Caracol Takes Home the Iron Sommelier 2017
Thursday November 9 at the Houstonian Hotel & Spa — ready for the holidays with its live oak in the entrance gardens sparkling with thousands of fairy lights — 14 sommeliers battled it out for the 10th Iron Sommelier. For serious wine lovers the annual Iron Sommelier competition is the highlight of the year. It is a unique opportunity to taste more than 40 wines from different regions, grape varieties and styles, all hand-picked by some of Houston’s best sommeliers.
More than a battle for best sommelier of the year the event is an important fundraiser for the Periwinkle Foundation, Houston’s child cancer charity. From family camps that offer a break from the hospital routine of doctors, tests and treatments to survivor programs giving young adult surivors emotional support, it is the Periwinkle Foundation goal is to help children (and their families) deal with living with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
For the Iron Sommelier competition each of the 14 participating sommeliers picks three wines based on a theme they come up with. At the event, the sommeliers are the ones pouring the wines, taking the time to chat, sharing their insights and answering questions. Some of the tables had signature nibbles like the hoja santa wrapped tamale served at Caracol's table or the house pickles and charcuterie at one-Fifth/Underbelly's table. Others brought unique elements to the table, literally, like the branch nest that was flown in from Santorini so sommelier Evan Turner could explain how vines grow on this volcanic island in the Aegean sea.
One of the most intriguing themes came from Adele Corrigan (13 Celcius Wine Bar): Dry-Aging. Not Just for Steaks, a play on the production method of Amarone wines where the grapes are dried for a period of up to 120 days to reduce the liquid by about 40% before fermentation. It is what defines Amarone. Samantha Porter (PIoneer Wine and Spirits) left no doubt about it when she picked her theme: what women can do in the wine industry ruled her selection of a French Vouvray, South-African Grenache and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir -- all made by female winemakers.
A look at some of the other themes: Farrah Cauley (Sonoma Wine Bar) picked Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast; Matt Crawford (State of Grace) presented a surprising trio of English (that’s right) sparkling wines. Matthew Pridgen (One Fifth) stayed in Texas and highlighted Blanc du Bois both as white wine and in its fortified form: a sweet, fruity and viscous dessert wine. Shepard Ross (MadCat Hospitality) went Back to the Future and selected natural, unfiltered wines. Lindsay Huntsman (Emmaline) stayed with Gamay (Expressions of an Underrated Grape); Brandon Kerne (Pappas Bros. Steakhouse) picked Spanish wines including a reserve Cava aged for seven years in contact with lees (residual yeast). Thomas Moësse (Vinology Bar) and team took home the fashion award (had there been one) for their brightly colored bow ties and flair with which they poured their selection of wines from the Canary Islands.
Each guest had three corks to use to vote and as the evening progressed, wine buckets filled up with corks. At the close of voting at 9pm prompt, the fullest bucket was that of sommelier Andres Blanco of Caracol who won with his Wines of Mexico. All three of his selected wines came from the region Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. With his pick of three, Blanco showed the up-and-coming wine region's variety of grapes including Blanc de Noir, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Tempranillo and Nebbiolo. Blanco, who was actually the last to be confirmed as a participant in Iron Sommelier 2017 also took home the 2017 TexSom 'Best Sommelier Competition', the second year in a row that this award came to Houston after last year's win by Rachel DelRocco who since moved to.. Oaxaca, Mexico.
First runner-up was Angie Chang (Yauatcha Houston) who took wine tasters across the globe with her selection from Germany, Australia and Italy under the theme: Where Are They Now? Escaping The Stigma of Wine Trends Past, or: (re)appreciate wines that you think you know. Second runner-up was Evan Turner (Helen Greek Food & Wine) with his selection of wines from Santorini.
From the Spatlese Riesling bursting with tropical fruits, the aged English sparkling wine with its hint of toasted hazelnut to the 17% ABV massive, wine-like-a-house 2007 Buglione Amarone, for the wine crowd at Iron Sommelier 2017 everyone was a winner for the sheer oenological pleasure poured with anecdotes, insights, humor and gusto.
While the night of the Iron Sommelier is a big fundraiser for the Periwinkle Foundation, donations can be made year-round. Visit the website for more information.