Italian Sommelier Association – History
Italian Sommelier Association, “AIS” (Associazione Italiana Sommelier, sometimes also known as “Italian Association of Sommeliers”) is a non-profit organization founded in Milan on July 7th 1965, officially recognised and legally acknowledged by the Italian government on April 6th 1973, with formal President of the Republic decree #539. Its founding members were Prof. Gianfranco Botti, Jean Valenti, Leonardo Guerra (tax advisor) and Italian sommelier Ernesto Rossi.
Italian Sommelier Association is part and founding member of the Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA), which is officially recognized across the world, wherever it is present with an affiliate. AIS is one of the oldest and actually the largest sommelier association in the world, featuring extremely high curriculum level and high quality service standards as well as global recognition and a very long tradition.
The aim of the Italian Sommelier Association, as stated in the third article of its charter is:
“…Association is no-profit and its primary goal is to qualify sommelier’s role and profession, therefore adding value to wine, traditional specialties and gastronomy culture.
It is of cultural, didactic and editorial character, promoting responsible consumption and knowledge of both wine and other alcoholic beverages and that of traditional specialties and gastronomy, directly managing in appropriate offices either sommeliers’ and teachers’ professional training, in compliancy to the didactic regulations set by the Association itself.
It promotes, also in the legislative branch, the introduction of its didactic approach in hospitality schools, as well as the sommelier’s professional role recognition and esteem.”
Italian Sommelier Association together with WSA is considered to be the ultimate educational and consulting authority on Italian wines though it is absolutely not only limited to Italy: it is worldwide famous for its technical tasting approach and methodology, patented food & wine pairing technique, publications, service standards and three-levels course structure. Currently, Italian Sommelier Association / WSA counts over 33.000 thousand members only in Italy (including supporting members which are not all Certified Sommeliers), with continuous increase and opening of various branches and delegations abroad such as Tokyo, Santo Domingo, London, Bruxelles, Munich & Los Angeles.
Italian Sommelier Association / WSA Certified Sommeliers include journalists, winemakers, retailers, viticulturists, writers, wholesalers, university teachers and… food & beverage professionals, of course.
Until 2013, through its publishing partner Bibenda (run by AIS branch in Rome), the Italian Sommelier Association printed its numerous course books, the three-monthly magazine of the same name “Bibenda” and a yearly wine guide called “Duemilavini” (Two-thousand wines). This guide become, in Italy, one of the most important references for Italian wines, featuring more than 2000 pages of detailed information and official AIS ratings (eg: “Five Grapes” is the highest mark for wines achieving more than 90 points during the official AIS / Bibenda assessment). From 2014 on, Italian Sommelier Association will publish its printed material in Milan’s central office, directly managing all editorial aspects.
AIS carries 2 official prestigious uniforms, one for representation purposes (man and women versions available) and a unisex one for service. Silver or gold lapel pin should be worn in compliance with the official sommelier’s membership status as explained further below.
Italian Sommelier Association logo represents a stylized tastevin, the traditional tool used in France by sommeliers to easily assess the characteristics of a given wine ever since the 18th century. Though it is no longer pratically used today, it represents an important symbol as it is still given to any AIS Certified Sommelier once he / she graduates, during the diploma ceremony.
AIS features a main central office in Milan as well as many branches in each region of Italy which supervise local delegations operating in almost any province throughout the country. Each branch features its president and delegates who promonte local initiatives: being part of Italian Sommelier Association also means partecipating in many food & beverage activities that are organized from the associates: guided wine tastings, seminars, dinners, visits to vineyards and wineries as well as the chance to actively take part in official professional wine evaluations, services and consultings.
Italian Sommelier Association – Diplomas and Qualifications
Diplomas & certificates issued by any Italian Sommelier Association / WSA representative association are officially recognized throughout the world, wherever the WSA is present with an affiliate (United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Caribbean, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Slovenia, Russia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Denmark, San Marino, Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom & Romania). Italian Sommelier Association exclusively teaches the AIS / WSA three-level Certified Sommelier course (Silver-Pin / Silver Certified Sommelier Diploma) which is equivalent to the “advanced” levels of many other organizations. A Gold-pin / Gold Professional Diploma qualification is issued after candidate’s career assessment for people actually working (and with evidence of a solid working backround) in a Food & Beverage establishment.
- Italian Sommelier Association – AIS / WSA – Level 1 Course
Wine tasting technique, viticulture, oenology, service technique
- Italian Sommelier Association – AIS / WSA – Level 2 Course
Complete Italian and international oenography (wine regions and sub-regions, grape varieties, wine styles, appellation systems etc)
- Italian Sommelier Association – AIS / WSA – Level 3 Course
Advanced wine-food pairing technique, wine & food categories, service technique
- Italian Sommelier Association – AIS / WSA – Sommelier Diploma
Certified (Silver) Sommelier Diploma is released upon successful completion of all three levels and a challenging two-days examination session, featuring written tests (two different tests), blind tasting and wine/ food pairing assessment tests, didactic dinner, practical / service and final oral tests. Overall passmark is set to 60%.
- Italian Sommelier Association – AIS / WSA – Professional Sommelier Diploma
Professional (Gold) Sommelier Diploma is released by Italian Sommelier Association after candidate’s career assessment. It is intended for Certified Sommeliers actually working in a F&B establishment.
- ALMA / AIS – Master Sommelier Diploma (aka “Level 4″) (New)
This is a special course, designed “to put the finishing touches to the Sommelier’s training with specific preparation dedicated to the management and promotion of wine”.
AIS study path (within the same city or delegation) is usually held from September to January for level 1 and 2 and from January to May for level 3: it usually takes 2-3 years to complete a normal Certified Sommelier course. Classes are in most cases run one evening a week, in order to allow students sufficient home study and personal practice time: a wine tasting case kit (featuring 4 AIS-branded tasting glasses) is also provided for each student at the beginning of Level 1 together with the first two study books and custom exercise notebooks. Since AIS curriculum is extremely dense in information, home study time is essential in order to keep up with the lectures. Class attendance is compulsory for all course levels, in particular no final examination is allowed when missing more than two classes in level 3 course.
Many different Italian and international wines (with an average of 100-120 in total) are tasted under the supervision of the lecturer throughout the course, as sommelier candidates develop the typical Italian Sommelier Association wine tasting (and food pairing) technique approach and methodology.
Further Qualifications and Denominations:
- AIS / WSA – Master Wine Taster (aka “Degustatore”)
- AIS / WSA – Master of Service
- AIS / WSA – Master of Wine and Food Pairing
- AIS / WSA – Lecturer (for 1st, 2nd and 3rd level courses) (aka “Relatore”)
- AIS / WSA – Course Director
Italian Sommelier Association in the World: Affiliations and AIS Clubs
AIS is affiliated through Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA) to many sommelier associations in the world, including:
- NASA – (North American Sommelier Association) for United States, Canada and Mexico
- UK Sommelier Association for United Kingdom
- EESEA – East European Sommeliers and Experts Assoctiation- for Eastern Europe and Russia
Italian Sommelier Association just opened a new AIS Club in China (Guangzhou) and is about to open many new clubs in China, Japan, United Kingdom and Canada. The AIS Club is a new partnership opportunity between Italian (central) AIS and AIS Certified and Professional Sommeliers working around the globe: a kind of “Consulate General”, as AIS informally calls it.
Italian Sommelier Association
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Original work and translation by Sense The Wine based on official AIS books, publications & website.
STW watermarked pictures © Sense The Wine 2012-2014
AIS Logo and AIS uniform pictures © Associazione Italiana Sommelier
AIS Video © Grapevisions Inc.