More than a Master: Redefining the Sommelier
Traditionally known as a wine waiter, the world of the sommelier is much larger than this. While sommeliers are largely the keepers to the secrets of wine; there are also sommeliers in the fields of spirits, craft beers, teas, and even water. As the term itself has been oversimplified with time; let’s put the definition back on the right path.
1. / noun/ Highly Knowledgeable Stewards
A quick trip around the internet will tell you that a sommelier is someone with a laptop and an affinity for obscure drinks. This is not the new definition we speak of. True sommeliers have dedicated themselves and their palate to becoming the body of knowledge available in their field.
In addition to noting the subtle differences in various drinks; they study how the growing process affects the finished product; from harvest dates creating a different flavor in wine, to the age of hops creating a sharper finish in beer, to the climate necessary to create the perfect scotch. If the balance of minerals in certain spring water gives it the perfect finish – the sommelier simply must know. It is this drive for knowledge which makes up the spirit of a sommelier.
2. / som·me·lier / Novel Communicators
Sommeliers may be some of the best communicators in the world. Not only do they effectively organize drinks with restauranteurs and deliver knowledge to awaiting customers; they do so using the language of the taste buds.
Their wording may seem strange at first (how could anyone taste slate in Riesling?), but taste is not as easily described as sight or sound, is it? Taste is subjective; and the palate of one person has likes and desires another would never dream of; the appreciation of bitterness in tea, for example.
The language of the palate is peculiar to describe with words. Sommeliers spend years with their eyes closed; silently tasting various beverages, searching their memory banks for the word most fitting to the flavor they are indulging in. When a sommelier says a particular beer starts strong and then finishes like a wisp of smoke; close your eyes and give it a shot. You may just learn a new way to communicate.
3. /sɒˈmɛljeɪ/ Passionate Educators
The passion of a sommelier is truly romantic; and they want to share it with anyone ready to hear. Sommeliers spend time trying drinks and creating specialized lists for nearly every pairing imaginable; and then memorizing those lists, to share with anyone who has the same passion as they.
Have you ever wondered which sake will bring out the delicious flavors of choice unagi? A sommelier has conquered that query. Which hand-picked tea will bring out the subtle notes of a world-class scone? Guaranteed, a sommelier knows. And which craft beer will really send that 5-star burger over the edge? There is a list for that. The highly refined palate of a sommelier takes pride in honing in on the subtle flavors which complement and complete one another.
Given the high level of craftsmanship in nearly every field of the 21st century; it is time to take a more expansive view on the term Sommelier.