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The Sommelier: spokesperson

What should we expect from a sommelier?

In a restaurant, the sommelier or wine waiter is the wine lover’s spokesperson and guide.

The sommelier, whose job is to look after serving wine and other drinks, should above all offer great service. Customer satisfaction is their role and goal, and from a sales point of view, also making us a loyal customer.

We expect the wine waiter to:

  • Put the cellar and wine list together

  • Offer advice – they should offer tips on the dishes we’ve ordered (the sommelier should know what they are before coming to the table), put their case forward well, share their love of wine without burdening us with their vineyard knowledge or tasting technique – they should be attentive, deal with any disagreement around the table diplomatically, understand our tastes and our budget (prices should be shown on the list not read out).

  • Follow service etiquette


Glasses should be good quality stemware. Their size and shape vary depending on wine color and where it’s from. They must be clean and odor free.

Carrying the wine to the guests’ table.
The bottle should be carried upright on a metal coaster for red wines. For whites and rosés, the bottle should be carried in an ice bucket containing some water, placed on a plate or tray and covered with a folded napkin.

Showing the bottle
The wine waiter shows the bottle. They hold a napkin in their left hand resting the bottle on it. The neck is held in the right hand.
For whites, the sommelier takes the bottle out of the bucket, lets the drops drain off without shaking it up or wiping it and presents it to the customer.

Reading out the name
The sommelier reads out the name of the wine clearly to the customer who ordered it, showing them the label while standing on their right:
The appellation area, the wine’s name, vintage, its classification if appropriate, name of the château, producer or vintner.
E.g. Saint-Julien, Château Léoville Barton, 1974, Deuxième cru classé or second growth, Château Langoa & Léoville Barton.

Opening

All bottles should be opened in front of the customer; so they shouldn’t be uncorked beforehand (except if sold by the glass).
The waiter puts a bottle of white back into the ice bucket to open it.

 

The bottle should be opened on the table.

Cutting off the top of the capsule
The sommelier cuts into the middle of the capsule or below the bottleneck’s collar using a sommelier’s knife to remove it. The blade cuts around the neck; the bottle remains upright with the label facing the customer.
They then wipe the top of the neck with a napkin.

Inserting the corkscrew
The waiter holds the screw thread straight on top of the cork, right in the middle and turns the corkscrew inserting it into the cork without going through the side.

Positioning the lever and taking the cork out
The sommelier tilts and rests the corkscrew’s lever on the edge of the bottleneck, and gently eases the cork out.

Finishing touches
They sniff the bottom of the cork (that’s been in contact with the liquid) in case it smells corked. They wipe the neck with a napkin and perhaps with the cork’s rounded edge, if any shavings remain. They put the cork on a saucer and place it to the customer’s right.

Nod of approval
After opening it, the sommelier gives a taste of the wine to the person who ordered it, and waits for the go-ahead to serve other guests. They top up the person who tasted last. (If a woman tasted it, she’s served first)
The wine waiter should never offer a wine for tasting directly after an aperitif but wait until the customer has started to eat.

Pouring

The wine could be decanted or caraffed.

A wine should always be served before the dish it’s going with. The sommelier holds the bottle firmly without hiding the label and serves each customer from the right. The glass should be at most half-filled for red wines and a third for whites.
While staying over the glass, they neatly turn the bottle and lift it to stop a drop forming on the neck. They wipe the neck and move on to the next person.

A good sommelier keeps an eye out to make sure the glasses are never empty.

They make sure the wine’s served before a dish is removed.

 

 

Sommelier training in France

In France, the sommelier’s diploma is an additional commendation (after a year’s study) as part of a major vocational qualification: C.A.P. Restaurant, B.E.P. Hotel & Catering with Restaurant option, school leaver’s certificate in Restaurant Business, school leaver’s certificate in Food Technology, B.T.S Hotel & Catering Management.

The Sommelier BP (professional diploma) is available after a CAP or BEP. It takes two years as an apprenticeship or in further education.

The teaching content focuses on Organizational skills:

  • Stock forecasting

  • Getting involved in buying

  • Creating ideas for sales support

  • Taking part in cellar planning

Management

  • Receive and check deliveries

  • Checking the day’s sales

  • Check and manage stock levels of drinks and supplies (quantity and quality)

Operational skills

  • Taste the drinks and make your case

  • Carry out sales support

  • Setting-up

  • Taking drinks’ orders and serving them

  • After-sales service

Communication and marketing

  • Be a team player

  • Introduce yourself to and welcome a customer, perhaps in a foreign language

  • Advise customers

  • Optimizing sales and customer loyalty

  • Looking after a sales section

The profession

On an international level, there’s the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI).
Competitions
The ASI has organized, since 1969, the Concours du Meilleur Sommelier du Monde (Best Sommelier in the world) every three years, which before 1969 was called ‘Concours des Echansons’. The next one takes place in 2007 in Barcelona.
The Champagne House Ruinart organizes the ‘Concours du Meilleur Sommelier d'Europe’ (Best Sommelier in Europe) every two years.


Websites

La sommellerie française

Les sommeliers de Paris

ASI - Association de la Sommellerie Internationale

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