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What does it take to be the best sommelier in America? Expertise in wine, surely, but also, surprisingly, a knowledge of cigar service. Hosted by American Sommelier, the Best Sommelier in America competition was held this past weekend at the Jumeirah Essex House, and winner Alexander LaPratt of db Bistro Moderne proved literally that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
To become the best sommelier in America, contestants are judged on knowledge, blind tasting, spirits identification, and mastery of vinification and viticulture. Contestants also serve a mock restaurant of sommelier judges, pour magnums of champagne evenly into 20 glasses with only one pour per glass, and provide cigar service. Yes, sommeliers need to know their smokes.
According to representatives of the competition, three key points are scrutinized for the cigar portion of the competition, including:
Service/cigar selection: Choosing an appropriate cigar based on the accompanying drink selection, including what the guests have been and will be drinking, and learning their intentions for the evening: Are they looking for a long smoke or something to be enjoyed in less time?
Cutting: Making a proper cut to enhance the “draw” on a cigar based on a guest’s individual taste (smaller cuts will concentrate the flavors on the tongue).
Lighting: How to properly (and evenly) light a cigar without placing it in the mouth, knowing what kinds of lighters to use (non-aromatic fluids are essential, so Zippos are not an appropriate choice), carrying proper matches (long stick matches work best, while using two matches at once allows one to light more evenly and efficiently for a guest without affecting the cigar’s flavor).
Fascinating, no? Who knew cigar knowledge was so important for sommeliers! In any event, LaPratt came in first in this portion of the competition as well as winning the whole shebang. Especially impressive because smoking is banned in New York City restaurants, thus presumably giving him little opportunity to practice. Could this be a reason to overturn the smoking ban?