Delving into wine is a rewarding hobby for many, thanks to everything there is to appreciate about selecting, sipping, and savoring the pursuit of the finest wine.
The history, science, and cultivation of the wine grape are fascinating, and some people love to dedicate considerable time and money to such a rewarding endeavor. Some have such a strong calling or passion for wine that they begin a career in the wine industry.
Mostly, it sounds like drinking wine for a living is the ultimate dream job. Rightly so, you can build a substantial foundation of expertise with several paths to take to achieve knowledge in wine. You can become a wine connoisseur or go all in and become a rockstar as a certified sommelier.
But what does it mean to be a wine connoisseur vs sommelier? We will take a look at the differences and give advice to those looking to invest in their wine journey.
Before you reach the wine connoisseur or sommelier, there is a baby step called oenophile. An oenophile is a person who loves wine and considers themselves interested enough in wine to know a good bottle of wine without formal training.
They also can talk with their friends about superb wine, learn how to pair food with wine, and attend wine tasting events. You can learn all you need about wine and become the go-to person for positive wine recommendations. Thus, you become an oenophile.
From the go-to person who knows about wine, you can reach the more advanced disciplines, wine connoisseurs or sommeliers.
Each has its rewards and social standing while enabling you to develop a bedrock of knowledge to impart to others even more. With that, let us look at the different roles of a wine connoisseur and sommelier.
What is a Wine Connoisseur?
Most wine connoisseurs were likely oenophiles, but not all oenophiles want to be connoisseurs. A connoisseur is a person who has extensive knowledge of wine. They know about the different regions, aging potentials, specific flavor profiles, and various styles.
They may even have extensive knowledge of the worldwide wine market and industry. Being a connoisseur means familiarising yourself with almost every aspect of wine, from growing grapevines and making wine to its many regions and history.
Most wine connoisseurs know the following information:
Understand what it is to see, swirl, smell, sip, and savor. The wine’s color gives you insight into the wine’s grape, region, and age. Swirling liberates the aromas before you smell and sip. Finally, you savor the complexities of the wine until the finish.
Terroir and Tannins
Tannins give the wine a dry mouthfeel, which is abundant in red wines compared to whites. Terroir is French for the influence of climate, soil, and region.
Primarily, terroir refers to the Old World wines, cultivating and producing wine in Europe.
Connoisseurs know the best temperature to serve wine, so everyone ultimately enjoys each glass. Reds are just below room temperature, ranging between 56 and 64° Fahrenheit, helping free the complex aromas and layers of flavor.
Whites and sparkling wines served cold, ranging between 43 to 50° Fahrenheit, highlight the acidity and tropical balance.
Roses severed chilled, ranging between 44 and 55° Fahrenheit, enhance the fruit profiles and refreshing taste.
After having the perfect bottle of wine, you know you need to choose the right glass to present your wine selection to the fullest. Red wines need to breathe at room temperature, so a wider bowl is a good wine glass.
White and roses wines taste better in small rim glasses to help maintain the aromas. Sparkling wine poured in a tulip or flute glass allows the bubbles to tingle the nose.
Master the Basics
You are a wine connoisseur when you have mastered the basics and continue expanding your wine knowledge.
You can start a wine group, attend more wine tastings, read reputable wine magazines, and taste as many wines your palate can enjoy.
These positive actions will not only give you a solid foundation of wine knowledge but may encourage you to take your training to the next stage. You decide to enroll in a class to receive official certification as a sommelier.
What is a Sommelier?
Sommeliers have formal training with a certification that says they possess a comprehensive knowledge of wine.
If you are a sommelier, you’ll work in a restaurant or a wine specialty store. You might even work for a wine distributor.
As a restaurant sommelier, you help create a wine list, suggest wines to patrons, and make recommendations for wine and food pairings.
Average Salary of a Sommelier
A sommelier can make anywhere from $40K to $100K a year based on where they work.
Some sommeliers in large metropolitan cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York earn more than those who work in smaller cities like Portland, San Diego, Burlington, and Pittsburg.
Those with a position with a wine distributor may make even more based on commissions and bonuses.
Four Levels of Certification
Sommelier certification has four distinct levels. Level 1 is the initial certification, and most of the ones who work in restaurants will at least have this one. But you may meet some who have a Level 2 or 3 certification.
Wine and Spirit Education Trust
In London, England, you can attend the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), delivered through third-party programs. It’s an option for people who like learning in a traditional classroom. The courses cost between $400 and $1500 based on where you attend the classes.
Each level has different requirements for certification. Level 1 is a two-to-three-day program, including an examination.
Then, Level 2 includes a blind tasting, theory test, and service demonstration. Levels 3 and 4 deliver a more advanced version of Level 2 examinations, including knowledge of cigars and spirits.
Court of Master Sommeliers
Like the WSET program, the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) delivers four progressive levels, from Introductory Sommelier to Master Sommelier.
CMS offers in-person or online programs and costs: Level 1 is $500, Level 2 is $500, Level 3 is $1500, and Level 4 is $1800.
The number of sommeliers who received the Master Sommelier certification has not reached 1000 yet since 1969.
Wine Connoisseur Vs Sommelier – Final Thoughts
Now that you comprehend the distinction between a wine connoisseur and a sommelier, you might consider yourself a connoisseur and desire to earn an official title by training as a sommelier. Or you may have realized you are not even close to being even a wine connoisseur.
Either way, enjoying a bottle of wine with friends and family is probably more important than understanding all the nuances of a good bottle of wine.