In a night of high drama Matteo Furlan from The Ritz was crowned the Best Sommelier UK of the year last night, organised by the UK Sommelier Association, narrowly pipping MASH’s Salvatore Caetano and the Dorchester’s Noemie Favart to the post in a tightly-fought contest. Peter Dean was a judge at Le Meridien Hotel Picadilly and had a ringside seat as all the drama unfolded – with each finalist having to perform seven taxing tasks in just 30 minutes. Luckily the spirits tasting was not in the running order before decanting the 1985 Lynch Bages.
Best Sommelier UK of the Year is an event organised by the UK Sommelier Association with the key sponsor being Villa Sandi
A tad unfair I thought playing ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen as the stage was reset for the second of the three finalists at last night’s Best Sommelier UK of the Year competition at Le Meridien Hotel Picadilly. No one needed reminding how much was at stake and how nerve-jangling the whole exercise was.
Perform seven difficult tasks in front of a fairly rowdy crowd, ‘real’ customers asking difficult questions while the timekeeper intoned ‘4 minutes left!’ as the 30 minutes allotted time disappeared into nothing.
“You’re all winners tonight” Andrea Rimaldi the UK Sommelier Association chief had told the 15 semi-finalists gamely (I thought there could only be two semi-finalists?) before the final began.
Indeed the crème de la crème of London’s sommelier scene had all equipped themselves so well, before compere Joe Fattorini read out the names of the three ‘lucky’ finalists: Noemie Favrat of The Dorchester, Salvatore Castano from MASH and Matteo Furlan from The Ritz.
In 30 minutes each contestant had to perform seven tasks – blind tasting 3 wines and giving in-depth commentary about them and how they would serve/ pair them, serving a bottle of premium Prosecco and giving a cocktail suggestion (the sparkling was Villa Sandi naturally), taking a wine order and suggesting matches for a set menu, decanting a bottle of Lynch Bages 1985, blind tasting three spirits, analysing a complex wine list and identifying a winemaker and a label.
To get just one of these stages right in front of the audience would have tested the mettle of any service-battled somm but to do seven – Ugh!
At the end of the night Matteo Furlan just edged it over Salvatore Castano – both were extremely good and did themselves and their employers proud. Furlan just managed to avoid setting light to the wine basket whilst decanting the claret, but apart from that it was a pretty flawless performance.
The only blot from my corner was that the winemaker the finalists had to identify was Jean Ganevat and nobody knew who he was – maybe the Ritz should get onto their allocation right away!