People often seem to think that the sommelier’s main job is to laugh out loud at any wine suggestion a customer might have. Au contraire, the main concern of a (good) sommelier is the well-being of a customer, and to make their experience as pleasant as possible. Furthermore his job is not solely wine service, but covers all drinks: water, cocktails, beer to digestifs, coffee and tea. In addition to this it includes taking care of the bar, supplies, cleanliness…
Of course the most important is the wine section. Starting by selecting the wines from around the world that the restaurant will purchase, and to balance the wine menu between a wide range of styles, prices and vintages. Taking into consideration the character of the restaurant, style of food and the taste and trend of your clientele. And then planning for the future by building a cellar with wines that will increase in quality and value through time.
Then comes the service with the appropriate glassware, a selection of wines already at the correct serving temperature, and ice buckets and decanters ready to dance. Not to mention that a sommelier and his corkscrew is very much like a cowboy and his gun, always not far from his catch.
Food and wine are intrinsically linked and a sommelier has to know the food menu like the back of his hand. To be able to recommend which wine with which dish, taking into consideration the taste and budget of the customer. Or in the case of an exceptional wine, which course will complement and emphasise both of their qualities.
Being a sommelier requires much skill and it is no surprise that competitions are regularly organised on a regional, national and international levels, until the ultimate world championship every three years.
One of these happened in Macau this week, to elect the “Macau Best Sommelier 2017” at Galaxy Oasis. Organised by the Macau Sommelier Association and Sopexa group over two days, eight contestants were present for the qualifying round. First, a written exam: anything generally related to wine or alcohol, to places, winemaking technique, taste, composition… Then a blind tasting of two wines and one spirit. From this, five contestants proceeded to the semi-final the following day for another written exam, a blind tasting of four wines, and an oral exam. The latter, this time, primarily on the commercial aspect of the job.
In the end three contestants remained for the final which was open to the public.
A restaurant scene with two tables was created onstage, and each finalists faced four unknown scenarios. An important quality of a sommelier is the ability to adapt to different situations. One scenario was to recommend four courses with four French wines from four different regions. Two other scenarios involved serving a sparkling wine and decanting an old red wine, which are two of the most delicate tasks in wine service.
The next challenge for each candidate was to perform a blind tasting of three wines onstage, for an attentive audience of mostly professionals. They had to voice their description of the wines, from the colour, bouquet and flavours until reaching a conclusion about the grape(s), region, appellation and vintage. The last wine had to be described in a commercial way, to convince an imaginary customer to purchase.
With still two tasks to go, the three candidates gathered together onstage. The first was to identify one white and one red wine tasted blind, and write down the conclusion within sixty seconds. And finally the last task was to do the same with four spirits in the same amount of time.
The final was followed by a “Wine Fiesta” with no less than 19 sponsors and 84 different wines, and a gala dinner where the final result was announced.
Winner: Sean, Xiao Ran Chen
First Runner Up: David Rouault
Second Runner Up: Jacky, Zheng Sheng
The first two will represent Macau at the “Asia Best Sommelier 2017” competition hosted in Taipei in December.
For more information about the Macau Sommelier Association www.facebook.com/MacauSomm/?ref=br_rs
About the international sommelier competitions www.sommellerie-internationale.com/en/
* David Rouault is a professional classical musician, part time wine consultant and
full time wine lover, holding WSET Level 3, Certified Specialist of Wine and Introductory
Sommelier diplomas. www.dionysos.com.mo