Attaining the coveted title of Master Sommelier is no easy task. To be invited to sit for the exam, you must have already attained the certification of Advanced Sommelier, the third of four sommelier tiers, as established by the Court of Master Sommeliers. The Master Sommelier Exam consists of three parts: theory, service, and blind tasting. It is not necessary to pass all three at once (in fact,only 17 in its 40 year history have), but you have only three years in which to pass. All in all, the odds are against you: typically only 3-7% of all applicants pass in any given year.
The 2013 documentary, Somm, followed 4 candidates in their quest for the red Master Somm pin: Ian Cauble, Brian McClintic, DLynn Proctor and Dustin Wilson. It is a spirited view into the world of wine, and specifically blind tasting, as well as what it takes to fine-tune your nose and palate so accurately that you can determine the grape varietal, the country of origin, the vintage year, and possibly even the exact swath of land from which the grape was harvested. In other words, it makes us all feel pretty stupid for even thinking we have a modicum of taste or knowledge for wine.
I recently had the great pleasure of attending a blind tasting with Ian Cauble, who in 2014 became the 197th Master Sommelier (out of a current 215). He told us a little about himself, from his days at Sonoma State University, where he played college tennis and graduated with a Major in International Business with an emphasis in Wine Business (how come I didn’t know about these kinds of majors??). He spent time in Portugal working at the Royal Oporto, before coming back to the States and working as a sommelier in restaurants in San Francisco, Newport Beach, and Las Vegas. He quickly gained a stellar reputation, and in 2011 won Top Young Sommelier of the World by the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest gastronomic society based in Paris.
The day he passed the Master Somm Exam, he took a job with Krug Champagne as the US Brand Ambassador. However, after 6 months, he found that it was a rough lifestyle and his health could not withstand it. It was at this point that he decided to become an entrepreneur. He and a friend from SSU, Brandon Carneiro, started Somm Select, a wine website that takes the guess work out of finding good wines at reasonable prices. Somm Select emails a daily wine recommendation that is available to purchase through the website. Ian’s write-ups on the wine are interesting enough to justify subscribing to the emails. Plus shipping is free. And just in time to stock up for the holidays!
Speaking of Somm, the sequel, Somm 2: Into the Bottle will be out in theaters soon. It tells the history of the grape and of the key people in the industry. Somm 2 premieres in Napa on November 11 on opening night of the Napa Valley Film Festival. In the meantime, I am going to take Ian’s suggestion and hold some blind tastings at home. He feels that you can absolutely build skill, palate and nose with time, like 10,000 hours. Hmmm…I must be getting darn close.
Photo of Ian Cauble taken by Grace Tuton. The other photo and video I found online.