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The ‘Somm’ Franchise Gets Better With Age

Three streaming recommendations for the weekend plus a roundup of the week’s food entertainment news

Somm 3/Amazon Video

This post originally appeared on December 14, 2018, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

Welcome back to Friday afternoon, a time of (nearly) endless possibilities. This week, I’ve got recommendations for a new documentary, a star-studded cooking show, and a yuletide favorite from the vaults. Here are some ideas for what to watch this weekend:

A trip back to the cellar with ‘Somm 3’

Like the Fast and the Furious movies, Jason Wise’s Somm series gets shockingly better as the franchise evolves and more characters get thrown into the mix. The latest installment, a streaming-only feature called Somm 3, is an informative and good-natured tour of the wine world that seems built to appeal to both newbies and fans of the first two films.

The original Somm focused on a bro-tastic clique of young wine nerds studying for the Master Sommelier exam, a test that fewer than 200 people have ever passed over the course of its 40-plus-year history. Like many great documentaries, it’s a film about obsession: These guys studied day and night, running through flashcards with each other over Skype and holding group tastings in their cramped apartments whenever possible. They teased each other often, but it was clear that the three main dudes at the heart of the film — Ian Cauble, Dustin Wilson, and Brian McClintic — had formed a pseudo familial unit, where they were helping each other fulfill both personal dreams and a larger group goal.

For the sequel, Somm: Into the Bottle, Wise dropped the quest-themed narrative of the first film, instead adopting a more educational approach, with chapters like “The Vintage,” “The Point Scores,” and “The Barrels.” In this second film, the stars of the original doc appear once again along with a slew of fresh faces, including, mercifully, some of the world’s best female wine professionals. Although less compelling in terms of personal drama, Into the Bottle is stuffed with useful information for wine connoisseurs as well as a few outrageous anecdotes, like the one about how former CIA director and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta toasted the death of Osama bin Laden by cracking open a bottle of the ultimate trophy wine, 1870 Chateau Lafite.

Somm 3 merges the most successful elements of the first two films: It’s both a profile of three absolute legends (critic Jancis Robinson, sommelier Fred Dame, and merchant Steven Spurrier) and a deep dive into wine innovation, past and present, with commentary from a group of young firebrand sommeliers. I loved seeing the three elder oenophiles revisit the bottles that got them hooked on wine in the first place, because they’re all so good at describing the context behind their wine crushes. The scenes of the blind pinot noir tasting, organized by Wilson at his Verve wine shop in Manhattan, are also somehow livelier and more informative than similar sequences in the other two films. In a clever twist, these two narratives — the old guard revisiting their first faves, and the young brigade celebrating the diversity of modern pinot — merge in the last few minutes of the film.

With multiple feature-length documentaries exploring variations on the same theme, the format of this series is a bit of an anomaly in the food/beverage entertainment landscape. But I think the best way to look at Somm is as an ongoing project, kind of like the Up Series, as opposed to three distinct films. Within that framework, there’s also a lot of room for the franchise to grow: I’d personally love to see a future installment tackle either the rise of natural wine and/or this year’s Master Sommelier cheating debacle.

Somm 3 is now available on Amazon Video, YouTube, and Google Play, and the first two films are now streaming on Netflix.

Streaming recommendations du jour

Barefoot Contessa/Amazon Video

Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro, “Mary Poppins Show”

Watch it on: Amazon Video and iTunes,

The gist: Mega-charming movie stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda take separate Black Escaldes to the Hamptons for an afternoon of cooking and cocktails at Ina’s house. Blunt shows the Barefoot Contessa how to make her family’s recipe for perfect roasted potatoes, while Miranda gets a lesson in haricots verts from Garten. As the Mary Poppins Returns stars are cooking, the film’s director Rob Marshall and his producing partner John DeLuca visit Michael the Florist in Bridgehampton. The food looks great and the vibe is very fun throughout, and you also get the sense that if this whole movie thing doesn’t work out, Blunt could perhaps get her own show on the Food Network.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, “Holiday Special 2011”

Watch it on: Amazon Video, iTunes, Google Play

The gist: Near the end of his Travel Channel tenure, Anthony Bourdain was itching to take No Reservations into stranger, weirder places. This holiday episode, featuring a faux-plot about Bourdain getting booted from his apartment on Christmas Eve, is one of the most sublimely odd installments of his TV career. Our hero cooks octopus with Lidia Bastianich and her childhood friend Christopher Walken. He learns the terrifying tale of the Krampus from Austrian chef Kurt Gutenbrunner. And Bourdain is treated to a song about Tió de Nadal — aka the “Catalan pooping log” — from Norah Jones. This episode is a great reminder of how Bourdain had a wicked sense of humor and a restless desire to play around with the culinary travel TV genre.

In other entertainment news...

Have a great weekend, and if you’re looking for a brunch dish to make, consider taking a peek at Ruth Reichl’s recipes for shirred eggs with potato puree.