Their image is inseparable from that of the top restaurants. Wine list in hand, sommeliers proffer advice to gourmet food lovers on the pairings that will best enhance their Michelin-starred dishes, whilst taking into account their personal tastes.
The sommelier’s role cannot be limited, however, to this preconceived image. Firstly, because they can also practice their profession in less stuffy establishments, such as bistros or wine store-cum-eateries; and secondly, because their job is not confined to pairing food with wine.
After graduating with a professional sommelier's certificate, as well as diplomas in the catering industry, sommeliers know their appellations like the back of their hand. They regularly travel around wine regions meeting winegrowers in search of new finds for the wine list. They usually define a budget with the management and it is then up to them to juggle between the small appellations and the top-flight growths, the primeur and rosé wines of the year, to create a cellar that is consistent with the meals served in their restaurants, without going over budget.
This management role cannot be taken lightly. Sommeliers must keep a precise cellar book, in which they detail wines entering and leaving the cellar; the capacity of the bottles, their origin, their storage place or their cellaring potential. They are also in charge of serving the wines and start by choosing the most suitable glasses, before monitoring the temperature of the bottles.
Every year, a national competition is held to select France’s best sommeliers. The most experienced are also eligible for the title of Master Sommelier, a distinction awarded by the French Sommellerie association to sommeliers with over ten years' experience.
By Alexandra Reveillon