Sommelier (soh-mell-yay) is the French term for cellar master or wine steward. He or she is the person who advises customers on selecting wine to go with their meal, their tastes, and their budget. In the movies, he’s the guy working for the swanky restaurant who offers up the cork to be smelled. A sommelier is also a well-educated expert who has to be passionate about wine and willing to do whatever it takes to learn more.
Last year, the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) teamed up with the University of Memphis to bring Mid-Southerners a curriculum of wine programs to help restaurateurs, retailers, distributors, wait staff, and wine lovers further their study of wine and food. The next classes begin June 7th at the U of M.
Founded in 1982, the ISG’s mission is to provide expert teaching and consultation to the growing number of sophisticated wine consumers by breaking down the intimidation factor that seems to be associated with this industry.
The beginner and intermediate courses fall under the category of Wine Fundamentals Certificate Level 1 & 2. Level 1 is an introductory course for the novice wine enthusiast and provides a great introduction to the basics of wine. It covers grape varietals, terminology, and sensory evaluation. The goal of Level 1 is for you to feel confident in the selection of wine and gain an appreciation for all wine has to offer.
Level 2 covers vinification, viticulture, and geography. Students blind-taste wines from each region, an exercise that helps them understand different taste profiles and the characteristics that set each grape varietal apart. (To try blind-tasting at home, see Taste Test on the following page.)
The next level is the Sommelier Diploma Program. For students considering careers in the food and beverage industry, this program provides an in-depth look at wine evaluation, wine management, and how to create a wine and spirits menu, in addition to cellaring techniques, investments strategies, and serving and storage requirements. This diploma is the benchmark for the ISG program, and upon completion you will receive career assistance.
Finally, there’s the Grand Sommelier Diploma, a master’s degree program that must be completed in a seven-year period. This is for serious career professionals and is one of the most comprehensive wine degrees in the industry, according to the guild.
The first fundamentals course started at the University of Memphis in February 2004, and to date, approximately 15 students have completed this portion of the program. The majority of students are in the wine and spirit industry and have traveled from throughout the Mid-South to take the course. Employers have even opted to help finance the class for some students, but most pay the fees out-of-pocket.
Taught by certified sommeliers/wine educators from all over the United States and Canada, the classes run six hours per week over the course of 12 weeks for the Level 1 & 2 prerequisite course and eight hours for 23 weeks for the diploma course. Tuition is $1,500 for the prerequisite course and $3,100 for the diploma course. Tuition fees include all wines for tastings, textbooks, and examinations. n
Classes for the first semester are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, June 7th. For more information, go to InternationalSommelier.com or contact Toya Coppage at the University of Memphis’ continuing education program by calling 678-5573.