World Sommelier Competition Rhodes 2007

The World competition for sommeliers took part in Rhodes, Greece2007. The following is a  report on how the world’s leading sommeliers put their skills to the test on a global stage by Andrew O’Gorman

The International Association of Sommeliers (ASI) was founded in June 1969 in France with the aim of developing and promoting the sommelier profession. It organizes the International competition for the World’s Best Sommelier that takes place every three years normally in a different country, the exception being Greece as the last one was held in Santorini in 2004.

This year’s competition held during May on the island of Rhodes, Greece featured sommeliers from 45 countries each competing for top honours. The first time I traveled to these competitions was in 1992 when they were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at which the Irish competitor won bronze. The standard of competition continues to rise at each event as witnessed in Tokyo, 1995, Vienna, 1998 and Canada 2000. Mary O’ Callaghan, wine expert at the competitions in Rhodes was Ireland’s competitor at both Vienna and Canada.

Included in the Irish Guild of Sommeliers team who traveled to Rhodes were as follows: Oliver J. Murtagh, Guild President and International Judges panel member and scrutineer for the written tests ,  Mary O’ Callaghan, Wine Consultant and Wine Lecturer and sub committee member Statutes Committee ASI.

The competition facilitates exchanges between many restaurant and hotel professionals. It encourages healthy competition between competitors and motivates them to perfect their skills and allows the sommelier profession to become better known to the public at large. In every country that it has taken place, the event arouses the enthusiasm and interest of professional sommeliers, hotel college students and lecturers, authors, proprietors of hotels and restaurants along with various drinks companies.

The competition took the following format for all candidates: The first part of the semi finals consisted of a detailed examination paper of 80 questions. The following are examples of the type of questions asked at this type of competition:

  1. List the following Champagne bottles in order of size: Quart, Demi, Bottle, Magnum, Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Mathusalem, Salamanzar, Baltazar, Nabuchodonosor.
  2. What is the fourth most important wine producing country in South America?
  3. In which US state do we find the wine producer Dr. Konstantin Frank?
  4. How much sugar do you need to produce 1% volume of alcohol?
  5. What are the main differences in the production of Cognac and Armagnac?
  6. How do you explain primary, secondary and tertiary aromas?

A red and a white was poured and each candidate had to match them with food. This was followed by a decanting and service of a red wine to seven guests.

The Irish candidate performed very well in the semi finals and felt quiet upbeat and confident at this stage with his performance. He had to wait until the following day to know if he was going to be one of the 4 finalists.

Prior to the finals all 45  sommeliers assembled at the Hotel Rodos Palace Convention Centre. As they took their place on stage the tension could be felt all round the hall as the moment of truth had finally come. 45 candidates were to be called out to receive their official certificates of participation leaving just 4 sommeliers on stage. These 4 were to be the finalists of the 12th Mondial for the World’s Best Sommelier.

The finalists were as follows: Eric Zwibel, France, Gerard Basset, UK, Paolo Basso, Switzerland, Andreas Larsson, and Sweden.

At this stage the judges for the final were called to the stage and among them was Mary O’ Callaghan.

At this stage the final commenced. The first task was the analysis, tasting and evaluation of 4 wines followed by a blind tasting of 12 spirits. This was followed by the service of guests at three tables in a restaurant setting. The competitors had also to instruct a trainee sommelier on aspects of service. The guests ask for advice on choice of wine/spirits. They want a different wine for each course and each from a different country. The menu was explained in conjunction with the matching of food and wine. The competitors had also to decant a red wine and correct an erroneous wine list.

The winner was Andreas Larsson from Sweden. The winners name will be added to the Moet and Chandon Champagne Silver Mathusalem alongside the names of previous winners. This is the competitions perpetual trophy. Moet and Chandon Champagne has been associated with this competition since 1989. It asserts its commitment to the sommelier profession, not only by making a major contribution to its success, but also by extending the influence of the profession. Through its support Moet and Chandon educates and encourages sommeliers to perfect their knowledge of wines around the world .

The World Sommelier Competition plays an important role because it exists to showcase the talents of sommeliers from around the world and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and skills. Participation is based on the sommeliers performance at their national competition. During the congress Oliver Murtagh was made a member of the international Sommelier Club. At the gala night Oliver made a presentation to the President of the Greek Sommelier Association .

“If we are to continue our high standards of sommellery and quality service we will be able to offer a constant supply of young sommeliers. The best way to drive this is through education, training and competition” stated Oliver Murtagh, President the Irish Guild of Sommeliers.

The Peter Lehmann Shiraz World Sommelier Award was also held. This competition is organized every three years and is open to all official candidates of the World Best Sommelier Competition. This competition consisted of two written tests : a questionnaire and a tasting commentary. The winner was Gerard Basset from the UK and he received a cheque for € 10,000.

The performance of the Irish team should be a great source of encouragement to those already employed in the hotel, restaurant and drinks business and especially to young entrants to the profession. Employers should give their employees every encouragement and in turn this should pay dividends in their own business with the rising of standards. Drinks companies and suppliers should also help by increasing sponsorship in this area.

The level of sponsorship that candidates from other countries had received from the drinks companies in their home countries was amazing.

I wish to compliment the Irish Guild of Sommeliers for their foresight in sending a team once again to compete at the highest world level.

Mary O' Callaghan, Delegate and Oliver Murtagh, President IGS


Leave a Reply