Film Review: SOMM


SOMM, the documentary about “the hardest test you’ve never heard of” opens in theaters on June 21st. In Los Angeles, it’ll play for a week at the Sundance Sunset Cinema in West Hollywood and also available on iTunes.

I checked out the film last week and really enjoyed it. I first became familiar with the Court of Master Sommeliers test after Michael Shearin former Drago Centro Beverage Director and Sommelier passed his Advanced Somm test. I didn’t realize you could become certified as a sommelier. Then intermediate, advanced and then finally the master sommelier test.

But I still had no concept of what it all meant. Sure, I knew of some who “studied together” which sounded like they drank a lot of wine and talked about their wine knowledge but watching the film made me realize it was really a difficult thing. You have to pass all 3 parts; blind tasting, theory (wine knowledge) and service of the MS test in order to become a Master Somm. The test has been around for 40 years or so and only 170 or so people have passed. That’s not really a lot of people- that’s less than 5 people a year passing. The MS website mentions about a 10% passing rate.

The film follows sommeliers in San Francisco preparing for the test. They seemed to live and breathe it going to the point of late night skype sessions, running with flash cards on the treadmill and possibly damaging their relationships with significant others in the pursuit of passing. It’s inferred that once you’re a MS, the riches will land upon you.

To get some insight and some explanation of what they were doing, I asked the current Sommelier at Drago Centro, Spencer Cruse for a little background. He broke it down for me.

Spencer: “Do you know what the grid is?”

Me: “Yeah, more or less.”

SC: “Okay, once you got the grid down, the MS wants to see you do the work.”

Me- interrupting: “So…”

Basically you’ll see somms work through the wine using this worksheet they call the grid. I was particularly curious about the frequent use of “star bright” and Spencer said that referred to the luminosity or brightness of the white wine. Although the blind tasting could be wines from anywhere in the world, he seemed to think MS favored California and French wines. I asked him if he would ever take the MS. He said he probably wouldn’t now with his heavy Italian wine knowledge (Drago Centro is an Italian restaurant) but seemed confident he could nail service. He mentioned a buddy of his being stumped over that part as he is a wine rep rather than a somm at a restaurant. Say you got a tasting menu. Now you have to come up with a wine pairing that matched not just the food but also stayed within a certain budget. I immediately thought- hey, that’s what a somm does! The film does mention somms had to know more than just wine. They should also know how to pair beer, sake, spirits and even cigars. You’re learning not just about the wine and food of countries but their history as well. It’s really very cool.

SOMM follows Brian McClintic, DLynn Proctor, Dustin Wilson and Ian Cauble. You got to know these guys, feel their drive and was right there with them when they took the test. I was biting my fingers until the very end. I would love to watch this again with a wine buddy. Good thing it’s going to be showing soon at the Sundance Sunset Cinema and there are some special events coinciding with the screenings.

  • Evening showings on Friday, 6/21 and Saturday, 6/21 will feature a pop-up Beringer tasting bar

  • Free wine tastings for all SOMM ticketholders

  • Q&A with cast, crew, and Master Sommeliers during select evening screenings

available on iTunes – watch trailer

at the Sundance Sunset Cinema beginning June 21

© The Minty 2013