Thursday, June 27, 2013


These days you can't swing a cat without hitting a self-labeled sommelier or a restaurateur touting her joint's "wine program."
But the Court of Master Sommeliers contains only 200 or so women and (mostly) men who have passed an insanely rigorous exam covering every aspect of viniculture and connoisseurship. The test comprises three elements: theory (which involves knowing just about every vineyard in production worldwide), service (in which the would-be Master must remain unflappable while examiners pose as customers from hell), and tasting (in which three reds and three whites are set before the testee, who has 25 minutes to identify all six precisely: the wine, the country, the region, the vintner, the year). It is given only once a year and has a pass rate around 12%.

In the new oenological documentary "Somm," director Jason Wise introduces us to four young friends, all already successful sommeliers, preparing to sit for the exam: the highly self-assured DLynn Proctor, who aspires to be the first African-American to attain Master status; Brian McClintic and Dustin Wilson, both married and eager to repay their wives' devoted support with the remunerative career opportunities the Master certificate opens up; and Ian Cauble, whom the others call "Dad," a super-serious workaholic (he views six hours of review as a "light" session) who goes nowhere without his thousands of flash cards. We've seen a lot of docs about a handful of subjects in competitive areas of human achievement ("Brooklyn Castle," "First Position," "Spellbound," "Wordplay"), but Wise's decision to follow four friends is a coup; it gives us entrée to their study-group sessions and a broad range of interpersonal dynamics. On a standard doc budget, "Somm" offers unusually high production values and a highly enjoyable peek into an unexpectedly fascinating subculture.

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