Alexander LaPratt, of New York’s db Bistro Moderne, won the title of “Best Sommelier in America” on Sunday night in a competition hosted by the American Sommelier Association, an organization dedicated to wine education and the sommelier industry in America.
LaPratt competed against 30 candidates from 12 states in a grueling two-day competition held at the Jumeirah Essex House hotel in New York. While all the competitors completed a blind tasting test and a written exam, four finalists—LaPratt, Christopher Bates of the Hotel Fauchere in Milford, Pennsylvania, Jared Fischer of Le Bernardin in New York and Michael Meagher of Treasury Wine Estates in Waltham, Massachusetts—ran an additional gauntlet.
The finalists also completed tests in food and wine pairing, a blind spirits tasting and a cigar service test, and navigating an obstacle course of a “mock dining room” in which customers clamored for Champagne, food and wine pairing advice and elaborate decanting of a bottle of Monfortino. The sommeliersrushed silver trays of Champagne flutes to customers and sought to graciously accommodate yet another “guest” arriving late to join a table, all before the clock ran out.
The most challenging part of the competition, according LaPratt? That it was “like a marathon,” and required stamina. Now that he’s won the competition, he’s looking forward to having the platform “to take one more step toward dispelling the myth of the egotistical, pretentious sommelier. That’s not what being a sommelier is about. It’s about service and hospitality,” he says.
LaPratt also has earned the right to compete in the Best Sommelier in the World Competition next year.
Judges for the event included Aldo Sohm, Chief Sommelier of Le Bernardin and a former “2007 Best Sommelier in America” title holder, Andre Compeyre, chief sommelier of Adour Alain Ducasse, Andrew F. Bell, co-founder of American Sommelier and Rajat Parr, wine director of Mina Group.
In addition to the four finalists, GQ Magazine columnist Alan Richman ran the gauntlet, though he took a more casual turn, collecting first-person fodder for a future column. His run, of course, was judged less critically and elicited laughs from onlookers. Blind-tasting his way through a flight of wines, Richman paused to query the judges, “Do I lose points for dribbling?”