Origins of the Sommelier

Origins of the SommelierWe often see a lot of different definitions of a sommelier, but we have tried to take that one step further and have explored the origins of a sommelier. The word “sommelier”, or wine waiter, may have stemmed from the old French words “sommerier”, “somier”, and “bête de somme”. In this old French language, a “bête de somme” was a “beast of burden” and the “sommelier” was its herdsman. Later, the word became more specialized and referred to the official responsible for the transport of the French Royalty's baggage when they traveled (1316). During the reign of Louis XIV, the sommelier was the official in charge of the transport of baggage when the court moved. In the household of a great lord, he was the official who chose the wines, table settings and desserts. The sommelier used his tastevin, a silver saucer on a thick silver chain worn around the neck to check his lord’s wine for poison. He also checked the food. If the sommelier died, his Master would avoid the meal.

Tip: Somalia is a country in Africa. Try this. Say “summer.” Switch the “r” for an “l” and say “summel.” Then, “Yay, the wine is here! “Summel-yay!”

Today’s sommelier has slightly improved working conditions. There is very little threat of being poisoned, not by food anyway, but perhaps by over-consumption of alcohol. Tuxedos and tastevins are still out there, but today’s sommelier, even in the most formal dining room, is more likely to wear a suit and keep the silver tasting cup in a side pocket. Today’s sommelier is also more likely than ever before to be female, and young. In general they are humble and hospitable, but watch out for the snobs. They are still out there.

Reality: Sommeliers many times double as floor managers, closing several nights per week, even in the sommelier mecca of Las Vegas.

What does a sommelier do? Primarily there to help guests select wine, make sure it is sound, and then to keep glasses full throughout the meal, a top notch sommelier such as Master Sommelier, for example, or a Concours Mondiale champ is also expected to be able to answer questions about production methods of wines and spirits.

If you're thinking about becoming a sommelier or just want to learn more about wine, check out our sommelier program offerings.

See our upcoming full program and single course schedule. Private, customized corporate training is also available.

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