Wine Sommelier: Top Certifications, Insider Tips, Salary (2024)

by Anthony Zhang

The idea of a wine sommelier who tastes wine and recommends the best bottles all day may sound romantic to you! 

But, it’s not easy to get certified as one.

Before you immerse yourself in sommelier classes at just any wine education institute, you should know the roles of a sommelier, the salary ranges, the best schools, and other insider tips

This article will answer all your questions on how to become a sommelier. You’ll also discover an easy way to invest in the best wine bottles through Vinovest (without having to be a sommelier)!

Further reading

What Is a Sommelier?


A wine sommelier (or wine steward) is a wine professional who knows every aspect of wine and wine service. 

In other words, she or he is a wine expert specializing in wine selection, wine tasting, food and wine pairing. They also help customers use appropriate glassware to enjoy their drinks. 

A wine steward also knows the entire wine list of a restaurant and can help you find the perfect wine bottle for any occasion.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritties of the roles of a wine sommelier.

The Role of a Wine Sommelier


Typically, a wine sommelier is responsible for wine service in a fine dining restaurant. They also curate the restaurant’s wine list and wine program.

A wine steward also:

  • Manages wine inventory.
  • Trains restaurant staff about wine and wine service.
  • Works with the culinary arts team to determine ideal food and wine pairings.
  • Listens to restaurant patrons, interprets their tastes, and helps them find the perfect wine bottle or two.

With their knowledge about wine taste, age and quality, and other aspects, wine sommeliers help wine lovers get the best tasting experience! 

This, in turn, helps restaurants and winemakers to maximize wine sales as well.

So, how do you become a sommelier?

How to Become a Sommelier


To become a professional sommelier or wine steward, you’ll need to take wine classes and wine certification exams.

A sommelier certification (or a wine certification) will improve your wine knowledge and expertise in wine selection and tasting.

Want to know a secret? 

A sommelier certification will also equip you with the expertise to make the right investment decisions to build a rewarding wine portfolio.

Let’s now explore the various sommelier certification levels.

How Many Sommelier Certification Levels Exist?

Different wine education schools may offer slightly different levels. But in general, these are the four main sommelier levels:

  1. Junior Sommelier Level (Introductory Sommelier Course)
  2. Certified Sommelier Level
  3. Advanced Sommelier Level
  4. Master Sommelier (Master Somm) Level

1. Junior Sommelier Level (Introductory Sommelier Course)


A Junior wine certification course covers basic wine knowledge and deductive tasting. This includes isolating wine characteristics (like alcohol, acidity, and tannins) and identifying them on a deductive tasting grid.

So, how do you get started?

You’ll have to take a two-day introductory sommelier course and a sommelier exam that covers tasting, wine theory, and wine service.

The theory part of the sommelier exam covers basic wine region, major grape variety, vineyard information, and the aromas of different types of wines.

2. Certified Sommelier Level


A Certified Sommelier certification helps you work as a professional sommelier in the hospitality industry.

To become a Certified Sommelier, you’ll have to take a one-day certified sommelier exam. It covers blind tasting, wine knowledge, and a live wine service demonstration.

3. Advanced Sommelier Level


After passing your certified sommelier exam, you’ll receive the certified sommelier certificate. This will make you eligible to train for the Advanced Sommelier role.

The Advanced Sommelier level includes a three-day examination that requires a comprehensive knowledge of wine, including wine laws. 

It covers the tasting method and wine service at a much deeper level, and you’ll have to identify any major grape variety and wine region through blind tasting.

This will equip you with the best skills required for blind tasting all major wine varietals at the Master Sommelier level.

4. Master Sommelier (Master Somm) Level


The Master Sommelier (Master Somm) stage is the highest level possible for a wine expert. 

To become a successful Master Sommelier, you’ll need to pass the Master Sommelier exam and receive the Master Sommelier diploma.

You can only go for a Master Sommelier certification if you’re an Advanced Sommelier.

Here are the components of a typical Master Sommelier exam:

  1. Oral Theory: It’s a 25-30 minute oral exam with a panel of Master Sommeliers where you’ll discuss wine theory, wine laws, and the responsibilities of a sommelier. 
  2. Blind Tasting: This is a 25-30 minute sommelier examination where you’ll describe key wine characteristics (such as major grape varietal, vintage year, and the origin) of a few different wines.
  3. Wine Service: You’ll have to display exceptional wine service by treating your instructors as restaurant patrons.

Now comes the interesting part:

What Is the Salary of a Wine Sommelier?

Let’s take a look at how much you can earn as a sommelier after you clear each of the four sommelier levels:

  1. Junior Sommelier Salary
  2. Certified Sommelier Salary
  3. Advanced Sommelier Salary
  4. Master Sommelier Salary
  5. Restaurant Chain Sommelier Salary
  6. Independent Wine Consultant Salary
  7. Wine Sales Professional Salary

A. Junior Sommelier Salary


If you hold the junior sommelier certification with 1-3 years of experience, you can earn between $50,000 - $60,000 per year in the wine industry.

B. Certified Sommelier Salary


A Certified Sommelier with around 3-7 years of experience in the wine and hospitality industry earns about $60,000 - $65,000 per year.

C. Advanced Sommelier Salary


An Advanced Sommelier with about 8 years in the wine industry earns between $85,000 - $90,000 per year.

D. Master Sommelier Salary


If you hold a Master Sommelier diploma, you can earn around $160,000 - $165,000 per year.

In addition to having your Master Sommelier qualification, you’ll also need to have more than 8 years of experience in the wine industry to earn in that range.

E. Restaurant Chain Sommelier (Wine Director) Salary


A restaurant chain sommelier (wine director) deals with the wine program for an entire business and earns at least $70,000 - $75,000 per year.

As a wine director, you could earn even more if you’re the sommelier for an entire restaurant or hotel chain.

F. Independent Wine Consultant Salary


An independent wine consultant earns an average of $50,000 - $55,000 per year.

G. Wine Sales Professional Salary


A wine sales professional oversees the pricing and sales for wine producers and distributors. This wine expert earns around $75,000 - $80,000 per year.

How about discovering the best wine sommelier education bodies?

The 5 Best Wine Sommelier Schools

The sommelier profession requires a combination of wine education and experience in the wine industry.

Here are the best wine education bodies that offer the most reputed sommelier classes:

  1. The Court Of Master Sommeliers
  2. International Wine & Spirits Guild
  3. International Sommelier Guild
  4. North American Sommelier Association
  5. Wine & Spirit Education

1. The Court of Master Sommeliers


The Court of Master Sommeliers is an examining body created under the supervision of organizations like the Institute of Masters of Wine. Each of its excellent accreditation programs offers professionals in the hospitality industry a chance to boost their wine skills. 

This wine school covers three areas of study — wine tasting, wine theory, and wine service.

The Court of Master Sommeliers offers these four sommelier certification programs:

  • Introductory Sommelier Certificate
  • Certified Sommelier Certificate
  • Advanced Sommelier Certificate
  • Master Sommelier Diploma

Earning the Master Sommelier diploma requires a lot of hard work. Since the certificate was introduced in 1969, only 269 people have received the Master Sommelier title globally.

2. International Wine & Spirits Guild


The International Wine & Spirits Guild has courses that offer the following certifications:

  • Introductory Wine Sommelier Certification
  • Advanced Wine Course and Executive Sommelier Certification
  • Guild Wine Master Sommelier Diploma and Certification
  • Guild Master Wine Educator Sommelier Diploma

3. International Sommelier Guild


The International Sommelier Guild’s certification program teaches and certifies wine sommeliers in the USA, Canada, and China. Its program comprises:

  • Intermediate Wine Certificate (IWC)
  • Advanced Wine Certificate (AWC)
  • Sommelier Diploma Program (SDP)

It also offers an ISGM certificate to prepare wine sommeliers for the hospitality industry.

4. North American Sommelier Association


The North American Sommelier Association offers teaching programs in Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.

This wine school offers the Certified Sommelier and Italian Wine Specialist courses. Its Certified Sommelier course is divided into three parts but is offered as one entire module.

5. Wine & Spirit Education Trust


The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) helps aspiring wine sommeliers build a solid knowledge of wine through tutored coursework. This wine school offers its wine education programs in 15 languages across 70 countries.

The program’s topics cover everything from the anatomy of grape varieties to the basics of the wine business. There are 4 WSET levels in total (Level 1-4), after which you can proceed to the Master of Wine program.

6. Other Wine Sommelier Certification Schools

Here are other wine schools where you can learn everything about the wine world and get your wine certification:

  • National Wine School:The National Wine School offers sommelier classes designed to introduce aspiring wine sommeliers to the wine world. It also helps them refine their wine service skills and wine knowledge.

It offers five wine certification levels that include the Advanced Sommelier and Master Sommelier Certificates.

  • American Wine Expert: The Napa Valley Wine Academy’s American Wine Expert program focuses on winemaking regions in North America. This wine school will take you on an in-depth journey through the Napa Valley and the American wine industry.
  • Society of Wine Educators: The Society of Wine Educators offers a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) course program. This wine school offers various wine and spirits certifications that include the Certified Wine Educator award.
  • Italian Sommelier Association: The Italian Sommelier Association (Associazione Italiana Sommelier or AIS) is a non-profit, educational, and cultural organization in Milan, Italy. AIS offers a variety of courses, from beginner to advanced levels, covering all aspects of wine knowledge and service.

Now, how do you prepare to become a successful wine steward or enroll in a wine school like the Court of Master Sommeliers?

10 Ways to Prepare to Become a Wine Sommelier

Here are 10 interesting ways to open yourself to the world of wine appreciation and start your wine sommelier journey:

  1. Form a Wine Study Group
  2. Take Advantage of Social Media
  3. Work in the Restaurant Industry
  4. Start Tasting Wines at Wine Bars
  5. Attend Wine Conferences
  6. Visit the Best Wine Regions
  7. Find the Best Wine Books and Websites
  8. Talk to a Sommelier
  9. Learn From Movies and Documentaries
  10. Buy Wine Bottles Regularly

1. Form a Wine Study Group


A wine lover who’s interested in a wine sommelier job can teach you a lot about wines. 

So, it’s a good idea to form a wine study group with other aspiring sommeliers. You’ll probably find a friendly wine educator who can train you to become a wine expert.

2. Take Advantage of Social Media 


Follow some fantastic wine bars and wine professionals on social media. Also, sign up for their newsletters and participate in their wine tasting events.

3. Work in the Restaurant Industry


An entry-level position in the hospitality or wine industry can be quite helpful. 

Working in a fine dining restaurant can help broaden your wine knowledge and help you meet a lot of wine professionals.  

Also, engaging with the culinary arts team will expand your food and wine pairing knowledge.

4. Start Tasting Wines at Wine Bars


Wine bars are great spots where you can taste wine and engage with brilliant wine professionals.

While tasting wine, you should explore the various wine styles and spot the differences between red wine, white wine, rose wine, sparkling wine, and dessert wine.

5. Attend Wine Conferences


Attending and volunteering at a major wine conference (like the “Unified Wine & Grape Symposium)can broaden your wine knowledge.

Volunteer to pour wines or polish glassware, and you’ll meet wine professionals while tasting wine from around the world.

6. Visit the Best Wine Regions


Visiting a local wine region can help you discover the winemaking and viticulture practices of that area. The region’s winemakers will help you explore their winery, the main grape variety in their vineyard, and much more.

You could even visit any key wine region in California or explore other regions in places like France, Spain, and Italy.

7. Find the Best Wine Books and Websites


Besides wine tasting, finding the best wine books can help you towards becoming a wine expert. A great wine book can teach you a lot about wine and food pairings, different wines, and the wine industry in general.

You could also subscribe to an online learning tool like GuildSomm. This way, you can access all the information to prepare for your formal wine course and sommelier exam.

8. Talk to a Sommelier


There’s no better way to learn about the roles and responsibilities of a sommelier than to chat with one.

When dining at a restaurant, strike up a conversation with your sommelier. This will allow you to leverage their extensive knowledge in several helpful ways.

Ask them questions about their wine selection and recommendation, their journey to becoming a sommelier, and their current duties.

9. Learn From Movies and Documentaries


As an aspiring sommelier or even a wine enthusiast, you can refine your wine knowledge through carefully chosen documentaries and films.

Documentaries paint a vibrant picture of wine production, offering a deep dive into the process — from grape to glass.

​​Luckily, there’s no dearth of good options out there.

From a sommelier’s journey in the documentary called 'Somm,' to the colorful world of Italian vineyards in 'Mondovino,' you'll acquire knowledge that goes beyond basic wine appreciation.

Meanwhile, movies offer a unique perspective into the wine culture, outlook, and history of a major wine region. Some of the best movies set in prominent wine regions include The Secret of Santa Vittoria, Sideways, Back to Burgundy, and Wine Country.

10. Buy Wine Bottles Regularly


Wine tasting regularly will open up your palate and help prepare you to become a wine steward. 

Once you get your hands on that exquisite sparkling wine, just grab a perfect wine glass and start exploring various food and wine pairings!

While you’re at it, explore your wine’s major grape variety, the winery that produces it, and the wine’s characteristics.

Following these tips will set you on track to get certified as a sommelier and pursue your dreams of becoming a wine expert in high-end restaurant chains. 

It will also help you become a consultant to wine investing firms, and even build your own wine portfolio.

Now, let’s answer some questions you still have about wine sommeliers.

6 Other FAQs About Wine Sommeliers

Below are six common wine sommelier related questions and their answers:

1. What Content Is Covered in the Sommelier Exam?


The Certified Sommelier Examination emphasizes a candidate's proficiency in:

  • Deductive tasting
  • Wine & beverage theory 
  • Technical skills
  • Wine and beverage service skills

The exam tests your understanding of the global wine and beverage world, along with on-call knowledge when required.

2. What Are Some Best Online Wine Sommelier Courses?


Some of the sommelier schools we mentioned above offer online courses in addition to, or as an alternative, to their in-person programs.

For instance, The International Sommelier Guild provides the ISGM Sommelier Degree course through an online medium. Similarly, The Court of Master Sommeliers offers their introductory course through an online platform.

Here are a couple of other online wine courses that can help in your sommelier journey:

  • ‘ABCs of Wine Tasting’ & ‘Understanding Wine’ from the Wine Spectator School.
  • ‘Wine 101’ (introductory course) & ‘Wine 201’ from the Wine Folly School.

3. How Long Does it Take to Become a Sommelier?


The time it takes to become a sommelier varies depending on individual dedication, experience, and the certification route.

It could take as little as a week if you opt for the Accelerated Core Program from the Wine School of Philadelphia.

Or, it could take you up to five years if you choose a more extensive training program.

For instance, the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) recommends having at least three years of industry experience. It also suggests taking a year to study between the Introductory and Certified exams.

4. Can You Become a Sommelier Without Certifications?


Yes, you can become a sommelier without certifications. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a wine professional. Many aspiring sommeliers turn to accredited qualifications to hone skills and build expertise.

While some others self-direct their education, learning about wines in their own way and at their own pace. This could involve studying through careful tasting, noting flavors, reading books, visiting wineries, or attending seminars and tastings.

5. Are There Other Types of Sommeliers Besides Wine Sommeliers?


Yes, there are other types of sommeliers who specialize in different types of beverages besides wine. This includes:

  • Beer sommelier (also called a cicerone)
  • Sake sommelier
  • Whiskey sommelier

6. What Is the Difference Between a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine?


The Master of Wine (MW) and Master Sommelier (MS) are two of the highest qualifications in the world of wine.

While similar in their rigorous standards, they differ in their program’s focus and scope.

A Master Sommelier (MS) is a title given by the Court of Master Sommeliers. It indicates that the person has achieved one of the highest standards of expertise in the service and knowledge of wine, primarily in a restaurant context.

Meanwhile, a Master of Wine (MW) is a qualification given by the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). Wine writers and academics generally pursue this program, as it focuses more on the theory and science of wine, including viticulture and winemaking.

That said, if wine investing is on your mind, you don’t necessarily have to get a sommelier certification or become a wine expert.

We’ll tell you the easiest way to access wine sommeliers and build a fine collection of investment-grade wines!

Start a Wine Collection Curated By Renowned Sommeliers Through Vinovest


Vinovest is a leading Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based wine investment firm that helps you buy, store, and sell authenticated, fine wines like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s like having your own investment sommelier!

Vinovest has a team of Master Sommeliers who help curate and monitor your portfolio

You can even attend private wine tasting sessions with wine professionals while adding a fine white wine bottle and more to your collection.

That’s not all.

Here are some benefits:

  • Vinovest stores your bottles in climate-controlled bonded warehouses near some of the famous wine regions. So, you won’t even need to have your own wine cellar
  • They’ll also deliver your bottle of Pinot Noir, Champagne (or any other sparkling wine) in your portfolio straight to your doorway (or to your buyer’s). 
  • Vinovest sources fine wines directly from wineries, global wine auctions, and wine exchanges, so you’ll buy your wine collectibles at below-retail prices
  • Vinovest charges you a minimal yearly fee of 2.5% (or 1.9% for a portfolio of $50,000+.) This covers wine buying, storing, selling, portfolio management, insurance, and fraud detection.

Access a World-Class Wine Sommelier Team While You Build a Wine Collection


Learning how to become a sommelier can be thrilling! This journey can be a breeze if you engage with brilliant wine professionals and use the best wine education tools.

But if you want to start a wine investment journey, you don’t necessarily have to become a Certified Sommelier or a Master Somm. 

All you need to do is find a reliable wine investment company that’ll make it easy to buy, store, and sell the world’s finest wines.

Sign up with Vinovest to start investing in high-quality wine bottles today!

Start investing in minutes

Open an account, make a deposit, and start growing your wealth.

Start investing