Sommelier — much more than a wine steward

Wine geeks share a language of their own. What exactly does it mean when a wine expert describes a wine as crunchychunky, or chewy? Okay, you know what chewy means, but … chewy wine? Instead of trying to decipher the qualities of a wine that is muscular or tight, leave it to the sommelier.

What is a sommelier?

Dictionaries describe a sommelier (pronounced suh MUL yay) as a wine steward, but the job is so much more. Put simply, a sommelier is a professional wine expert.

Sommeliers are the ones who develop wine lists, train wine servers, and work with chefs to pair the perfect wine with food. They have developed a sensitive palate and are known for their deep training and knowledge about all things wine — vines and vineyards, winemaking regions and methods, how to store and serve wine. 

It’s rare to find these experts outside of a 5-star restaurant. That’s why at The Wine Stay we are so excited to offer our Wine Country vacation guests the benefit of our own in-house sommelier.

How to use their service

Even if you understand the basics of wine, it can be a daunting task to choose the right bottle for a particular occasion or specific meal. Maybe you’re unsure of the actual difference between newer and older wines or what the alcohol content means — other than how inebriated you’ll become.  This is where a trained sommelier can assist! 

They listen closely to what you like and tap their knowledge and intuition to set you up with a great wine within your budget. The more information you can provide, the better the chance for a heavenly match.

It’s true that an experienced sommelier is well-versed in wine. But they are also trained in customer service. They are about connecting people with the bottle that’s perfect for that person, with that food, in that moment. A good sommelier is a good people person. 

A sommelier’s savvy includes food and wine pairing. Our in-house expert designs custom pairings for our guests, so the more specific input you can provide, the better. Let him know what you like and don’t like — dry/sweet, varietals, light & crisp/rich & velvety, and so on. And, don’t be shy about how much you’re comfortable spending.

The best advice for how to take advantage of a sommelier is to ask questions. Tap their knowledge and tasting experience. Ask about their personal favorites.

Wine specialists at restaurants

Usually, you will find sommeliers at high-end restaurants, where they are considered just as important as the executive chefs. These professional wine specialists are the ones behind the scenes who procure the wine, manage the wine cellar, and provide patrons with knowledgeable service about what menu items and wine will pair well together.

To help them with your pairings, we recommend knowing what food you will order before talking to them. This will help your wine expert hone in on the right bottle.

What it means to be a wine expert

While many consider themselves a wine expert, a professional sommelier has undergone extensive training. Becoming a certified sommelier can take years of study, grueling exams, and lots of practice developing your palate. (Gee, that part doesn’t sound too tough.) The payoff is a nice salary, and prestige comes with the well-earned title of sommelier. Today, in the United States, there are only 164 master sommeliers certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

The history of sommeliers dates back to the 14th century when the French word “sommelier” referred to a servant who chose his lords’ table wine and tested the selections for poison. During the same time period, the Worshipful Company of Vintners was created as a guild of winemakers and merchants in London. Their duties were much more like what we consider a sommelier than a poison finder. According to some, the Worshipful Company partnered with the Wine and Spirits Association to administer the first “Master of Wine” exam in 1953. The first Master Sommelier Exam actually took place in 1969 and this administration ended up establishing themselves as the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS).

The CMS currently offers four levels of certification, Introductory, Certified, Advanced, and Master. All based upon coursework and exams taken.

If you have the opportunity to tap the knowledge of a professional sommelier, go for it. When you book one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals in Napa or Sonoma County, reserve our in-house sommelier’s service. He can design a tasting tour for you, prepare a wine and food pairing at your vacation home, or plan your private dinner prepared by a 5-star chef — with the perfect vintage. Let us know if we can help. Cheers!



The Wine Stay offers luxury vacation rentals in Sonoma and Napa. And to elevate your wine country vacation experience, check out our personalized guest services. Whether it’s an intimate dinner prepared by a 5-star chef, personal yoga instruction, or a professional massage, we can arrange for you to enjoy it in the privacy of your Healdsburg vacation rental! Want to go wine tasting in Healdsburg, Dry Creek or Alexander valleys? Let our in-house sommelier customize a wine tasting tour just for you. The Wine Stay team is dedicated to making your California Wine Country vacation unforgettable!