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Perfect Pairings

Sommeliers create a curated food-and-beverage experience one never forgets.

By: MICHELLE FRANZEN MARTIN

sommelier pouring wine

Head sommelier Ryan McLoughlin is working toward his Advanced Sommelier certification.

There are more than 10,000 grape varietals in the world and hundreds of regions where they grow. In each region, factors such as climate and terrain — as well as the time and talent of the winemakers themselves — influence the characteristics of a wine. Sommeliers not only understand these nuances, but they use their expertise to create a tailored and one-of-a-kind experience for guests.

 

“Sommeliers provide guests with more in-depth knowledge and a better, more educated wine experience,” says Ryan McLoughlin, head sommelier at Sea Island. “My goal is to get the best possible bottle in front of you and curated to what you like.” McLoughlin is one of five sommeliers at Sea Island. Although many people think that sommeliers are only focused on making wine recommendations, McLoughlin and his colleagues do far more than that. “Sommeliers are all-around food and beverage team members,” he explains. Because of the rigorous education and training that sommeliers go through, they understand the flavors of food ingredients in dishes.

 

 

BECOMING A SOMMELIER

The Court of Master Sommeliers offers four levels of certification, including the highest and most prestigious level, Master Sommelier. Only 273 people in the world have achieved the Master Sommelier level. McLoughlin is working toward the third level, Advanced Sommelier. At these levels, you have to identify wines by sight, aroma and taste, including where it was grown, the vintage, varietal and quality level.

 

But becoming a sommelier isn’t only about wine. The Court of Master Sommeliers is service-oriented, so those seeking a certification must also demonstrate their knowledge of table service — how to pour and decant wine, for example — as well as show their understanding of tastings and theory. Sommeliers also must have expertise in beer, spirits and even sake.

 

Sake is poured tableside at the new Georgian Rooms.

Jeremy Dodson, general manager of the Georgian Rooms at Sea Island, has a sake sommelier certification from the The Wine & Spirit Education Trust. The trust also offers a wine program that is more focused on academics. “Sommeliers are storytellers and play a big part in creating that once-in-a-lifetime dining experience for guests,” Dodson notes.

 

The Advanced- and Master-level exams for the Court of Master Sommeliers require that students demonstrate their ability to service tables — often with very different restaurant concepts. “One table might be a Japanese restaurant, and you need to demonstrate your knowledge of sake, and the next might be Italian, and it’s all Italian wine questions,” McLoughlin explains. “At one service you might need to make a cocktail. They want to know that you can work a table.”

 

The highest level, Master Sommelier, also requires a verbal deductive tasting of six wines in 25 minutes. Students are given a verbal test on theory that includes principal grape varieties, international wine laws and methods of distillation for spirits and liquors. The service portion of the exam requires a demonstration of wine service and salesmanship. Students must pass the theory portion of the Master Sommelier exam before going on to the tasting and service exams. The pass rate for theory is just 10%, and the exam is only offered once per year.

THE GROWING ROLE OF THE SOMMELIER

When McLoughlin started at Sea Island in 2011, the resort had three sommeliers who worked in fine dining. But guests now expect that level of knowledge and expertise even in more casual environments, he says.

 

“The best thing a guest can do is trust a sommelier,” McLoughlin suggests. “Even if you don’t understand how to explain what you like to drink, tell the sommelier what you like to drink at home. For example, you can say, ‘I like pinot noir and I usually like to drink Merry Edwards.’ Be specific with what you want to spend because my goal as a sommelier is to find the absolute best wine for your price and preferences.”

 

Sommeliers are a great resource for guests not only because of their knowledge of wine, but also because of their passion, Dodson says: “They have dedicated their life and career around what they are passionate about. Sommeliers are able to take you on a journey. The guests just have to be willing to take a little voyage out of their comfort zones and let the sommelier take them on a journey. ”