Kazuyoshi Kogai, President, Association De La Sommellerie Internationale, & Oliver Murtagh, The Irish Guild of Sommeliers.

Europe’s Best Sommelier 2008

The best sommelier of Europe competitions took place in Sofia, Bulgaria during May, 2008 under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria. Lisa O’ Doherty, Consultant Sommelier was the Irish Guild of Sommeliers competitor at these competitions. Lisa was Irish Sommelier of the year in 2003 and a semi-finalist at Trophee Ruinart du Meilleur Sommelier d’Europe 2004.

The semi finals consisted of written and practical tests. Questions concerning oenology, wine growing and making, matching food and wine, serving techniques and the work of the sommelier were tested. In the practical section there was a blind tasting of wines and decanting and serving of a wine. The competitors also had to serve champagne along with the matching of food and wine.

Lisa performed very well in the semi finals and felt quiet upbeat and confident with her performance. Of the 30 competitors just 3 went forward to the finals and sadly Lisa was not one of the final competitors. The finalists were Paolo Basso, Switzerland, Eric Zwibel, France, Isa Bal, Turkey. The finals took place in front of a large audience at the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Sofia. Each competitor performed as a sommelier of the restaurant of the day. They had to stick to a scenario while accomplishing specific tasks such as matching food and wine, serving champagne and decanting a wine, matching up and correcting a wine list along with tasting wines and spirits one of which was Jameson Whiskey. The tests were based on the daily work of a sommelier and this allowed the judges decide the Best Sommelier of Europe. Throughout the finals a special jury observed the appearance, performance, customer approach, and commercial awareness of the candidates. The final ranking was based solely on the marks gained during the oral and practical tests of the final. The Best Sommelier of Europe for 2008 is Isa Bal from Turkey, who works as head sommelier at the famous Fat Duck Restaurant, Maidenhead, Berkshire, England. Isa also has Irish connections through his wife who is from Ennis, Co. Clare.

The competition was organized by the Bulgarian Sommelier Association and run by the International Sommelier Association (ASI) which was founded in 1969 in France with the aim of developing and promoting the sommelier profession. The competition facilitates exchanges between many hotel and restaurant 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. Past President Oliver Murtagh who also traveled to Bulgaria has been attending these competitions since their inception and is an excellent ambassador for the Irish Guild of Sommeliers.

During our stay in Bulgaria we attend a wine exhibition and seminars. There was also a visit and tasting arranged to the Katarzhina wine cellar for a wine tasting and lunch. This winery is the most recent wine life phenomenon in Bulgaria. The winery is situated in the South East of the country near the Greek border. The following varieties of grapes are among those grown in their vineyards: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Chardonnay. Altogether there are five wine growing regions in Bulgaria: Danube Plain, Thracian Lowlands, Rose Valley, Black Sea Region and the Valley of the Struma River.

On the final day there was a full day congress for the Bureau of the International Sommelier Association Presidents which the President of the Irish Guild of Sommeliers attended.

Presentations including specially labeled bottles of Bushmills Whiskey and an engraved plaque to Maria Jardinova, President of the Bulgarian Association.

Great credit must go to Mr. Kazuyoshi Kogai, President of the A.S.I., Maria Jardinova, President Bulgarian Sommelier Association and Serge Dubs, President U.D.S.F and Vice President of the A.S.I. for the European Continent and their colleagues for organizing and running a wonderful competition to select Europe’s Best Sommelier 2008 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Congratulations to all concerned.

Great wines come from the best vineyards and the most talented people.

Written by Andrew O’ Gorman.

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