The rhubarb-almond cake by Nik Pugmire of Dore Bakery was served to the guests of the Iron Somm competition. Photo: Maharry Photography.
Writer: Karla Walsh
Since 2015, Iron Somm, a challenge between two Iowa sommeliers to select flavor profiles to complement a five-course dinner prepared by area chefs, has become a signature Winefest event for diners and oenophiles.
Held last Friday at Willow on Grand, the two sommeliers in the competition got to see, taste and study up on all of the dinner ingredients in advance so they could create perfect pairings for the dishes. Guests were served meals prepared by Aaron Holt of Doolittle Farms, Derek Eidson of Malo, Mike Holman of Trailside Tap and Nik Pugmire of Doré Bakery. Attendees go into the event “blind”; although our place settings included a menu that listed the five courses, we had no idea what was in our glasses (guests also serve as judges).
Bookended by a cheese plate by CJ Bienert of the Cheese Shop and rhubarb-almond cake (pictured) by Nik Pugmire of Doré Bakery, diners sipped on pairings from reigning champion sommelier Rae Doyle of the Surety Hotel and Dana Swasand of the Wine Shop Cedar Falls. The pairings included:
- Moroccan Spiced Butternut Squash Bisque by Aaron Holt of Doolittle Farm
- Doyle: Terlan Pinot Bianco
- Swasand: Enrico Serafino Gavi
- Wood-Charred Octopus with Chorizo, Confit Potatoes, Saffron Aioli, Preserved Kumquat and Squid Ink Tuile by Derek Eidson of Malo
- Doyle: Alain Graillot Syrocco Syrah
- Swasand: Carl Ehrhard Pinot Sekt Brut
- Spiced Duck Breast with Mole Negro, Adobo Carrot Puree, Curtido and Blistered Carrots by Mike Holman of Trailside Tap
- Doyle: Idle Cellars Merlot
- Swasand: Vina Tondonia Rioja
Both somms selected divergent pairings, which made it exciting for diners to select favorites. Afterward, I caught up with the winner, Doyle, to talk about the experience. This was the second time she took home the prize wine decanter trophy. (You might recognize Doyle from her previous work at Harbinger, RoCA and the Bartender’s Handshake; currently she’s the director of food and beverage at the Surety Hotel.)
“Pairing with modern cuisine is always a fascinating challenge as every dish is certain to contain many contrasting elements,” she told me. “It’s the traditional wisdom to structure wine pairings as either a contrast or a complement to a dish, but this type of food requires a bit of both.”
Doyle’s personal favorite duo? Syrocco Syrah paired with wood-charred octopus from chef Derek Eidson of Malo because “there were a lot of delicate elements to the dish that could have been easily overshadowed by too bold of a red. But this wine struck an affinity with the earthy flavors on the plate while making the bright, bitter kumquats shine,” she said.
The next Winefest event—Unexpected Cellar—is April 23. Click here to learn more and purchase tickets.