Four female sommeliers have broken through to the last twelve for the first time at the World’s Best Sommelier competition, held in Santiago, Chile this week.
Two Canadians, Elyse Lambert and Véronique Rivest, one Norwegian, Merete Bø, and one Romanian, Julia Gosea – also the first Eastern European candidate to get this far in the competition – will compete in the semi-finals later today.
Amid scenes more typical of a rock concert than a sommelier competition, spectators stood on the tables to get a shot of the women who whooped, hugged and cried with relief at getting through.
Also through to the last dozen are the UK, represented by Gerard Basset (a Decanter World Wine Awards regional chair, and French, though a long-term UK resident), France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Japan and Australia, which is also fielding a Frenchman in the person of Franck Moreau.
The 12 have come through a gruelling series of tests, including a timed written paper which has to be completed in another language than their own. It touches on all aspects of sommeliers’ work including beer, spirits, tea, coffee cigars and water as well as wine.
The prestigious competition, held every three years, is more challenging than the Master of Wine exams, according to Basset, competing this year for the sixth time.
‘The MW is a marathon, the World Championship is more of a 100 metre sprint. If you make a mistake you have very little chance to recover.’
The sommeliers are judged by their peers who this year include current title holder Andreas Larsson of PM & Vânner in Stockholm and Serge Dubs of L’Auberge de L’ill who won the title in 1989.
‘It’s a question of having the right mentality,’ Larsson told decanter.com.
‘I was asked “What if you don’t win?” but I refused to think about it. There are so many other good guys but you have to forget them. You have to focus on yourself. You can’t let your nerves take control.’
The competition, which is sponsored by Moet et Chandon, opens the doors to lucrative commercial opportunities. Former title holder Enrico Bernardo, the winner in 2004, has two Michelin-starred restaurants under his name in Paris and Courcheval.
He’s also among a number of former winners to have designed a corkscrew for Laguiole – on sale for £150.
Written by Fiona Beckett in Santiago, Chile