Eric Zweibel MS is aiming to be the second successive Frenchman representing the UK to be awarded the title of Best Sommelier in the World.
Eric Zweibel is one of the favourites at the ASI (Association de la Sommelerie Internationale) Best Sommelier in the World Competition which begins next week in Japan. The title is currently held by Gerard Basset, just announced as Decanter Man of the Year 2013.
Born in Alsace, Zweibel – head sommelier at the Summer Lodge Country House Hotel in Dorset – is the 2004 UK Sommelier of the Year.
The last time he competed for the title in 2007, he was representing his native France and came second. This year, after a rule change, he was able to enter on behalf of his adopted country, Great Britain.
In order to make it to the final in Tokyo, Zweibel had to beat four recent UK Sommeliers of the Year including Matthieu Longuere of La Trompette, Nicolas Clerc of Pont de la Tour and Jan Konetzi of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Now he is up against more than 50 contestants from around the world, including Isa Bal MS of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, representing Turkey.
The three day event is the ‘ultimate sommelier challenge’, Zweibel said. ‘I’ve done a lot of competitions and it’s important to remain calm. But inevitably, you get nervous. There’s a lot of adrenalin.’
Adding to the tension and drama will be an audience of over 5,000 at the Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa, where the winner will be announced on 29 March.
‘It’s not easy. There’s a lot more to it than wine. You also have to know about a range of drinks including tea, coffee, sake, spirits and cocktails,’ Zweibel said. ‘If I had to compare it to a sport, the nearest thing would be Dancing on Ice.’
Contestants have to complete a number of timed tasks, including a service skills test, blind tastings and written papers. They must also describe four different wines in detail and correctly identify eight different drinks in three minutes.
One of the judges in Tokyo is the current world champion sommelier, Gerard Basset, who won in 2010. The competition is held every three years.
Basset described his former protégé at the Hotel du Vin as ‘a very thorough and determined sommelier. I think he has a great chance to do well and perhaps win too.’
Written by John Stimpfig