Find out about our Decanter World Wine Awards 2014 Southern and Eastern Mediterranean judging panel with biographies of the Regional Chair Isa Bal MS plus Ana Emilia Sapungiu, Dimitar Nikolov, Jo Ahearne MW, Serdar Balkaya and Totte Steneby.

Regional chair: Isa Bal MS

Bal has been head sommelier at Heston Blumenthal’s three-starred Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck, since 2005. He studied hospitality in his native Turkey before moving to the UK in 1999, where he began his sommelier career at The Vineyard at Stockcross, working his way up to head sommelier. Last year he represented Turkey in the Best Sommelier of the World competition in Tokyo, and he was previously named Best Sommelier of Europe 2008.

Judges

Ana Emilia Sapungiu

Ana Sapungiu is a buyer for Oddbins and is responsible for the buying of still, sparkling and fortified wines. She started with Oddbins as a Branch manager in the London stores in 2004, before she joined head office in 2007 and made her way into buying. Alongside her job, Sapungiu judges at international wine competitions and is studying for the Master of Wine. When she is not doing anything wine-related, she loves travelling and visiting her family back in her native Romania.

Dimitar Nikolov

Dimitar Nikolov has ten years’ experience in the wine industry as a wine buyer, sommelier and wine judge, holds qualifications from the ISG Chicago, the WSET advanced certificate, and is currently studying for the WSET diploma. He is a wine buyer by profession and a sommelier by heart. Starting his career as a sommelier for a major hotel chain in Bulgaria, and at a restaurant in Chicago, Nikolov then returned to his native Bulgaria to work for Metro Cash & Carry, firstly as the wine buyer for Bulgaria, and then as wine buyer for Metro Cash & Carry’s entire Russian Federation operations, which saw him move to Russia. After five years with the company, Nikolov was appointed to a top management position at a wine importer specialising in Hungarian wines. Together with his wife, he owns the online wine shop apollowine.com, which stocks a selection of high end Bulgarian and Balkan wines.

Jo Ahearne MW

Jo Ahearne MW first worked in the wine trade in the early 1990s at Oddbins, and after two years she went to Australia to work a vintage for Charles Melton, with his Nine Popes and Rose of Virginia wines. While in the Barossa Valley, she decided to sell her house and belongings and enrol in a winemaking degree at Charles Sturt University in Australia, whilst also working at Pipers Brook, Bailey’s of Glenrowan, Leasingham and Tintara wineries. Following this, Ahearne worked as a flying winemaker in Spain and France, was assistant winemaker at Charles Melton, spent four years making Jacob’s Creek, and spent time in Fitou in the Languedoc. In 2004, Ahearne moved back to the UK to blend wines for Marks & Spencer, before a stint as wine and spirits buyer for Harrods. She now works as a winemaking consultant in France, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Macedonia.

Serdar Balkaya

Serdar Balkaya has just been appointed head sommelier at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner. Previously he worked as head sommelier for the Hakkasan Group’s HKK, which he joined in 2004, and was also part of the opening teams for restaurants both abroad and in the UK. Balkaya studied tourism and hotel management in London from 2003 to 2005, has since passed WSET exams, along with the Court of Master Sommeliers’ advanced course, and is currently studying for the Master Sommelier qualification.

Totte Steneby

Stockholm native Totte Steneby started his career in the food industry before turning to wine in 2007, the year he passed both a sommelier exam and the WSET Advanced Certificate. In 2008 he joined Eriks Vinbar, where he currently works, and since then has taken part in several international wine competitions. In 2008 he won the Swedish Rioja Sommelier Award and Viniportugal Scholarship and, in 2010, won the ASI Nordic Championship for Sommeliers and was invited as a keynote speaker at the Asian Top Sommelier Summit in Hong Kong. In 2011 he was the winner of the Swedish Championship of Sommeliers. Steneby is the co-founder and current vice president of the Sveriges Sommeliergille, an organisation which brings Swedish sommeliers together to teach and learn from each other.

Written by John Abbott