Back in May I attended the finals of the Moët UK Sommelier of the Year 2012 competition that I was covering for Sommelier Journal. From a short list of 12, three sommeliers had reached the final round, which was held in sweltering conditions in one of the gallery rooms at the ExCel exhibition centre.
The three finalists were Clement Robert (Medlar Restaurant, London), Laurent Richet (Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham) and Jan Konetzki (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London). I saw them fight it out in the final two tests.
First, there was a restaurant simulation test. Eight of the previous winners of the competition had been drafted in to act as guest diners, and formed two tables of two each and one table of four. Each finalist had 12 minutes to perform three tasks of the kind they might be expected to do in normal restaurant service. However, this time they were doing it under the bright lights, with an audience watching, and a serious prize at stake.
The first task was to serve a bottle of Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial to one of the tables of two. Then the sommeliers had to approach the table of four where they had to select wines to match each of six courses of a tasting menu. Finally, they had to decant a bottle of red wine, and check that the first tables’ glasses were topped up.
The final test was the infamous perfect Champagne pour, in which a magnum of Moët & Chandon Rosé Champagne is poured equally into 16 glasses, without returning to any of them. This fiddly task made for excellent viewing, with lots of tension and some precise pouring. When this had been completed, the judges retired to consider their decisions. After a long wait, it was announced that the winner was Jan Konetzki of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Sommeliers get to decide which wines appear on the lists in top restaurants, where a lot of fine wine is drunk. They influence what people drink, by providing advice when this is asked for (and I guess it is not asked for as often as it should be). The sommeliers I know have a deep understanding of wine, because they are immersed in it, and taste a lot of it, and they get to see first hand how customers experience this wine. Of course, not all sommeliers are good or all that progressive. But a lot of them are. Interestingly, for many fine wine events I’m invited to, the invite list consists largely of sommeliers, with few press. Is this because the on-trade is where a lot of interesting wine is actually sold?