Houston-based wine professional Rachel DelRocco, who works at Camerata wine bar, won the coveted Best Sommelier title at the annual Texsom sommelier conference, held at the Four Seasons hotel and resort in Irving last weekend.
The event, previously known as the "Best Sommelier in Texas Competition," is now also open to wine professionals working in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico as well as Texas. The broader field of eligibility has made the stakes higher and the competition more fierce.
"I'm totally humbled, very honored and excited," said DelRocco when reached by phone. "I went in just for the experience, and it feels really great that I've been recognized for the work I've put in."
DelRocco was one of 24 sommeliers vying for the title. Each of them underwent a grueling three-part exam modeled after the Master Sommelier examination, including theory, blind tasting and service.
"They put you in a real service scenario" with master sommeliers as dinner guests, explained DelRocco. She had to answer questions about one of the wine world's most esoteric subjects: British sparkling wines, a newly emerged category that few wine professionals have tasted.
It's been a terrific year not only for Camerata's staff but for Houston's growing wine scene. DelRocco's boss, Camerata co-owner David Keck, passed the last part of the Master Sommelier examination earlier this year, which makes him one of only two master sommeliers in Houston and eight in Texas.
"It tripped me up, but I kept my composure," DelRocco said of her own test at the Texsom competition. "I had to answer questions about English winemaking, PDOs [Protected Designations of Origin or appellations] and English grape varieties." That's not an easy task for even the most experienced among wine professionals.
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Originally from Raritan, New Jersey, DelRocco moved to Austin in 2010 to "decompress" from years of working in the high-pressure New York restaurant scene. "I was only supposed to stay [in Texas] for a few months," she said, "but I loved it so much that I never left," she said.
Following a stint working with master sommelier June Rodil in the state's capital, she moved to Houston a year ago after her fiancé, who also works in the wine and spirits trade, took a job here.
"It was very heartwarming to receive all the congratulations" for her win, she said, "and to be there with [Camerata owner and wine director and master sommelier] David [Keck] and June." She considers both to be mentors.
"I'm hoping to sit for my Advanced Sommelier exam next year [a prerequisite to become a master sommelier]," said DelRocco, "but I am really happy to be studying and learning. I want to meet people, to network and to find more opportunities to keep learning."