Monday, February 3, 2014


"Four sommeliers attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world."


Never been able to say that word accurately.

From now on I will refer to a wine expert as a "somm".

I learned the abbreviated term from a 2012 documentary I watched on Netflix with the same name.

"SOMM" shows the ins and outs of a few young eager wine experts who spend all their time and energy preparing for and taking the Master Sommelier exam. A master sommelier is the highest level of distinction that a person can achieve in wine expertise. The documentary noted at the end that there are 197 in the world. 

Last week as I watched the show I imagined that one's experience in preparation for the three-part exam must be like what a person goes through to study for the bar exam or for medical boards exams...maybe even harder. It was really impressive to learn what they learn. A candidate has to "know every single wine on the planet." And everything about where the wine came from. And everything about how it was made. And so on.

The blind tasting portion of the exam involves identifying the name and year of a wine by smelling and tasting it. The candidate has 25 minutes to accurately identify a flight of six wines (three white, three red). The theory portion of the exam covers history, geography, production and every other known fact related to wine. The service part of the exam tests a person's knowledge as they communicate wine choices, present and serve wine to someone as if they are at a fine restaurant.

In addition to what they need to know, I was struck by the camaraderie of the candidates. They are competitors and teammates at the same time. They all want the same thing - which very few will ever achieve - but they choose to go to great lengths to help each other pass the exam. (Think quizzing each other through their stacks of flashcards via face time at 1:00am.) These folks spend more time with each other than with their significant others. You might say the other candidates become their significant others during the months and years of preparation.

Well, I was impressed. I love wine, but have very little knowledge of it. This film helped me appreciate those whose life's work it is to learn and live in the world of wine. To do what they do is to know a ton about the world.

A toast to those who achieve this level of success!

Watch the trailer here.

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