Austin is lucky to have a growing community of motivated sommeliers that matches the ever-increasing goal to create the "ultimate" culinary experience. Local sommeliers demonstrate their drive for excellence by participating in education sessions like TEXSOM and competitions like Somms Under Fire, a food and wine pairing competition that comes with a one-of-a-kind grand prize.
To fan the flames for the next Somms Under Fire event, which will take place in early 2014, organizers Diane Dixon (founder of Keeper Collection) and Marshall Jones (executive director of The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas) recently hosted an invitation-only Burgundy tasting at Austin's Red Room Lounge. Dixon described the gathering as an inviting way for people to connect with wine professionals and learn more about the wines of Burgundy in a fun industry setting.
Past winners of Somms Under Fire Scott Ota, wine captain and sommelier of The Driskill Grill, and June Rodil, sommelier and general manager of Qui Restaurant, shared experiences from the grand prize trip: a one-week internship in Burgundy, France under the tutelage of author, Master of Wine, and Burgundy expert, Jasper Morris.
"There is only one sommelier in the country invited to do this internship," said Rodil. "It has been one of the most sought-out opportunities for sommeliers around the country. Now it’s specified that the one somm who gets to go to the internship is the winner of the Somms Under Fire competition. This is an amazing prize. It’s crazy."
As winners of Somms Under Fire, Ota and Rodil participated in Morris’ Burgundy Symposium, part of the Burgundy Bootcamp Collection, as guests of Becky Wasserman Selections. The internship afforded an immersive learning experience in the vineyards and wineries and granted the opportunity to taste and serve wines during the program’s tastings and dinners.
The experience in Burgundy has influenced how both sommeliers prepare the wine lists for their respective restaurants here in Austin. "I’ve always enjoyed Burgundy, but the internship broadened my horizon about producers by exposing me to a wide range of wines from the entire region," said Rodil. "We tasted up-and-coming producers and older established winemakers alike. I started seeking them out after being over there, and I carry six Burgundies on the wine list at Qui."
The competition just to snag a spot in Somms Under Fire is rather fierce, and Dixon is eager for a great crop of candidates for next year's competition.
"We want to extend the outreach to contestants from anywhere in the world, not just Texas," Dixon said. "We will announce the application at TEXSOM and will work with Master Sommeliers to recommend up-and-coming sommeliers that they know. The quality of sommeliers competing has been outstanding with two Advanced Somms in the event this year. It shows that there is a real desire among top sommeliers to participate."
"Somms Under Fire brings a lot of attention to the quality of sommeliers working in our market," said Ota. "It’s an excellent competition to show the skills of sommeliers in cocktails and food and wine pairings. The grand prize of the internship is fantastic. The opportunity to cook with the Wassermans at their house drinking old German wine was spectacular ... the best wine experience I’ve ever had."
The next Somms Under Fire Competition will be held on January 26, 2014 at The Scottish Rite Theater. Sommeliers will be selected to participate in the competition based on their knowledge of wine and their outstanding professional experience in the industry. Guests should look forward to eating and drinking their way through the suggested pairings.
If you can't wait until January to attend a wine event, then mark your calendar for The Wine & Food Foundation's 11th annual Tour de Vin happening at the W Austin on Friday, August 23. This culinary tour of nine countries pairs wines with tasty treats from some of Austin’s favorite restaurants including Trace, épicerie, Max’s Wine Dive, DFG Noodles, Freedmen’s and Tapas Bravas. Consider it a good warm-up for Somms Under Fire.