I was down in Birmingham today for the Sommelier of the Year competition, formerly known as the Trophy Ruinart Sommelier Competition. Ruinart pulled out of Sponsorship late last year leaving the competition hanging a bit by a thread. However it seems the Academy has managed to secure new sponsorship from Heidsieck Champagnes - Piper and Charles. So having sent of my completed questionaire earlier last month, I was notified that I had qualified for the regional final held at the Birmingham Malmaison. So braving the impending hurricane force winds I travelled down to Birmingham on Sunday night to get rested up and ready for the competition on Monday morning.
This is the third time that Ive competed in the competition, each time that Ive entered Ive qualified for the regional final, but last year as I had fallen down the stairs a week earlier and knackered my back I was unable to compete. The competition consists of a questionaire - about 30 questions and a blind tasting of four wines. For each wine the aim is to identify the grape variety, the country and region of origin and the vintage. Finally you must declare whether there is any oak influence to the wine. The last part of the first round is a verbal question in which you are given a scenario to which you must give a verbal answer in under two minutes. This year the scenario was how would you promote the sales of dessert wines in the restaurant.
After lunch we filed into the room to have our photos taken and be given our bottle of champagne for getting this far. Then the moment we were waiting for - we find out who will be competing this afternoon for the place at the national final. The top three scoring candidates complete a practical challenge in the afternoon with the highest perfoming candidate being selected as the regional winner. Well bugger me I wasnt one of the three top scoring candidates! Gobsmacked!! Some of those questions this morning were bloody hard, and although I didnt score well with the first wine, I reckon that I didnt fair too badly in the blind tasting. So after drawing numbered corks to determine the order of competition I drew last, so retired to the lobby to wait anxiously my turn. Eventually it was my turn, and while I had been sat there waiting I tried to remember watching the three candidates competing when i last attended two years ago. As I stood there nervously awaiting my briefing I tried to relax and just enjoy the experience. My brief was quite a good one, I had a table of four who were attending a conference on Health and safety and were having lunch before driving home. Their menu was a starter of Leek and seafood terrine and then a main course of Venison with pan roasted potatoes and wild mushrooms before a light dessert. I suggested a Loire White - something like a Menetou Salon, around about 13% alcohol - a small glass perhaps then another Loire wine - a Chinon again around 12% alcohol. Then they start testing your ability to think on your feet and they throw you a few curveballs. One guest doesnt drink red wines, he will have a dessert instead what would i suggest - Moscato d'Asti from Italy, light fruity, slightly fizzy and only 5% abv. Then another guest tells me he doesnt drink, but he wants to have something more than water, what would I suggest with the Venison. Its a bit more challenging that one, but I went with something like a Virgin mary - spicy tommy juice. Part one over, the next task is the service of a bottle of red wine. Here you have to decant the bottle of wine as if you were serving in a restaurant. The key element here is that you are decanting the bottle in front of the guest, so it is a good idea to engage them in some conversation. Tell them what you are doing, why you are doing it. Aparently I was the only candidate to do this. Finally you are given a bottle of champagne, and eight glasses and asked to pour the eight glasses. The key to this part is to open the bottle safely, then pour evenly and consistently. Perfect is pouring eight equal glasses with nothing left in the bottle. The next best thing is to have a teeny tiny bit left in the bottle. Disaster is only pouring seven or less and running out.
Competition over we retired to the lobby to await the deliberations. As we each debriefed ourselves and the audience gave us their opinions the stress of the situation bleeds away nicely. A good cup of tea helps immensely as well!! Once they had tallied all the scores we were called back in and given the results in reverse order.
3rd Place went to Francois from the Hotel de Vin in Brum.
2nd Place to Guillaume(?) from Hotel de Vin in York
1st place was yours truly!! Double Gobsmacked!!
So I got a glass trophy, two magnums of champagne and I get to compete in London at the National Finals. Id best get studying!!