Review | Unlikely sommeliers taste glory in ‘Blind Ambition’

Blind Ambition | Dir: Warwick Ross | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

It is a successful formula for documentary makers to follow a group of competitors who are destined for success, often against the odds, in their chosen field, whether it is spelling, singing, swimming, sprinting, skateboarding or tobogganing.

This time the competition is the annual World Blind Wine Tasting, held in Burgundy in France. The competitors are four refugees who have escaped Zimbabwe’s tyranny to live in South Africa. Joseph, Tinashe, Marvin and Pardon needed to work to send money back to their families in Zimbabwe and, despite never having never drunk wine before coming to South Africa, each worked their way up to become sommeliers.

Each one tells their story of surviving adversaries greater than most people can imagine. This is inspiring enough, but when they get together to train to compete in a world-wide competition to become the best wine tasters, the support they garder is overwhelming and we follow their journey with unbelievable anticipation.

Of course it is terribly optimistic that a group of people from desperately poor circumstances in a non wine producing country will trounce the rest of the world, but you just have to cheer them on. Despite the sacrifices they have made and even the near-death experiences, the four men confront life with positivity and humour.

They certainly make a splash when they arrive in the middle of the privileged world of wine tasting … in France no less. Having to identify the country, region, vintage and grape variety in blind tastings in a strict time limit, the documentary describes them as “if Egypt put together a team of skiers to compete in the Winter Olympics”.

How do you identify blueberry, strawberry and peach overtones in the wine if you’ve never tasted these fruits? It is a big leap just to be standing next to the best wine tasters in the world, and when their chance to prove themselves in almost derailed by an eccentric wine expert they take on as a coach, it looks as if their dreams will have to be put on hold.

Lezly Herbert

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