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Delhi Wine Club
Movie Review: Making of Somm and a Master Sommelier

Posted: Tuesday, 30 July 2013 18:23

Movie Review: Making of Somm and a Master Sommelier

July 30: SOMM, the latest wine movie that is currently showing at theaters in the USA and Canada is a full-length real life film that actually takes you through a journey of professional wine tasters and a run-up to the Mt. Everest of MS exam conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers, with four protagonists acting out their part. It is a must-watch film for novices and professionals but only those who love their glass of wine in any capacity

When I read the news about one of the Best Sommeliers of America 2008 (awarded by the Wine and Spirits Magazine) Ian Cauble, being awarded First Place in its annual Young Sommelier Competition by  the Paris-based Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs in 2011 in Athens, it didn’t touch me personally as we had not heard of  him in India. It’s only when I saw the movie ‘Somm’ that I realized that the Champion was one of the 4 protagonists who had worked hard to clear the Master Sommelier exam later.

The movie starts with the definition of SOMM on the screen - Slang for Sommelier, a restaurant person who has great knowledge in pairing wine with food. The movie is about four such Somms with varying degree of experience as wine professionals - Ian Cauble, Dustin Wilson (the bearded-one), Brian McClinic (the bald one)  and DLynn Proctor (the dapper Afro-American) who are all vying to pass the exam. It focuses on various aspects of the course, the other Master Sommeliers, a touch of the family and plenty of emotions and still plenty more of wine tasting.

The movie highlights the philosophy of the Court of Master Sommeliers that blind tasting (Reductive Tasting as one MS calls it) is uber-important for sommeliers because of the deducing capabilities that it empowers them with and which need to be constantly honed. Several scenes focus on this aspect which the novices might find very interesting or boring depending on their interest and knowledge in wines but most would find them fascinating. A scene very early in the tasting focuses on Ian, the ‘Dad’ and Dustin who are rooming together so they can study and taste together - you are told that to practice for the exam you need to work in a group).

Blind Tasting with the Grid

Tasting blind with his roommate and using the Tasting grid (a long table they all memorize and use to identify an unknown glass of wine), Ian Cauble looks at a glass of white wine in his hand while Dustin Wilson takes the score pad. You may not catch the words coming at a subsonic but fast rattle, ‘white wine, clear star-bright, no gas, medium concentration of colour, green reflections on the edges, lime candy, lime juice, crushed apples, under-ripe mango, ripe melon, melon skins, green pineapple, unripe mangoes, bone dry, crushed cherries, slate, white flower, cut flower, white lilies, no oak, kind-of-fresh, fresh like a new can of balls of tennis, fresh new rubber hose. Structure (he takes another sip, swishes and spits): Acid-medium+, Alcohol- medium, Complexity- medium +;  it’s a New World wine, temperate climate, possible grape Riesling, Age 2-3 years, possibly Australia, South Australia, Claire Valley. I think this wine is a 2009 Riesling from a high quality producer’. Dustin concurs.

Emotions unleashed

There are several emotional moments during the movie. Reggie Narito MS says, ‘I cried when my parents died, I cried when my children were born. The only other time I cried was when I passed this exam.’ He admits, ‘hands down, it’s the most difficult thing I have done in my life.’ Fred Dame the first American to have cleared all 3 papers - Theory, Blind Tasting and Service in the first attempt to become Master Sommelier in 1984, is revered by the peers and feared by the aspirants as one can see in several scenes. He nudges, cajoles and even rebukes  the candidates mildly but gets very emotional at the end when he says about his being the examiner, ‘ I do it every three years because I have no choice. I have probably failed more human beings on the planet than everyone else. It’s a very hard thing for me to do. You know how hard they have worked. They have been to your house. But exam day is exam day!’

Wine may be what you taste in the glass but it brings more to the table than just liquid, as Jay Fletcher MS and one of the examiners in the movie says, ‘you think about wine you think of where the men went, you think of rivers, history, geology, geography. It’s such a cool thing.’

The movie will bring some people down a notch or three. ‘The world of wine is always growing. How can anyone possibly know enough about wine? It’s just not only the history, how the wine is grown-it’s about storage, service and what to eat with wine,’ says Brian McClinic, one of the candidates who is shown clearing the exam in the movie, despite his personal doubts. The man with the least wine experience, he can be a big hope for many hopeful candidates who fear that one needs decades of experience to pass the exam. ‘I am the black sheep, a philistine in the Court,’ he says; he has passed the earlier Advance Sommelier exam within one year of starting from scratch, says his wife with a big smile.

Some of our hospitality industry subscribers in India might remember Rajat Parr, the Calcutta-born Indo-American who studied at the Welcomgroup Hotel Management & Training Institute in Mangalore, India.  ‘To be an outstanding sommelier, you have to be an incredible, incredible taster. Not only a taster but you have to be able to tell a wine without a label, otherwise how can you explain it to the guest.’ What the blind tasting does to you is improve your perception.

He also reflects on the ability to smell infinitely. ‘I go to buy my fruits and vegetables and I smell each of them. How can you tell the difference between an old Nebbiolo and a young one if you have never tasted a young violet, and old one and a rotten one,’ he says in a rebuking tone. Nosing is such an all important factor that DLynn Proctor, the Best Sommelier of America in 2008 along with Ian, is seen making an appointment with the doctor to make sure his nose is fully operational (unclogged) for the tasting and even takes a steam and the customary wine-washing of the mouth before going for tasting.

So how do our protagonists do at the tasting? While they are all overawed by the tasting capabilities of Fred Dame-the term ‘Daming’ has been coined after him-‘he’d smell the wine for 3 seconds and tell you which wine it is,’ says Ian. But as one learns from their discussions after the tasting where they are all given the same wine but no one ever comes to know which wine was served, there are wide differences in their assessment, with the first wine being described as Pinto Grigio, Albariño, Grand Cru Alsace Riesling and a Sancerre. Similarly Ian has changed his opinion about wine 5 from a Barolo to Brunello. There is a wide disagreement whether one wine was Beaujolais or a Chinon (Cabernet Franc).

The story goes on and on with two of our protagonists Dustin and Brian making it while Dad Ian misses the boat in Tasting. We are told in the movie that tracked the happenings in October 2011, that he cleared his exam (16 months later)  in February this year. The day he was made a Master, he was appointed the USA Brand Ambassador for Krug Champagne. Intriguingly, at the post result reception in the Dallas Hotel, one sees Krug being served! Coincidence that.

The musical score is soothing and soft - the kind that would go best with a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. The movie has been made for the wine geeks, connoisseurs and Novices alike. One does not have to be a Somm to watch the Somm but can perhaps call him or himself or herself a somm - implying that he or she has seen the movie. It is riveting – if you love wine. For an average whisky drinker, it will not be music to the ears. Don’t be surprised if your whiskey guzzling friend gets up to bring a glass of whisky to sit through the movie.

Subhash Arora

It would be too much to hope for the movie to be released in theaters in India. But it can be downloaded from iTunes. Its strongly recommended for every wine professional in the wine industry and highly recommended for the hotel management schools running the wine programmes, all WSET courses and various clubs and groups would be discussing it days after they have watched it -editor

Tags: SOMM, Ian Cauble, Reggie Narito MS, Master Sommelier, Brian McClinic, Fred Dame



Ravindra Says:

I want to know about upcoming session of level 1. prefer location Delhi .

Posted @ August 08, 2013 16:50


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