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SOMM, not my Preference for Learning



I recently watched the documentary SOMM by Jason Wise. The film looks at candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers and what they have to go through to pass the three-day exam.Within ten minutes, you get the idea, memorization. Granted there is a lot of wine knowledge that the candidates have to memorize via thousands of index cards scattered around their homes. They also have to taste wines and critique, often in a study group. This tasting critique can last for hours a day and consume many days. SOMM quickly rose to my list of least like wine movies.

One could argue that I did not enjoy the movie because it was a documentary. However, the previous wine documentary I viewed was A Year in Champagne and it was great. The negative on the movie SOMM, for me, was the emphasis on rote memorization. Memorization is only one road to wine knowledge and a road that should only be traveled by a few. Other avenues to wine knowledge are much more entertaining than memorizing thousands of informational bits. Wine travel is a wonderful way to learn about wine and experience the interdisciplinary aspect of wine. If one really wants to know about wine, start making it. Take your winemaking experience to new levels by making wine at different wineries. You can also take formal winemaking classes through community colleges and universities.

Many scenes in SOMM showed a study group of candidates tasting wine. They tasted and had about three minutes to utter adjectives that the wine reminded them of in terms of appearance, aroma, taste, structure and where in the world the wine was from. It appeared as though they could recite 50 adjectives in three minutes. For the majority of wine enthusiasts, the only phrase they need after sampling a wine is “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.” Wine does not have to be complicated nor explained with a plethora of multi-syllabic words. Attendees at a wine bloggers conference, years ago, were challenged to creatively describe wines. I took this challenge and began writing haikus describing a wine. A haiku limits you to 17 syllables, and that amounts to very few words.

I did admire the amount of learning that the candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers have to acquire. However this way of learning is not for me. I have disliked rote memorization since elementary school social studies classes where it was used extensively. Another observation from the film, that bothered me, was that the candidates seemed to put their spouses or friends on hold for a year of intensive study. Wine is a journey, and journeys are more fun when you can take it hand-in-hand with a beloved. If you are interested in learning more about wine, start by making a weekend date and visit some wineries. There are so many wineries in the world that do a great job with wine tourism, that most couples could spend the rest of their lives discovering the world.


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