In 1969 the first Master Sommelier exam was given. Today, there are only 230 “MS” professionals worldwide, proven experts in all aspects of wine. Somm (more slang) highlights the lives of four MS hopefuls, and this itself is interesting enough, though director Jason Wise decides to lesson the film’s quality with an overdramatic soundtrack and visuals beyond unnecessary. At one point a somm describes how Sauvignon Blanc truly does smell like cat pee, and Wise chooses to show a bottle of said wine next to a litter box, complete with a cat peeing in it. Seriously.
Somm is intriguing because it highlights something so commonplace (wine) with an expertise so rare (MS’s), though its masters are seemingly regular guys. DLynn is determined to pass because of the somms he’s met through working in restaurants, as is Dustin. Brian claims that athletic guys are drawn into this world because of its competitive nature, but after getting to know other MS titleholders I can’t help but think that’s his own story. Last is Ian, who the other men call “Dad” because of his unwavering focus and strict sensibility. He’s the guy you know from college who loved to tell you how much he studied and how you were studying wrong, and because of his eagerness and familiarity Ian serves as a great backbone for the film. As we follow these four men (deemed “some of the most dedicated, obsessed people” by an MS) we also get to meet current Master Sommeliers including the master himself, Fred Dame, as well as the wine frat’s loved ones. Dustin’s wife is interviewed as she sits cross-legged on a grassy hill, in an attempt to make her look more pitiful. Wise really enjoys milking this “toll on the family” idea.
While the film does a wonderful job explaining the exam and its difficulty (three parts: theory, service, and a blind taste test with three red and three white wines), one can’t help but laugh at the insane preparation and question why these men care so much. When Ian claims one of his life goals is “drinking a beer… and not thinking about wine,” it’s hilarious because drinking a beer in California is far from impossible. The tasting sessions with each other and eight to ten hours of flash cards a day seem even more ludicrous because such an elite job appears to have no tangible benefits. Even Dame’s home appears to be an apartment with art from Homegoods. He’s wearing a t-shirt and coaching wanna-be’s. If this is life for the most renowned somm, what’s in store for these guys?
We get the privilege of watching MS’ be named, though be warned– it is a very anticlimactic reveal that made their studying all the more humorous. In short, Somm is an entertaining, if not unintentionally funny and somewhat poorly executed, documentary that showcases a fascinating group. Afterwards, I drank my wine and couldn’t help but pay attention to its idiosyncrasies: rich in color, a note of BOGO flavor, pairs marvelously with candy corn…