Wine is splashing on the silver screen: today, the documentary SOMM opens in New York and on iTunes.
It’s difficult to successfully capture wine on TV or movies. The medium is limited since viewers are not able to smell or taste. Further, the characters on camera risk sounding like the stereotypical wine doofus. Miles from Sideways was memorable in this regard, with tasting notes like “the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese.”
Given these hurdles, the fact that SOMM informs, educates and maintains a riveting pace is particularly notable. The documentary tracks four candidates for the Master Sommelier exam, a rigorous test that includes a theory portion, a blind tasting portion, and a service portion. It has such a miserly pass rate that there are only 201 Master Sommeliers around the world today. Nonetheless, wine directors from around the world cram, swirl and spit to prepare for the annual sitting of the exam.
The film succeeds because rather than turning the viewer off with snootiness, it brings the viewer in by inviting you to witness wine geeks in action. It’s a window on their world, watching them banter, taste and describe wines. As the star power of point-wielding wine critics has dimmed in recent years, sommeliers have seen their star power rise, making this inside look more meaningful. Also, people enroll in my (non-sommelier) wine classes because they want to be able to talk the wine talk; watching these wine gate-keepers up close provides viewers a good opportunity to pick up some tasting methodology and jargon that doesn’t have a flutter of pretentiousness.
The opening sequence is a succinct, word-free, appealing presentation of the course of life in the vineyard in a year. Director Jason Wise keeps the pace moving with a countdown to the final exam day. As the final results are read, there’s tension followed by rejoicing and sorrow.
Check it out: the movie will make you thirsty in more ways than one.
SOMM movie trailer at iTunes
In NYC @ Quad Cinemas at 34 W. 13th St for a one-week run.
UPDATE from Quad Cinema: “Q&A immediately following the 7:20pm show with DUSTIN WILSON FROM ELEVEN MADISON PARK AND LAURA MANIEC FROM CORKBUZZ on Friday 6/21. (They will also introduce the 9:50pm show).”