|TASTE BUDS Students are trained to use their senses to judge a wine's history while tasting
Gagan Sharma sniffs white wine from a Bordeaux glass. He’s in the wine section of a five-star hotel and is at ease amidst an assortment of neatly stacked wine bottles. The young professional draws in the aroma of the wine, and in three deep breaths judges its character and origins. He holds the stem of the glass firmly between his middle and forefinger. Gingerly cupping the glass, he then proceeds to swirl the liquid, allowing it to mix with the air, then bends his head backward a tad, takes a sip, and lets the potion roll down his throat at leisure.
The entire process takes about five minutes but in this span Gagan has figured out the age, grape variety, region, the country of origin of the wine, even tracked down the vineyard soil type among other characteristics. His summation: the wine is from France, the grapes are possibly grown in clay and sand soil, it contains fruity and floral flavours with herbaceous undertones and is aged three to four years. “Wine at a temperature of 16 degrees is ideal,” explains Gagan and adds,” Tilt white wine glass to 45 degrees and you can judge the wine’s age; dark colour on the rim implies an aged wine.”
Meet the wine experts
Sommelier and wine expert, Gagan, holds a Level 2 & 3 certificate from the London-based Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). He is amongst the few Indians pursuing Level 4, and is a certified mixologist who undertook a rigorous programme after a Master’s in Hospitality Management from Melbourne’s Victoria University. Sommeliers are qualified food and beverage professionals who have undergone specialised training in wines and spirits. An avid wine-drinker or wine enthusiast can’t be referred to as a sommelier.
Wine tasting as a job is an emerging profession. The consumption of wine in India is growing 25-30 percent, shares M.K. Rustagi – Joint Managing Director of Nirvana Biosys, which introduced Lychee wine in the Indian market. He attributes growth to increased awareness and ease of availability in terms of access and price. As the intake increases, so does the demand of sommeliers.
Most sommelier schools require you to have completed Class 12 (or the equivalent qualification). “There are no sommelier schools in India, yet,” says Rohan Jelkie, Training & Beverage Manager, Tulleeho Wine Academy, which runs approved programmes for WSET, London. One can undertake certificate programmes in India, run by a handful of academics but for a long-term course, one needs to go abroad.“In such a case, a hospitality degree helps,” says Rohan. A knowledge of French, Italian or German comes handy as some courses may only be offered in these languages. Gagan emphasises, “A sommelier’s pronunciation of wine names, regions etc must be perfect, so understanding the language helps.” Prior work experience in Food & Beverages is an added advantage.
|“A few years back, food and beverage industry didn’t employ sommeliers because such a profile didn’t exist! But now employers look for experts”
Gagan Sharma, SOMMELIER, wi-NOT
Course details and fees
In India, the foundation certificate course exposes students to tasting of basic wine types, food and wine pairing, storage and serving wines. Students are trained to use their senses to judge a wine’s history while tasting. So, a wine analysis would mean using one’s eyes, nose and palate to pin down a wine’s background. Experienced professionals can blind-taste and predict a wine’s past accurately.
The WSET programme introduces students to tasting of 10-12 wines from around the world as a part of the basic course (view listing of Wine Academies). The Level 1 course is of six hours and spread over 1-2 days. Level 2 of 16 hours is spread over 3-5 days. At various levels, students are trained to appraise wine’s clarity, intensity, colour, flavour, acidity, tannin and alcohol levels to age and more. “After the sensorial evaluation students are asked to sum up the aftertaste experience,” says Gagan. In India, wine courses can’t be imparted as freely as other specialised courses since trainers have to buy licenses for each day of training. A day’s license costs approximately Rs 5,500 and has a six-hour expiry period. In India WSET provides only three levels of certification. As the level increases, so does cost and duration of programmes.
France boasts of the best schools. Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and University du Vin de Suze la Rousse in the Rhone Valley are highly recommended. The Culinary Institute of America or the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers in Toronto also offer programmes. Professional courses in wine studies by WSET, an education body, are offered throughout the world by approved programme providers.
In India, Tulleeho, an approved programme provider under WSET, currently offers the Level 1,2 & 3 WSET wine courses in Delhi, Mumbai & Bangalore. So does IWBS but only level 1&2. The number of students with a hotel management background, specialising in wine tasting is less. Hemant Kochar, director, Madhuban Academy of Hospitality Administration and Research, Dehradun concurs. Of the total enrolments, “Only 10 percent of students at our academy show an inclination,” he says.
Attributes and work profile
A sommelier must possess great interpersonal skills, must be a keen learner and be up-to-date with current trends and practices in the food & beverage industry. Since being a sommelier essentially means one is employed in the hospitality sector, one needs to be prepared for the challenges that come with such a profession - long work days, late hours and working on holidays. A sommelier is in charge of the wine cellar of the bar or restaurant, and is responsible for suggesting and selling wines to guests, recommending guests on wine purchase, preparing wine menu and suggesting food pairings. The role also involves selling, purchasing, storage and inventory management.
Job options and salaries
An experienced sommelier can go on to become a wine consultant to F&B establishments, wine importers and liquor companies. Globally employment job options are wider; cruise liners, wine bars, theme parks, in-flight services, and resorts among others “An experienced sommelier can manage wine sales and purchase, work in a chain of restaurants as the head sommelier, graduating to the role of wine director,” says Rohan.
In India, a qualified sommelier can start off between Rs. 10-20,000 and go up to Rs. 50,000 with a few years of experience. With global experience sommeliers can earn up to Rs. one lakh or more in India. The pay scale abroad is usually higher. Hobnobbing with affluent clientele is an added bonus. Are you game?
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