My latest online obsession is a website called SommSelect.
Its concept is simple: a well-connected sommelier recommends one wine every day for your consideration. The parameters vary crazily – sometimes it’s a $10 steal, sometimes it’s an $80 Bordeaux that drinks like a prized grand cru priced at hundreds of dollars more.
The site is well organized and sharply written, with an air of cocksure authority. (Hey, it's a legitimate word, look it up.) That's not surprising, considering its author: Ian Cauble.
Does that name ring a bell? He was one of the four wine geeks in “Somm,” the 2012 movie about the trials and terrors of studying to pass the incredibly challenging Master Sommelier exam.
Cauble, who grew up in Huntington Beach, was the dude you loved to hate. Pushy, nervous, a fast talker, he stayed up all night poring over his flash cards and drove his fellow test-takers crazy with his anxiety. He failed (the success rate is around 5 percent) but retook the exam the following year and was triumphant, thank God. I would have worried about the boy’s sanity if he'd failed again.
Now 36, Cauble hasn’t stood still since becoming a big wheel in the somm world. He launched SommSelect in 2014 and it took off, expanding to several thousand clients and 10 employees.
The roots of SommSelect
I asked Cauble how he came up with the idea, since the last time I checked in on him he was the U.S. brand ambassador for Krug, the French champagne maker, and seemed headed for a more straightforward career.
“My friend Brandon Carneiro noticed these flash sites online that sell wine every day,” Cauble said. “It was often heavily discounted wine that was distressed inventory – a $90 Napa cab that was going for $19.99. Of course, when you taste them they taste like shit. Brandon said, ‘Let’s take your brand as a somm and just select some of the greatest wines of the world. They don’t all have to be expensive. But they have to taste good.’ So that’s how it started.”
Most of the wines Cauble selects for SommSelect are between $20 and $50 a bottle, and they’re usually European, reflecting his own taste for French and Italian wines. Cauble estimates only 10 to 20 percent of his choices are from California and Oregon. SommSelect includes the price of shipping on any order over $100, which means ordering two or three bottles usually puts you over the top.
Sample collection of SommSelect wines
Cauble’s site offers some benefits for members.
“We have a wine club called the Somm Six, which is six wines selected by me – three whites and three reds. That’s $199 per month. And then we have the Blind Six. It’s fun to get a glass of wine and guess where it’s from. It’s really a blind-tasting education kit. Most people who buy it are wine consumers who are curious. It’s $199 per month too. The bottles are usually about $32 to $35 retail.”
Stop. Ruining. Nature.
Cauble is also a fan of organic winemaking, as reflected in his choices.
“Most of what we look for is organic or biodynamic. The most important part is they’re reducing the use of chemicals and pesticide. I’m a believer in removing chemicals from the winemaking process. You’re killing natural things that produce a symbiosis – fungi and other important elements. Nature is a lot smarter than chemistry in the lab.”
Cauble said it isn’t just his own preferences that led him to emphasize European wines. He feels that the people who use SommSelect appreciate his expertise because they’re not secure in their knowledge of Old World labels and varieties.
“A lot of people already have knowledge and a trusted source on where they can buy California wine and what to buy. No matter where you come from in America, you have a pretty good idea what Napa cabernet sauvignon and Santa Barbara pinot noir taste like. But most Americans don’t have a vetted source for European wine. It’s a complex place. For example, in Burgundy there are two main grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir, but each village has several producers. Not all are good. So consumers want someone to kiss the frogs so they don’t have to.”
“Frog kisser.” I dare Cauble to put that on his business card.