GQ Magazine, April 29th 2011, by Alan Richman
GQ’s Alan Richman competes in the 2011 Best Sommelier in America contest—and lives to tell about it.
“I came close. Very close. – Not to winning the Best Sommelier in America 2011 contest.”
To becoming a legend among sommeliers by setting fire to my $3000 Zegna Su Misura suit during the decanting portion of the competition. Decanting includes holding a bottle above a lit candle, which is playing with fire for someone like me.
Just in time, Aldo Sohm, one of the organizers, raced in from the sidelines and lifted my arm from the flame. Actually, I wouldn’t have been the first to add conflagration to my credentials. A judge, Roger Dagorn, told me about a long-ago competitor, a former sommelier at Restaurant Daniel in New York, who carelessly allowed the wicker basket holding his wine to become engulfed in flames.
I entered the two-day contest, hosted by American Sommelier and held earlier this month in New York, with dual status. I was not quite a participant and by no means a challenger for the title. I was permitted to take the same tests as the 29 genuine entrants, and I was given a bye into the second-day finals, usually limited to those who have placed in the top four on day one. For me, it meant an opportunity to get an insider’s look at an arcane profession that is rapidly gaining popularity even as mass-market interest in the ceremony and formality of fine dining decreases.