Thursday, November 28, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - 2010 Frank Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

We bought this wine at a recent, and very underwhelming visit to the tasting room at Frank Family.  I had tried their wines previously, so knew they made some good stuff - otherwise I never would have purchased anything based on our experience with their "Reserve" tasting.  Forgetting about that experience, and looking forward to a nice steak for dinner, let's taste this wine with an open mind!

Wine: 2010 Frank Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: Napa Valley, California
Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon
Obtained from: Purchased at Frank Family Winery
Price: $85.00
Wino4Life Category: Splurge Wine
Aeration before tasting: Poured through a Vinturi for aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is dark purple with a water white rim.
Aroma: Red fruit like cherries, something herbal, and a bit of baking spices.
Taste: Nice level of fairly soft tannins, flavorful but not too "big", with a very nice finish.

The Grade: I give this one an A.  Many of the 2010 Napa Cabs will not be best to drink for probably a couple of years, but this one is very drinkable now and very tasty!  A big expensive, but if you are looking for something you can drink now - I recommend this one.  I like Frank Family wines for ordering at a restaurant, as I know they will be ready to drink and will be a good wine - important when you are paying that restaurant markup price!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Too Hot, Too Cold?... Let's Give It a Try! White Wine Edition

In last week’s post, I introduced the topic of how crucial serving temperature is for your white wine (important for ALL wines, but for my post I was focusing on white wine).  This week, I am putting my sage advice to the test and will be sniffin’ and tastin’ some white wine at various temperatures to see first-hand the impact of too cold, too hot, and juuuuust right.  When it comes to wine, I’m definitely da baby bear and want it juuuuuust right – and want you to have it that way too!
For those of you who missed last week’s post, here is the list of wine serving temperatures I used:

  • Sparkling and Dessert Wine: 40 degrees F
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio: 45-48 degrees F
  • Chardonnay, Chablis: 48-52 degrees F
  • Pinot Noir: 60-64 degrees F
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah: 64-66 degrees F
Here is what I will be using in our little wine temperature experiment: 
Wine.  For this endeavor I decided to go big and use a 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay from VGS Chateau Potelle. The VGS Chardonnay is typically big and fruity and oak aged, so should be served at a higher temperature than other, lighter bodied white wines. For another post in the future, I will try this same experiment with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Washington State Riesling or some other light bodied but aromatic white.

Wine (Super-) Cooling Device a.k.a. Da Fridge.   I will be cooling the wine down in our regular food refrigerator. 
It has a nifty compartment in the door that takes in air from the freezer to get and keep stuff extra cold.

White Wine Glasses.  Smaller and narrower than red wine glasses, I’ll use a few so I can have a side by side compare wines of different temperatures.

Instant Read Thermometer. To quickly get a reading on the temperature of the wine I am sampling, I’ll use my very excellent instant read thermometer.  It should give an accurate readout within a few seconds. 

So I put the VGS Chardonnay in the fridge overnight, so it should be plenty cold. Let’s start off with tasting the very cold, and we’ll compare at various stages as the wine comes up to the proper serving temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Corkscrew.  I don’t have a saber handy and this is not a screw top, so this will come in handy.

Spit Bucket. To keep my mind and sense sharp for the various stages of tasting for today’s experiment, I need to employ a taste and spit technique. I know… what a shame right!!!

OK, let’s get this (fun yet highly educational) party started! Once I opened the wine, the bottom of the cork had some crystals on it? Ice? Nope - just harmless tartrate crystals that sometime form in a wine, and may attach to a cork - similar stuff to cream of tarter used in baking. Storing at very cold temperatures sometimes causes more tartrate crystals than storing at higher temperatures.

The First Taste
Wine Temperature: 39.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature many food refrigerators would  give to your wine.
Aromas: Basically no aromas at all.  There was a super faint odor of apples, like smelling a glass that used to have good natural apple juice in it.
Taste: A medium amount of acidity, with basically nothing else.  A muted taste of apples, but so faint it was barely detectable, like a watered down apple juice.
Conclusion: The cold has basically removed all aromas and tastes, and left only a hint of acidity and a faint shadow of apple.  Except for the dark color of the wine, there is little that would tell you this was a Napa Chardonnay.

The Second Taste
Wine Temperature: 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a good serving temperature for most white wines, still too cold for a full bodied white like our Napa Valley Chardonnay.
Aromas: Just five degree warmer, and the aromas have started to show. More apple, and a hint of a bread/yeasty aroma you would expect from a Napa Chardonnay.
Taste:  The acidity has reduced, and now the wine shows a much more balanced mouthfeel, with nice taste of apple. 
Conclusion: Not a very long finish, but an amazing difference between this and the 40 degree wine.  Overall very pleasant, starting to taste like a good wine!
The Third Taste
Wine Temperature: 49.9 degrees Fahrenheit.  Finally!  The wine is now at the recommended serving temperature for fuller bodied white wines.

Aromas: The apple and bread aromas have strengthened a bit, and now a bit of a toast/smoke aroma is showing.
Taste: Wow!  The prior taste was pleasant with a nice balance. This taste... hello Napa Chardonnay. The buttery mouthfeel you would expect suddenly appeared. I didn't get a noticeable level of that on the 45 degree taste.
Conclusion:  As advertised, this temperature allows the wine to show all the elements you would expect from a Napa Chardonnay.  The finish is noticeably longer, with a wonderful lingering taste of fresh apple and a nice buttery mouthfeel.

The Fourth Taste
Wine Temperature: 60.2 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a bit too warm for whites, getting into the territory for serving lighter, fruity reds such as some Pinot Noir.  But maybe warmer is always better???

Aromas: No noticeable difference from the 50 degree tasting. Still apples, yeast, and toast.
Taste: This is the first taste where a bit of toasted oak came through on the finish. 

Conclusion: The finish here is a tad bit bitter. The small amount of tannins that a wood aged white wine may have may be peaking through, but not in a good way.
Final Conclusion
Well….It is clear from this little drinking exercise that serving temperature has a huge impact on this Napa Chardonnay. Too cold - really...really not good. Too warm - certainly not as negative an impact on the wine as serving it too cold, but the extra bitterness coming through on the finish when the wine got up to about 60 degrees was definitely not a plus for the wine.

The moral of our story as expected, please make sure and take the same care with serving your wine as you do with selecting it and with pairing some awesome food with it.  In future posts I’ll dive in to see how temperature impacts other whites, reds, and maybe even a dessert wine or two.  Fun and educational - what could be better?!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - French Red Burgundy - 2007 Gérard Seguin Gevrey-Chambertin Signature du Domaine

Red Burgundies are one of the more intriguing French wine to me.  Pinot Noir presented in such a different style than those made in Oregon or California - such an interesting array of aromas that tend to include earthiness and even something straight from the barnyard (and I don't mean the farmer!).  My only issue is they tend to be sooooo expensive!  Laws dating back to Napoleon require land in Burgundy to be split equally among all children, so you end up with many different people owning very small parts of vineyards, which drives up costs, and makes finding consistently good wine a challenge.  A Total Wine & More coupon is a good time to give a new Burgundy a try - so let's see what we have!

Wine: 2007 Gérard Seguin Gevrey-Chambertin Signature du Domaine
Region: Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, France
Grape Varieties: Pinot Noir
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $40.00
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, light red with a pinkish rim, fairly translucent. 
Aroma: A nice earthiness, perhaps a bit of mushrooms, backed by sour cherries.  Very pleasant aromas.
Taste: Overall nicely balanced, very French in style. A good amount of tannins but fairly soft ones, and a nice amount of acidity. A good wine for food, or just for sipping. 

The Grade: I give this one an B.  A bit expensive, but if you want to drink Burgundy you are going to need to shell out some coin, and this wine is not expensive compared to others from Gevrey-Chambertin.  Overall a very good  wine from an excellent Burgundy region.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Too Hot? Too Cold? Just Right? Temperature Does Matter! White Wine Edition

Imagine going on a well deserved vacation to a beautiful beach side resort. You grab sunscreen, a towel, your favorite swimwear, sunglasses, a cooler of refreshing beverages and head out the door to enjoy some fun and sun... just to feel the crunch of fallen snow under your feet.  What about another, just as well deserved, vacation at a beautiful ski resort. You gear up with some high tech weather-wear, some bitchin' skis, boots, goggles - but as you head out the door,  you feel the heat of the summer sun on your face, and see no trace of snow.

You can plan the perfect vacation, but if the temperature isn't right - it will be a huge disappointment. The same goes for serving your white wine. Imagine spending your valuable time picking out a great white wine to serve at your party, or selecting a white wine to pair perfectly with your expertly prepared dinner. If the wine you serve is not a the proper temperature - the results could also be a huge disappointment. 

Until I started studying wine, I committed the common mistake of serving white wines waaaay too cold. I would buy the white wine, stick it in my regular old food refrigerator, and pop the cork just before serving.  Plus, many of the restaurants where I would see a bottle of white wine served, it would come out of a wine refrigerator of some sort, and immediately get plunged in a bucket of ice and water to chill it even further.

Now after hitting the wine books for a while, I know that major elements of a wine are significantly impacted by the serving temperature, and can throw a beautifully balanced wine completely out of whack.  Served too cold, a wine's aromas will be muted, and the wine will seem more acidic.  Remember that the mouth only detects five "tastes" (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami/savory)  but the real beauty of wine comes from the intricate "flavors" that come from the combination of taste with the aromas of a wine.  Those muted aromas meal muted flavors - something we definitely don't want!
The myth of the ice cold white wine likely stems out of necessity when trying to ingest some cheap (not value priced - we're talking "bad" cheap) bulk white wine from a five gallon plastic jug - where muting the aromas and accenting the acidic/refreshing character is probably a good thing. 

Opinions vary by a degree or two - but here some guidelines to follow for the serving temperatures of both red and white wines.  You'll notice that the serving temps for light and fruity reds and full bodied whites start to get fairly close to each other.  


Most food refrigerators will chill your wine down close to 35 degrees fahrenheit, so while not too far off for serving sparkling wine, it is far from a good serving temperature for a fully bodied Chardonnay.  I am not saying that a regular refrigerator, or even freezer cannot be useful to temporarily store wine or to help cool down a wine to a good serving temperature.  Regular refrigerators are not good for long time wine storage because of the vibration of the motor which can damage a wine and the relatively low humidity levels, which is not good for wine corks.  However, if you put a wine in the fridge for a day or two you will be OK, just factor in time to have the wine come up to a good serving temperature.  Also, have a white wine that is at room temperature and needs to cool quickly - 30 - 40 minutes or so in the freezer is a great shortcut if you don't have an ice bucket handy. 

Here is a graph (really - graphs, what am I doing!!!) I found in this article that shows how much time it takes to cool down a wine from room temperature.  So if you needed to chill a Sauvignon Blanc down to a serving temperature of about 45 degrees, it would need about 20 minutes in an ice water bath, 40 minutes in the freezer, and probably an hour and a half or a bit more in the fridge.  

For a super fast chill - you can add some salt to the ice water bath - which should shave off at least a few minutes. To preserve the the look of your bottle and label - you may not want to pour from a wet, salt encrusted bottle - you can put the bottle in a gallon size zip lock bag.  I do this when we are traveling, and will be going BYOB to a restaurant, I bring some zip lock bags, and throw the bottle in the ice bucket to bring the temperature down a bit lower than serving temperature, depending on how long it will take us to get to the restaurant.  A true wine geek, I often forget my belt and socks, but always have zip locks, a good corkscrew, and maybe even a couple bottles of wine from home!

I typically end up chilling down a white wine that is at room temperature, so am not as familiar with how long it takes a too cold wine to warm up.  Sounds like a great learning opportunity! So....stay tuned next week - where I put this advice to the test, and sample the same white wine at various temperatures to see what the impact of too cold, too hot, and just right is on the aromas and flavors.  Plus we'll try and figure out how long it takes wine to warm up once it come out of the fridge.
Also, in a future post we will tackle serving temperature for red wine in more depth - along with the myth... or misconception... of serving red wine at "room temperature."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - Just Opening a Bottle is not Enough to Aerate

Most wines will benefit from aeration - such as pouring into a decanter, using an aeration tool...whatever you choose.  But remember, just opening up a bottle is not enough. The small amount of wine in the neck of the bottle that gets exposed to oxygen will not have a noticeable impact on the wine.

If nothing else, go ahead and pour the wine into glasses, and give an occasional swirl to let your wine out to breath a bit before enjoying.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Australian Shiraz - 2005 R Wines Shiraz Barossa Valley Southern Belle

This wine is one that I've had in the wine fridge for a while - probably 3 or so years.  I first tried this wine at one of our favorite Scottsdale restaurants - Cowboy Ciao.  Once a month or so they hold a "Sommelier Showdown" where the owner go up against a challenger (sometimes two challengers) to pair wines with a multi-course meal.  The diners are asked to guess what type of wine was selected before the wines are revealed.  This wine had one of the most unique flavor profiles and aromas of just about anything I've tried.  The reason... some of the wine is aged in bourbon barrels!  How cool is that?  The impact is noticeable but not overwhelming.  Let's see what a little age did to this Southern Belle!

Wine: 2005 R Wines Shiraz Barossa Valley Southern Belle
Region: Barossa Valley, Australia
Grape Varieties: Shiraz (Syrah)
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $34.00
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Screw Top - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Dark purple at the core with a pink rim.
Aroma: Dark fruit, almost cooked or jammy (in a good way), and baking spices. Then there is something in the aroma that could be from the bourbon, perhaps a bit like molasses??  It is hard to figure out, which is one of the reasons I dig this wine!
Taste: Big fruity, full bodied. The bourbon aging adds a bit of pleasant complexity to the flavor.  

The Grade: I give this one an A-.  If not for the unique bourbon barrel aging, I would have likely given this wine a B- because of the cost.  The bourbon aging adds a element of complexity to the aromas and flavors that I find very intriguing. I know I will buy more of this - and if you want to try something a bit different for a few dollars more (and can find some) I suggest you give it a try!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Matching Food to a Wine

Just like a restaurant Sommelier, the home cook/chef often looks to find a wine to match the food that will be served.  Red vs. white, full bodied vs. light bodied, acid level, tannin level, sweetness, and flavor profile of a wine are selected to match the qualities of the food.   Sometimes the pairing is one of harmony - as in an acidic white wine to accompany a salad with an acidic dressing.   Sometimes the pairing is one of contrast - as in an acidic wine to cut through the fattiness of a deep fried dish (Mmmmm...).

Sometimes though, the wine needs to be the star of the show, and the goal is instead to find the right food to highlight the characteristics of the wine.  In fact when looking for new restaurants to try, I am most intrigued by chefs who are more wine centric in preparing their tasting menus.

My most recent experience when I needed to find food to match a “star of the show” wine, was when I recently had the honor of enjoying a 2005 Penfolds Grange (see my blog post).  I wanted to make sure that I had the right food that would pair well with the wine, but also…hopefully… have that type of food and wine pairing where the match actually elevates both the wine and the food.  In my earlier blog post about the Grange, I mentioned what I cooked to go along with it – but in this post I wanted to go into a bit more depth about why I chose the pairing I did.

First I looked at the typical aroma and flavor profile for Syrah/Shiraz. Even though I had never tried one before, I knew from reading about wine that it would be big and ripe and likely exhibit all the typical qualities, just in a very good way.

From my “Get to Know Your Grape” series, I identified the following typical aromas of Syrah/Shiraz:

  • Typical Aromas of Syrah.  Dark fruit like blackberries, licorice, tar, leather, black pepper, smoke, earth, and my personal favorite - smoked meats (including raw bacon).  
I wanted to keep the menu fairly simple – just a protein and a starch – but also something worthy of this monster wine.  A classic pairing with Syrah is lamb, but I really wanted to cook up a nice steak for the occasion. Steak on its own would likely get overpowered by the full flavor of the wine, so I needed to find a sauce that would kick it up a notch, while providing the right type of pairing with the wine. 

After quite a bit of searching I came across a recipe from the Kansas City Steak Company for a Blueberry Port Sauce.  The blueberries and the port wine hit the dark fruit aspect of syrah, while the bacon, besides just being good, matched up with the smoked meat aspect. Finally the tarragon provided the licorice/anise aspect.  My first round of making the sauce was a bit of a disaster. First, my local gourmet store gave me Blueberry Craisins when I asked for dried blueberries.  I thought that Craisins had branched out beyond Cranberries, because the package said in huge letters “BLUEBERRY.”  It was not until after I made the sauce I read closer, and in fine print it said …”Juice Infused”.   If that wasn’t enough to spoil the first batch, I also mis-read the balsamic vinegar and added 1.5 tablespoons instead of teaspoons…. Noooo!!!!  Wino4Life wife came to the rescue by hunting down real dried blueberries at Whole Foods, and luckily I had enough ingredients to make a second batch. The results of round two were excellent.  If I make it in the future I will likely cut down the Tarragon by up to ½, because it dominated the taste a bit too much (and I like licorice/anise flavor a lot!).

Recipe from Kansas City Steaks

Filet Mignon with Blueberry Port Sauce
2 slices Bacon
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup port
1/4 cup beef stock
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. minced tarragon, plus extra for garnish
4 (6 oz.) Filet Mignons
Directions: In a 10-inch skillet, cook Bacon over moderate heat until crisp (about 4 minutes) and transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off excess fat from skillet. Crumble bacon and reserve.

In same skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Cook shallots in butter stirring until softened. Add dried blueberries, port and beef stock. Simmer over medium-low heat until liquid is reduced by half (about 4 minutes). Stir in balsamic, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and 1 tablespoon of remaining butter. Transfer sauce to a small bowl and stir in reserved bacon and minced tarragon. Keep sauce warm.

Cook Filet Mignons to medium rare. Place each filet on a plate and spoon over the top. Garnish with tarragon. Serves 4.
Servings: 4
Source: KC Steak Company

So now I had a sauce that would hopefully provide the power for the beautiful ribeye steak I purchased at a local meat shop – The Bull Market to stand up to the great and powerful Grange. One flavor aspect I still wanted to incorporate was earthiness.  I had read about steaks coated in Porcini mushroom dust prior to searing, and thought this would give the hint of earthiness I wanted. So I found some dried Porcinis and ground them to a very fine dust in the food processor. 

Just prior to searing the steaks I dipped both sides in the powder and cooked as I normally do – a couple minutes sear on each side in a hot cast iron skillet, a few minutes rest, and into the oven to come up to temperature for medium rare.  I was a bit afraid that the powder may burn during the sear, but the steak turned out great. The flavor was not intense, but added just that earthy hint I wanted.

For the starch, Wino4Life wife once again came to the rescue while I was focusing on the protein, she whipped up a batch of Joël Robuchon potato puree. The recipe is about equal parts of potatoes and butter – delicious but very very….very rich.  For our Grange meal it provided a nice neutral starch to round out our menu.

Crowned as my new favorite wine of all time, the Grange was more delicious that I ever could have imagined. I was also very happy with the food pairing.  It is not easy to come up with the right combination for such an epic wine – if you don’t choose wisely there may never be a second chance (unlike my sauce!).  Sticking with the flavor profiles that the wine your are serving would typically have – in a nice balance, and serving dishes that are don’t have too much sweetness, acidity or bitterness and you could be on your way to an epic meal!  If you are serving  a more delicate wine, you will want to prepare food that is also more delicate in flavor so the food does not overpower the wine. That would be the exact opposite issue from what I faced pairing food with this wonderful Penfolds Grange, but potentially even a more difficult problem to solve. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - When You BYOB...Share!

In past tips, I have encouraged you to take your own wine to restaurants that allow it.  When you  bring in a wine the restaurant will charge a "corkage fee" to open and serve your wine, which can range from $5 to $50.  When you compare to the 100 - 300% markups you can pay for wine, corkage can be a bargain.

If you do bring a wine, find a good opportunity to offer sommelier or server a taste - it is a nice courtesy to extend for being allowed to BYOB.  Plus, sometimes the corkage fee will be left off your bill for extending that courtesy.  Depending on the restaurant, Sommelier, and/or server, you may still get charged corkage - so don't automatically expect the fee to be removed, but if the fee does get removed, please remember you server at tip time!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2005 Finca Sobreño Toro

I am a big fan of Spanish wines. Wine is such a part of Spain's everyday life that most wines from Spain are very food friendly. I tend to drink quite a bit of Rioja, made from the Tempranillo grape.  Toro is a region south and west from Rioja, closer to Portugal that also specializes in Tempranillo based wines, but there they call the grape Tinto de Toro.

 I first tried wines from the Toro a few years ago, made by Numanthia - and thought they were excellent, with great fruit aromas and flavors from the warmer region.

I am looking for other good wines from these region - so today we will try another from Finca Sobreño.

Wine: 2005 Finca Sobreño Toro
Region: South Australia
Grape Varieties: Tinto de Toro (Tempranillo)
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $20.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural cork - no defects or issues. (Other than a big chunk in my glass, oops!)
Appearance: Wine is clear, dark red to purple in color with a pink rim.
Aroma: Dark fruits like blackberries, vanilla, spices, with a bit of oak or cedar.
Taste: Very ripe fruit, nice level of acidity, a balanced  amount of tannins.  I can taste of bit of oak, but it is not overpowering.

The Grade: I give this one a B+.  I prefer the Numanthia Termes, but for $10 less a bottle this wine provides a very tasty alternative.  Stay tuned - I am still on the hunt for other great wines from Toro.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wino4life Movie Review: Somm

After last week's posting on how to make prison wine (what was I thinking???), I decided I needed to make up for it by picking a topic at the other end of the wine spectrum - the Master Sommelier.  Specifically, today's topic is my review of the movie Somm.

Somm is a documentary about four guys studying for the Master Sommelier exam given by the Court of Master Sommeliers.  This test has been given over the course of the last 40 years, and during that time less than 200 have been able to conquer the test to become a Master Sommelier.  The Pass rate for this test is about 8%, which means 92% of those who take it will fail it.

The Master Sommelier test consist of three parts: 

  • Theory.  Questions about literally any wine region in the world, and the format is oral, not written. Literally they will be grilled with questions by other Master Sommeliers.  All of the subjects of the move studied for 8 - 10 or more hours a day at times - with like a billion flashcards.  I am pretty good at taking written tests, but the extra stress of an oral examination is mind boggling to me.
  • Blind Tasting. The Master Somm candidates are given 6 wines to taste blind. So imagine walking into a room with 6 glasses of wine (3 whites and 3 reds), and by nothing more than the look, aromas, and flavors identifying 1) wine region, 2) grape or grapes, 3) vintage.  I don't think they had to nail all the wines exactly, but needed to be within a certain tolerance (e.g. misting the vintage by a year or two).
  • Service. In a real life scenario, the Master Somm candidates serve a table of Master Somms. 
The exam is given once per year, and if someone passes one part, then they have the next two years (two more tests) to pass the remaining parts, otherwise they have to retake all parts of the test.  While the movie focused mostly on the wine aspect of the test, in order to become a Master Sommelier there is also test material about beer, spirits, and cigars.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, which to me turned out to be less about wine, and more about the drive to obtain such a prestigious level in any endeavor.  In fact, I wish there was more about wine,  but I do understand that if they wine geeked it up too much - they may not attract any non-wine geek viewers.  You probably have to be at least a partial wine geek to really enjoy it - but for me and my experience in studying for and passing the International Sommelier Guild's Level II Sommelier exam,  it was especially fascinating to me.  The test I passed included a written test of multiple choice and essay questions, plus a blind tasting of four wines (two red and two white).  Passing the test means that I quality to take the Sommelier courses and test to become a Certified Sommlier (not Advanced or Master - just regular old Somm). I needed to do this because other than Godfather's Pizza when I was in college, I don't have any food and beverage industry experience.  The test I took is like comparing a 2nd grade spelling test to a final exam in Quantum Mechanics, but it gave me additional perspective as to how difficult the Master Somm test must be.  

For the blind tasting I did, I could count on that there would be one old world and one new world white, and ditto for the reds. The whites were likely to be Napa Chardonnay, White Burgundy, German Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or White Bordeaux. The reds were likely to be Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Oregon Pinot Noir, Rhone, or Australian Shiraz.  Compared to having to be able to recognize just about any wine in the world, and nail it down to the vintage.  

For me, I learned two main things from watching this movie - both of which were a surprise to me.

1.  Motivation. I cannot even estimate the number of hours of studying with the billions of flash cards, tasting wine in order to be able to identify wines in a blind tasting, plus learning about beers, spirits, and cigars.  The surprise to me was that none of the Master Somm candidates struck me as being incredibly passionate about wine.  Doesn't make sense does it?  At least three of the four guys in the movie seemed more motivated by the competitiveness and exclusivity rather than a pure love of the subject matter. One of the guys featured in the movie, Brian McClintic told FoodGPS in an interview "I have a natural competitive drive to do things that are fairly low percentage. I wanted to be a baseball player. I wanted to do the screenplay thing. I like a challenge. Not a lot of people can do this. That is appealing to me."  I guess if someone were to spend that many hours studying, sacrificing, and out and out suffering for one thing - like wine, they may end up losing the passion. I believe I probably would!

2. Blind Tasting.  Blind tasting was one of the toughest things for me to tackle for the wine exams I've taken.  Having to rely on your sense of smell and taste as the key tools for a test was and is difficult for me.  Your nose will get fatigued quickly, and your mind will play tricks on you. Do I really remember what a plum smells like, or roses vs violets, or grapefruit vs lemon peel? Reading about and hearing about anyone at the Master Sommelier level,  they have a reputation of being able to taste just about any wine and tell you all about it. I was glad to see that even at the Master Somm candidate level - the blind tasting is a huge challenge. Don't get me wrong, I realize they are a million times better than I could ever hope to be, but it inspires me to continue to work on that skill instead of blowing it off as an unobtainable goal.  Also, watching this movie I picked up some techniques for blind tasting that I can work on for my own benefit (I don't want to give away too much so you'll still want to see the movie!)

So, the bottom line is that if you are a bit of a wine geek and interested in the trials and tribulations of a becoming a certified Master Sommelier, you will like this movie. If you are hoping to learn much about wine you will be mostly disappointed.  You may however find the aspect of motivation as interesting as I did.  Overall - I recommend you give it a try. It is a documentary after all, so no car chases or explosions, but I enjoyed it and look forward to watching it again. It has definitely motivated me to get back to studying for my Certified Specialist of Wine, which I have been blowing off in favor of major home renovations (which are done now!).

If you do see this movie - let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.  Thanks!