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GTK the Somms Under Fire 2017 Finalists!

We asked our three finalists Advanced Sommelier Eric Crane, Advanced Sommelier Hai Tran, and Advanced Sommelier Jill Zimorski some questions to see how they match up prior to the Somms Under Fire competition on January 29, 2017.

#SommsUF 2017 is quickly approaching, and we have another opportunity for you to win a free GA #SommsUF ticket! Get to know our three finalists Advanced Sommelier Eric Crane, Advanced Sommelier Hai Tran, and Advanced Sommelier Jill Zimorski and check out our Twitter @keepercoll every week-day at 2 p.m. CST for the next 3 weeks. Answer the Twitter poll and correct answers will be entered to win and we will announce the winner on December 24th. (Hint! All answers can be found on this blog post, so it will help to read up on our contestants below!) Also look at our Instagram and Facebook accounts and comment your favorite thing you learned from this post to get an extra entry for the free ticket!

How do you think your background in the wine business sets you up with the best chance of victory at Somms Under Fire 2017?

Eric: I’ve had the chance to eat a lot of food. I’ve had to wash down a lot of that food with wine.

Hai: Coming from a program that promoted pairings on a nightly basis and where we take into consideration the tastes of the guests, I’ve always had to think on my feet and utilize my understanding of flavors, textures, and structure to put together the best combination possible. I’m always tasting and thinking about how everything works, so being able to think quick on my feet and being able to draw contextual cues should assist me in my “victory quest”.

Jill: I've worked in diverse restaurants and for companies from upscale casual to Three Star Michelin; all over the US and even a little time abroad. It makes me wildly adaptable and Seuss-like; (I will serve you wine in Spain/on a train/while it rains/paired with brains/then saber Champagne...)

What are some of your favorite wine and food pairings?

Eric: Potato Chips with Champagne, Fried Chicken with Champagne, Soft Shell Crabs with Sancerre, Smoked Pork with Riesling, Cheeseburgers with Old Italian Wine

Hai: I love fried chicken and champagne, but I also love showing how Southeast Asian flavors (like Thai, Vietnamese, and Lao) go well with Austrian Gruner Veltliner. There are a number of other combinations that I could rattle off, but these are definitely my all-time favorites.

Jill: Champagne with almost everything. Sherry with everything else. Also Nerds Halloween candy (purple flavor) with Vittorio Bera Moscato d'Asti.

Craziest thing you have ever had a wine customer say and how did you respond?

Eric: “I only buy my wine at Auction,” is maybe the best thing I’ve been told from a customer. I replied, “I get it, I only play cards on ESPN.”

Hai: “I don’t like Champagne.” “WHHAAAT?!”

In all seriousness, I wish I had kept a log of all the crazy things I have heard over the years, but let’s go with a more recent comment:

“Can you bring me some ice for my wine?” (after ordering a Domaine Leflaive Batard-Montrachet from the list and before tasting) My response? “Why certainly m’am..” After all we are in the hospitality business and if that’s how she enjoys her wine and she is spending that money with us, I will make sure the wine is as she likes.

Jill: Of the G-Rated comments: I once had a guest tell me that if I didn't have any more Magnums of Grand Cru Raveneau Chablis in the cellar, they would leave. (They had consumed both/all I had). I offered the same wine (producer/vintage, etc.) in a 750ml. I was told it wouldn't do b/c "the ladies drink too fast for us to have regular bottles. Magnums only" So they left. #AspenProblems

What are you most nervous about for the Somms Under Fire 2017 competition?

Eric: Jill’s ridiculous pairing ability and not making Hai’s social media feed.

Hai: A few thoughts come to mind:

“Can my hair hold up to the magnificence that is the mane of Eric Crane?”

“Oh man, I hope Jill doesn’t wear heels or I am going to look like a Hobbit Somm from the Shire!”

In all seriousness, competing next to two sommeliers that I’ve always looked up to because of their reputation and the body of work they have accomplished is a daunting task, but I am up to the challenge and look forward to having some fun (just got to remind myself that this is supposed to be fun).

Jill: The Obstacle Course.

What is your pre-competition strategy? Stay in and rest? Hit up 6th Street?

Eric: Grab some Brisket, visit area wineries, listen to Phish, take a stroll, and most importantly I’ll do Trust –Falls with Jill and Hai.

Hai: Like Iron Mike once said, “Everyone has a strategy, that is until they get hit.” I plan to just have a good mindset, have fun, and be flexible enough to deal with whatever comes our way. Oh and getting some sleep would probably be a good idea.

Jill: There's little in life that isn't aided by good meal (obviously with wine & friends) beforehand.

What sets you apart that could make you the Fan Favorite?

Eric: My great, great grandfather is buried in the Texas State Cemetery. That and bribes.

Hai: Everyone likes rooting for the underdog right? If not, well I like to connect with people and make wine fun and unintimidating. Everywhere I have worked that has translated to my guests enjoying themselves and continuing to come back for that personal experience.

Jill: My adorable wine-nerdiness & accompanying jokes that only a geek can appreciate, coupled with a propensity to dole out high fives to my guests and quote late 90s hip-hop lyrics when describing wine. And dimples. :)

What excites you most about possibly winning the Grand Prize Burgundy trip?

Eric: Too many things to mention. Burgundy is one of the neatest parts of the planet. I know it isn’t cool to love Chardonnay as much as I do- but what that grape does there is transcendent.

Hai: Being in a region that I’ve only read about in books and on the internet would be astounding. To make sense of the terrain and connect with the people that are responsible for making some of the greatest wines in the world, all while being taken around under the wing of one of the top Burgundy professionals in our business, is only the tip of the iceberg of what makes this prize such an exciting opportunity.

Jill: I've never been to's one of the first places you learn about when you get into the wine business and somehow, I've managed to do this for years without getting there. It's a wine Mecca. Also, Chardonnay is my favorite grape.

What is your favorite color and your favorite time of the year?

Eric: I like Blue and I love Fall.

Hai: My favorite color is blue and I love the fall, due to the changing of the leaves, the crisp air, and the bounty of flavors that make their way to our tables.

Jill: Color: Pink; Season: Fall

What advice can you give to your fellow Somms Under Fire competitors?

Eric: Stay out really late the night before the competition and drink heavily. It’s really cool to show up late as well.

Hai: Just have fun and do what you do! #GetSomm

Jill: We are actually all friends in real life. Eric and Hai know I come correct. I trust they will do the same. ;)