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Monday, January 6, 2014


SOMM is a documentary that follows several candidates vying to become Master Sommeliers (the equivalent of “know-it-alls” in any other profession) and how they prepare for this arduous wine test. Sound dull? The journey is absolutely interesting, in spite of times where the camera lingers too long on some of the mindless chatter of sleep deprived, stressed-out, over-anxious people cramming for an exam. If you think you know wine, this will reveal the complexities of achieving the Master Sommelier position and will probably challenge you is some ways. But hold on, there are a few things to understand prior to viewing the film.

Doug Frost is one of only four people on the planet to have passed the rigorous Master Sommelier and the Master of Wine exams, so he knows more than everyone else (with the possible exception of three other people). In fact, he’s actually in the film for a few fleeting seconds. “I always think a lot of this stuff is overblown,” he says. “Not that the two exams aren't difficult; of course, everyone knows they are. But it seems to me is that all it proves is that you're good at passing exams,” he told me in an interview with IntoWine (read the entire interview here: Doug “And the scope of the exam covers the kind of stuff that was always up my alley: lots of tasting (who doesn't like that part?), lots of wine service testing (I spent years in restaurants), tightly defined essay writing (I like those sorts of logic challenges) and perhaps most of all, useless minutia. I honestly believe that anyone can train themselves to pass these exams,” Frost says. 

That should not imply that this is an easy process – it’s not. The intrigue of SOMM is the process, the dedication, devotion, and obsession of those trying to pass the course. Relationships are put on hold, health is in jeopardy, sleep is an illusion…you get the idea. The failure of SOMM is exactly the same point – the fixation of those trying to pass the the relevant and irrelevant portions of the Master Sommelier exam also reads as a borderline clinical disorder. It’s both admirable and disturbing and it makes you wonder about the ego involved in order to secure this kind of title. But second, and to Mr. Frost’s point above, watching the cast of SOMM should remind you that even though they can identify wine using rapid-fire vocabulary, at the very end of the film when most everyone has a different take on which wine is which it illuminates the issue that, though you can pass an extraordinarily difficult test, all it mean is that you’re good at cramming. 
Yes, even I judge wine.
Why you love the wine you do is another matter entirely. SOMM is a good rental – but watch it while you have a glass of wine in your hand, and don’t deconstruct your wine, merely enjoy it. That’s your only test.

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