Movie review: Somm (2012)

Somm dives into the slightly obsessive world of the Master Sommelier competition. These are not people who like wines or even live and breathe wines but who live and breathe everything about wines—geography, culture, history, the making of wines, the types of grapes, the serving and selection of wine.

Candidates for the honor of the title Master Sommelier study constantly all year for the exam—sometimes year after year until they pass…or die trying. Individuals enroll for the exam but do not approach it alone. Success is only possible in study and preparation with others—both fellow candidates and Master Sommeliers.

Somm follows several of these candidates closely in the final weeks before the exam. The exam itself consists of three parts: theory (every fact about any and every wine in the world), tasting, and serving.

The candidates, their wives and girlfriends, and Master Sommeliers are all interviewed about the process. The audience is invited into their lives to see their study, hear their worries, check in with them after they take the tasting part of the exam, and eavesdrop on the announcement of their exam results.

The documentary left me on pins and needles as candidate after candidate is led into a room to be told if they passed or not. Only 6 out of 50 who took the exam passed. Only two of those followed in the film passed. The rest kept trying and mostly passed in subsequent years. I imagine not passing is devastating; failing consigns the candidate to losing yet another year of his or her life to intense study.

The ability to guess wines, down to the region, the type, and the year is beyond anything I can imagine. But to know minutia about wines such as bacteria that affect vineyards is unreal. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of Frasier and Niles Crane acting all snooty as they vied to be the head of their wine tasting club. In contrast, the candidates in Somm are competitive but share a close camaraderie.

Somm provides a glimpse into a world (sommeliers) that I didn’t know about and gives me a new-found appreciation of those who truly have a deep knowledge of wines—whether they are Master Sommeliers or not.

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