"SOMM" delves deep into the world of master sommeliers, an exclusive organization of experts whose breadth of knowledge about wine tasting, theory and history is amazing, and borders on the ridiculous.
The documentary by Jason Wise focuses on four men, a few with San Francisco and Sonoma ties, amid arduous preparations for the Master Sommelier Exam; if they pass, they enter a club that has just 133 members in North America (114 men, 19 women).
The film offers fabulous, extensive details about the world of wine, and how it is not just something to be consumed, but a staple of culture and civilization for centuries.
Master sommelier candidates Brian McClintic, DLynn Proctor, Dustin Wilson and Ian Cauble are equally dazzling, particularly during game-show-like blind tasting sequences, where they describe the wine's flavor and aroma ("can of tennis balls," "grandmother's closet"), then name it, and the region where it originated. Oddly, their expertise seems inconsistent. They seem so sure, but sometimes they're wrong.
As the men get closer to the day of the test, the film's pace seriously slows down, and their personal stories (including too many interviews with girlfriends describing their crazy, one-dimensional guys) become less and less compelling. Waving around flash cards and going on about how obsessed they are, they, and the movie, become tiresome.
While the satisfying payoff – the exam results – comes a tad too late, "SOMM" does manage to shine some light on an interesting, if arcane, topic.