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Any waiter can pop a cork and pour wine. But a wine steward, or sommelier (the French word for wine expert), is expected to be knowledgeable in all areas pertaining to the fermented grape drink. A wine steward is generally a job found in high-end restaurants, hotels or businesses where a variety of interesting and pricey bottles of wine are sold.
A wine lover is also called an oenophile. So if you're thinking of becoming a wine steward or sommelier, you should also be an oenophile, willing to learn all you can about wine. Wine stewards go by many names, in fact. For example, at the White House, the wine steward's official title is "Director of Food & Beverage."
Wine stewards need to know vineyards, regions, grapes and vintages of reds, whites and other wines from all over the world. You should know how to set up a bar and organize a wine cellar. You should have experience in tasting many different kinds of wines so that you can be speak with authority, including knowing when a wine is too young or has gone bad. You should also be an expert in "wine pairing"--matching wine with food to maximize the tastes of both.
A wine steward or sommelier oversees the wine list, helping to maintain it for the restaurant or business, and makes suggestions to add to the list to fit the chef's dishes if necessary. You need to be able to discuss, buy and serve all kinds of wine. You should be comfortable talking to customers and diners, and because you have tasted all the wines being sold, you should be able to make knowledgeable recommendations to suit customers tastes. You need to be able to impress without intimidating. You may be required to travel for the job, and you may be required to speak other languages. You should be organized in maintaining the wine cellar and may need to be able to help with marketing and promotion.
Wine selection, wine pouring and wine selling are the cornerstones of a sommelier's job. You need to have finesse and charm, but most of all you need to be able to make the wine drinking experience a delight for customers, by selecting the appropriate glasses and pouring properly for the customer to taste. The sommelier should describe the wine, check its label, encourage the buyer to smell the wine first and then taste it. You should encourage the dinner guests to enjoy the wine to enhance the establishment's wine sales. Your professionalism should help foster customer loyalty and repeat business.
To truly prove you are a sommelier, consider getting a certificate from a sommelier organization, such as The Court of Master Sommeliers. The classes will enable you to become proficient in the tasting of wines, wine growing regions, licensing and more.
- red wine pouring down from a wine bottle image by mashe from Fotolia.com