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What Is Involved in Sommelier Training?

A sommelier showing a bottle of wine to a customer.
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  • Written By: Vicki Hogue-Davies
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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Sommeliers, or wine stewards, work for restaurants and are experts in the pairing of wine and food. There is no single training path to becoming a sommelier, because anyone working in the role can use the title. Many restaurants, though, will expect that sommelier job candidates have gained professional certification by passing competency examinations. Some people who gain certification are self-taught, and others attend wine professional or sommelier training programs that teach aspiring sommeliers about all aspects of wine grape varietals, wine production, tasting and serving wine.

Students in formal training programs must be of legal drinking age in their countries. Training programs typically consist of courses about wine characteristics, wine regions of the world, using the senses to taste wine and the business aspects of working as a sommelier in a restaurant. Students in wine professional or sommelier training programs might visit wineries, vineyards, food markets, restaurants and other businesses related to the wine industry.

Various institutions and organizations throughout the world offer sommelier training for people seeking professional-level wine knowledge. Program lengths and coursework can differ, because there are no standard training requirements. Just a couple of examples of organizations offering sommelier training include the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in California's Napa Valley wine region and The International Sommelier Guild. The Guild has office locations in the United States and Canada, and it offers sommelier training classes throughout the world.

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At the CIA, the wine professional training program involves 30 weeks of instruction, leading to a certificate. The program includes courses in New World wines, European wine regions, the business of wine, culinary skills and more. The organization also offers certification exams that allow wine professionals to put the acronyms C.W.P. or A.C.W.P after their names, which stand for certified wine professional and advanced certified wine professional.

The International Sommelier Guild offers a sommelier diploma program. Sommeliers are accredited upon completion of the six-month program. Sommelier classes are held once a week for eight hours a day, and they teach students about vinification, tasting techniques, cellaring wine, decanting and serving wine and much more.

Another organization, the internationally recognized Court of Master Sommeliers offers four levels of certifications. To receive the prestigious and rare title of master sommelier involves passing all of the increasingly difficult levels; there are fewer than 200 people in the world who have earned the title. Exams include blind tasting, theory and practical wine service portions. For the master sommelier certification, participants must blind taste six wines with a 75-percent passing level. Blind tasting includes identifying the wine varietal, year, region and more.

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