Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I had a few things to do so it has taken me a day longer than I'd intended to report the results of the Best Sommelier in America Competition but the results are in and the BSA title belongs to Michael Engelmann of Gary Danko in San Francisco. Englemann bested three of his finalist peers (and dozens in the semi-finals) in an arduous exam conducted at New York's Essex House hotel that included spotting the mistakes on an error-ridden wine list that the judges were rumored to have stayed up til one in the morning creating. (Sample wines: 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvee Alexandre Casa Lapostelle Patagonia Argentina; 2002 Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Russian River Chardonnay) Other challenges included a four wine/four spirit blind tasting (wines could be tasted, spirits only nosed). The latter led to some pretty wild guessing- the same spirit that was identified as tequila was also called grappa and even Midori! (Who drinks Midori anyway?) The reason for such disparity was because the spirits were served in black Riedel glasses. (I used these once in a seminar on aroma and asked the class to tell me if the wine was white or red. In fact, it was an oaky Chardonnay but they thought it was a red). Decanting was another challenge and woe to the sommelier who lit the match incorrectly or blew the flame out. (A wine director friend of mine says he avoids this all together by using a mag light when decanting. I feel sure he would have been thrown out of the competition.) Other challenges included pairing specific wines to a seven course menu and opening and pouring a bottle of (Pommery) Champagne- all of which I thought Englemann pulled off with great aplomb - and that, of course, is one of the most important attributes of a top sommelier: great confidence. My congratulations to all who participated- there was plenty of talent in the room and no small amount of aplomb.

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