Tuesday, March 25, 2014


I just watched the 2013 film documentary, Somm, about four guys who endure months of agony in pursuit of the Master Sommeliere credential.  The test is given once a year so you might as well say they endured for a year and since many contenders try repeatedly year after year, some of these masochists endure for years on end, all for the possibility of joining a worldwide fraternity of two hundred or so Master Sommelieres.

Before sitting down to write these reflections on what I thought was really a great film, I read a number of other reviews because frankly, this is my first film review and others' perspectives can't help but guide me.  Much to my dismay, most reviewers I read didn't seem to care for the film.  Interesting.  Being in the wine business for thirty-plus years, I felt there was plenty to criticize involving the subject matter, but as one who likes to enjoy a good flick, I thought writer/director Jason Wise did a fine job with this one.

The film shows how these contenders learn to taste and describe wines while concurrently studying the minutia of the wine industry, often one production region at a time.  I thought Mr. Wise set this out well.  Criticisms of others often concerned weakness in character and relationship development which I just thought wasn't the focus of Mr. Wise's test-centered endeavor.

What I did have a problem with was the placement of a wine rack in an apartment directly in sunlight; an anecdote about enjoying a great wine on a fishing boat (huh?); and using the wine descriptor, "smell of a freshly cut garden hose", which in fairness, is just the latest in a continuing stream of ridiculous wine descriptions.  But who doesn't know how to chill a bottle of wine fast?  And just how do these working guys afford all of the expensive wine they are tasting to prepare for the $2,000+ exam?  And then the biggest blunder of the film, the omission of anything involving food and wine pairings which actually happens to be WHAT A SOMMELIERE DOES!

I still liked the film though.  Much of it reminded me of studying sessions with fellow students (remember the flash cards?) and knowing that you had to know this stuff for the test but at the same time knowing you had to cut up a bit or you would go nuts.  In my formative years in the wine business, something similar went on with co-workers when we would open a bottle and learn from each other as we explored the subject more or less seriously.  As an admonition to film critics and wine snobs may I offer: When studying something, along with objectivity and scholarship, it is best to acknowledge others' perspectives while maintaining a spirit of fellowship.

This Friday at our weekly tasting session we will explore a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Chardonnay, Malbec, and Spanish Garnacha.  Hey, become a follower here or I'll take that test and become elitist all over you.

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