Houstonians Compete for "Best Texas Sommelier" Title

Competition will be fierce this weekend at the annual "Best Texas Sommelier" to be held at the Texsom conference in Dallas.

Of the 25 competitors, seven are Houstonians: Paulina Avendano (Granduca Hotel), Andres Blanco (Caracol), Jarrett Buffington (The Capital Grille), Brett Forsberg (currently unaffiliated but part of the Camerata at Paulie's circle), Matthew Garcia (The Capital Grille), Dario Najera (Arturo's Uptown Italiano), and Whitney Seng (River Oaks Country Club).

Each contestant will endure a grueling series of tests: theory, service, and the dreaded blind tasting, where each has to identify the grape and region of a wine tasted without any other information than the wine itself in the glass.

But the seven wine professionals vying for the coveted title aren't the only Houstonians attending the yearly gathering of leading wine professionals from around the world.

David Keck, a Master Sommelier candidate and co-owner of Camerata, will be volunteering as a "captain," leading a team of sommeliers who help to serve thousands (literally) of tastes of wines to the more than 300 conference attendees and speakers, who include a who's who of high-profile international wine celebrities.

So many members of the Camerata staff will be volunteering and participating in Guild of Sommeliers testing that Keck decided to close the wine bar Sunday and Monday nights (the conference runs Saturday through Monday evening).

"We're closing up on Saturday night at 2 12 a.m.," said sommelier and chef Felipe Riccio last night at Camerata. "We'll drive up to Dallas as soon as finish up and we have a 7:30 a.m. volunteer meeting the next morning. We'll re-open, regular hours, on Tuesday evening."

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