What Do Master Sommeliers Really Do?

One heck of a bargain

When my wife and I make new acquaintances and they inquire what I do for a living, she most often tells them that I am a master sommelier. She is understandably proud of my accomplishments, and I owe so much to her. She makes me smile every time she says it.

Most people don’t actually know what that is, but as I explain, they again have to ask me “What do you do?” And then I have to go into a little more detail as to what I actually do for a living and also what other master sommeliers do in the business.

As most people know, the Master Sommelier Diploma is, with all due respect to Masters of Wine, the highest level of certification for a professional in the wine business. And, as such, most master sommeliers have the ability to work almost anywhere in the wine business. But most of them work in the restaurant trade. They work as sommeliers (duh!), wine directors, general managers and several even own or are partners in their own restaurants.

Although most would think that, as master sommeliers, all they take care of is the wine program and wine service, most of them have many more responsibilities at the restaurants and hotels in which they work. Responsibilities range from managing other sommeliers to managing the entire restaurant. Tasting wines, pairing wines with the menu and making sure the wine list and cellar are up to date are only the tip of the iceberg when working in restaurants.

A rare breed from Chile

There also is an increasing number of master sommeliers employed by wholesalers and distributors around the country. The wholesale and distribution houses need professionals with a keen understanding of the restaurant and hotel trade in addition to expertise in wine. Some master sommeliers are general sales managers for fine wine portfolios, managing import and domestic wine brands as well as salespeople. Some are educators and trainers who go into hotels and restaurants to train employees on the attributes of the wines featured in the wine program as well as wine service. Some do all of the above like me. Yes, that is my day job.

MS’s are so versatile in media that they even have their own TV shows and/or radio shows. Some write columns or blogs, and don’t get me going on Facebook. A few have written books, not only on wine basics and service but also on food and wine pairing. MS’s even consult with large airlines and choose which wines to serve during the flights in both economy and first class. Then, of course, there are a few who make their own wines. These are an intrepid few. But many more work for wineries in different capacities from sales management to ambassadors.

What all of us have in common is a passion for wine. It is not only how we make our living, but part of what defines us. It is an elite group of professionals who are hopefully sharing their passion with the world. That is what we do.

Recommendations: 2010 Domaine d’Aupilhac “Lou Maset” ($14) This utterly satisfying blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignane exudes black currants, spices, sweet black cherries and herbs. It is beautifully balanced and one heck of a bargain. 2009 Antu Ninquen Cabernet SauvignonCarmenere ($20) This is a rare breed from Chile in the sense that it is not all about bigness; it is about richness and complexity. Great taste is often so difficult to define, but when you taste it, you know. This wine has it.