Bottom Line
Now you know how to become a wine connoisseur (or a wine sommelier). Whether you want to know more about wine for the sake of it or are looking to start a new career in hospitality, you’ll need time, patience and money. Of course, if you’re spending endless hours studying wine, commitment and passion must come together so that you can sustain without burning out.
Most importantly, you need not be a connoisseur, a wine expert or a sommelier to enjoy wine and make it part of your life. Many wine lovers learn as they go, one bottle at a time. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, learning about wine can be easy!
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