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The Real Poop


Not margarine, as in I-can't-believe-it's-not-as-good-as-butter, but "Margin" and we're italicizing it here because it's SO important.

That's margin as in "profit margin." Margin is the money a restaurant brings in for selling a bottle of wine, less what that bottle cost them. The word "cost" is a loaded one as there are lots of costs beyond just the bottle (and the wine inside of it). 

That said, at its most basic level, selling wine is an incredibly high-margin activity for the restaurant selling it. (That is, they make money selling over-priced...er, um...high-priced wine.)

And that's your job, basically. As a sommelier, you sell wine. Yes, it's a real job. Apparently, people actually need sommeliers, because it pays pretty well. The average Somm makes $53,450 annually (source). 

"This Pinot? Fuhgeddaboutit!" (Source)

Why do you (why does anyone) need a sommelier? Well, in theory, to help them choose just the right wine. But in practice, the sommelier is a marketing tool on the part of the restaurant, and they perform a few key functions:

  • The sommelier helps wanna-be-sophisticates feel less guilty about spending a hundred bucks on a bottle of wine (and wine is just rented, you realize; not bought).
  • The sommelier gives the restaurant a kleeassy vibe and not in a Long Islandy way—a low-key sommelier who actually knows what he or she is doing adds a lot to the overall ambiance of a restaurant.
  • The sommelier's core job is to really juice (grape juice?) the revenues the restaurant collects from the wine sold.

The talented sommelier who knows how to "sell, sell, sell," can make a meal go from forgettable to truly special (at that price it had better be). Some sommeliers develop personal relationships with patrons based on a mutual enthusiasm for wine, but don't count on it. Business is business.

For better or worse, this modest-paying job requires extensive education, and the competition is fierce. "Everyone" wants to be a sommelier. For those who like to drink wine, it's more like a fun hobby than a job. Let's be serious, you're recommending wine, not flipping burgers. Assuming wine is something you really like, is that such a bad way to earn a living?

Master sommeliers are required to pass an infamous exam (which only about 250 people have ever passed) (source). To pass, they need to have a deep knowledge of wine service and pairings, and hone their palates acutely enough that they can identify the type, year, and source of just about any wine. Even baseline certification requires extensive knowledgeability and dedication to the alcoholic arts.

"You're thinking of pairing pinot noir with tilapia? I...have no words." (Source)

Still with us? Good, because if you're of age, interested in wine, and driven, this one seems like a no-brainer. If you're reading as someone who can't legally taste wine yet, be patient. This is a career you can decide to pursue at any age. Once you're in, you'll find being a sommelier is a great way to get away with being snooty with people and they won't say a thing about it.