food & drink

Can somms survive Covid?

Sommeliers are not in a good place these days. Having enjoyed a meteoric ride from virtual inexistence to flavour of the decade, their star is on the wane thanks to coronavirus.

The kindest way to describe the predicament is that of being victims of collateral damage, and their futures are in jeopardy. Nor is it just Covid. A sexual harassment scandal exposed by The New York Times has resulted in the suspension of some of its members when it was shown that 21 women taking the Master Sommelier Diploma had been harassed and assaulted. In short, it is not the time to think about become a somm, as the Americans refer to them.

In Britain and Spain most sommeliers pass exams that allow them to use the title, although in reality anyone can refer to themselves as a sommelier.

In the new normal world can sommeliers prosper? A well-known London restaurant used to have nine sommeliers, but now has two. In Spain it is unusual for top establishments to have more than one, and owners and managers are asking themselves whether they really need sommeliers at all. A general manager with a knowledge of wine can negotiate with suppliers, and waiters can be trained to a level at which customers are happy to consult them.

In one famous Seville restaurant there is now no sommelier at all, something facilitated by drastic cutting down of the wine list from 300 wines to 80. Becoming a sommelier has always been a precarious career choice, so perhaps Covid has finally put the last nail in the somm's coffin.