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Guild of Sommeliers Crowns the Country’s 2014 Top|Somm and TopNewSomm

May 05, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Sunday, a dozen of the best sommeliers from around the country gathered at the Marriott Marquis hotel in San Francisco, California, to compete in the fifth annual Top|Somm and TopNewSomm competitions.

Hosted by the Guild of Sommeliers and judged by a panel of Master Sommeliers (including numerous former Top|Somm and TopNewSomm champions), both competitions asked contestants to demonstrate their skills through a series of challenges in the categories of wine theory, beverage service and blind tasting. Top|Somm is open to wine service professionals of all ages, while TopNewSomm is open to those under 30 years old.

To reach this final stage of the competition, these sommeliers outscored their peers in intensely difficult competitions held first at the local level and then at a similar three-part regional contest.

Surpassing over 200 competitors along the way, all twelve national finalists truly represent the cream of the crop. However, only two would be crowned as victors on Sunday night: Josh Orr of The Marina Kitchen at the San Diego Marriott Marquis took home the title of Top|Somm, while Chris John of the Rare Wine Company based in Sonoma, CA, was named the country’s TopNewSomm.

Second and third place in Top|Somm went to Max Kast of the Fearrington House in Pittsboro, NC, and Liz Dowty of Vino Wholesale and Square Root restaurant in New Orleans, LA, respectively.

Left: Josh Orr receives the Rodney Strong Trophy for his Top|Somm win.
Right: Chris John is awarded the Southern Wine and Spirits Trophy for his TopNewSomm win.

The nation’s brand new Top|Somm, Josh Orr, credited his success to his tasting partners in San Diego as well as “the willingness of Masters like Fred Dame, Steve Poe and Sur Lucero to take time out of their busy schedules to taste with us and teach us. That and the GuildSomm tasting classes that have been held in San Diego have proven to be invaluable.” Orr, who took home a $2,000 scholarship and the Top|Somm trophy from Rodney Strong, noted how “the format and intensity of this competition” were also great for preparing him for the Master Sommelier exam he’s looking forward to sitting in Aspen in just two weeks.
The 2014 TopNewSomm, Chris John, is also studying for his Master Sommelier diploma and expressed the value of the TopNewSomm competition for his exam preparation. “I would encourage everybody to apply for Top|Somm,” he enthused. “Essentially, you are paying just $25 for the equivalent of an entire MS exam, plus you get face-time with a number of the top Masters in the country. Look at past winners: Matt Stamp MS, Jason Heller MS, Desi Echavarrie MS, Emily Papach MS, Ian Cauble MS, Chris Bates MS, Roland Micu MS—that evidence alone should be reason enough to make you want to compete.” John also thanked “great friends that are incredibly talented sommeliers and coworkers with triple my years of experience” for their support in his studies and preparations. John took home the TopNewSomm trophy from Southern Wine & Spirits along with a $1,000 cash scholarship.

As Master Frederick Dame, President of the Guild of Sommeliers summed up after the event, “This competition is a fantastic, unique chance to put your skills to the test against the best of the best professional sommeliers. It demonstrates the high standards necessary for success,” he said, “and it shows off the value of mentorship and intentional training. I’m always impressed with where these competitors set the bar for excellence as well as with their diligent, thorough preparation.”

The complete line-up of 2014 Top|Somm Finalists included (pictured left to right):
East: Jonathan Ross

West: Joshua Orr – First place and the 2014 Top|Somm

Wild Card: Allegra Angelo

South: Liz Dowty – Second runner up

Central: Jill Zimorski

Wild Card: Max Kast – First runner up

The complete line-up of 2013 TopNewSomm Finalists included (pictured left to right):
Wild Card: Chris John – First place and the 2014 TopNewSomm

South: Jacob Gragg

East: Morgan Harris

West: Jackson Rohrbaugh

Wild Card: Mia Van de Water

Central: Andrey Ivanov