So you know your merlot from your malbec, your buttery chardonnay from your grassy sauvignon blanc. Youve tossed out the rickety corkscrew you bought at CVS and upgraded to a Rabbit. You own a DVD of Bottle Shock, which you cant watch without a glass in your hand. You prefer dry Rieslings over sweet ones, and you aerate before pouring a cabernet, which you call cab, so fond are you of the grape.
But could you be a master sommelier? Absolutely not.
Jason Wises riveting documentary Somm, which opens Friday at O Cinema Wynwood, lays out the truth in no uncertain terms: The rare air the master sommelier inhales is only for the best of the best. The film follows the experiences of several hopefuls as they prep for their master certification exam (there are four levels, of which master is the most prestigious). The grueling test is given once a year and includes three parts: theory, an oral exam that requires an all-encompassing knowledge of wine and its history and regions as well as the ins and outs of spirits and cigars; service, in which a mock restaurant is set up and the candidates must navigate a variety of crises; and, the most terrifying of all, a timed blind tasting of three whites and three reds in which the candidates must thoroughly describe and identify the wine, from its structure and alcohol content to its region and vintage.
Writer/director Wise, who shot the film over three years, got the idea for Somm when a friend prepping for a lower level test invited him to watch a practice session.
It knocked me off my feet, he said. I had worked with wine as a server and a bartender, and I thought I understood what it was. Its like youve driven cars your whole life, and then someone hands you one that flies.
A rare title
Somm illustrates that becoming a master is not for the easily discouraged. There are only 201 professionals worldwide who have earned the title, with just 134 in North America, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers website. Of the 134, 115 are men and 19 are women. Eight are from Florida; two work in Miami. During this years test, which took place recently in Dallas, 70 applicants took the exam. Only one passed.
After shooting footage of the intense practice sessions, Wise who admits he became emotional when filming the final scenes during which the candidates found out if they passed is convinced that only one sort of person can become a master.
Anybody who passes the master level 90 percent of them wouldve taken another level if it existed, he says. You have to be a total Type A personality. The way the test is set up, it weeds out every other personality type. An introvert wont pass service. If you cant memorize, you wont pass theory. If you dont have confidence, you cant pass tasting. Some people have said Somm is like a sports movie. Its not intended to be, but it has that feeling. These people have no backup plan. Thats the only way to pass it.
Its an obsession, and it has to be, agrees Laura DePasquale of Miami, vice president and general manager of Stacole Fine Wines, who became a master sommelier in 2004 (the other Miami master is Eric Hemer of Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida). As vice chair of the Court of Master Sommeliers, she now administers the exam she once fought so hard to pass. Like most candidates, she took the test more than once. The first time, she passed service; the second, theory. When she went back the third time she failed the tasting and had to start over. Happily, she passed every segment the fourth time out.