Valentin Radosav at Gymkhana, Ana Maria Martinez Terol of TerraVina, Tamas Czinki and Adam Pawlowski MS of The Northcote, Lionel Periner at La Trompette, Stefan Neumann MS then at The Fat Duck, Sara Bachiorri of The Glasshouse and Romain Henry of Hibiscus all have one thing in common. They are past winners of the Sud de France Sommelier Competition. If you think you have what it take to be this year’s UK winner and go on to take part in the global competition next year, then here’s what you have to do to take part.
Sud de France’s executive director Isabelle Kanaan explains what the judging panel will be looking for in the 2019 UK Sud de France Sommelier competition.
Your Sommelier Competition is now into its 10th year, tell us about why it is so important to you as an initiative?
It is a celebration, showing appreciation to every sommelier, at many different stages of his or her career, who has built their knowledge of wines from the Occitanie region, Sud de France. Competitors will have the opportunity to improve their knowledge of Languedoc-Roussillon wines and build their confidence even further, and be rewarded for it.
What have you learnt about doing the competition and what changes have you made to improve it?
We know that sommeliers take this competition seriously, and prepare thoroughly. Over the years, we have refined the format to include specific tasks that are very relevant to their jobs, and are challenging to them.
Why do you think it has become so popular amongst sommeliers?
It’s an opportunity to learn more, share their knowledge and their commercial experience, and show their personal style and flair – as well as win a very desirable prize.
What sort of sommeliers are you looking to enter?
The competition is open to all UK-based sommeliers e.g. choosing and buying wines, setting up a cellar, stock maintenance, categorisation of wine lists, advising customers, decanting and serving wines, liquors or spirits. At the time of the semi-finals and finals day, September 30 2019, they need to have been employed as a sommelier in the UK for a minimum of six months prior.
Can you explain what they have to do to enter?
The first stage is simply to register their details via the online entry forms and return it by July 31 (click here to register). Entrants will receive a preliminary questionnaire designed both to test and build their knowledge. It can be completed in consultation with colleagues or reference materials.
What happens on the day of judging?
It’s an enjoyable, fast-paced day for all! Ten successful entrants will be shortlisted and invited to participate in the semi-finals hosted in London on September 30. These 10 candidates will be judged on a written questionnaire, a blind tasting and a food and wine pairing recommendation. The top three candidates will progress to the finals that same afternoon. Finalists will be tested both practically and verbally in front of a panel of judges and the other semi-final competitors. The top winner will be announced at the end of the competition day.
Which judges do you have taking part?
We are honoured to have Douglas Blyde as our judging chairman. He is the wine and drinks columnist of Evening Standard ES magazine and has also had experience of working as a prestige sommelier and private cellar consultant. The panel will also include Richard Siddle who is editor of The Buyer, and Valentin Radosav of Gymkhana who is our current Sud de France Top Sommelier.
What does the winning sommelier receive?
The fantastic first prize rewards the winner of the Sud de France Sommelier Competition with the opportunity to attend the International Sud de France Sommelier of the Year. He or she will receive a four-night stay in Occitanie, which includes a personalised tasting tour of selected premium vineyards.
This year, we also have prizes for our semi-finalists. Each will receive a Master Level manual on the Languedoc-Roussillon vineyards. It is created by Matthew Stubbs MW and recognised as a thorough information source for experts.
Can you tell us something about your past winners and what they have gone on to achieve?
Our winners are passionate sommeliers who have reached enviable positions in top restaurants. They have progressed in their careers to head up a team as head sommelier, and been promoted within their own restaurant group establishments. One has even opened his own business. Current and recent title holders include: Valentin Radosav, head sommelier at Michelin starred Gymkhana; Ana Maria Martinez Terol of Terravina; Tamas Czinki and Adam Pawlowski of Northcote; Lionel Periner of La Trompette; Stefan Neumann MW when he was at the Fat Duck; Sara Bachiorri of The Glasshouse; Romain Henry of Hibiscus.
How about Sud De France wines in general. What sort of year have you had in the UK?
Occitanie is a very dynamic region, and there is a true sign of confidence amongst producers, buyers, retailers and sommeliers. This year in the line-up of Sud de France Top 100 wines (in which 565 wines were entered by 176 producers) we saw wines which are proudly positioned by their producers amongst their most premium styles, scooping the top places for the Best Red, Best White, Best Rosé and Best Sparkling.
This propels the quality reputation of the region upwards, and still leaves scope for the easy-to-enjoy house styles to be applauded for their exceptional good value and improving quality.
What are your main objectives for the UK market?
We aim to raise the profile of Occitanie as one of the classic wine regions of France – equal to Bordeaux, Beaujolais, for example. We are proud to show off the diversity of styles across the vast Occitanie region; the increasingly consistent and high quality which producers are achieving; and the continuing exceptional good value.
What are the main challenges?
We are competing with other big dynamic regions in the world, when it comes to persuading restaurants with high-end tables to feature wines from Sud de France as a prominent section on their menus. Therefore, verbal recommendation by sommeliers is crucial in highlighting food matching choices to diners.
What other events and tastings do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
We host a trade-focused programme to announce the Sud de France Top 100 Wines, starting from the busy London Wine Fair and to the Sud de France Annual Tasting in winter. This will feature a selection from our new Top 100 wines line-up, plus more wines from visiting producers and winemakers.
Alongside this, from July to November we host our consumer events roadshow which includes tastings at popular festivals: Festival of Wine in Scotland, The Wine Gang in Leeds and London, Three Wine Men in London and Manchester, and Wine Festival Winchester. At these events, we also meet many local restaurant teams.
- To find out more and to enter the Sud de France Sommelier Competition click here.