Houston Wine Pros Return to Iron Sommelier to Battle in Good Taste
The annual Iron Sommelier competition returns on Wednesday, October 30 to its usual glamorous venue, The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa at 111 North Post Oak. It’s not just a wine competition: it’s also an important fundraiser for the Periwinkle Foundation, which provides programs for children, young adults and families who are challenged by cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and are cared for at Texas Children’s Hospital.
There are two components of the overall competition: the themed ballroom tasting for all attendees and the exclusive presentation in the underwriters’ room. Participating sommeliers can potentially win awards from those activities: People’s Choice (which guests vote for by tossing one of their three provided corks into a bucket), Underwriter Tasting Room Best Presentation, Second Runner Up Iron Sommelier, First Runner Up Iron Sommelier and, of course, the top honor of being named Iron Sommelier.
Some of Houston’s best and brightest wine professionals compete every year. Last year’s winners were 2018 Iron Sommelier Julie Dalton of Mastro’s Steakhouse, People’s Choice winner Matt Crawford of State of Grace, Underwriter Best Presentation winners Adele Corrigan of 13 celsius and Justin Vann of Theodore Rex. Vann was also first runner up last year, and Crawford took the second runner up spot. (Crawford can’t make it this year, unfortunately, but promises to return next year.)
Aiming to take their places this year are these formidable competitors:
- Bridget Elizabeth Paliwoda – The Annie
- Chris Poldoian – Camerata at Paulie’s
- Andres Blanco – Caracol Restaurant
- Whitney Seng – Coronado Club
- Angie Chang – Doris Metropolitan
- Jeffery Young – Georgia James
- Emily Tolbert – Noble Rot Wine Bar
- Evan Turner – Ouzo Bay
- Chris Havens — Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
- Farrah Cauley — Sonoma Wine Bar – Upper Kirby & the Heights
- Robert L. Waltrip, III – Yauatcha Houston
In order to win over the hearts and minds of the crowd, as well as judges June Rodil, Nick Hetzel and Craig Collins — all master sommeliers — the competitors need to not only have a compelling wine theme but three different wines to back it up. Some examples of this year’s wine themes include Havens’ “Keeping It 100,” a selection of wines from at least 100 year old vines, Corrigans’ focus exclusively on the wines of the Lombardy region of northern Italy and Vann’s creepily named “Bloody Oath.” Although it sounds like it’s alluding to the fact that Iron Sommelier is the day before Halloween, his theme is actually about Australian wines’ return to balance. Vann explained that “bloody” is a strong word in Australia and “oath” essentially means agreement, so the theme sort of translates to “f*ck yeah.”
In addition to testing their wine consumption thresholds, attendees will have no shortage of nibbles (which also helps when you’re in a veritable play land of some of the best wines in the world). In addition to a hefty display of both cold and hot nibbles from The Houstonian kitchen, which is helmed by chef Neal Cox, guests can look forward to additional food from Hopdoddy Burger Bar and the Houston Dairymaids. In the foyer, there are also additional libations to try, including from Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co., Far Niente, Graham’s Port (which you can find paired with the Houston Dairymaids cheeses), Nice Wines and Tito’s.
Now, two pieces of advice from someone who has attended Iron Sommelier nearly every year for the past eight. First, as I mentioned, there is a lot of wine. If you ever wanted to stay at The Houstonian, this is a good time to try it out. It is incredibly freeing to know that after the event, all you have to do is make your way to the elevator. Second, if you can’t swing a room or the hotel is booked to capacity, do yourself the great favor of taking a cab or a ride share to and from the event. It’s totally worth it. Those who do drive can use the valet at The Houstonian or self-park in the garage, which is of course the cheaper option.
For access to this wine wonderland, tickets are $200 each and can be purchased online. Underwriter opportunities are still available, too. Benefits start at $1,000, which includes two tickets plus a magnum of Delamotte Brut Champagne. Those who can’t attend but still want to help The Periwinkle Foundation can go online and buy a $25 raffle ticket, which goes into a drawing for an impressive assortment of 2015 Alexander Valley Cabernet in various bottle sizes. Visit the Iron Sommelier website for more details.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.