The movie begins in The San Francisco Bay Area briefly touching on the history of wine and the existence of the prestigious Master Sommelier exam. The film’s main characters, Ian Cauble, Dustin Wilson, DLynn Proctor, and Brian McClintic are introduced along with their various family members, wives, and girlfriends who all vouch for just how invested they really are in preparing for their Master Sommelier diploma. Every one of them has a different motive for wanting to pass, whether it is for their wife’s sake, an obsession with the idea of passing, or simply wanting to be seen as the most dapper guy in a restaurant. The main characters repeatedly assert that they have to know everything about wine, while the film jumps back and forth between wine makers in the United States, Italy, France, and Germany to illustrate that knowing everything about wine is virtually impossible.
SOMM begins a countdown leading to the exam at the end of the film. With just three weeks left until the three-part exam (theory, service, and taste), the audience begins to see the lifestyle this exam forces on its subjects. Common study techniques include tracing Internet maps for color-coding wine regions, making an absurd amount of flashcards, even Skyping with each other at 2:30AM for mock quizzes. They also begin practice tasting exams with current Master Sommeliers.
With 10 days left, tensions are high and everyone is on edge as each tries to cram the extensive history, geography, and culture of wine into their brain before exam day that takes place in Dallas, Texas. The candidates’ emotions are mixed with hope and fear as their mentors give them one last impossibly hard round of situational testing in service and tasting, including an exercise in just how fast one can get a bottle of wine cold. During a practice tasting with a Master Sommelier, Ian Cauble becomes convinced that someone has switched his wines. Brian speculates on the worst-case scenario of Him and Dustin passing, leaving their friend Ian behind. He hopes Ian passes for his sanity.
When everyone finally arrives in Dallas for the test, Dustin Wilson decides to room with another candidate named Sabato Sagaria, leaving Brian McClintic to room with Ian. Ian Cauble comes prepared with a suitcase full of 16 pounds of wine for review. They all spend 6-10 hour days tasting, studying flashcards, and speculating on each other’s sanity. Ian Cauble stays up the entire night studying flash cards as his stress level builds. At the end of the movie Brian and Dustin end up passing and are welcomed into the organization, leaving DLynn and Ian on the outside and realizing Brian’s worst-case scenario.
In a coda to the film, one year later Ian reattempts the exam and becomes the 197th Master Sommelier, but DLynn is still busy working on his craft.