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It may not be the WWE, but wine-pairing competitions are popping up at restaurants and wine shops across the country. Arming themselves with a dinner menu and bottles of wine to match, some of the nation’s brightest sommeliers are proving that their educated palates are ready to rumble. These gatherings draw wine geeks and newbies alike for evenings of inventive wine pairings and candid conversations with any number of local wine experts. Here are five duels, smackdowns and competitions that carry their weight in the ring.
Dueling Sommeliers at Ten 01 Portland, Oregon
This five-part annual dinner series, running May to October, challenges four local sommeliers to provide the best wine pairings with each four-course dinner. Diners award points throughout the meal, and a running tally is kept over the course of the series with the top two scorers advancing to the grand finale. The winner scores bragging rights for a full year.
Iron Sommelier at Avenues Bistro Kansas City, Missouri
Every few months, Avenues Bistro’s beverage director, Timothy O’Neal, invites a local wine expert into the restaurant as his iron contender for two nights of wine pairings with a full dining room crowd. This year, Avenues is expanding the program to include an Iron Stein competition, which will post the same challenge to local beer experts.
Sommelier Smackdown at the Wine School of Philadelphia Philadelphia
With only $60 in their pockets, the guest sommelier and challenging in-house wine instructor must shop for the vinos that most complement each of four prepared dishes. This monthly master class, held at Philadelphia’s independent wine school, lets the audience pick the best pairing and has hosted Gary Vaynerchuck among other East Coast wine experts.
Sommelier Smackdown at Gordon’s Fine Wines and Culinary Center St. Waltham, Massachusetts
Local sommeliers duke it out over four courses in the 1,300 square-foot classroom in this Boston-area wine shop. Each month, local chefs prepare a four-course dinner and the sommeliers are given mere minutes after tasting each dish to choose and present a bottle from the store’s stock. The audience chooses the evening’s winner, who scores an immediate spot to defend the title in the next month’s showcase.
Sommelier Smackdown at Nios Restaurant New York City
Master sommelier Emily Wines (yep, that’s her real name) host these monthly events (which will return in April) where she challenges other wine experts, and occasionally local brewers and bartenders, to present the best pairing with three specially prepared courses. Intimately capped at 25 seats, Wines’ smackdowns are a great way to elbow up to some of the city’s top drinks experts.
Want to start your own wine-pairing workout? Check out "Pair & Share" in the March/April 2010 issue for pairing tips for the way you really eat.