Somm (2012): Mastering the Impossible

Somm (2012): Mastering the Impossible

Whoever said the world of wine just gets bigger and bigger the more you learn about it was right. Impossibly wide boundaries of knowledge stretch from the vineyard to winery to bottle to glass, encompassing all sub-areas on vintage, variety, temperature, storage, and every other known element. We’ll never be alive long enough to know it all, let alone try it.

And yet we want to. We’re driven to be the best in our field, to conquer every aspect of this “fermented grape juice” that people have dedicated their lives to mastering for hundreds of years. That’s why exams like the Master Sommelier Diploma and Master of Wine exist.

Somm, the 2012 documentary written and directed by filmmaker Jason Wise, follows four candidates and their journey to taking the Master Sommelier (MS) exam. Three weeks of exam preparation is covered in the slightly overlong 2 hour 20 minute feature documentary, stuffed to the brim with back and forth dialogue, “banter”, and every different shot of flashcard studying imaginable.

Thankfully, though, this film is more about the wine, the journey, and the exam, than it is about the people studying for it. Sure, they’ve got interesting lives no doubt, but people watching this sort of documentary will be seriously interested in wine – there’s plenty of other material out there for those with only a slim interest in it. So Wise scores points for making it about the subject.

Nonetheless, the chemistry between the candidates shows just how long the timeline of hard work and teamwork studying has gone on before the documentary was shot – giving some indication to just how difficult the MS exam is. Not that you really need to be reminded because the current Master Sommeliers Wise interviewed from the film take every possible opportunity to remind you just how hard it is.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about Somm is you can’t try the wines they taste in the film – and that it makes you want to do just that. The film creates the desire to jump-in and get involved, so on one level it works as an advert for the wine world, while on another level you just want to leave it playing and pop to the shop to pick up a bottle of just about anything so you can have a drink.

Having said that, the conversations between the candidates and the practice tastings and theory will entice any wine lover. To hear them talk about the colours, aromas, palette, and have a good-go at guessing what it is, is fascinating. You’ll be surprised how close they get, too (although hopefully not too surprised because they are supposed to know, after all).

I was a little disappointed they didn’t explore more of the cost of taking on a challenge like the MS exam; not just financially (which would be a lot considering the amount of wine you would need to drink, alongside any tuition costs), but also personally – because the film makes it quite clear that the exam preperation has completely taken over the candidates’ lives. Instead, Wise does give you plenty of shots of exploding and breaking wine glasses because, apparently, that adds to the film’s aesthetic appeal…

Somm is an interesting glimpse into just what level a wine lover’s interest can manifest into, while also illustrating the potential of passing an exam of this degree. But it may also scare off those less devoted to becoming connoisseurs of wine.



Somm is now on UK Netflix.