Head Sommelier at The Vineyard in Stockcross, Bourger competed against 15 hopefuls before going head to head with two other head sommeliers, Gareth Ferreira and Alan Bednarski, in the final.
Gareth Ferreira, head sommelier at Core by Clare Smyth in London’s Notting Hill, came second, whilst first-timer Alan Bednarski, head sommelier at Michelin-starred Texture, took third place.
The grand final, completed on stage in front of an audience of wine trade professionals, comprised a number of time-pressured tasks testing the contestants’ blind tasting skills, bar service and decanting skills, and wine knowledge.
On stage to guide them through the process was President of the Academy of Food and Wine Service and DWWA judge Nicolas Clerc MS, a previous winner of the UK Sommelier of the Year competition in 2007.
Clerc gave the contestants a brief description of each task before leaving them in the hands of the head judging panel, which included DWWA judges and Master Sommeliers Eric Zwiebel, Katherine Larsen, Clement Robert and Laura Rhys.
What were the tasks to complete?
The first task involved identifying errors on a wine list, followed by a blind tasting of three wines where the candidates were asked to identify the region, appellation, grape variety and vintage, and a blind tasting of spirits from black glasses.
For the food pairing task, the candidates were asked by a table of industry experts, including DWWA judges Roger Jones and Ronan Sayburn MS, to suggest five beverages originating from outside the EU to pair with their menu.
Sensing an opportunity, head sommelier Gareth Ferreira suggested an English sparkling (Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2010) due to the departure of the UK from the European Union, to pair with their starter of Heirloom tomato tartare. – prompting a few smiles from the judges
For one of the final tasks, the candidates had to identify a series of photographs, which included Château Margaux, the award-winning Rubik’s cube inspired visitor centre at d’Arenberg, and the winemaking process of appassimento.
Gerard Basset Lifetime Achievement Award
A tribute video was shown to honour the late Gerard Basset MS MW, who was previously head judge at the competition, in which many of the top sommeliers in the UK spoke about Basset’s influence and their memories of him.
It was also announced that the Gerard Basset Lifetime Achievement Award has been set up in honour of Basset, which aims to recognise an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the UK industry.
Basset’s wife Nina and son Romanée were present to announce that the inaugural award was going to Ian Harris MBE, Chief Executive at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
Harris has spent over 15 years working to educate and support wine industry professionals through the WSET, which Nina described as a ‘world-wide force of good for wine education’.
Speaking on stage, Nina Basset said that the UK Sommelier of the Year competition was ‘one of Gerard’s most favourite dates in the sommelier calendar’.
‘It is great to see so many people on stage who were his protégés,’ she said. ‘Gerard would be delighted to know that we are honouring someone so special each year’.
The 15 finalists for 2019 were:
Vincenzo Arnese, head sommelier, Dinner by Heston, London
Alan Bednarski, head sommelier, Texture, London
Romain Bourger, head sommelier, the Vineyard, Stockcross
Pierre Brunelli, operations manager, L’Enclume, Cumbria
Emmanuel Cadieu, deputy head sommelier, 67 Pall Mall, London
Charles Carron Brown, assistant head sommelier, L’Enclume, Cumbria
Rupert Crick, junior assistant head sommelier, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
Tamas Czinki, head sommelier, Northcote, Lancashire
Paul Fauvel, head sommelier, The Lanesborough, London
Gareth Ferreira, head sommelier, Core by Clare Smyth, London
Tony Lecuroux, sommelier, Moor Hall, Lancashire
Matteo Montone, director of wine, Berners Tavern, London
Christopher Parker, head sommelier, Lime Wood, Hampshire
Paul Robineau, sommelier, Moor Hall, Lancashire
Toru Takamatsu, assistant wine manager, Hide, London
Previous winners of the Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year award include Gerard Basset MW MS, Ronan Sayburn MS, Xavier Rousset MS, Nicolas Clerc MS and Jan Konetzki.