I love a good food/drink documentary. This was a great one that Gail found on Netflix. As you can probably tell, I almost defer exclusively to Gail regarding what I watch on TV, save sports. Somm is a food documentary about a group of sommeliers who are studying to pass the Court of Master Sommelier certification test. It’s a hard test to pass. There’s about a 3% pass rate and around 200 Masters in the world as of the filming of this movie.

This movie concentrates almost exclusively on the tasting portion of the exam. Yes, there’s a history section and a service section, but they focus on the tasting, probably because it’s the most compelling and I’m betting it’s the most difficult part to pass.

Damn, it’s cool.

Here’s what you have to do for the tasting portion of the exam. You get six unnamed wines lined up in front of you, three reds and three whites, and you have 25 minutes to name exactly where it was made, when it was made, and what type of wine it is. Let me define “exactly” a little better. For the where, you need to basically name the vineyard. Region won’t do it. Even subregion won’t do it. You can’t just say Russian River Valley of Sonoma County California, you actually have to pick the winery. I got the feeling from the movie that there is a little leeway in the where question, but I couldn’t tell for sure. I think you have to be spot on for when (vintage) and what (grape).

The judges actually never release the details on the wines of the test, so there aren’t any stats on how accurate the Masters are. Interesting.

To prep for this thing, you essentially have to memorize the details of every winery on earth. The whole earth. Then you have to train your taste buds recognize just about any flavor and odor, including things like wet soil and decaying pears. Then you have train your body to link up the flavor/odor with the winery details in your brain. It’s a mind/body connection of extreme sensitivity. It entails a lot of flash cards and a lot of drinking and spitting.

The movie also delves deeply into the personalities of the candidates. These sommeliers operate in what appears to be a macho, locker room style atmosphere. Their girlfriends and parents are interviewed and the doc shows plenty of video of them just hanging out. It’s fascinating stuff and completely reframed my view of what Alpana Singh had to go through and how tough it must have been for her. I hope The Boarding House sticks around.