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Best Somm Competition determines Atlanta’s Top Wine Steward

You think you know a lot about wine? Think again! With Italy boasting over 3,000 registered grape varieties alone, being a wine expert is a difficult objective. The United States now has 7,762 wineries, nearly half of which are in California. Identifying the type of wine and where it is from in a blind tasting seems an impossible task, yet that is what the four contenders in the Taste of Atlanta’s 4th Annual Best Sommelier Competition were asked to do. With emcee Eric Crane, Empire Distributors directing the action and the audience playing along, Caitlin Taglia, Wine Buyer at Holeman and Finch Bottle Shop; Pat Peterson, Beverage Director at Aix and Tin Tin Wine Bar; Jim Cumiskey, Manager of Highland Fine Wine; and, Rob Van Leer, Beverage Director at Vino Venue attempted. Each was presented with two white wines and two red wines. After much swirling and sipping, each made their best guesses as the judging panel led by Phillip Burrus of the Southeastern Sommelier Society tallied the scores.

The competition moved to a Jeopardy-like trivia game with 30 questions to test the challenger’s knowledge of wine. Let’s see how you would score (answers at the end):

  1. What is the most planted grape in Spain?
  2. When did Prohibition begin and end in the U.S.?
  3. What is the minimum amount of Sangiovese required for Chianti Classico?
  4. Which wine is most famously paired with goat cheese?
  5. How many standard wine bottles equals one Nebuchadnezzar?

Next, the four contestants demonstrated their wine serving skills by decanting and pouring with a Cutthroat Kitchen twist. Rather than having standard decanters, they had to choose from a variety of “household” vessels: pitchers, bottles and even a flower vase. After decanting they were tasked with pouring four (exactly) equal glasses of the decanted wine.

The competition was fierce and resulted in a tie between Taglia, and Cumiskey. After a tie-breaking was a spirit tasting and additional trivia questions, Cumiskey was named Top Sommelier of 2018 entitling him to bragging rights for the next 12 months.

Answers to trivia questions:

  1. Arién, a grape grown primarily in Castilla-La Mancha.
  2. 80% must be Sangiovese.
  3. Sancerre (French Sauvignon Blanc-based wine).
  4. Prohibition began on January 16, 1920 and was repealed on December 5, 1933.
  5. 20 standard (750 mL) bottles


By Denise Romeo, City Editor and Wine Enthusiast