Iron and Wine

Only the Strong Survive the Iron Sommelier Competition

The annual Iron Sommelier competition separates the dregs from the Dolcettos.

By Katharine Shilcutt September 12, 2013

The Iron Sommelier trophy (top left) looms as large as the Stanley Cup; Cathy Nguyen (bottom left) poured at last year's event.

The Iron Sommelier competition was once a bi-annual event, showcasing the wine programs of various restaurants around town and the portfolios of local distributors, all culminating in a grand competition for the title of—you guessed it—Iron Sommelier. No more, though, as the event has grown so large and so popular that it's now held every year at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa. This year's Iron Sommelier will take place on Thursday, September 26, from 6 to 10 p.m.; tickets are still on sale, but will likely sell out soon.

Iron Sommelier
Sep 26, 6 to 10 p.m.
The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa
111 N. Post Oak Ln.

The grand event still pours plenty of wine each year, however, and still benefits the Periwinkle Foundation, an organization devoted to helping children and young adults recover after battling cancer. There's also an auction component, which helps to raise funds in addition to the ticket price of the event, and Houstonian chef Neal Cox is preparing food pairings for each of the wines sampled at the grand tasting.

But the big fun is in the VIP Grand Tasting room, where the Iron Sommelier competition itself takes place. This is where 10 of the city's best sommeliers face off to see who has the best showmanship, presentation, and breadth of knowledge when it comes to presenting and pouring a glass of wine. Each sommelier takes the competition deadly seriously, bringing in rare or unusual wines to present to a panel of judges, such as last year's barnacle-crusted Abissi Bisson spumanti—only six bottles of which made it from their undersea home off the shore of Liguria, Italy—poured by Mike Sammons of 13 Celsius.

Legendary wine expert Guy Stout (top right) is one of Texas's few Master Sommeliers; Mike Sammons of 13 Celsius competed in last year's Iron Sommelier competition in the VIP Grand Tasting room.

Last year, it was Ben Roberts of Masraff's who took home the grand Iron Sommelier prize, while Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club received the People's Choice award for his showmanship in the ballroom where the general admission tastings of the night took place, where he poured several different wines selected for their savory umami flavor.

This year, participating sommeliers hoping to take home the big prizes are:

  • Ron Brandani of Carrabba's on Kirby
  • Adele Corrigan of 13 Celsius
  • Kevin Kenyon of The Houstonian
  • Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
  • Cathy Nguyen of Mark's American Cuisine
  • Ben Roberts of Masraff's
  • Jason Sherman of Brennan's of Houston
  • Evan Turner of Helen: Greek Food & Wine
  • Christian Varas of River Oaks Countr Club
  • James Watkins of Américas and Churrascos

Steven McDonald was runner up for the Iron Sommelier trophy last year. Will he take the prize home this year, or will a dark horse emerge to claim the throne? Find out on September 26.

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