SOMM Movie Review

Saturday, September 21, 2013

I recently enjoyed a fantastic wine movie: SOMM

(click here to view trailer on YouTube if video fails to embed)

It's a documentary that follows four candidates as they relentlessly prepare for what has to be one of the hardest tests in the world: The Court of Master Sommelier's Master Sommelier Diploma exam. There are around 200 Master Sommeliers and in the world (here's the list) and of the 50 candidates who took the exam the year the film was produced, only six passed.

Note that there are a few different governing bodies in wine (here's good post that reviews them) so there are also a couple hundred Masters of Wine in the world. But no matter how you slice it: Attaining this level of mastery is extremely challenging.

The Master Sommelier process includes includes both a written theory portion and a blind tasting of six wines. The blind tasting conveys more interestingly on screen than the written portion so they spend considerable time showing the candidates taste and describe wines when tasted blind. The candidates use a testing rubric which at this point in their careers are etched in each taster's minds. As a result they're like robots rattlings off wine traits:

"Wine #1 is a white wine. Clear, star bright. There is no evidence of gas or flocculation. The wine has a clear straw core, consistent to green reflections in the edge. Medium concentration of color. Aromas are lime candy/lime zest. Crushed apples. Underripe green mango.Underripe melon/melon skin. Green pineapple.

This wine is bone dry. Crushed slate/crushed chalky note. Crushed hillside. There's white flowers almost like a fresh cut flower. White lillies. No evidence of oak. There's like a 'freshly opened can of tennis balls' and a 'fresh new rubber hose' I get.

Acid is medium+, alcohol is medium, complexity is medium+. In conclusion this wine is from the new world, from a temperate climate.

Possible grape varieties are Riesling, possible countries are Australia, age range is 1-3 years. I think this can only be one thing: This wine is from Australia, this wine is from South Australia, this wine is from the Clare Valley. 2009 vintage. Riesling from a high quality producer."

And he's right. It's a Clare Valley Riesling.

The movie does a great job sufficiently familiarizing the viewer with the fundamentals of wine and the Master Sommelier process itself so the movie can be easily understood and appreciated by everyone.

For example, the movie does a great job breaking down how blind tasting (what they like to call "deductive" tasting)  is made up of both sensory observations and being able to map what's they're seeing, smelling, and tasting to knowledge about what characteristics are present in different grape varieties and regions.

While watching the movie I felt a reinvigorated interest in exploring parts of the wine world I'd previously ignored out of lack of familiarity. The most exploratory burst of interest I've had coincided with the WSET Intermediate course I took a few years ago (If you're in the Boston area I do recommend the program through Grape Experience).

But comparing WSET Intermediate to Master Sommelier is like comparing tee ball to being up to bat in the World Series with 2 outs and nobody on down a run in an away game on a chilly late October night. That said, you'll never get to the World Series without first playing little league so the net effect of watching SOMM is that you'll be more likely to want to explore the wine world through formal education.

Overall I think SOMM is a fascinating movie. If you're into wine I think you'll love it. If you're not into wine you'll probably at least like it. Highly recommended.

4/5 Stars WWP: Oustanding

Find it on Amazon


Reader Question: Sending Wine to a Friend in Massachusetts

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Update: Massachusetts opened up for direct shipment of wine from out of state wineries in 2015. More here...

I received an email this past week that's very similar to one I receive about once a month so I thought it would be useful to share my reply with others. Here's the question:

I have friends in Massachusetts I'd like to thank by sending a couple bottles of wine. What is the shipping situation in Massachusetts? My quick web search tells me that different states have different delivery or shipping regulations.

Massachusetts is indeed a tough state to ship wine to. One of the worst in fact. The American Wine Consumer Coalition recently rated the "friendliness" of wine shipping laws in each state and Massachusetts, along with 11 other states, received an "F". Full report here.

That said it absolutely is possible to get wine shipped to Massachuetts - you just have to buy from a licensed Massaschusetts retailer or winery.

This makes shopping for wine a bit of a tricky endeavor compared to most things you buy on the Internet because the product you want and the state you're shipping to play into which retailer you buy from.

That being the case we just have to figure out which Massachusetts retailer has the wine we're looking for.

The biggest online wine retailer is, and fortunately they are able to ship to Massachusetts. People are sometimes puzzled why can ship to Massachusetts but other retailers can't. can ship to Massachusetts because they've gone through the effort of obtaining a Massachusetts retailer license and all the wine they sell in Massachusetts is purchased from Massachusetts wholesalers.

So if you like buying from a prominent large retailer and want to get your gifting done, they're the first option to consider. Their prices are a tad high I'd say, and their shipping costs, especially for the first bottle, do seem high. But shipping does have its costs.

If you want to send a specific bottle of wine to a specific state (Massachusetts or otherwise) is the way to go. Wine Searcher is known for its ability to find the best publicly listed price for a given wine, but my favorite part of its search engine is that you can filter on just the retailers within a certain state -or- retailers that ship to that state.'s ability to find specific bottles available
to ship to each state is its killer feature
Wine Searcher doesn't sell wine - they just guide you to retailer websites where you then complete the transaction. Sometimes you'll find phantom availability (that is to say, the retailer doesn't actually have the wine that's listed on Wine Searcher). But for the most part it does work well and is the best way I've found to track down specific bottles of wine that can ship to a certain state.

If you'd like to drop me an email at to ask my opinion of a given retailer I'd be happy to offer my input.

And I'd love it if you subscribed to The Wellesley Wine Press for future updates.



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