We are well and truly into awards season with seemingly gongs being handed out for everything from wines, to global song contests, to footballers of the year. Today it’s the turn of sommeliers and the finals of the Best UK Sommelier competition organised by, who else, the UK Sommelier Association in association with Villa Sandi. Leading sommeliers from all over the country will be competing to find out who is going to walk away with the overall crown.
Monday is often a quiet day, or even a day off for most sommeliers. Not today as some of the leading names in the hospitality and sommelier circuit battle it for the Best UK Sommelier Villa Sandi Award.
Most people working in the premium on-trade don’t have to face a daily trial to make sure they are still completely on top of their game. They can quite happily have their WSET certificates hanging on the wall, safe in the knowledge they are not likely to be expected to remember all those villages in Burgundy and Beaujolais that you used to know by heart.
Now consider the life of a sommelier. Everyday they have to put their knowledge to the test and run the gauntlet of fielding customer enquiries about the wines on their list and, most of all, their wider wine knowledge to help people choose the best wines to go with their chosen dishes. It’s what they thrive on and it’s what makes the best sommeliers who they are. That constant learning process and striving to know even more about your chosen subject.
They are also gluttons for punishment when it comes to putting themselves up for competition. They don’t simply sit down in a quiet exam room, answer a few questions, taste some wines and write a couple of essays to get another certificate for the wall. To come out top in any major sommelier competition they have to go through the sommelier’s equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent and actually stand up and show the judges what they can do.
Even sitting through the final stages of a sommelier competition is not for the faint hearted. The final three competitors are usually put through a series of awkward role play situations designed to test their knowledge, their ability to think on their feet, how well they talk to and interact with their customers (who are actually all scary judges pretending to be guests sitting in an imaginary Fawlty Towers-style restaurant), whilst remaining cool and professional throughout. Rather them than me.
Best UK Sommelier
Which is exactly what the finalists in this year’s UK Sommelier Association and AIS UK’s fourth Best UK Sommelier competition are going to go up against today. The competition, which is this year sponsored by Villa Sandi, is being held at London’s Institute of Directors and features an impressive line up of talent from right across the UK premium on-trade.
The competing sommeliers are:
Dario Barbato: Individuals Restaurants Manchester
Alex Arias: The Ormer
Alexandre Freguin: The Moon Restaurant
Giuseppe d’ Aniello: Roka
Denis Tony: Mosimann’ s Club
Eniko Nagy: Angler Restaurant
Maria Virginia Fontó: Sushi Samba
Gaia Serafini: Roganic
James Devereux: Manchester House
Janusz Sasiadek: Bottles & Battles
Jolenda Ang: Addembrooke’s Hospital
Johnathan Kleeman: Four Degree
Tony Lécouroux: Nothcote Manor
Matteo Calí: The Saoy Griil Gordon Ramsay
Matteo Furlan: The Ritz
Nicolas Planty: ISS & F&B
Lenart Cernelic: M Restaurant
Noemie Fravat: The Bleeding Heart Restaurant
Kiam Chong Lee: Hugues Hall Cambridge
Julien Sarrasin: Club Gascon
Chantal Serrano: Berkmann Wine Cellars
Silviu Craciun: Northcote Hotel
Tiziano Salerno: Locanda Locatelli
Ying Guo: 67 Pall Mall
Sara Rossi: Fera at Claridge’s
Alessandro de Angelis: Morton’s Club
Up to the test
Putting them through their paces will be an award winner himself, Joe Fattorini, the IWSC’s Communicator of the Year and presenter on Channel 5’s The Wine Show.
The line up for the day includes:
10.00 am: Semi Final of the Best UK Sommelier Villa Sandi Award 2018 & Valpolicella Competition which include a written test, blind tasting and food pairing. The semi final is not open to the public.
12.00 noon / 8.00 pm: walkaround tasting for the competing sommeliers and invited guests featuring a range of selected wines.
4.15 pm: Joe Fattorini will introduce each competitor on to the stage.
4.45 pm: Winner of The Valpolicella Competition VEP will be announced who will attend the next Valpolicella Education Program and the Anteprima Amarone that takes place in Verona.
4.45 pm: The three final competitors are announced based on who has the three highest scores in the morning semi-final.
5.00 pm: Best UK Sommelier Association Villa Sandi Award Final, where each of the finalists will be asked to go through a series of tests on the stage. 6.30pm: Best UK Sommelier will be crowned and receive a trophy, £1000 and a Jeroboam of Prosecco Valdobbiadene, as well as complimentary travel for two people, including flights, for a VIP visit to the Villa Sandi estate, and a two night stay in Venice.
The final will see each contestant judged on how well they decant a wine, make cocktails, serve wines, and answer the judges questions, posed as ‘guests’ on the stage. Judges will assess each performance on the elegance of service, delivery of service, interaction with customer as each judge will ask difficult questions, depth of knowledge, sensory analysis abilities and wine and food pairing skills.