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One Course, Two Somms: 1st Annual Acanto Wine Gladiator Challenge

By John Lenart in Food on Jan 23, 2015 4:30PM


There are a number of wine lovers in Chicago who frequently bemoan the lack of interesting wine events in the city. Myself among them. So, when I hear about an event that's unique and intriguing I want to let you hear about it. Here's one that's sure to be great.

The 1st Annual Acanto Wine Gladiator Challenge by Acanto (18 S. Michigan Ave) and Wine Director Jon McDaniel will take place on Monday Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. Guests will dine on a five-course menu by Executive Chef Chris Gawronski. Each course will be paired with two wines, each selected by one of the top somms in Chicago. Sommeliers competing for bragging rights, victory and glory include:

Jason Prah, Bascule Wine Bar
Dan Pilkey, Sixteen
Andrew Algren, Alinea
Rachael Lowe, Spiaggia
Blake Leja, Southern Wine and Spirits
Richard Hanauer, RPM Steak
Ryan Arnold, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Philippe André, Hart Davis Hart Wine Co.
Jean Tomaro, HOGSALT
Arthur Hon, Sepia

Later this week or next, each sommelier will be randomly assigned a course for wine pairing, along with their heads-up competitors. The draws will be posted on the Acanto Facebook page. Then, let the social media trash talk begin. On the evening of the Challenge, diners will be presented with two wines per course but won't know which sommelier selected which wine. After the course is over guests will vote on the better pairing. Then, each sommelier will talk about the wine they chose and why. There will also be a vote for “Wine of the Night,” for the best overall paring.

When asked if the wines will come from Acanto's list or from the somms' lists, McDaniel explained:

"Legally Acanto must purchase all of the wine for the dinner, so each sommelier will have a wholesale budget for whatever wine in the world that they want to pair with the course they are assigned. So imagine wines that would be $75-$100 on a wine list— so some pretty incredible wines will be poured at the event. The sommelier will tell me what wine they choose and which distributor carries it and I will purchase it for the event. The great thing about the budget is that I have told the sommeliers that the only rule is that the wine must be purchased below the wholesale budget provided. So they are free to try and work with wineries, distributors and suppliers to squeeze the best price for their wine. The benefit of being a wine buyer is the ability to negotiate the best possible price. So if Chateau Petrus wants to sell their wine to me at that budget— then so be it!"

The cost to see these Titans of Wine do battle is $190, which includes tax and gratuity. Tickets can be purchased here.

The menu is as follows:

Citrus cured mackerel
Port olive puree, blood orange, suckling pig prosciutto, kumquat

Alpine herb and flower corzetti
Dungeness crab, uni, fennel, red carrot, borage

Poached turbo
Osetra, smoked fingerling potato, radish, watercress, grappa butter sauce

Suckling pig
Prune, Brussels sprouts, salsify, black lentil, mustard greens, horseradish bread crumbs

Fried sunchoke, beets, Australian truffle, bee pollen, 25 yr. balsamico di Modena

Chestnut mousse, chestnut cake, spiced honey, honey tuile
Creme fruit ice cream