Somm SLAM: A Wine & Food Throwdown in Metro Detroit

By: Toni Cunningham | July 24, 2014
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As a slightly overindulged Food Network fan, I’ve seen nearly every episode of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” that exists. In case you missed out on the series (which ended about four years ago, but reruns are constantly shown so it’s not too late for you, my friend), the idea is that celebrity chef Bobby Flay challenges cooks who are known for making a particular dish, and they face off in a cooking duel.

A very similar scenario is unfolding in Metro Detroit, thanks to Mindy Lopus, restaurateur and proprietor of the Detroit Wine School. To date, Lopus has hosted over a dozen Somm SLAM events, where she faces off against a featured sommelier over a wine dinner.

The next Somm SLAM will take place this Friday, July 25 at Bacco Ristorante, 29410 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield, where Lopus will face off against executive chef James Rigato of The Root Restaurant.

The original Somm SLAM events were held at Lopus’ former restaurants Tallulah and Bella Piatti (both of which she has sold), and since opening the Detroit Wine School in January, she has been invited to host the event at several different sites.

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“One of my favorite slams was with Luciano Del Signore, the owner of Bacco. Evidently, Luciano also had a great time, even though he lost by the slimmest margin possible, and he has invited me to recreate the events at Bacco,” Lopus said. “The choice for my competitor is made by selecting someone (who) has a great palate, knows food and wine, is known throughout the community, and loves to have a great time.”

Prior to the event, Lopus and her competitor meet to taste through the dinner menu. During this time, they sample the four courses that will be served at the event, take notes and think about the components of each dish. Then, the two select which wines they think will go best with each dish, all of which are provided by Great Lakes Wine & Spirits.

“After we have tasted the food, my competitor and I make our selections separately through Great Lakes,” Lopus said. “That way, we never know what each other’s selections are until the night of the event. All wines are poured blind and the guests vote for whichever one is their favorite pairing with each dish.”

The menu for this Friday’s Somm SLAM at Bacco consists of a decadent four course meal prepared by chef Luciano: a fennel, celery and artichoke salad for the first course, risotto with mushrooms and asparagus for the second course, a rabbit dish from central Italy for the third course, and a bananas foster-type dessert for the fourth course, which Lopus promises is “insanely delicious.”

Generally, there are approximately 60 guests at each Somm SLAM, and seating is limited, so make sure to get in touch with the restaurant to secure a spot. The all-inclusive event costs $95/person. You can feel good about spending your money on this event, because a donation will be made to the winning sommelier’s favorite charity. To make a reservation, call 248-356-6600 or email

For all of you wine lovers out there, keep in mind that you can learn even more about food and wine pairings at the Detroit Wine School. There are four different classes that fall under this umbrella, including “Secrets to Success,” “The Marriage of Cheese and Wine,” “International Foods: Thailand,” and “Attention Bargain Shoppers!”

In the aforementioned classes, you’ll learn valuable information including basic food and wine pairings that work, which cheeses work with (and against!) certain wines, varieties that pair with Thai food favorites, and budget wines that work with easy meals.

This week’s Somm SLAM is a great event for any wine (and food) lover out there in the Metro Detroit area.

“It will be fantastic,” Lopus said. “There are still seats available and it definitely should not be missed.”

For more information on the Detroit Wine School, visit the official website or Facebook page.