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Who Knew? Michael Engelmann of Gary Danko Is Crowned Best Somm in America

Last month, Restaurant Gary Danko sommelier Michael Engelmann shocked the world (or at least the US sommelier community) by coming out of nowhere to win the coveted title Best Sommelier in America, a title conferred only once every two years. While Gary Danko and SF are not exactly "nowhere," it's true that Engelmann, who is not the restaurant's wine director, keeps a somewhat low profile. He's soft spoken, studious, mannered and not prone to behavior that causes him to really stand out of a crowd.

That's changing now, as displayed by the recent email blast from England's Decanter Magazine, the world's best distributed wine rag. In the brief interview with Engelmann, he proclaims his interest in France's Languedoc-Rousillon region, inveighs against "monster wines that are out of balance, over-extracted and have no identity" and offers advice on food and wine pairing.

Engelmann's win at the competition last month in New York was a surprise. He was a last minute entry, as just over a week before it started the competition realized it had no entrants from SF and tried to recruit one. On short notice, Engelmann asked for a couple of days off work (without telling the restaurant what he was doing), flew to New York. There he competed against dozens of other sommeliers from all over the country, some of them even master sommeliers—one of the most difficult titles in the wine industry to obtain. The competition included blind tasting of wines and spirits; a written exam (example question: name three coastal wine regions of China); creating a seven-course wine and food pairing menu; and service of Champagne, a red wine and cigars.

As Engelmann said in a brief account published in Tablehopper, "This contest is the wine world equivalent of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. And, coming into it, I was a 16 seed going up against a field of number ones." Now he prepares to represent the entire US in the "Best Sommelier in the World" competition, which will be held in 2010 in Barcelona. I'll have my own interview with Engelmann in coming months.