Austin wine pro Nathan Fausti named the 2015 TexSom best sommelier

TexSom Best Sommelier Nathan Fausti
TexSom Best Sommelier Nathan Fausti


Austin has a reputation for its excellent food and wine scene. That status is continually bolstered with prestigious awards. To add to the growing list of accolades, Nathan Fausti, sommelier at Olive & June, was crowned the 2015 TexSom Best Sommelier at the 11th annual Texas Sommeliers Conference (TexSom) held at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas.

Fausti is the seventh sommelier from Austin to win the coveted award in the past 11 years. He placed third in last year’s competition. Fausti excelled among 23 other competitors (including two others from Austin) in a demanding three-part wine test involving proper fine dining service, a written exam and a blind tasting. In his acceptance speech, he credited his study group with Scott Ota and Nathan Prater for his successful preparation.

This was the first year that competition included candidates from outside Texas with entrants from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico  who have not yet attained the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier certification.

Fausti will soon take the helm as sommelier at Bullfight, a new Parkside Projects restaurant slated to open later this month. He received a scholarship of $2,500 from the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation to be used for a Court of Master Sommeliers certification program.

Fausti with Trophy
Fausti with Trophy

“This year, we opened the competition to sommeliers from adjoining states. Increasingly, the influence of TEXSOM reaches well beyond the borders of Texas, so we felt it was time to include a potentially larger group to participate,” said TEXSOM Co-founder James Tidwell. “We offer hearty congratulations to Nathan for winning the competition this year, and look forward to next year’s competition.”

David Donalson of Goody Goody Liquor in Dallas, Texas was the runner up and will receive a $1,500 scholarship. The third place winner was Luis La Torre of Spec’s Fine Wines in Dallas.

Fausti joins six Austin sommeliers — Joelle Cousins, Devon Broglie, Mark Sayre, June Rodil, Bill Elsey and Scott Ota — who have previously won the coveted prize.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary media pass to attend 2015 TexSom.

What are you drinking? 

Sommelier’s Top Wine Recommendations from TEXSOM

A breakdown of sparkling, white and red wine from the 10th annual Texas Sommelier Conference.

TEXSOM wine tastingIt’s easy to feel overwhelmed when walking through the vast canyons of wines at the store. Faced with that immense selection, it’s tempting just to pick the same wine we know. On the flip side, the thousands of different wines present a fantastic opportunity to continually explore new things.

ATX Man made its annual pilgrimage to the world’s premier wine-education conference to get some fresh ideas about what to drink right now. The 10th anniversary of the Texas Sommelier Conference, aka TEXSOM, held in Dallas, drew 900 wine enthusiasts to participate in educational seminars and wine tastings conducted by 39 master sommeliers, 10 certified wine educators and six masters of wine. It was a perfect place to discover wine.

Here are outstanding wine recommendations from some of the top wine professionals in Austin.


Two renowned areas for producing the world’s finest sparkling wine are, of course Champagne, France, and Lombardy, Italy, which is 30 miles east of Milan. The sparkling wine from this part of Northern Italy is called Franciacorta and it’s made in the same way as Champagne. Here are two fine choices of Franciacorta.

Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2004: This Franciacorta from Northern Italy is gorgeous, bright and focused, with incredible precision, a pervasive minerality and acidity for days. The weight and breadth of the wine sits just perfectly on the palate, balanced by the right amount of toast and a clean, fine perlage. It is Franciacorta at its best, simply and utterly perfect. It is splurge-worthy at $85.

– Lexey Davis Johnson, certified sommelier, Vino Vino

Ca’ del Bosco Vintage Collection Dosage Zero 2009: Powerful, rich and dry as a bone, this gorgeous bubbly is made with 65 percent chardonnay, 13 percent pinot bianco and 22 percent pinot nero grown on old vine. Italy had a slightly warmer growing season in 2009, resulting in lush, softer wines. This wine is fermented in small, new oak and aged for 40 months on the lees, giving it great concentration, with lemon meringue and hazelnut flavors with a crisp finish. It’s great before dinner or paired with just about any food. It runs about $70.

Matt McGinnis, certified sommelier and food and beverage columnist for ATX Man

Ca' del Bosco Vintage Collection Dosage Zero at TEXSOM


There were so many amazing white wines from throughout the world poured at TEXSOM. It’s hard to pick favorites, but here are a few standouts.

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese, Mosel 2012: Though there’s a major shift in German riesling toward a drier style, sometimes you just can’t mess with a classic, like this Mosel Spätlese, which sings with bright honeysuckle, ripe pear, lychee and jasmine on the nose. Its delicate sweetness is balanced with racy acidity that puts this relatively young wine at the pinnacle sweet spot for a benchmark riesling. As we have moved into hatch-chili season, drink this wine with grilled shrimp and roasted hatch peppers. The Austin Wine Merchant has this for less than $30.

Jessica Dupuy, certified sommelier, certified specialist of wine and wine columnist for Texas Monthly

Jessica Dupuy tasting at TEXSOM

Marcel Deiss Burg Premier Cru 2010, Alsace: I love this wine for its ability to showcase the terroir of this premier cru vineyard site. Its composition as a true field blend of the several varieties in the vineyard including riesling and gewurztraminer provides the wine with incredible complexity of rich tropical and stone-fruit elements and fragrant florals. Its distinctly Alsatian mineral backbone carries through the wine from start to finish. It sells for about $50 a bottle.

– Joelle Cousins, certified sommelier, 2014 Texas’ Best Sommelier and general manager and sommelier for the Red Room Lounge

Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne 2010: Yes, grand cru! I know, I know, going big. Louis Latour is an iconic producer making a classic example of Corton Charlemagne. This 2010 is singing wonderfully with high-toned citrusy fruit and mouthwatering acidity. Yummy! It will set you back about $100 at Spec’s, but it’s worth it.

– June Rodil, advanced sommelier and beverage director for Jeffrey’s, Josephine House, Clark’s, Lamberts, Perla’s and Elizabeth Street Café


Gallons upon gallons of amazing red wine were poured at TEXSOM. It was difficult to pass up the hard-to-find Portuguese reds, the graceful Burgundy grand cru, or the quintessentially bold cabernet sauvignons from Napa Valley, but here are some must-try wines featured at the conference.

2011 Arpepe Rosso di Valtellina: I love almost anything Italian, and Nebbiolo is a standout for me. This wine is from the Valtellina region of Lombardy, where the Nebbiolo goes by its synonym, Chiavennasca. Nebbiolo can be hard as nails at times but this is a soft, approachable wine with dried strawberry, rose petals and a defined organic minerality, making this a great way to dip your toes in the sea of Northern Italian reds! It is available at East End Wines for about $34.

– Craig Collins, master sommelier and beverage director at ELM Restaurant Group

Fredrick Österberg Pedernales Cellars at TEXSOMPedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo 2012: Texas wines have come a long way in the past decade, and the award-winning wines from Pedernales Cellars show what the state is capable of producing. Made with grapes grown in the Reddy and Bingham vineyards of the High Plains region, this bold tempranillo has racy cherry and raspberry flavors with soft vanilla and oak on the finish. It’s great served with grilled lamb or Texas barbecue. Pick it up for $22 at Whole Foods Market.

– Matt McGinnis, certified sommelier and food and beverage columnist for ATX Man

Viña Falernia Syrah Reserva DO Elqui Valley Chile 2010: The vineyard was founded in the arid far north of Chile in 1951 by an Italian family. The cool Pacific breezes, high altitude and intense sun make ideal growing conditions for syrah. The Viña Falernia Reserva has the complexity and finesse of a much more expensive wine from the Northern Rhone Valley of France, with delicate plum, raspberry, bacon, smoke and olive flavors and a peppery finish. Grill a thick steak and enjoy. It is a beautiful wine and an absolute bargain for $14 at Whole Foods Market.

– Matt McGinnis, certified sommelier and food and beverage columnist for ATX Man.

This story was originally published by Austin Man Magazine

What are you drinking? 

10th Annual TEXSOM Highlights


Its like Christmas in August, or, summer camp for wine pros. The tenth anniversary of the Texas Sommelier Conference, AKA TEXSOM, held at the Four Seasons Hotel Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas drew 900 sommeliers and wine enthusiasts to participate in educational seminars, wine tastings and tons of fun networking.

This year  39 Master Sommeliers, 10 Certified Wine Educators and six Masters of Wine presented 23 seminars on beverage topics. Highlights for me included:

  • A panel exploring lesser-known regions of the United States that are making bad-ass wines presented by Sally Mohr MS, Guy Stout MS, Paul Lukacs, Wayne Belding MS, Marguerite Thomas, Kathy Morgan MS, moderated by Alfonso Cevola CSW. The Colorado Syrah and Texas wines stood out for me.
  • A fun session tasting of Napa Valley wines led by Master of Wine Peter Marks who did it Jeopardy style.
  • A tasting of the ridiculously delicious, but impossible to get wines of Portugal led by Master Sommeliers Devon Broglie and Keith Goldston.
  • An incredibly enlightening session on the most dynamic producers in Chile and Argentina presented by Craig Collins MS and Peter Neptune MS, AIWS, CWE.
  • A seminar and tasting on the Italian sparkling wine region Franciacorta led by Charles Curtis MW and Michael Franz, editor of Wine Review Online.
  • And the pièce de résistance, a retrospective tasting of ’75, ’77, ”80, ’87, ’91, ’97, ’05 and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chappellet Winery with Frederick L. Dame MS, Jay James MS, and Cyril Chappellet. Crazy good wines.

The whole thing is capped off with a Grand Tasting sponsored by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas where the winner of the Texas’s Best Sommelier Competition is announced. Here are a few images from the Grand Tasting.

My favorite part of the event is talking with Texas winemakers and wine pros from around the world before and after the sessions. Enjoy the images of this spectacular conference.

Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to attend this conference at no charge.

What are you drinking? 

Red Room Lounge’s Joelle Cousins named the best sommelier in Texas at TEXSOM 2014

Joelle Cousins Best Somm

On Monday night, Joelle Cousins, general manager and sommelier of Red Room Lounge, was crowned the 2014  Texas’ Best Sommelier, the sixth winner from Austin in the past 10 years. Austin sommeliers placed first and third in the competition held at TEXSOM, one of the world’s most prominent wine education conferences. The trophy was presented to Cousins by Master Sommelier, Fred Dame, at the TEXSOM Grand Tasting presented by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas.

Cousins excelled among 25 competitors (including seven others from Austin) in a grueling exam involving proper fine dining service, blind tasting and wine knowledge. She received a scholarship of $2,500 from the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation to be used for a Court of Master Sommeliers certification program.

“I’m thrilled to receive this honor,” said Cousins. “I attribute my success to an incredibly strong and collaborative sommelier community is Austin. We are dedicated to helping each other continually learn more about wine and how we can provide the best possible experience for our customers. It’s great to be able to study with like-minded people who are dedicated to making the wine scene in Austin be the best.”

Rene Fagoaga of the Four Seasons Hotel Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas was the runner up. Austin’s Nathan Fausti of Arro Restaurant, came in third place.

Cousins joins five Austin sommeliers — Devon Broglie, Mark Sayre, June Rodil, Bill Elsey and Scott Ota — who have previously won the coveted prize.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Nathan Fausti third place

What are you drinking? 

Meet the Austin wine pros competing to become Texas’ best sommelier

Sommelier decanting wine

On August 10, eight Austin wine experts will test their mettle against elite wine professionals from around the state in the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition. The competition will be held at the 10th anniversary of TEXSOM, one of the world’s largest gathering of wine professionals taking place in Dallas. The winner of the annual competition presented by Texas Monthly will will take home a scholarship for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ certification program.

The competition will test 25 participants’ knowledge of wine business and is a great way for wine pros prepare for higher level exams like Court of Master Sommelier’s Advanced Exam and the Society of Wine Educations CWE exam. According to James Tidwell, co-founder of TEXSOM and Master Sommelier, the competition exam changes a little every year to reflect new information relevant to somm.

“Sommeliers have to adapt on a nightly basis, says Tidwell. It’s hard to mimic that in an exam setting, but we test their broad knowledge to simulate that. We assess sommeliers ability to answer questions about wine, analyze wine in blind tasting and provide cordial service while adapting to the situation. There is a lot expected of them, and somms are ready for it. The level of preparation of Sommeliers competing is a lot higher than in the past. Having good wine information available online along with the explosion of the food and beverage community has made it possible for sommeliers to increase their knowledge.”

That preparation is evident with Austin sommelier competitors. The city has a tight-knit community of sommeliers that study together, which has put Austin on the map as a city with sophisticated tastes in wine.

Edward Morgan, food and beverage manager, sommelier, Travaasa agrees saying, “There was a time when we would go to Houston or Dallas and see wines that we could never buy in Austin. With a strong, family-like community of somms, we have been able to show the industry that we are serious about wine. Now the tables have turned and we have top restaurants that get wines that are not available in other the cities.”

The study groups have paid off for Austin somms in the competition. In the past nine years, five sommeliers from Austin — Devon Broglie, Mark Sayre, June Rodil, Bill Elsey and Scott Ota — have won the coveted prize. The city is fielding a strong group of competitors again this year.

Houston sommeliers think they have a shot at winning the title this year. Texas Wine Lover profiles the seven participants from Houston.

Whether Austin brings home another title or not, local wine lovers win with more knowledgeable sommeliers and better wine.

Meet Austin’s participants in the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition.

Bryn Lewis, sommelier, The Red Room Lounge

Bryn Lewis, Red Room Lounge

Lewis has spent the last 22 years working with wine in various positions in the restaurant industry. His affable personality, British accent and dedication to impeccable service make him a natural for meeting the discerning palates of wine aficionados at the Red Room Lounge. His serious pursuit of the sommelier profession started when he met fellow sommeliers Scott Ota and Nathan Prater while working at the Driskill Grill. Ota led a study group at the Grill every Saturday for the staff to sharpen their knowledge of various wines and growing regions. All of the flash cards and quizzes paid off when Lewis earned the top score of the class in his Level II Certified Sommelier Exam in February 2013. His study regimen has him ready for this competition.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This is an incredible competition. It is really well done. I want to test my skills against other somms in a competitive environment. I can learn a lot from the other competitors. I’ve learned a lot from past winners like Scott Ota and Bill Elsey and value the relationships built in preparing to compete.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

I am fortunate enough to work at night so I get to study in the day. I’m better prepared to answer questions from customers because of the rigorous study for the exam. Some people want to know the ins and outs of various wine regions, why a wine tastes a particular way and what the best vintages are. Knowledge is key to meeting their needs.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

I think winning the Texas Best Sommelier Competition would show that I have passion and dedication for what I do. I work hard to take it to a higher level. I don’t rest on my laurels and strive to learn about wine every day.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

If I win, I’ll drink champagne of course. I’ll pick a nice grower-producer like Marc Hébrart Champagne or maybe Krug.

Joelle Cousins, general manager and sommelier, The Red Room Lounge
Joelle Cousins

Cousins was exposed to really great wine while working at III Forks as a server during college. She considered wine as a hobby, but that changed when III Forks paid for her to take the Certified Specialist of Wine Exam after she graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in biology. She realized how much science was involved in wine. She fell in love with wine and the opportunity to a life-long student be of wine. In the next year Cousins took her Introductory and Certified Sommelier Exams, receiving the top score in her Certified class. That experience spurred her to continue to pursue a career in wine and keep studying. She was a regional participant in the Guild of Sommeliers Top New Somm completion in Fort Lauderdale this year.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

I entered the competition as an opportunity to cultivate my knowledge and refine my sommelier skills under pressure. It will be a great trial run for the Advance Exam that I’m taking in September in Philadelphia. Above all, I am going to learn some things, which is what life is all about. I try to take any opportunity to sharpen my skills and challenge myself.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

It is very well integrated with what we do at the Red Room Lounge. The ability to practice services is invaluable in real world settings. Having Bryn, a fellow competitor, as my colleague and study partner couldn’t be better. Our job is unique because it’s not a restaurant. It’s all wine. The Austin community is smart about wine and our customers ask intricate questions. Having the knowledge to gain their trust is important.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Winning will provide momentum to reach my goals for higher level certification with the Court of Master Sommeliers and to promote the Red Room Lounge. More importantly, it would be a great representation of the Austin sommelier community and the incredible talent we have in this city.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Krug Brut Rosé Champagne. I love rosé and I drink Champagne any chance I get.

Rania Zayyat, sommelier, laV

Rania Zayyat

Zayyat’s passion for the wine industry started four years ago when she began working as a server at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner. She took her Intro exam in New York 2012, and that year won a wine contest that sent her to California wine country. She passed the Certified Sommelier Exam six months later. While working in the Pappas wine department, Zayyat became acquainted with the owner of laV Restaurant, who was a repeat guest of hers. She served him a bottle of 1988 La Tâche that cost about $1,600 the first time she waited on him.

“It was the most expensive bottle of wine I’d ever seen,” says Zayyat. “He asked for me to be his server every visit after that. In 2014 he asked if I would be a part of the team at laV Restaurant and Wine Bar and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a good opportunity, so I went for it. It’s been awesome.”

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

I decided to compete at TEXSOM for multiple reasons. I really want to bring attention to laV and our wine program. We have a lot to offer the community with a wide range of wines for every palette and budget.

It also has been a great way for me to meet somms in Austin. A lot of us study together. There is competition, but friendly competition. I’d be happy for someone else to win, as long as they are from Austin.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

I find that a lot of the information that I study is somehow relevant to bottles on our list and if anything, it gives me more confidence on the floor. Preparing for this competition also coincides with studying for the Advanced Exam which I plan on taking later this year.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Winning would be very validating for my career and would lead to more opportunities, not only advancement, but also to help others just getting started. The boost of confidence would allow me to realize how far I have come in this industry.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Maybe 2001 Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru and bubbles of course! Alfred Gratien Brut Millésime Champagne 1996 would do the trick.

Paul Ozbirn, Wine and Beverage Director, Olive & June  

Paul Ozbirn, Olive & June

Ozbirn has had a go as a professional skateboarder and as a rock band roadie, but a trip to Greece and Italy after college sparked a fascination with wine. After that trip he moved to Austin in 2006 and started in the restaurant industry at Vin Bistro. That position and a stint as bartender at Botticelli’s South Congress further ignited his enthusiasm for wine. Ozbirn passed the sommelier’s Introductory Exam which led to opportunity to work at Wink Restaurant, where he immersed himself in wine.

After working as the sommelier at Paggi House, Ozbirn was hired by Chef Shawn Cirkiel as beverage director at Olive & June where he worked to hone the predominately Italian wine list. He was recently promoted to serve as beverage director for all of restaurants owned by Parkside Projects, including Olive & June, Backspace, Chavez and Parkside. Ozbirn is currently a Certified Sommelier and hopes to take the Advanced Exam in the next year.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

Competing is a great thing for so many reasons. It pushes me to find time to study harder. It helps prepare me for taking the Advanced Sommelier exam sometime soon. It also gets me in front of more Master Sommeliers, which helps develop those relationships.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

Our study group meets every Thursday morning so I can always count on that. I was recently promoted from managing Olive & June to managing all of the properties. I was focused on studying Italian wine for work, but my wine responsibilities are now a lot broader. It’s been a joy to go back and revisit other regions that I haven’t worked with lately like France for Parkside Southern Hemisphere wines for Chavez. Studying for the competition completely helps.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

It’d be great to win of course, but giving it my all is just as rewarding. We’re all part of a community and competing shows we’re totally dedicated to that craft. I’m sure Shawn would be stoked if I won. I just want Austin to show well in general, and I think we will!

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Well I’m sure there will be bubbles involved, but a well-made negroni with Sipsmith gin would be nice too. That cocktail just never lets me down!


Nathan Fausti, lead server, Arro

Nathan Fausti, Arro

Fausti grew up in Wisconsin (so yes he loves cheese and beer), and has been in the restaurant industry in many roles since he started washing dishes in high school. A mentor at Parkside brought him into the world of wine. “Seeing him talk about wine and making the guest experience great inspired me,” said Fausti. “I wanted to be that guy walking around with a bottle making people happy.”

He recently joined Arro Restaurant to work for and learn from master sommelier Craig Collins, last year’s Texas Best Sommelier, Scott Ota and Chef Andrew Curren. Fausti is passionate about food, beverage and providing guests with a great experience, so naturally he gravitated to the wine certification programs. In the last year he has gained Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine diplomas.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This competition will be a great way to challenge my skills and prepare me for taking the Advanced Sommelier exam. It is also a valuable resource for networking and expanding the sommelier community. I can’t imagine any other city having a friendlier and more committed class of sommeliers than we have in Austin.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

Work and study complement each other. Studying helps me provide a better guest experience, and being on the floor talking with guests about food and wine helps to solidify my knowledge base. Our main job is to translate what people are saying into finding the wine they want. Having a full understanding of wine, beer and cocktails helps me achieve that quickly. I only have 15 seconds to make them feel comfortable and get them what they want.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Everyone who has won TEXSOM is currently an Advanced or Master Sommelier. Having the win under your belt opens up a lot of opportunities within the sommelier world. It would show what I’m capable of and my level of dedication.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

I’d like to take a tour through the great wines of France, Germany and Italy, beginning in Champagne and ending in Mosel. I’d like a Meursault from the Côte de Beaune of Burgundy, or a nice Barolo from Piedmont.


Melissa Lamb, wine manager, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar

Melissa Lamb, Fleming's

During college, Lamb fell in love with the romantic side of wine while the Hill Country wineries. She followed her heart to a career in wine industry starting as an auction director for the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas. In that role she met several sommeliers including her boyfriend, Bill Elsey. He inspired Lamb’s interested in the profession and studying wine. She passed the Introductory Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers in February 2013 and recently passed Level II Certified Sommelier Exam.

While studying wine at The Red Room Lounge, Lamb met the Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar operating partner, James Cook. “He read the article about the Best Somm Competition in CultureMap last year and realized that I was an up and coming sommelier,” says Lamb. “When the sommelier position at Fleming’s opened up, he offered me the job. I love it here. I’m responsible for building the by the bottle selection and making sure that every guest gets great service.”

The constantly evolving industry with new producers, new wines and changing consumer tastes keeps Lamb excited about wine.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

I want to push myself and see how much stronger I can compete. I’m never going to pass up an opportunity to get in front of the Master Somms and get my name out there. It’s a free look at the Advanced Exam, which is my next goal. I competed last year, so I know to expect the unexpected. They throw out crazy questions and scenarios.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

It makes me better in my job. It’s exciting when a guest wants to talk about a wine producer or region after I’ve studied it. It’s a great way to reinforce the quality of my service at work.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

There are awesome sommeliers who have won before and I would be humbled and honored to be among them. The competition is crazy. It’s like the American Ninja Warrior competition. If you can make it through, you are legit.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

I would drink a Last Word cocktail.


Edward Morgan, food and beverage manager, sommelier, Travaasa

Edward Morgan, Travaasa

Morgan’s path to the sommelier position started with dreams of Hollywood. As a student at Texas State, he wanted to pursue a career as screen play writer along with a close friend who wanted to be a film producer. It became quickly apparent that the duo needed to make money until they got a break in the film industry. Wine distribution seemed like a way to do both.

“When I visited my first wine big retail account, I brought big gun Bordeaux wines to impress him,” says Morgan. “He called me out, saying, ‘you don’t know anything about the wines you have in this bag.’ We spent the next several hours drinking through all of my samples and getting a quick education in fine wine. That was the start of my wine education.”

Fast forward 12 years, Morgan is now a sommelier at a prestigious resort and his friend is a producer in LA. He gladly traded fame for an opportunity to pursue his passion for knowledge. He feeds that passion by blogging about wine on the Travaasa website and testing for sommelier certification. He passed the Intro exam in 2009 and the Certified Sommelier Exam in 2011.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This is a great opportunity to get a free peak at what I might expect in the Advanced Sommelier Exam next year. It puts urgency into my studies with a more tangible goal to accomplish. Master Sommelier, Craig Collins, is my mentor, and I’ve been studying regularly Paul Ozbirn, Brian Philips, Mandy Nelson and Rania Zayyat since last year’s TEXSOM.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

It definitely makes me feel more confident at work. The trick is to study first thing in the morning so I can take any new fundamentals to the floor that evening to educate staff and the guests. I recently had a guest come in from Italy and I had just got back from a trip to Italy. I was able to speak knowledgeably about the landscape and the producers.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Small victories only solidify your path in life, but larger ones ensure your success. I would consider this a big win.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

I’ll drink the wine that most people got wrong in the blind tasting part of the competition. It’s another chance to learn.


Mandi Nelson, Fine Wines Specialist, Republic National Distributor

Mandi Nelson, Republic

Food and beverage have been a big part of Nelson’s life since she started in the restaurant business at age 15. She fell in love with wine while working as a bartender and began her wine career in earnest at the Four Seasons where she opened Trio and created its wine list. She passed here Introductory Exam when it was held at the Four Seasons Austin as a part of TEXSOM.

Nelson continued to pursue her passion for wine by joining the team at Republic. As a key account manager with Republic, Nelson call on the top accounts in Austin, most of which have sommeliers selecting the wine. Her job entails bringing winery owners, winemakers and master sommeliers to town to host tastings at top restaurants and shops. I’d like to trade jobs with her for a day.

She is a Certified Sommelier and has continued her education and certification march by completing the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Advanced Exam, CSW and Wine Location Specialist Program for Champagne and Port.  She has applied to take the Advanced Exam and hopes to take it next year.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This is another opportunity to study and prepare. Hope to sit for the advanced exam. This is my third time competing. I’m hitting the books more this time around. I’m also studying with a group that started last year at TEXSOM. It’s a great study group and it has been is extremely helpful in my preparation.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

The more knowledge I have, the better I am at my job. I’m better prepared to find great wines for my clients. For example, if a winemaker from the Priorat region of Spain is visiting town, I can take them to the right accounts who appreciate it.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

I love my job and I wouldn’t want to change anything. I’m just doing it for the education. My employers are extremely supportive of what I do. I appreciate it.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Champagne, of course. Whatever the closest bottle would be. Bollinger RD.


This story was originally published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Texas Fine Wine intends to pour its way into the hearts of Sommeliers at 10TH anniversary TEXSOM


It’s always hard to overcome negative perceptions. The Texas wine industry has that problem. Despite several years of massive quality improvements that have brought home trophies and medals in prestigious competitions, Texas wine is still roundly seen as sub-par. One bad experience years ago could cause a wine lover to turn their nose up at all Texas wine.

A group of Texas wine makers is out to change that perception with a united effort to let consumers and wine experts taste just how good Texas wines are. Texas Fine Wine will co-host with Texas Monthly a hospitality suite on Sunday, August 10, at TEXSOM, the world’s largest education conference for wine professionals. The group, whose members include Bending Branch WineryBrennan VineyardsDuchman Family Winery and Pedernales Cellars, hopes to let sommeliers taste the quality for themselves. Texas Fine Wine will also pour wines for guests attending the August 11 Grand Tasting.

Fredrik Österberg Perdenales Cellars“Our focus is to bring more attention to fine wines made in Texas that can be found on the wine lists of some of the best restaurants and wine stores in the state,” says Fredrik Osterberg, co-owner of Pedernales Cellars. “We are truly grateful for the outpouring of support from the sommelier community for our wines. Sponsoring TEXSOM is one way for us to recognize the support of that community.”

Texas Fine Wine is a privately funded marketing initiative led by group of Texas wineries dedicated to producing quality wines sourced from Texas appellation vineyards. This group has held special wine tasting events and for the second year will woo some of the world’s best sommeliers at TEXSOM. The backing of Texas Monthly magazine certainly helps raise the group’s profile.

“Texas Monthly is sponsoring a hospitality suite along with Texas Fine Wines as a continuation of the magazine’s involvement with TEXSOM last year,” says Jessica Dupuy, Texas Monthly wine columnist. “Each of the wineries showcased at the suite had wines selected in the 2013 list of Texas Monthly’s Best Texas Wines. There will also be a few other wineries spotlighted from this list at the conference’s Monday evening Grand Tasting including McPherson Cellars, Spicewood Vineyards, and William Chris Vineyards. We continue to see great strides in the quality of Texas wines and this is a perfect opportunity to share these wines with a national community of influential wine professionals.”

Jessica Dupuy Texas Monthly

Check out this fat list of awards amassed by Texas Fine Wine wineries in the past few years:

Brennan Vineyards

  • Gold, 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Newburg Vineyard, 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
  • Gold, 2011 Tempranillo, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
  • Gold, 2011 Tempranillo, 2014 Dallas Morning News/TEXSOM Competition
  • Gold, W Winemakers Choice NV, 2014 Riverside International Wine Competition

Bending Branch Winery

  • Gold, 2011 Texas Tannat, 2014 Dallas Morning News/TEXSOM Competition
  • Top Texas Wine (Class Champion and Double Gold), 2011 Tannat, Estate Grown, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
  • Double Gold,  2011 Tannat-CM, Estate Grown, Appellation America’s Best of Appellation Awards
  • Double Gold-, 2011 Tempranillo, Newsom Vineyards, Appellation America’s Best of Appellation Awards
  • Double Gold, 2012 Picpoul Blanc, Estate Grown, Appellation America’s Best of Appellation Awards
  • Gold, 2011 Mourvedre, Reddy Vineyards, Appellation America’s Best of Appellation Awards

 Duchman Family Winery

  • Gold, 2011 Aglianico, Oswald Vineyard, 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition
  • Gold, 2011 Sangiovese, Reddy Vineyard, 2014 Dallas Morning News/TEXSOM Competition
  • Gold, 2011 Sangiovese, Martin Vineyard, 2014 Dallas Morning News/TEXSOM Competition
  • Gold, 2011 Tempranillo, Bayer Vineyard, 2014 Lone Star International Wine Competition

 Pedernales Cellars

  • Double Gold, 2012 Tempranillo Reserve, 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition
  •  Gold, 2011 Texas Tempranillo, 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition
  • Gold and Best in Class, 2010 High Plains Tempranillo, 2014 International East Meets West Wine Challenge
  • Gold, 2012 Texas GSM, 2014 International East Meets West Wine Challenge
  •  Gold, 2012 George Bush 25th Anniversary Reserve Texas Tempranillo, 2014 International East Meets West Wine Challenge


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My Top Wine Picks from TEXSOM

This article originally ran on Austin Man Magazine.

When you walk into a wine shop or even the wine aisle at a grocery store and stare down thousands of varieties of wine, it is evident that it takes a lot of learning to become an expert on the subject. Fortunately for wine cognoscenti in Texas, the world’s largest sommelier education conference is held right here in our great state. The Texas Sommelier Conference, aka TEXSOM, wrapped up its ninth annual event in August with 33 Master Somms and nationally acclaimed experts teaching sessions for more than 500 attendees at the Four Seasons Resort & Club Las Colinas in Dallas.

The conference was packed with seminars for wine professionals. Some of my favorite sessions were on traditional-method sparkling wines, wines of Bordeaux, Australian wines, a varietal focus on nebbiolo and one session on the iconic producer Klein Constantia Vin de Constance.

Between these sessions, the tasting breaks, the wines at lunch, the hundreds of wines poured in the hospitality suites and the Grand Tasting, I came away with a few new favorite wines to drink this fall.

Matt’s Top 10 Wine Selections

Sparkling Wine

Roger d’Anoia Cava: Spanish Cava is made in the same traditional method as Champagne, but is affordable enough to pop open every day. It has bright lemon, crisp green apple and toast flavors with solid minerality. Texas barbecue loves Cava. The zingy acidity and frolicking bubbles lick up the beef fat and dance with the sauce. It runs $10 at Whole Foods Markets.

Champagne Godme Brut Reserve: When you want to kick it up a notch to French Champagne without breaking the bank, try Godme. It’s complex with aromas of white flowers and apple, ripe pears, apricots and buttered fresh bread flavors. The energetic effervescence and bright acidity make it a great dance partner for almost any food. It is a bargain going for $43 at East End Wines.

White Wine

Domaine du Closel “La Jalousie” Savennieres 2011: I’m a huge fan of this chenin blanc from the Loire Valley of France. It’s pear, tangerine and dried apricot tastes are bolstered by almond, honeysuckle and chamomile tea flavors. It has laser-focused acid and weighty alcohol to make it a sexy companion to Camembert and foie gras. Pour it at dinner with roasted chicken or rich fish. You can pick it up at East End Wines for $24.

William Fevre Champs Royaux Chablis 2011: If you think chardonnay is only oaky, buttery and from California, give this Chablis from Burgundy, France, a try. It’s not aged in oak, letting the tart green apple, lemon zest and stony minerality shine through. This light, crisp little number will play well with ceviche, sushi or anything your date orders on a hot night. Swing by Urban Wine + Liquor on Congress and grab this for $24.

Rosé Wine

Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rosé Sainte Victoire: I can’t get enough rosé in the warm weather. The Provence region in Southeastern France is known for its vivacious, crisp and dry rosés, and this one from Houchart fits that bill. Serve it well chilled to bring out the strawberry and white peach flavors. It’s perfect to drink on the porch swing before dinner. You can buy it for $11 at The Austin Wine Merchant.

Getariako Txakolina Gañeta Rosé 2012: This Txakoli from Northern Spain has a hint of effervescence and slightly lower alcohol that makes it perfect to drink by the lake. This wine has zippy citrus, strawberry and the brine of crushed oyster shells in a sparkly mouth of fun. Txakoli goes well with shellfish, but I like it with queso manchego and Spanish chorizo as an afternoon snack. You’ll find for $18 at Whole Foods Market.

Red Wine

Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco 2009: Just outside the famed Barolo and Barbaresco neighborhoods in the Piedmont region of Italy, the Langhe area produces some of the best value and stunningly delicious nebbiolos on the market. The cool climate is perfect for the nebbiolo grape, yielding a light-bodied yet bold and tannic wine. Layers and layers of flavors unfold with cherry and dried plum intertwined with tea leaf, clove and menthol. I love this wine with grilled lamb. It’s a steal at $22 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme Haut-Medoc 2005: Cabernet sauvignon is still the king of red wines. And Bordeaux is still the king of cabs. One nose of the glass and one deep sip lets you know why. Violets kiss blackberries, black cherries and plums in an orgy atop beds woven from sage, green bell pepper, mint and tobacco. It’s a great wine with a bloody, hot steak. Pick it up with promises of breakfast in bed the next morning for $20 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Dessert Wine

Chambers Muscadelle “Rosewood Vineyard,” Rutherglen: Some people like chocolate cake after dinner. I prefer to drink my desert. Sweet wines are an amazing treat and should be a part of your wine collection. The Chambers family has been making this fortified wine in Australia with raisined muscat and muscadelle grapes since 1858. It is opulent with loads of honeycomb and earl grey tea flavors. A delicious way to end the night. Snag it for $16 for a 375-milliliter bottle at the Austin Wine Merchant. *Note: This is pretty rare and is available in limited quantities. Call ahead. 

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2004: Established in South Africa in 1685, Klein Constantia is so damn old that Napoleon used to be its biggest customer, and the oldest bottle still in existence was made the same year as his death. This storied sweet wine is made from late-harvest grapes that ripen in the sun until they begin to raisin. The lush liquid languishes on the tongue like a velvet smoking jacket made of apricots, peaches, honey and insinuations. Wear slippers when you drink it. You can order it for $48 from

Now you are set up to do your own mini-TEXSOM wine tasting. Enjoy!

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So You Want to be a Sommelier?

This story appears in the Fall issue of Austin Man Magazine and looks far better in print than it does here. Pick up a copy. Photo’s of DustinWilson courtesy of Forgotten Man Fimls/Samuel Goldwyn Films 

Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what a sommelier was, let alone pronounce the silly word. That has changed. Now it seems like I encounter sommeliers everywhere I go: in restaurants, wine bars, wine shops and even grocery stores. Hell, even I am now a sommelier. The growth in the profession is mirrored by demand for educational opportunities.

Programs such as the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., are seeing increasing enrollment. The number of people studying for professional sommelier certifications and pursuing becoming a sommelier as a career is growing, with more than 4,300 taking CMS exams in 2012 alone. Conferences are on the rise as well. James Tidwell, Master Sommelier and cofounder of the world’s largest sommelier education conference, TEXSOM, says that forum has grown substantially in its nine-year existence.

“In 2005, when we started TEXSOM, we had four Master Sommeliers and one Master of Wine conducting educational seminars for about 100 attendees,” Tidwell says. “This year, we have 33 Master Somms, four Masters of Wine and six Certified Wine Educators, and many other luminaries teaching sessions for more than 500 attendees. Nine years ago, there was only one Master Somm in Texas: Guy Stout. Now we have seven Master Somms in the state. While the conference has grown, it has kept a sense of great camaraderie and a sense of purpose.”

Sommeliers have been around for a long time, but the allure of the career is on the rise. It has evolved from a job for frumpy footmen to a career for sophisticated bon vivants. June Rodil, Advanced Sommelier and general manager of Qui restaurant in Austin, believes it’s a natural extension of the foodie culture and the culinary world.

“The starlight shining on celebrity chefs has never been brighter,” Rodil says. (Her boss and Top Chef winner Paul Qui is an excellent example.) “TV cooking shows have gained incredible prominence and are reaching an entirely new demographic beyond the people who traditionally go to fine-dining restaurants. People now understand the care a chef gives to the ingredients and the preparation that goes into making elegant meals. That awareness spills over into paying more attention to which wine pairs best with food. People expect to find high quality in both food and wine.”

While celebrity chefs may still soak up most of the spotlight, sommeliers have a documentary of their own, cleverly named SOMM. The film, which ran at the Violet Crown Cinema in Austin this summer, chronicles the obsessive study habits of four candidates pursuing the coveted Master Sommelier diploma. It’s a window into how challenging it is to master the beverage world. One of the documentary’s stars, Dustin Wilson, now a Master Sommelier and wine director at Eleven Madison Park in New York, feels there was a need to tell this story in film because most people are unaware of the role of the sommelier and the work that goes into the profession.

“Sommeliers are certainly becoming more popular and carving out a stage presence in the burgeoning food and wine world, which makes the SOMM documentary appealing,” Wilson says. “The film gives the public a better idea as to what we do. Even non-wine geeks like the film because it’s not just about wine; it’s about wanting to achieve something very difficult. There is a humanizing element in the film that can touch anyone who has ever pushed themselves to attain something challenging, be it a test, a sporting event, a career change, etc. It tells the story of struggle, success and failure.”

Being a sommelier requires more than tasting wine all day and gliding about the dining room recommending wines to pair with a meal. The business of wine takes up a good part of the day too. Buying wine, schlepping boxes to cold cellars, cellar management and pouring over spread sheets to figure out the complex challenges of finding the right wine at the right price are all critical parts of the job. It might not always be glamorous, but Paula Rester, wine director at Congress Austin, finds it rewarding.

“I get the most satisfaction when people don’t know the role of a sommelier, but they have a great experience with my food-and-wine pairing recommendation,” she says. “When I can turn someone on to new wines, it makes me excited. Other times, I just make sure guests get exactly what they want. My mom likes pinot grigio with ice cubes in it. It’s my job to get that for her. The key to success in the service industry is you actually have to give a s**t. You can’t fake that.”

Follow My Path to Become a Sommelier

You don’t have to be born and raised in the restaurant or wine industry to become a sommelier. I’m living proof that anyone can become a sommelier. It just takes desire and a lot of studying. If you want to spend countless hours studying the soil types, the geography and the climate of wine regions throughout the world; if you want to learn how to recognize the smells, flavors, tastes of wine that let you identify the grape, the country, the region and the year the wine was produced; if you want to learn how to pair the right wine with an elegant meal to best bring out its flavors; if you want to learn how to open a bottle of Champagne using a saber, then you want to become a sommelier. Here is how to get started.

  1. Decide which certification program you want to pursue. Consider studying for exams with either the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) or Society of Wine Educators (SWE). Both organizations have websites where you can find course and exam schedules to plan your education process. I went with the CMS.
  2. Gather your study materials. Join the Guild of Sommeliers to gain access to its amazing study guides and sample quizzes online ( Buy a few books like the Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson and The World Atlas of Wine by Mitchell Beazley.
  3. Join or create a sommelier study group that meets at least weekly. Make sure you select serious study partners and try to include at least one member who is already certified (level II), or better yet, reach an advanced level III in the CMS or the equivalent in another organization. You will benefit immensely from studying with others.
  4. Set aside two to three hours a week to study. That’s a good amount of time for the beginning of the process, but be ready to ramp up your hours as you progress in the certification process.
  5. Take the introductory course and exam, and pass it with flying colors.
  6. Get your study group back together and add blind tasting and service to your curriculum. Learning how to do blind tastings correctly can be daunting without a little guidance at first.
  7. Set a budget for wine. It’s more important after the first level, but you will need to practice blind tasting a few different wines at least once a week (learn to spit and be OK with wasting wine). It’s preferable to drink “testable” wines multiple times a week, and stop drinking wines that won’t be on the exam (obscure wines).
  8. Practice proper wine service in a fine-dining setting to pass that section of the level II exam in CMS. If you don’t work at a restaurant, find someone who can help you practice proper wine service.
  9. Study all coffee, cigars, sake, beer, spirits and cocktails because they can all be on the test too.
  10. Pass your Certified Exam and wear your lapel pin. The path is not quick or easy, but if wine is your passion, you too can earn the right to call yourself a sommelier.
Disclosure: The Court of Master Sommeliers provided me with complimentary enrollment in both my Certified Exam and TEXSOM 2013 with journalist credentials. 

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Drinkin in the fun at TEXSOM

Jason Huerta TEXSOMThe 9th annual Texas Sommelier Conference, or TEXSOM, has come and gone marked by excellent education sessions, gallons of premium wines tasted and summarily spit into buckets and countless hangovers suffered through. It was a rich experience for more than 500 people thirsty for knowledge about the beverage industry.

The backbone of the conference is made up of enlightening seminars on topics like Traditional Method Sparkling Wines from Around the World, Bordeaux, Sake, Bourbon,  Iconic White Wines of the Loire Valley and several regional focuses. I can’t tell you what my favorite session was, but a joke that Kim McPherson, winemaker at McPherson Cellars told me puts one session into stark relief.

The joke: What is the difference between Australian Shiraz and gonorrhea? 

You can get rid of gonorrhea. 

Australian wine is crap. That’s common knowledge. But its totally inaccurate. Master Sommeliers, Matt Stamp and Eric Entrikin, led a session on modern Australian wines in which they completely debunked that notion by describing new wine making techniques and pouring eight unbelievably elegant wines. I just might be a convert.

The sessions are fantastic, but the real highlight is the camaraderie with an amazing community of wine professionals. The shared experience, the passion and the drive for continual improvement is exhilarating.

I’ll let the pictures tell the story of what happened at TEXSOM 2013 (OK, not the after hours part of the story).




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Scott Ota Wins Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition

Scott Ota Texas Best SommelierThe Jereboam trophy comes back to Austin. Scott Ota, sommelier at Arro, is the fifth Austinite to win the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition at the 2013 Texas Sommelier Conference (TEXSOM). Scott was one of seven wine professionals from Austin competing in a field of 24 sommeliers from around the state in a grueling test of beverage knowledge, blind tasting and wine service in a fine dining setting.

Ota collected his trophy amid thunderous applause at the TEXSOM grand tasting. Luis La Torre of Spec’s in Dallas scored second place, and James Watkins of the Cordúa Restaurant Group in Houston won third.

This is Ota’s second big award this year, after winning Somms Under Fire in January 2013. The badass is on a roll as he also just landed a sweet sommelier job at Arro, working alongside Craig Collins, MS.

Congratulations to Scott!

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