Starchefs “Somm Slam”
Now I’m no anthropologist, but when I dive in, I dive in deep. For instance, back in college my thesis subject was on beauty pageants. In addition to researching all types of pageants around the world and writing/producing/performing in a one-woman show influenced by this research, I also enlisted myself in the campus pageant and surprisingly received the title of Miss Congeniality (even though I kept to myself while scribbling notes furiously.) Not satisfied with just that undercover field work of my junior year, I volunteered to operate the light booth the following year to experience the pageant from a bird’s eye view. These were closed rehearsals which meant if I wanted to observe I needed to gain real access. Persistence is my mantra which leads us to my invitation as a ‘repeat offender’ to the 10th StarChefs Somm Slam.
This is a contest with which I am very familiar: a tradition where I encounter the latest Chef trends and check-in with the restaurant world even though I have not waited tables in over a decade. I started observing this yearly event as a seven-time judge then last year fantasized over the possibility of flipping to the other side of the table. I had my reservations, but my co-workers at the time were extremely supportive and made me feel braver than myself. I submitted, was accepted, and then the imposter syndrome kicked in. Here I was, a wine retailer for the past 14 years going up against experienced restaurant sommeliers from across the country (and Canada.) How could that be, right? My nerves were getting the best of me. In preparation that week my husband took me to the Bronx Zoo Treetop Adventure where I zip-lined twice across the river and pushed past a heights-induced panic attack while scaling the obstacle courses. The Somm Slam was daunting, but it wasn’t going to be the most frightening experience for me that week!
The two day sommelier battle took place at the Brooklyn Expo Center this year on October 28 and 29 and began with four of us being given a dish (a burger that had a large proportion of mushrooms in the mix) then getting rushed over to the table of available wines to choose our top pick. The top two contestants from our group of four would move onto battle twelve other sommeliers in the second round. I chose a 120 year old vine Cinsault from Itata, Chile that had been aged in amphora. (Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar in Lebanon had introduced me to this French grape over a decade ago while I was living in Santa Fe, NM. He’s unfortunately no longer with us but he and the grape made a lasting impression.)
This was the 10th Somm Slam and new technology was implemented this year which meant that I got to see in real time how I got knocked out of the competition by ONE vote, and yet, this friendly competition personifies the concept of persistence. It was actually co-hosted this year by former ‘repeat offenders’ Max Kuller of Estadio and Kathleen Thomas of Hakkasan Group. DC based sommelier Elli Benchimol catapulted from ‘repeat offender’ this year all the way to second place, while Philadelphia based sommelier Scott Zoccolillo competed in a Superman costume and no one even batted an eye. Stretching outside of my comfort zone doesn’t come easy, but it’s reassuring to have the rewards of camaraderie and last year’s winner Canadian sommelier Sean Nelson’s words dancing in my head, “Our industry is not about beating each other, but building each other.”
Jienna Basaldu, Somm Slam 2019 Winner (and the second female to ever win the competition)
Lieb’s DC Adventure
Bridge Lane Wine and Lieb Cellars, along with other small, sustainable, recently toured DC as part of the Underground Wine Events series. It was curated by Elizabeth Schneider, podcast host and author of Wine for Normal People, and digital marketing consultant (and kick ass organizer) Laura Perret Fontana. 200 eager fans sipped and asked tons of questions with some even flying in from other states to attend this sold out event! It was exciting presenting at this tasting where the attendees were so open, engaged, respectful, and fully present. This was a room full of people who were free to be, and if moved by what was in their glass, might freestyle rap about their experience (as one actually did).
Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane were recently featured in episode 302 of the Wine for Normal People podcast show. Click here to listen (or search whenever you normally receive your podcasts):
Other DC Trip Highlights:
– I managed to sneak in an hour of culture at the National Museum of Women in Arts (1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005.) I didn’t even know that this existed! It was founded in 1987 and “is the only museum in the world dedicated to exhibiting, collecting, and preserving art by women.”
Even in museums I always gravitate to grapes!
– Lunch at Sushi Taro (1503 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20036) almost didn’t happen for me. The entrance has little fanfare and is fairly non-descript. Google kept swearing to me that I was there. I walked right by it at least three times, but my persistence paid off, and I was rewarded not only with a healthy yet opulent lunch, but also the pleasant surprise of Lieb Cellars Estate Sparkling Pinot Blanc being on the wine list.
Loving this by-the-glass list!
– Maxwell Park (1336 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001) has spoiled me on wine bar expectations. From now on I’m going to want all hosts to greet me by name, fire pits and blankets in the sidewalk seating area, and a Madeira list that takes both hands to count.
Celebrating a successful trip with a sip of 1977 Borges, Boal Madeira
Somm360 Boot Camp
Most recently I was one of 50 NYC sommeliers selected to attend the Bootcamp World Tour 2019 on November 18th by SOMM360, “an international platform for sommeliers seeking perfection through continuing education and competition training.” With no scheduled restroom breaks and lunch taken right through working seminars, we strapped in from 9-5:30 to receive the full throttle of educational instruction by Jesse Becker, MS on “Austrian Wine: From Taverns to Quality Leaders,” Mary Gorman McAdams, MW “Les Vins du Médoc Masterclass,” Greg Lambrecht, Chairman and Founder of Coravin “Dare to Compare: Blind Tasting,” May Matta-Aliah on “The Effect of Microclimates on Key Grape Varieties in Alto Adige,” Pascaline Lepeltier, MS on “Training for Sommelier Competition,” and Francois Chartier on “Nihonshu Revolution: Aroma is the Place of Its Individuality.” It was informative, intense, and if you’d like to hear more about it feel free to reach out at email@example.com .
Pascaline Lepeltier, MS shared some of her secrets
In the meantime, I’m off to my next adventure!
Aimée Lasseigne New
NYC Brand Ambassador