The Sommelier Smackdown

The International Sensation Developed by the Wine School of PhiladelphiaTake 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.

There are no upcoming classes at this time.

“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.” from the 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 evenings 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 get to turn the tables on the food & wine professionals. You get to judge the sommelier. Sure, they have years of experience, but it’s only your opinion that counts this time. Have fun and vote your palate.

Learn the Sommelier 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?

Sommeliers of the Smackdown

Competing 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

Competing Wineries

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

Competing Wine Shops

  • 420 Market
  • Wine Works
  • Newman Imports

Competing Wine Writers

  • Benjamin Wallace
  • Gary Vaynerchuk
  • Lynn Hoffman
  • Jason Wilson
  • Brian Freedman

Winning Sommeliers 

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

  • 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

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 serious problem at the school. “Wine as snobbery” was drawing too many narcissists into the wine school. As an empathic person, he wanted to see more folks like himself represented in classes (and in the wine trade in general).  

The school had been going strong for eight years, and it was time to change the landscape in Philadelphia. 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. 

 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 decide against hiding under a rock. 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 newspapers and magazines across the country, including the  National Law Journal and the Napa Valley Register.

Two of the more noteworthy were the Wine Spectator, October 22, 2009

Sommelier Smackdown

and South Park on Oct 21, 2009


Compete in the Smackdown!

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

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

What is this Smackdown, you ask? It’s a copywritten and original event created by Keith Wallace which is 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. Along with the menu, the Wine School supplies a stipend for the wine.  Cash and menu in hand, the contestants purchase wines from a local PLCB wine shop. No special trips to the wine cellar allowed!

[one_half][box type=”bio”]If you are interested in competing in the Sommelier Smackdown, please contact us. You don’t have to be a sommelier. We also feature winemakers, brewers, chefs, and authors. [/box] [/one_half]

The Smackdown Begins

And that’s when the fun really 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 most shy and taciturn of sommeliers and industry professionals thoroughly enjoy their moment in the sun at the Wine School. Most importantly, it gives an audience enjoys a night with two brilliant culinary minds.

It is not just sommeliers and restaurateurs from Philadelphia that are featured in the Smackdown. Winemakers such as Louis-Fabrice Latour, national personalities like Gary Vaynerchuk, bestselling authors like Benjamin Wallace have also competed. Even executive chefs and local brewmasters have joined in the fun.  There are two simple reasons: first, because 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 one the last Wednesday of the month. The event is also promoted to the local media and the Wine School’s own publishing wing. In  September 2016, the school has a readership of over 37,000 people. This is the kind of exposure that simply can’t be bought.


As a contestant, you are sent an email from Keith Wallace several days ahead of 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


Arrival Time: 6:30-6:45 pm

End Time: 9:30 pm

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 prior to the event (although you will be able to ask as many questions as you like) and you’ll 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 a food & wine pairing decisions.

Before the Sommelier Smackdown

Purchase 1 wine for each course (one bottle of each) for a total of six wines. Your total budget is $100, plus tax. Please include receipts so we can reimburse you. The menu is listed below. If you have any questions, please email Keith at least 48 hours prior to the event.

If you are bringing white wine, please make sure it is chilled prior to your arrival 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!

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

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