Best Sommelier in America

Photo by Charles Roussel

After a rigorous two-day competition at the Jumeirah Essex House organized by the American Sommelier Association, Alexander LaPratt of New York’s db Bistro Moderne earned the title “Best Sommelier in America 2011.” Thirty candidates from across the country completed a written theory exam, a seated blind tasting, a food and wine pairing exercise and a service assessment.
     Among the highest-scoring four, LaPratt was running alongside Jared Fischer of Le Bernardin in New York, Christopher Bates of the Hotel Fauchère in Milford, Pennsylvania, and Michael Meagher of Treasury Wine Estates. Escorted into a holding room and stripped of their cell phones, one by one, they had to blind taste four wines and offer pairing suggestions, identify four spirits by smell, correct a wine list and describe several obscure grape varieties. Then they went into service mode, entering a dining room in which one table immediately required a bottle of ’96 Cristal, a couple needed pairing advice for a lengthy menu and a third party grilled them on facts about their 1985 Monfortino, which needed decanting—all under pressure of the clock and in front of a panel of judges and an audience of their peers. After being tested on cigar service, the finalists were able to relax and await the results.
     GQ columnist Alan Richman agreed to try his hand at the competition as well—to gauge the experience for himself and to serve as comic relief for the gallery of spectators. He occupied the honorary first slot in the final round, spouting off lines like “Well, it’s not your birthday any longer” (to return guests in the mock dining room); “The muscadet is fresher than the oysters” (to the couple requesting a wine pairing); and “Do I lose points for dribbling?” while blind tasting. He proved wine service to be his true second calling, however, when he flawlessly poured 20 even glasses from a magnum of Champagne, finishing minutes before any of the four finalists
     ASA president Andrew Bell announced the results at an Awards Gala later that evening. LaPratt has already begun preparing for next year’s Best Sommelier in the World competition.

—Carson Demmond