Nowadays, working conditions for a sommelier have improved considerably, but the job remains a special one, with many aspects and particularities that little is known about. For example, that of all the senses, not the taste is the most important in the initial testing of the wine, but the smell.
Although, at present, the profession of “sommelier” is associated with art and refinement and no one would think to place it in risky occupations, those who know its history and beginnings know that it was one of the most dangerous activities. Depending on the king, the lord or the important person served at the table and the intrigues of the yard, the life of the sommelier could quickly end with a dose of poison in the silver cup. Initially, the words of French inspiration “sommerier” and “bête de somme” meant the one who ran the burden animals loaded with food or drink. He could also be responsible for moving the goods to the yard.
The responsibility increased considerably when, in a sort of nomenclature of the time, it was promoted and received new powers. Thus, the sommelier was also the one who chose the wine, the arrangement of the table and the selection of desserts. And, most interesting of all, of course, an honor, the tasting of wine and food, so that the master avoids the inconvenience of a sudden death. What are the lesser-known things about the history and present of the sommelier, what myths exist, but also what rituals the practitioners of this profession have, explains Marina Samoilă, sommelier and Event Manager at Cramele Recaş, the largest wine exporter in Romania and the only one from the country awarded by the European Vegetarian Union with the certification of “vegan producer”.
1. What qualities do you need to become a sommelier? First of all, you need the passion for wine, the openness to learn and practice, practice and again practice. There are no qualities like “two extra papillae” or the sense of smell developed more than other people.
2. How did the first sommelier appear, with the attributions that have been kept today? The first Master Sommelier in the modern period was Fred Dame, in 1984. But the beginnings are related to the restaurants that started having à la carte menus after the French Revolution.
3. Which is the most well-known nursery school and which is the highest distinction? There are more schools in the world and more “ideologies”, but the most prestigious is the “Court of Master Sommelier”, established in 1977 in the UK, with headquarters all over the world. The distinction of Master Sommelier is the highest that a sommelier can earn.
4. What is the most surprising information that is taught at school? It is learned about the typicalities of the varieties, about the styles of winemaking, about the characteristics of each wine producing area in the world. It is learned to recognize in a “blind” tasting (ie without seeing the wine label) the variety (s), the area in which it was produced, the producer and even the year in which it was obtained.
5. What rituals do sommeliers have? Do not eat butter, cheese, eggs, milk or drink coffee, black / green tea before tasting and do not smoke. Rinse with sparkling wine or white wine to prepare their taste buds before tasting.
6. What is the limit of one-day drinks tested? Between 40 and 80 samples of wine, in spirits much less (although 80 is huge), but imagine that we talk about a few tens of ml of each sample that is not swallowed, just tested.