Tasting is not a game, it’s war

God bless Netflix. How else would I be able to watch random documentaries about gender challenged seals in Antarctica, or about Brooklyn based organic goat cheese producers? The answer is I probably wouldn’t be able to. And in all fairness, I probably wouldn’t want to, there is such a thing as a too narrow niche… But, what Netflix allowed me to watch was a nice documentary, called Somm, written and directed by Jason Wise,  about 4 students studying for and taking the exam to become Master sommeliers. See, this is more in the topical target of this blog than baby seal gender-studies, I know how to stay on message.

somm affiche

Anyway, Master Sommelier is an extremely exclusive title that less than 200 people have reached during the 40 years or so it has existed. Basically, you have to pass a 3 steps exam that will challenge: your theoretical wine knowledge, your service skills and, and that is the cornerstone of the movie, your tasting skills.

The tasting part of the exam is the focus of the movie, mostly because it is the most spectacular: 6 wines, 3 whites, 3 reds. You have 25 minutes, to taste, describe and determine grape variety, origin and vintage for all 6 wines. I didn’t use the word spectacular idly; it’s actually fascinating to see candidates spit descriptions at the speed of light. Especially when they start discussing “freshly opened tennis ball can” of “cut-off watering hose” aromas.

An early training session

An early training session

I mean, the whole process is humbling for all wine amateurs, the sheer speed and depth of the description is staggering. So is the volume of index cards they use to cram wine knowledge in their heads. And so is the amount of pressure they experience. The exam shapes their life for years at a time with real life put on hold so that they can study. That’s the gut wrenching part. When does something you love become a job? When does a job become a chore? Are you still able to enjoy a glass of wine with friends when your mind races to possible vintages?

It’s a really nice documentary that I recommend for any wine lover. The 4 candidates are pretty diverse; to sum up there’s the intense one, the quiet one, the thoughtful one and the smooth one. The movie is intercut with interview form sommeliers, producers and other wine actors as well as with loved ones of the 4 protagonists. You learn some things about wine but it’s not the point. It’s more about the level of dedication one can bring to its passion, the sacrifices you make. It puts things in perspective. To be honest, in my case, it made me decide to work more on my tasting skills. Results are yet to be conclusive on that front.

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