Somm. This doc tells the tale of Court of Master Sommeliers. We're a crazy bunch. At least the real ones.
The School of Wine: Somm Movie
The term master sommelier carries a significant amount of weight in the world of wine and food. In fact, it is a term that signifies that a person has reached the premiere ranking when it comes to understanding all aspects of wine. Classically, a person is only called by the term sommelier when they are a dedicated wine steward in the restaurant industry. However, some may consider it more like earning a degree of sorts (although there are dedicated programs for that, too!), as becoming a sommelier requires extensive study not just in wine, but other consumable indulgences including spirits, sake, beer, and tobacco.
In order to become a master sommelier, trainees are required to pass an extensive comprehensive exam of 3 different parts:
1) Theory: The theory portion of the exam tests for a comprehensive knowledge of regions, sub-regions, districts, and villages which produce wine and other spirits/tobacco. An individual must be able to recall or correctly identify which wines, etc are produced in these geographic areas. This includes wine laws, understanding of specific wineries, and geographic variations. If this isn’t difficult enough, this portion of the exam is in 5 DIFFERENT LANGUAGES; Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Italian, and German. In short, this is the component of the exam that is dedicated to culture.
2) Service: In this segment, a hypothetical restaurant is set up (including full table settings!). The Master Sommelier candidate must then be able to make appropriate wine recommendations for different food selections. However, the most important element of the service portion of the exam is the ability to maintain a cool, professional, and collected demeanor in a variety of situations that may occur when acting as a serviceperson in a fine restaurant. Students must be able to “act the part” in terms of etiquette, as is required by the high-end restaurants that employ Master Sommeliers.
3) Blind Tasting: Four minutes and ten seconds are allotted to accurately describe six wines; three whites, and three reds. The candidate must then be able to 100% correctly identify the structure, body, alcohol, Old or New World, warm or cool climate, possible varietals, possible vintages, and then make an educated guess as to what the wine is. There is no room for error in this portion, and it is this section of the exam that calls upon the most extensive array of knowledge. Generally, students are taught to go through this portion of the exam by using an organized methodology called “The Tasting Grid”. Simple in name but by no means simple in execution, this memorized table hits all aspects of wine tasting and systematically categorizes a wine so that the taster can then identify the bottle. Although taste and smell are subjective in nature, the tasting grid takes the subjectivity out of tasting. After all, specific tastes and smells come from tangible, objective chemical compounds formed in the process of winemaking. Tasting note descriptors can range from the standard and mundane cherry and strawberry to the strange and comical such as “grandma’s closet”. As somm students like to say, “wait you haven’t smelled that before?”. In fact, many say that going through the process of learning the taste and scent descriptors causes a person to realize just how little they have been exposed to. For example, who walks around all day licking wet rocks and sniffing dirt?
As the documentary points out, all three parts of this Master Sommelier exam takes place in less than 3 week’s time, with the tasting portion taking place in Dallas, Texas. Needless to say, in the world of wine, this exam rivals the bar exam in law, CPA exam in accounting, or board exams in medicine. Like these other professional exams, there is no room for waffling when it comes to deciding to undergo the strenuous path to become a Master Sommelier. Students must dedicate the whole of their lives to understanding wine, and many describe it as a way of becoming enculturated and an alternative way of travelling the world. They must have the necessary passion, drive, competitive nature, and desire to learn. When studying for the exam, a person is not simply learning a narrow breadth of information related specifically to wine. Instead, they are studying world climates, geography, consumption history, cultural food, social variations, and chemistry that goes into the production of wine.
Although the study of wine is an ancient one, the first Master Sommelier exam took place in the United Kingdom only 51 years ago in 1969. To date since this first exam, only 269 individuals in the WORLD have successfully passed and earned the highest title in the Court of Master Sommeliers. In short, receiving a diploma by the Court of Master Sommeliers doesn’t just certify a person to choose wine to pair with food, but recognizes years of tasting, learning, associating, and appreciating.