The entry process for the Best Sommelier UK competition is nearing its close as the deadline ticks down to the finals on June 3. Here Andrea Rinaldi, president of the UK Sommelier Association, explains how the competition, now in its fifth year came about, and why just being selected to take part in the final competition is an achievement in itself. He also explains how the competition works and what it is looking for in the winning candidate.
Who will follow in the footsteps of Julien Sarasin, head sommelier at Hide and also the Best Sommelier 2018 in the 2019 competition? Awards organiser of UK Sommelier Association, Andrea Rinaldi, sets the scene…
Tell us about the Best Sommelier UK competition, its background and how long it has been going?
For the fifth year running, on June 3, the UK Sommelier Association and AIS UK will organise the award that will pay homage to the best sommeliers working in UK. This year we are pleased to once again have Joe Fattorini, the Wine Show presenter to help us host the awards and celebrate hospitality professionalism.
Thanks to the support of our sponsors, premium Prosecco producer, Villa Sandi, and the Hotel Le Meridien in Piccadilly, the UKSA will be able to award the winner with a £1,000 prize.
For the sommeliers taking part it is a wonderful experience and education in itself, and for those that get through to the final and then overall winner it is a fabulous way to boost his or her own profile and the establishment he or she works for.
What standard of sommelier or experience of sommelier would you say are best suited to enter?
All the sommeliers who take part are pre-selected by a committee, so to be able to enter the competition they will need to have an outstanding CV. Being a finalist is an achievement in itself.
How do you decide who goes through to the final stage?
The competition is broken down into stages. In the morning session, the sommeliers are given written test questions and have to perform a blind wine tasting in front of a panel from the UK Sommelier Association and Italian Sommelier Association. From this, they are then whittled down to three.
In the afternoon, the final will take place, on a stage in front of VIP guests.
What will the sommeliers have to do on stage?
The sommeliers will be asked to perform a number of best service tasks and to role-playing different scenarios with customers made up of journalists, foodies and wine experts who are sat at tables as if they are ready to dine. It helps re-create the experience they have in the restaurant.
They will then carry out seven tasks:
Task 1) Blind Wine Tasting
Task 2) Sparkling Service and cocktail suggestion
Task 3) Theoretical Wine/Food Matching Test
Task 4) Decanting
Task 5) Black glasses Identification of 3 Wines, 3 Beers, 3 Spirits
Task 6) Wine List Description
Task 7) Communication Assessment
What are the key criteria that you will use to decide on the winner?
Judges on the panel, will be handed the schedule of tasks that each sommelier needs to do. Judges will watch these performances, assessing each individual sommelier on elegance of service, delivery of service, and interaction with customers. Each judge will also ask difficult questions to determine their depth of knowledge, sensory analysis abilities, wine and food pairing skills. Based on the scores, the winner is then selected.
Who are the judges?
Judging the performance, we will have Masters of Wine, journalists, wine experts and AIS / UK Sommelier Association board members including: Roberto Bellini (Vice President AIS), David Bird MW, Anthony Rose MW (Decanter, The Independent), Neil Phillips (The Wine Tipster), Christopher Walkey (Glass of Bubbly), Susan Hulme MW, Julien Sarrasin (Best Sommelier 2018, Head Sommelier at Hide), Valentine Radosav (Best Sommelier 2017, head sommelier at Gymkhana), Matteo Montone (Best UK Sommelier 2016, wine director at Berners Tavern), Luca Carmignani (Chairman AIS Pistoia) and Christopher Cooper.
You are also hosting a walkaround tasting on the day for the trade. Tell us about that?
A walkaround tasting will take place during the day. Selected sponsors (wine producers and UK based importers) will showcase high quality wines to our guests, creating networking opportunities with Sommeliers, wine buyers, wine and food professionals from the United Kingdom and abroad.
We will also be holding two masterclasses on the day:
- 12.45pm: Flavio Geretto, Villa Sandi export manager and Stefano Gava, winemaker will give an overview of North East of Italy: from Villa Sandi Prosecco to Borgo Conventi Friuli Collio.
- 3.00 pm: Susan Hulme MW will host: Vernaccia di San Gimignano: Between Tradition and Innovation.
Overall what do you see as being the best attributes and skills that a sommelier has to have?
Knowledge, communication, style, service skills, and he or she needs to have an exceptional tasting and pairing skills.
What are the traits and bad habits that they need to make sure they don’t get themselves into?
- To register to attend the tasting and the finals please firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To apply to enter the competition please send an email to: Info@uksommelierassociation.com