Twelve semi-finalists from different countries competed in Wines of South Africa’s Second Sommelier World Cup held October 12 at Franschhoek’s Grande Hotel. Three finalists were chosen; Anna Sviridenko of St. Petersburg’s Stroganoff Steak House, Morgan Harris of New York City’s Cork Buzz, and Canada’s Will Predhomme, Senior Sommelier at Toronto’s Canoe restaurant. Predhomme possesses an Advanced certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is actively pursuing his MS.
“This is a great incentive from WOSA to do this sort of thing,” confirmed Ronan Sayburn MS of London’s The Dorchester Hotel acting as the competition’s lead judge. Sayburn delineated the three tasks staked out for the competitors–decanting, food & wine matching, and blind tasting held in a mock restaurant setting. ‘Elegant, smart, theater’ were the three style aspects he and the other four judges assessed along with technical points such as proper bottle service, sediment not mixing with wines in bottle, and that the bottles had been stored properly. The first round consisted of a written exam covering theory; the second was practical consisting of blind tasting, food & wine matching, and a service exam; later came sparkling wine service where contestants opened magnums, pouring the same level into 16 glasses with revisiting glasses forbidden once finished pouring , then served to the audience via tray service. An unusual part to it was at the final table. Sayburn had the candidate smell and taste a glass of wine already poured at the table, then turn to the audience pretending they were the somm’s staff receiving their first introduction to the wine which supposedly just went on the wine list. The candidate would guess the variety and age, then describe the wine’s character, asking for possible pairings from candidates.
During the break between competitors’ performances, judge and previous competition winner Chris ‘Master’ Bates MS shared with the audience the rigors of the work and studies of a sommelier seeking to better themselves through studying and competing. “There’s a lot of different stresses going on here. Seeing them cite facts and impressions,” reminded him of how nerve-racking this process is.
During his practical service with judges Bates and Neil Grant, Predhomme was asked for a non-wine, South African aperitif to which he offered a round of ice-cold Amarula–a nod to WOSA’s new director, Siobhan Thompson, who was seated in the audience, and drawing howls of laughter from the audience.
Attendees saw this competition as a fun yet practical way to get themselves to SA, with competitor Antti Uusitalo of Helsinki saying, “the competition was well-organized…a great way to meet colleagues from all over the world, talk and exchange opinions…to practice presentation skills and improve your stress tolerance.” The enthusiasm and intensity proffered by NYC’s Harris brimmed over in his approaching and greeting each of the three judges’ tables before commencing service.
The first Sommelier World Cup coincided with South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup; the next is scheduled for 2015.
If you’ve ever competed in a somm event what was it like? Which part of a somm’s job is the most important? What does the US know about South African wines, and what should it know?