The Sommelier Smackdown

The International Sensation Developed by the Wine School of Philadelphia. Take the best sommeliers in the Delaware Valley, the region’s only independent wine school, a four-snack menu, and a challenge too tempting to refuse. What do you get? The Sommelier Smackdown!

In each episode of the Smackdown, a contestant is given the evening’s menu and a small stack of cash. Their job is simple: create the best food & wine experience in less than an hour.

Move over, Iron Chef. The latest hot culinary competition is the popular “Sommelier Smackdown,” which pits two wine experts in a palate-to-palate showdown at the Wine School of Philadelphia. Armed with the same menu, the two contestants – an instructor and a sommelier from a local restaurant – purchase wines from local retailers to complement each dish. Attendees then decide the winner after tasting the food-wine pairings.

October 25th edition of Zagat’s Buzz Newsletter

The Food & Wine Competition

Take the best sommeliers in the Delaware Valley, the region’s only independent wine school, a four-snack menu, and a challenge too tempting to refuse. What do you get? The Sommelier Smackdown!

In each episode of the Smackdown, a contestant is given the evening’s menu and a small stack of cash. Their job is simple: create the best food & wine experience in less than an hour.

You are the Wine & Food Critic

At the Smackdown, you can turn the tables on the food & wine professionals. You get to judge the sommelier. Sure, they have years of experience, but only your opinion counts this time. So have fun and vote on your palate.

Learn the Sommelier’s Secrets

The Sommelier Smackdown is a master class in food & wine pairing. During the class, the sommelier will talk to you about why & how they created each food and wine pairing, and you will taste the results. Could it get any better than this?

Wwe Vs The Sommelier Smackdown, Wine Spectator, October 22Nd, 2009
WWE, Wine Spectator, October 22nd, 2009

History of the Sommelier Smackdown

The Origin of the Somm Smack

In the summer of 2007, Keith Wallace was worried about the state of the wine trade. The population as a whole looked at wine people as snobs. That was causing a severe problem at the School. “Wine as snobbery” drew too many entitled narcissists into the wine school. Too often, people would ask questions about master sommeliers or demand we supply them with sommelier jobs.

As an empathic person, Keith wanted to see more interesting people represented in classes (and in the wine trade in general). He wanted to see fewer snobs and more LGBTQ+ and minorities in class. This was in 2009.

The School had been going strong for eight years, and it was time to change the landscape in Philadelphia. So in August, Keith coined the term “Sommelier Smackdown” and created a wine event around it. Once a month, he started to invite local sommeliers to compete in a silly little food and wine pairing event. It was a way to humanize sommeliers and (occasionally) to burst a few inflated egos. 

South Park Season 13 Episode 10 Featuring The Wine School Of Philadelphia, October 21St, 2009
South Park Season 13 Episode 10 featuring the Wine School of Philadelphia, October 21st, 2009

 The World Wrestling Entertainment Cometh

On October 1st, 2009, the School receives a cease and desist order from the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for our use of the term Sommelier Smackdown. At first terrified of the idea of being sued by a multinational company, Keith decides against hiding under a rock. So instead, he writes a press release.

Vince McMahon Issues Smackdown Against Wine School

Philadelphia, PA. Vince McMahon is taking on his oddest foe to date: a sommelier wine tasting. The World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., has issued a cease and desist against The Wine School of Philadelphia and its popular “Sommelier Smackdown” series of wine classes.

In a letter to the school’s owner, the WWE’s lawyers are threatened legal action if the school does not stop hosting the series of wine tastings. “I feel kind of special,” says Keith Wallace, “I am being picked on by Vince McMahon. I better start working out.”

The Sommelier Smackdown is a series of food and wine pairing events that take place in Philadelphia. The event pits a sommelier against a member of The Wine School team, and the audience gets to vote for the winner.

Mr. Wallace says he will not stop running the classes, at least for now. “They don’t have a leg to stand on. I am not going to bow down to a bully,” he says. “They claim that they own the term “smackdown” but they don’t.”

In response to the WWE threat, Wallace is calling out Mr. McMahon and the wrestler Chris Jerico to a wine-tasting double-team cage match.

Keith Wallace is the Founder and Director of The Wine School of Philadelphia. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Beast, and is currently working on his first book for Running Press.

The news story is picked up in hundreds of national newspapers and magazines, including the  National Law Journal and the Napa Valley Register.

Compete in the Smackdown!

Are you a sommelier, published author, or chef? Then, you can compete in the Sommelier Smackdown!

The Sommelier Smackdown is one of Philadelphia’s most popular and entertaining food and wine events. Since 2004, the Wine School has offered this unique and popular event to the public. Over 4,500 people have attended a Sommelier Smackdown, with seats selling out two months prior.

What is this Smackdown, you ask? It’s a copywritten and original event created by Keith Wallace, held exclusively at the Wine School of Philadelphia. It challenges top-notch restaurant or wine professionals in a food and wine pairing competition.

The contestant is given the menu –often coming directly from our bestselling Corked & Forked cookbook– several days before the event. The somm has to purchase their own wines, but we know a sommelier salary doesn’t go as far as it use to: the Wine School supplies a stipend for the wine along with the menu.

Cash and menu in hand, the contestants purchase wines from a local PLCB wine shop. No special trips to the wine cellar are allowed!

The Smackdown Begins

And that’s when the fun begins. In front of a sold-out audience at the Wine School, the contestants present their pairing while the audience samples the menu items. The beauty of this event is that it is a uniformly positive experience for all involved. Even the shyest and taciturn sommeliers and industry professionals thoroughly enjoy their moment in the sun at the Wine School. But, most importantly, it gives an audience to enjoy a night with two brilliant culinary minds.

Not just sommeliers and restaurateurs from Philadelphia are featured in the Smackdown. Winemakers like Louis-Fabrice Latour, national personalities like Gary Vaynerchuk, and bestselling authors like Benjamin Wallace have competed. Even executive chefs and local brewmasters have joined in the fun. There are two simple reasons: first, it gives them exclusive exposure to an influential and highly targeted audience, and second because it’s a damn hoot.

Smackdowns are held once a month in the evening, typically on the last Wednesday of the month. The event is also promoted to the local media and the Wine School’s publishing wing. In  June 2022, the School had a readership of over 87,000 people. This is the kind of exposure that can’t be bought.

Sommeliers of the Smackdown

Restaurants

  • Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons
  • Lacroix at the Rittenhouse Hotel
  • Ruth’s Chris
  • Le Bec-Fin
  • Vetri
  • 10 Arts
  • Sbraga
  • Amada
  • The Prime Rib
  • Davio’s
  • 20 Manning
  • Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
  • Jet Wine Bar

Wineries

  • Maison Louis Latour
  • Roche Winery
  • Decibel Winery
  • William Heritage Winery
  • Karamoor Estate
  • Amalthea Cellars
  • Chaddsford Winery

Wine Shops

  • 420 Market
  • Wine Works
  • Newman Imports

Wine Writers

Sommeliers 

The best & brightest wine personalities in Philadelphia have competed. Here are a few of the folks!

  • Anca Howell
  • Hai Tran
  • Gary Vaynerchuk
  • Justin Timsit
  • Anthony Masapollo
  • Cyril Addison
  • Eric Arnold
  • Christophe Tassan
  • Ryan Davis
  • Mark Hoyt
  • Christophe Guillot
  • Jason Whiteside
  • Eric Miller
  • Ryan Margolis
  • Benny Robling
  • Jeff Bloom

The Menu for the Sommelier Smackdown*

  • Camembert with Fig & Port Jam
  • Roasted Onions with Aged Balsamic
  • Smoked Salmon with Pickled Shallots
  • Haricot Vert with Fried Onion and Black Truffle Salt
  • Prosciutto with Squash
  • Smoked Pork Loin with Pickles

*this is a sample menu

The SOMM SMACK Email

As a contestant, you are sent an email from Keith Wallace several days before the event. It will look like this:

Welcome to the Smackdown! Looking forward to seeing you next week at the Wine School. Here are the details.

Location: Wine School of Philadelphia, 109 S. 22nd Street, Philly

Date:  Arrival Time: 6:30-6:45 pm End Time: 9:30 pm

Philip Brandeis

The Premise of the Sommelier Smackdown

The founder of the Wine School has created a 6-course menu for the evening. Your job is to pair a wine with each dish. Simple enough, right?

Here’s where things get fun. You won’t be able to taste the food before the event (although you will be able to ask as many questions as you like) and have a strict budget of $100 retail for all the wines.

One of the greatest draws of this event is for you, the wine professional, to explain why you made the choices you did. People are fascinated by the selection process smart wine folks go through when making food & wine pairing decisions.

Before the Sommelier Smackdown

Purchase one wine for each course (one bottle of each) for six wines. Your total budget is $100, plus tax. Please include receipts so we can reimburse you. The menu is listed below. Please email Keith at least 48 hours before the event if you have any questions.

If you are bringing white wine, please make sure it is chilled before you arrive at the School (or come early)

During the Sommelier Smackdown

You will be talking about your wine pairing and pouring your wine selections. Your audience will be a group of approximately two dozen wine lovers. The founder of the Wine School will be with you for the entire evening. His main goal is to support you and ensure the audience loves you. There will be lively banter!

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