Christian Varas, wine director for the River Oaks Country Club, is the winner of the 2016 Iron Sommelier prize, a competition and gala tasting event organized each year by the charitable Periwinkle Foundation.
Competing against last year's winner, Evan Turner of Helen Greek Food and Wine, who took home the second-place prize, and Thomas Moësse of Divino, the third-place winner, Varas impressed a panel of three judges with his presentation of goût de terroir, a French expression that can be loosely translated as flavor (or taste) of the earth or — to borrow an expression from 21st-century winespeak — sense of place.
Presenting three wines from three different wine regions — a Chardonnay from Jura (France), a Grenache-Carignan blend from Priorat (Spain) and a Riesling from Mosel (Germany) — Varas focused on the wines' texture and unique expression of provenance to win over the panel.
Varas, Turner and Moësse were three of 14 Houston-based wine professionals who took part in the competition this year. The panel of judges included Master Sommelier Brian Conin, New Orleans-based fine wine distributor Liz Dowty, and Houston Wine Merchant buyer and Italian wine specialist Antonio Gianola.
Originally from Queens, New York, Varas worked in some of the top destinations for fine wines in the U.S., including stints in Manhattan and Las Vegas, before settling in Houston, where he became the wine director for the River Oaks Country Club in 2009. As head sommelier at the elite Houston private club, Varas oversees one of the country's top wine programs, not to mention the private collections of some of the wealthiest wine connoisseurs in the nation.
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According to a press release issued by the Periwinkle Foundation following last night's event and competition, "more than $270,000 was raised for Periwinkle’s Camps, Arts and Survivor programs for children, teens and their families challenged by cancer and other life-threatening illnesses," a $40,000 increase with respect to last year. More than 600 persons attended the see-and-be-seen gathering, which was held at the swank Houstonian Hotel, Club, and Spa.