The sommelier is a skilled and experienced wine special- ist, usually working in upscale and elite restaurants. Being a manager of the cellar in a restaurant, the sommelier should be familiar with available wines and their vintages. When should the wine be sold, when is it at its peak of development, which specific vintage is good to be purchased and left to age in the cellar. A sommelier knows many wine areas and knows how to pair wine with food and vice versa. Therefore, in addition to wine and beverages, he must have knowledge in the field of gastronomy or at least be familiar with the food served in the restaurant. The job of a sommelier in fine dining nowadays is as important as that of the chef. Sommelier is a profession that demands time to acquire information and techniques, a lot of travelling and tasting.
A sommelier tastes (does not drink) different types of beverages to get to know their characteristics and quality. This is necessary in order to build a database for them. Tasting itself takes place in three stages. These are the evaluation of appearance, aroma and flavour characteristics. Appearance shows colour and nuances of the drink. Aromatic characteristics analyse the aromas in the glass. When flavours are analysed the taste and potential of the wine are determined. After that description, we have an idea of what is in the bottle. Thus the sommelier knows what wine would be appropriate for a steak and what to offer in combination with a chocolate souffle.
The clothing of a sommelier is made up of several important components. The basis of the official clothing for most of the restaurants are classic black trousers and white shirt, of course, neatly ironed, and a bow-tie in the proper colour. Other items that distinguish a waiter from a sommelier are the sommelier apron and short jacket. The apron is fitted with a handy front pocket where the corkscrew opener can be carried, and one can store capsules and corks removed when opening a bottle of wine. The short jacket represents a standard jacket with a difference in length. It reaches almost to the waist of the sommelier in order to let him be at ease in his work environment. All that gives the complete look of an elegant sommelier. Classic colours of the clothes are the expected black and white, but nowadays each restaurant has its own policy, which includes the colours of the clothes.
It is an integral part of sommelier “weaponry”. A corkscrew is a device, which is used to pull corks out of bottles of wine. The cork of a bottle is removed by a metal spike, which is screwed into it. Pulling it is supported by the lever, side-mounted at the other end of the corkscrew. It is as equipped with a little knife for cutting bottle capsules. There are different types of corkscrews, such as those without a spike for example, but the most convenient one for working in restaurants is the corkscrew with a spiral and lever for pulling the cork.
The sommelier cup (Tastevin) is a symbol of sommeliers. It is not a medal, which is awarded to honorable sommeliers, but just a simple tool of the profession that any sommelier should carry. It was used in the past for wine tasting and for judging the colour of wine by convex shapes at the bottom. There is data for using this kind of vessel for wine drinking from the times of the ancient Thracians. Those cups had the faces of the rulers of the respective kingdom on the inside. When the tastevin is raised to take a sip, the drinker looks at his ruler.
Decanting is an essential process for serving wine. It is not only a necessity for certain wines but it also make for a very attractive presentation when pouring wine from a bottle into a container called decanter. The reasons for decanting wine are to aerate it when it is not ready to drink immediately after opening or to avoid the presence of sediment in a glass. Decanting itself is carried out in the following order: First of all open the bottle. After checking if the wine is good or not, proceed to decanting. First light up a candle that will be used to observe the movement of sediment in the bottle. After that, pour over the inner walls of the decanter, a bit of wine (about 20 ml) and rinse it well with it. This is done in order to clean decanters from traces of dust or detergents. After rinsing, these few milliliters are discarded. The process of decanting starts. It is done with the help of the candle, by keeping an eye on the thinnest part of the bottle (at the start of the neck) not to let any sediment in the decanter. Once the sediment reaches this part, the pouring stops and the decanting is over. Now we have to wait for the wine to aerate and enjoy it.
Each sommelier should know well the glasses suitable for wine and other kinds of beverages. This is an important part of drinking. If Burgundy wine is served in a glass for Bordeaux, the consumer would not be able to really enjoy it. Each glass is designed in a way that a certain beverage is best revealed in it. For example, grape varieties grown in Bordeaux and their blends are served in Bordeaux glasses and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are served in Burgundy glasses.
The skill of pairing food and wine is fundamental for a sommelier. He should know how to combine food with wine in a way that one would be in harmony with the other or complement it. The best combinations of food and wine can be offered together with the culinary team of the restaurant. This is not an easy task but there are a few basic points that we can count on. For example, such as pairing of white wine and white meat, red wine and red meat. That is, of course, pretty much conditional and deeper knowledge of the characteristics of wine and food is required for good pairing. Yet, a sommelier is in direct contact with the customer and to do a good job, it is necessary to comply with the requirements and tastes of the client.
The sommelier manages the cellar of a restaurant and all activities related to it. He organises wine supplies, replenishing missing wine bottles, choses new listings, removes others from the list. Replacement of vintages and their monitoring is also part of his obligations. The cellar is where the wine matures and develops to reach the customer. Proper wine storage is essential for its quality and development, which is also monitored by the sommelier. In order to have full control, he daily checks the temperature and humidity in the cellar. To have a good cellar, the restaurant should choose a suitable place. The cellar is usually an underground chamber where the temperature and humidity are very close to perfect for storing wine. When that is impossible, it is good to store the wines in an air-conditioned room. The ideal parameters which must be maintained are about 16 degrees Celcius temperature and about 60% humidity.
The sommelier creates the wine list in the restaurant and ensures the correct spelling of the beverages. In order to be understandable a wine list must be well-structured. Each sommelier can structure the list in his own way, but it is usu- ally done taking into account the regions where the wines are produced. Usually it starts with the region where the restaurant is located or the local wines. The arrangement of the wines should be in the order they are usually consumed. We start with sparkling wines, followed by whites, then come reds, and finally ending with dessert or special wines, keeping the rule of the regions and starting with the wines from the region where the restaurant is. Some sommeliers use the price of the wines for creating a wine list by arranging them in ascending or descending order of prices, which is not actually wrong. However, to have a well-structured and understandably written wine list, it is better to stick to the first option.
Yordan Kirilchev, sommelier