Living life, one glass at a time

Somm reflections

Image result for sommelier dessin

As I mentioned in my last post, I was working on finishing my Advanced Sommelier class at Algonquin College this semester, and I am happy to announce that earlier this month, I successfully completed the course(!), thereby making me a sommelier. How crazy is that!?

It’s been a long time in the making. I began taking wine courses after losing my job in 2012, trying my hand at something new during my thankfully brief stint of unemployment. My newfound wine courses were always the highlight of my week. Yes, I am a giant nerd and have always loved school, but really, who wouldn’t enjoy school if it involved tasting a selection of different wines (and sometimes food)!?


Many people start taking these wine courses looking to make a career change. And I admit that when I originally signed up for the sommelier program, I wasn’t opposed to it potentially taking me in a new professional direction, especially since I wasn’t really working at the time. But the great thing about living in the capital of an officially bilingual country is that translators are never unemployed for too long, so I quickly found another translation job. Even though I have changed jobs multiple times in the last five years, my wine courses have been a constant—a fun extra-curricular activity to take the edge off a full-time translation job. That said, there were certainly moments when things were terrible at work, when I would *half*-jokingly refer to my wine courses as my “coping mechanism” and when I imagined abandoning translation for this wonderful world of wine into which I was slowly being initiated. And really, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch—when you think about it, translation and sommellerie (the science of the somm which doesn’t really have an English equivalent) aren’t so different.


Let’s break it down into the basic principles: a translator’s main function is to take a message in one language, and express it in another. Many times a translator does not just translate the individual words; they translate the meaning behind those words as well. Google Translate can easily take “The wine is on the table” and give you “Le vin est sur la table”. But what happens when you have something like “Quitting smoking cold turkey is no piece of cake”? This:

Capture google translate

Literally: To stop smoking a frigid turkey is not a slice of cake.

On a somewhat related note, have you seen this hilarious Jimmy Fallon/Anne Hathaway Google Translate skit yet?

And this is why Google Translate won’t be replacing human translators any time soon.

At this point, you’re probably like “Mel, WTF? Where are you going with this?” Don’t worry, there is a point to this, even though I could pontificate all day about the importance of qualified translators.

You see, translators and sommeliers ultimately have the same goal. They both take a message in one language and render it into another. Is wine not endowed with its very own language? Think back to that time when you knew nothing of wine, and how bizarre and foreign those wine descriptors sounded: leggy, full-bodied wine, with essences of barnyard, leather, graphite reminiscent of the terroir, some heat on the palate and finely integrated tannins, with a lingering finish. [Sidenote: I know I’m now a lost cause because that description is appealing to me.]

In a restaurant, the sommelier is your guide to the oft intimidating wine list. Many restaurants choose wines that can’t be acquired at your neighbourhood liquor store and that you may not necessarily be familiar with. Just like the translator, the somm takes the unknown and translates it into something intelligible. They can take that random third red wine on the menu, and describe it in such clear terms that you can practically taste it. With your input, they can even interpret your wine preferences and suggest something on the list you might like. They will even go a step further and translate your wine in terms of food pairing, pointing out which wines and dishes from the menu will complement each other perfectly. The somm has intimate knowledge of the wine list, and they are the ultimate translator of its meaning to ensure you get the best wining and dining experience possible.

Translators and somms also share certain qualities. Both tend to be particularly fastidious about their work. Translators will agonize over finding the perfect word to express what they are trying to say (perhaps this is why it takes me days to write a blog post).  Somms are no stranger to these meticulous tendencies, as I discovered when learning about the approximately 18,001 precise steps for opening and pouring a bottle of wine.

(video c/o GuildSomm)

Despite my current profession having many skills that could easily transfer to being a sommelier, I have never been all that interested in working in the restaurant industry, and if anything, this last Advanced Somm course only reinforced that. Sure, I can now open a bottle of sparkling without pointing the potentially explosive cork at anyone, and decant a bottle of red wine without spilling it all over the place. But the truth is, a) I hate constantly having a piece of linen (aka a liteau) draped over arm and b) service is just not my cup of tea.

Nonetheless, I’m pretty pleased with my accomplishment. I knew this course would be a challenge, as it put me in situations where I was quite outside of my element. The final project was a massive undertaking which involved coming up with a wine list for a new restaurant, including sourcing and pricing wines as well as costing any storage/facility/licencing requirements.

Then there was the service exam, starring me as the somm in a mock restaurant setting. This was the part that scared me the most, but I made it through!


Pre-service exam coffee

The last component was a blind tasting exam where I had to accurately describe and correctly identify 6 wines by varietal and origin. And guys, I totally kicked ass on it!

Now if only I could find some way to combine my passion for words and wine. Well hang on a minute. Isn’t that what I’m doing on this very blog? Isn’t that what Wining with Mel is all about? Here, I can take the wonderful, complex and oftentimes incomprehensible world of wine, and make it fun, fresh, and maybe even somewhat informative. That’s the intention at least. So in the end, I guess I didn’t really need a little pin to get me to do my part in making wine accessible to all—I’ve been doing it all along!

Happy wining!


Keener, front and centre, with the silly grin.


This post is being submitted as part of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. For #MWWC32, the theme is TRANSLATION. As an English/French/Spanish translator, I obviously felt compelled to participate this month 🙂 Please be sure to read all the entries and vote for your fave starting Tuesday, April 25, 2017!

UPDATE (May 2, 2017)

Thanks to all your votes, this post WON the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge!! What an honour! My prize? Bragging rights and the opportunity to choose next month’s theme. I couldn’t have done it without you, dear readers. You guys are AWESOME! Now go have a glass of wine—you deserve it!



  1. L'Intello gourmand

    Félicitations collègue!

  2. Janine Hogg

    Huge congrats!!! 🙂

    • Wining with Mel

      Thanks, Janine! Definitely going to try to make it to one of your upcoming yoga seshes!

  3. Juliette Giannesini (@Xiaozhuli)

    Congratulation! That’s just awesome. Besides, now I can proudly say “oh, mon amie sommelière (insert relevant info I can’t think of right now here)” 😆

    It’s funny how the small decisions we make somehow lead to something bigger while big moments aren’t that memorable on the long run. This really cool you complete… a completely different training! You are officially a “slash” person: translator/sommelier! Okay, boat sailing now?

    • Wining with Mel

      Yup, translator/somm/sailor. I’m certainly accumulating titles!

  4. the drunken cyclist

    Reblogged this on mwwcblog.

  5. shez

    Congrats!!! 🙂

  6. jimvanbergen

    Well done, Mel!

  7. Wining with Mel

    Brava – so proud of you! Love the fact that you’re now a translator/sommelier/sailor – or should that be sommelière? What next??
    I’m also adding the “quitting smoking cold turkey” translation to my “Incroyable mais vrai” file, started long before Google Translate existed! : )

  8. Wine With Friends

    Congratulations Mel! Great achievement and accolade. Just don’t start writing like a robot, because I do enjoy your posts in English and audible to my mere mortal senses. Should I be worried that I connected the dots between being a translator and the sommelier point of the story before you got there? 🤔

    • Wining with Mel

      Thanks Thabo! I will do my best to keep my reviews dynamic and unrobot-like. And clearly you connecting the dots is a sign of your intelligence. It definitely took me a while to reach my conclusion!

      • Wine With Friends

        I had the advantage of context. But I will accept the compliment.

  9. thefoodandwinehedonist

    Terrific post!

    I too took somm coursework and agree that the service part wasn’t for me. I chose not to finish, so congrats on finishing.

    And congrats on winning the writing challenge.

    • Wining with Mel

      Thank you! And thanks for reading 🙂

  10. Lynn

    Congratulations Mel! Look forward to reading more from you ;-D

    • Wining with Mel

      Thanks, Lynn. And thanks for reading!

  11. Red

    Bravo, Mel! Such a fun, well-written post, and such an amazing journey and accomplishment, to finish what has been a several-year labour of love. How fun. Bravo you. And I’ve fully enjoyed being along for the ride and tastings:)

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