What exactly is a sommelier?

The word “sommelier” is derived from the Late Latin term sagma, meaning “pack saddle.” In Old French, the word somier meant “pack animal.” By the 14th century, the term had evolved into “soumelier” which identified a court official who was responsible for supply transportation. No doubt wine was included in that bounty for the king’s court. At some point in history–it is not clear exactly when–the term came to refer to a steward who specialized in serving and stocking wine.

Today, a sommelier has come to designate a wine steward who possesses expert knowledge about fine wines and is responsible for serving them. Many sommeliers are highly trained professionals who have refined their knowledge of wine through dedicated study. The Court of Master Sommeliers is an internationally recognized organization that trains sommeliers. I appreciate the name of this organization, though it may sound a little self-important, because it’s a nice throwback to the old days when the sommelier was just a lowly servant of a royal court!

But the real question on everyone’s mind: how are earth do you pronounce it?! This link will give you the spot on pronunciation, with a French accent and an American accent. (The website can be a helpful resource for many other tricky words, too!) But now you can sound like a wine snob.

Oh, and that thing that they wear around their neck…it’s called a tastevin and was originally created by winemakers from Burgundy so they could judge the clarity of the wine in dimly-lit wine cellars. The shape and material of the tastevin is such that it was able to capture as much light and create as much reflection as possible. Now of course, we have the luxury of electricity and the tastevin tradition is becoming more of a rarity.