The 2nd Annual Somm Slam at the 6th Annual International Chefs Congress - Day 1

The 2nd Annual Somm Slam at the 6th Annual International Chefs Congress - Day 1

2nd Annual Somm Slam: Day 1

The 2nd Annual Somm Slam kicked off the day with some of the brightest young sommeliers in the country competing in a buzzer-slapping, clock-ticking test of their blind tasting mettle, wine pairing skills, and wine trivia knowledge, all before a live audience and a multi-palated panel of seasoned professional judges. Pairing artisanal Wisconsin cheeses with wines from around the world provided a chance for the sommelier competitors to demonstrate their individual pairing styles and palates. All of this action was emceed by Fred Dexheimer of Juiceman Consulting.

The day started right off with a white wine blind tasting. The somms dove right in—spitting, swirling, sniffing, and writing notes. In the end most people thought it was a chardonnay, but Jill Zimorski nailed it: a Marsanne/Roussanne blend, Fleur de Roc, from St. Peray in the Rhone Valley. It had the same full richness of a Chardonnay, but the floral aromatics were her clue.

Next, sommeliers had to pair wines with Dunbarton Blue, Hook´s 10-year Cheddar, and Bella Vitano Reserve from Wisconsin Cheese. The cheeses' complexity and richness made pairing difficult. Julian Mayor chose the Maury Blanc, by Domain Mas de Lavail, considering it almost a seasoning to complement the cheese.

Thomas Pastuszak wanted acidity and aromatics to stand up to the cheese, and chose Eden Valley Mesh Riesling from Australia, looking for a "laser to cut through the richness of the cheese."

Jill Zimorski was the only somm to take a chance on red, choosing Les Hauts du Fief, from Crozes-Hermitage.

Alexander LaPratt sought to complement the complex, earthy fruit notes in the cheese and chose Australian Hunter Valley Semillon, a simple wine to refresh the palate between cheeses, and thus bringing the focus back to the cheese, not the wine.

Thomas Perez chose a wine to go with all three cheeses, no easy task in this competition. The Domaine Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet also kept the focus on the cheese, by presenting a young and ripe clear aromatic contrast.

In Round Two, Matthew Carroll also picked the Mesh Riesling, looking for a crispness to cut the fat in the cheese, and paring "funk on funk."

Brooke Sabel, raised in Wisconsin, loves her cheese. She immediately, well before the others, grabbed her selection, the Saint Peray blanc Fleur du Roc because she wanted a cheese "that had balls!"

Paul Einbund chose Domaine de Cabasse Seguret blanc, looking for something tannic which became silky with the cheeses.

Brent Kroll also chose the Maury, counting on the sugar in the wine to take away the saltiness in the cheese, accentuating its fruitiness.

Nick Adams Robinson went next with the Mount Difficulty Pinot Gris, figuring a modern cheese needed a slick, clean modern wine.

Greg Majors served the grand finale, selecting a Banyuls by Chapoutier. Again, the sweetness in the wine balanced the salt in the cheese, leaving the fruit notes to shine.

The last section of the Somm Slam was a quick answer round of way-too-hard wine trivia. Hitting the books and learning the theory makes all the actual tasting and table-side small talk that much more valuable.

Winners from Day One: Julian Mayor of Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons Hotel – Washington, DC Jill Zimorski of Volt – Frederick, MD Paul Einbund of Frances – San Francisco, CA Alexander LaPratt of DB Bistro Moderne – New York, NY Thomas Pastuszak of Colicchio & Sons – New York, NY Matthew Carroll of Rogue 24 – Washington, DC

By Jeff Harding with Emily Bell and Jessica Dukes

Check Out Somm Slam Round 2