But what happens when a customer is presented with not one, but two glasses of wine, and asked to choose which is the better option?
That’s the idea behind the knock-down, no-holds-barred Somm Brawl. The Mick Brasserie in Scottsdale started hosting the event in January 2022, pitting eight of the Valley’s most sophisticated wine professionals against each other in multi-week brackets similar to a boxing match.
The second Somm Brawl series starts again soon, and runs Monday evenings from January 9 to 30, with semifinals on February 20 and 27, and finals on March 13. The cost is $142 for the first four dinners, $169 for the semifinals, and $199 for the finals; tax and tip are extra.
They’re given the menu and a budget in advance, and they’re allowed to talk to chef Brent Menke about his vision behind each dish. Then the moment of truth arrives.
“We treat the actual event like a boxing match,” says Jeffrey Menzer, The Mick’s official “cork dork” who serves as master of ceremonies and helped develop the dinners. “We start it off with [the song] ‘Eye of the Tiger.’”
The competition creates excitement among the diners, who discuss the wines, ask questions of the sommeliers, and often disagree, according to Nichole Palmer of Chandler, one of the attendees last year. She warns others to be prepared to drink.
“I would definitely Uber," she says. "Lots of wine gets poured."
“The wine and food pairings were next level — better than anything I’ve seen in the Valley,” Palmer says.
Menzer initially came up with the concept for Somm Brawl while talking with The Mick's owners, Menke and John Krause, along with Drew Cameron, who’s now a server at Cafe Monarch and Reserve
“We billed it as an industry night, but word of mouth just took it, and social media just ran with it,” Menzer says. “We had influencers for each of the events last year. We had a live feed on Instagram for it, and people were watching it.”
“It basically beat out a Chateauneuf-du-Pape,” a red blend from the Rhone in France that’s often highly acclaimed, Menzer says.
The winner receives a boxing belt, but Cameron got something else out of the experience. At the time, he was working full-time in the mortgage industry, but the combination of rising interest rates and slumping demand plus the victory spurred him to re-enter the hospitality business.
Landing the title “pulled at my heartstrings a little bit,” Cameron says. “I made me realize I missed the industry and wanted to go back.” Now, he’s studying to take the advanced sommelier exam this April.
“I get introduced to wines maybe I would not get introduced to because my colleagues have chosen it for the competition,” he says, explaining that it makes his job easier. “These are recognized wines by top sommeliers; why wouldn’t I want to put them on my list?”
Reservations are available on OpenTable, and Menzer suggests making them early, because now that the word is out, they fill up.
“Last year it started off where there were 20, 30 people for the first few events,” he says. “By the time we got to the finals, we sold out the entire restaurant with 125 people.”
Somm Brawl at The Mick Brasserie
9719 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale