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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Fly on the Wall

Somm Wine, Somm Movie
By Don Merlot
[WritersClearinghouse News Service] Posted 30 August 2014
New Orleans
As soon as I heard that the documentary movie called Somm was released I wanted to see it. I looked for a cinema house that would carry this and found none in my area. At the time, as now, there were so many events going on my splendid life and thoughts, it just slipped away. The magic of the digital world came to me with Netflix and I searched for that movie, and found it and saw it. 
 
After I saw it I read the reviews of the cognoscenti, I came to the conclusion that the movie they saw was not the same movie I saw. The question remained, however, does it have something to teach and can it advance one’s knowledge and appreciation for wine?
 
That mentor I had who directed my first steps into the world of the global stage said that as you muddle through everyday life, try and learn something new every day. He also offered the unique thought (because he was a New Yorker at heart), never eat at the same restaurant twice. If you liked it the first time, you will be disappointed the second time. There is no second time for a restaurant that did not pass the test the first time, because it should have been right the first time. He recommended that wines should be treated the very same way. There are so many good wines and types that one should find as many of the wines he or she like to drink and stay away from the ones that their taste does  not please them: red  rosé white, tannin, dry, sweet, fruity, so on. Back when I first started, the French were known for saying that wine is like women: there are some women (or bottles) that are more beautiful than others. But that was then. Now is now, 50 years later. 
 

But watching Somm made me realize that today’s world of wine is different from 50 years ago. The words are the same but there is an expansion on the role of wine to over 50 percent of the USA society. Somm is a French word meaning 'sommelier' and the role played by this wine savant who recognizes the role of the keeper of the wine of chez vous or chez moi. The duty of this person is to select the wine for the repast. The Wine Culture of the past belonged to an aristocratic society, the Christian church and belonged to haute cuisine restaurants: the top 10 percent of society that entertained and evolved from hard liquor and beer to focus on serving wine with a meal. For me the 60s and 70s encountered  a social expansion throughout its ranks and it jumped from the top ten to the top 50 percent of society partaking in the haut culture of food and wine.

So Somm is a movie about the role of the sommelier in the 21st Century as seen through the eyes of apprentices wanting to be credited with the title Master Sommelier. I learned a lot from Somm that is direct learning or inferred learning. I had to watch it more than once and actually have seen it three times and will watch it again when I have friends over who have not seen it, but are students of wine. This documentary captures the life of the wannabe and what it takes to become a Master Sommelier. The movie said that only 170 individuals have qualified for the program that has been active since the late 60s. It is something you cannot purchase but have to earn. On the film the apprentices who were on live at the filming were aware that they had to take the course until they passed. The test is given once a year and in the months before the test is given a group of wannabees create a study group and take turns digesting and learning the wine culture.

 It is movie with protagonists only – no antagonists. It is about someone who is willing to commit to learning everything there is on wine – vitas vinifera, which is the classification of the types of varietals that will produce wine and know everything about wine producing areas and pass a test, as well as take a blind sampling test to identify the varietal grape, identify the region where it is cultivated and identify the wine vineyard. There is a judge sitting across from the candidate.

 The heart of the course is here, because this is mandatory to attain the Master Sommelier title. The candidates have one goal in mind, and if they pass everything but the blind tasting they have to come back the following year to pass the blind tasting to qualify.
 
The movie characters are young and committed and for each is a career. I empathized with one and was happy for others. Failure to qualify is tragic, but not final, as the mentors are there to encourage the ones who are just a few steps away.
 
The Sommelier has to find the drive within to make wine a life career and professional goal.
 
As I saw the movie, I understood my weaknesses in the wine culture that I have known all to these years that my senses are not up to what these candidates have developed. I struggle with two identifiers, and yet these young candidates can pick out on all wines more than five characteristics. I recognize I will never try to be a sommelier: mais j’aime le vin.
 
So I compared what I learned as to what the movie taught me? Wine can be understood if one applies their senses correctly. So before I saw the show twice, I reviewed my notes on evaluating wines to see what I have been doing this time and learn how the candidates learned. How does one identify a wine?
 
My Wine Spectator courses taught me to See, Sniff, Sip, and Summarize. And when I started out in the late sixties and early seventies I bought a book and wrote about the wines I drank and saved the labels.
 
The eyes are key to building one’s mind to life cycle of the wine: mature, clarity = light to dark white wine goes from light yellow clear to gold colors; will age in a bottle and whites can become amber and reds will go from garnet to tawny and after being bottled, as time structures the rich red wines that have a lot of Tannin.  (See)
 
 The Nose: To detect the right fragrance. The most complex wines when opened and are exposed to oxygen need to transform into the nose the aroma of a fine aged wine, and live up to what other tasters found. (Sniff)
 
The taste: The impact in the mouth is immediate and one has to learn to hold it and move it all around the mouth, every part of the mouth. (Sip)
 
What I know and have not changed is that when having a wine tasting you has to have make notes of the wines that are sampled. The reason is that if you spend a lot on a wine, it is worth the added effort to have each guest write down an impression. If guest do not like to document, then make a good house wine available.
 
The last step and Last “S” is summarize but before one does a decision to spit or swallow the wine. Spit because if you taste many wines you cannot swallow because you will become intoxicated. One has to document the finish of the wine, the quality of the wine, one’s preference for the wine (did you like it or not), and is worth what you paid for it and lastly what is ones impression of the wine. To me the primary reason for the summarization is to decide if you like that wine, and why did you like it. Will you buy it or order it again? (Summarize)
 
This part of the senses helps in identifying the wine and comparing that to what one sees; on the film, it is clear that it has taken a lot of tasting for each candidate to develop a technique. It is a discipline. There are many books on wine and there are many pundits who understand the wine cycle, but to me it comes down to what pleases your palate and what food and wine match together.

To me, the heart of learning the wine process is experimenting. Start at home and then progress with friends who also want to learn. I know I had a chance to do this. Find a book on wine tasting that gives you the basics to add what I discussed about Somm.
 
Know that if you chose to have a tasting of four wines and they are all White you go with the Lightest one first. Now day’s big super markets and or wine stores have wines broken down by country and wines. Riesling will be dry to sweet depending on the harvest and how long they are left on the vine. Chardonnay is more color and will have a body. In between these popular wines you job is to see which ones you prefer. For a tasting you can have French baguette bread, chunks of cheese, if a green apple is available having a slice of that helps distinguish the flavors. Red goes from garnet to dark heavy red color. The amount of tannin in the grape will decide the wine body. Lighter tannin wines like Pinot Noir are lighter than let’s say the Cabernet Sauvignon. Let’s say that the four wines you choose are a Riesling, California Chardonnay, and for reds A California Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon also from California. As host have each person go over the tasting notes they made –- See, Sniff Sip Summarize -– four points that the taster should make a comment.
 
A tasting with a meal is also very good,  because I have found that people who do not find a wine in the previous paragraph, when it came to tasting it with food will change their mind about a wine.
 
If you have a chance see Somm and if one is a serious wine consumer, develop a sheet, Break it down by Sight (See) see the color, (Sniff) the aroma and perfume and detect the fruit, The (Sip) is the important because most will taste what they sniff – nose and tongue. After swallowing is there an aftertaste? Are you positive or negative about the wine? (Summarize)
 
In all these forty-six years that I spent in my career I was self educated and ran into many people who gave me books or wines that allowed me the comprehension of wine. I tell people who call me an expert, and I say no. I just have a good memory and keep notes and was lucky to cover the world as a global marketing and sales executive and had a chance to taste wine of each country I visited. And I am an amateur. I know what I like and I can teach friends to find out what wines they like and why.
 
Don Merlot a/k/a Ron Alonzo is a Chevalier of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin ; A Professional de la Table of the Chaine des Rôtisseurs ; and a CFSP level I of the NAFEM (Certified Food Service Professional) Has completed courses & earned certificates  at the WINE SPECTATOR SCHOOL and received certificates in ABC OF WINE TASTING & UNDERTANDING PROFESSIONAL WINE – SALES AND SERVICE. 

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