November 30, 2013


Jason Wise, 2012
The Master Sommelier examination is one of the most difficult tests to pass in the world. It has been running annually since 1969 and there are less than 200 Sommeliers in the world. It involves knowing virtually everything about wine. The geography of the wine. The history of the vineyards. But most importantly you have to be able to sit down in front of four current Master Sommeliers, drink six glasses of wine (3 red, 3 white) in twenty minutes and tell them everything about them including

This documentary follows a group of men with sophisticated palettes that are studying for the Master Sommelier examination. There is a nice opening segment as you are introduced to the characters, Ian Cauble, as he describes the importance of wine. Living in the moment. Drinking a glass of wine and attempting to experience the most of that twenty minutes. You get a sense early on that this is no hobby for them. It's very much like the Donkey Kong gamers in The King of Kong or the Scrabblers in Word Wars where it's an all-consuming obsession, but without the emulous bitterness toward each other. These men stay up all night, enduring long tasting sessions together while they attempt to pinpoint every attribute about what is in their mouth. When they aren't together, they are Skyping each other with flash cards for hours on end. At the end of the night they leave their exhausted but patient wives with a spit bowl to empty, only to be filled the next night when they do it all over again. The Master Sommelier's interviewed make it clear that the light at the end of the tunnel is a lot of open doors in the world of wine. Not only that but they hope that they can return to their normal lives again, return to normal sleep and hopefully spend time with their loved ones who have inadvertently been ignored.

The film is effective in getting you engaged in the characters. Wise provides multiple perspectives in the film which really helps to establish the challenge. To the wives' credit, they come off as sincere and supportive. When they send them off at the airport you get a sense that they are eagerly sitting by the telephone waiting to hear if they passed or not. The existing Sommeliers in a way come off as the men's trainers. They are attempting to prepare them the best they can. They see the potential, but they also make it clear that come game-day, they need to be ready. There is no real margin for error. While the Sommeliers are sage-like and at times demanding, there's more of a motivating tone giving you a sense that they want to see these men join their ranks. And perhaps that is the flaw in this doc. While the aforementioned King of Kong had a clear-cut villain in the story (in fact one of the worst villains ever), this film is for the most part devoid of one. Who is the enemy? Themselves? Their misleading tastebuds? Their determination is inspiring, and by the end of the film you are truly rooting for them. And while there are certainly some surprises come examination day, the film is guilty of wrapping things up a bit too nicely. Maybe it's a film where loose ends aren't the worst thing in the world. That being said, it's still an entertaining piece that might make you thirsty.

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