Learning About Santa Barbara Wines

Santa Barbara’s Best in Class

Two sommeliers, one of them a star of the new documentary Somm, teach the basics of Santa Barbara’s wine by focusing on three components: grape variety, alcohol level and age.

In this Article

Lesson 1: Grape Variety
Lesson 2: Alcohol
Lesson 3: Age

The Master Sommelier test is like the bar exam for wine experts—if the bar involved eating the paper your test was printed on and pinpointing exactly where and when the trees were grown that were pulped to create the pages. As I learned from watching the new documentary Somm, the test is amusingly hard (unless you’re taking it, and then it’s just hard hard). Less than 200 people in the world have passed the test to earn the Master Sommelier distinction, and of the 32 people who attempt it in the movie, only six succeed. One of the aspiring somms is Brian McClintic. Recently I traveled to Santa Barbara, California, to meet him and fellow sommelier Eric Railsback. I sought their help.
Like many people who enjoy wine, I thought I knew a bit about it; I can amble my way through a list. Then I watched McClintic prepare for the big test, using something sommeliers call the “tasting grid” to masterfully assess wine after wine: sugar, acid, tannin, density, alcohol, body, fruit, wood, earth, complexity, balance, finish. I felt like an amateur blackjack player watching a professional card counter. I wanted to learn to comprehend wine with the same amount of skill…

By David Katz