Years of training, rounds of competition, all leading to a grand UK final is what it takes to be Moët UK Sommelier of the Year

Imagine having to walk in to a room with all the most respected peers in your industry staring at you. Then being asked to walk on to a stage where the very cream of individual talent in your line of work are all lined up to ask you questions and put you off your guard, as you are asked to go through a series of tests to examine all aspects of the skills you have learnt, over many years, of how to do your job.

That’s not even the end of it.

You are then asked to compete head to head with two other equally talented individuals who are asked to complete the same tasks as you either at the same time or hidden away in another room.

Those are just the final hurdles you must overcome to be named the Moët UK Sommelier of the Year. If it was filmed and put out on prime time TV it would need to go out with a warning that this might upset those of a nervous disposition. High drama, tension and stress does not come more intense than watching the three finalists compete in the competition.

What’s more you would have to go through months, if not years, of competition just to get this stage.

Olympic style training

Welcome to the world of high-level sommelier competition. So intense is it that some countries even have their own Olympic style coaches who whisk them away for sommelier bootcamps to not just make sure their wine and spirits knowledge is impeccable but that they have the mental capacity to be able to cope with the stresses of the final.

This is particularly the case in Scandinavia and appears to be working. For not only is the current Best Sommelier in the World, Jon Arvid Rosengren, from Sweden, there were more Scandinavians in the final world Top 20 than from any other country in the world. And they don’t even make wine.

Jon Avrid Rosengren celebrates winning the World Sommelier of the Year in Mendoza in April
Jon Avrid Rosengren celebrates winning the World Sommelier of the Year in Mendoza in April

Rosengren told The Drop that he had been training his mind and his body over the last year of competition getting himself ready for the World Final that took place in Mendoza, Argentina in April. Being able to pick out tiny bits of information from a whole library of facts, figures, dates, vintages, grape varieties and technical notes is a skill that not the average brain can do without any special training.

The Moët UK Sommelier of the Year  competition 

Terry Kandylis, the winner of the 2016 Moett UK Sommelier of the Year, with chair of judges and former World Sommelier of the Year, Gerard Basset MS MW
Terry Kandylis, the winner of the 2016 Moett UK Sommelier of the Year, with chair of judges and former World Sommelier of the Year, Gerard Basset MS MW

The Moët UK Sommelier of the Year competition is open to professional sommeliers and waiting staff working in the UK. So this is fully international affair.

To get even considered for the final you have to go through a series of hoops first. Which include

One

You are initially sent a first round questionnaire. Only those achieving at least 75% on the questionnaire will get through to the regional finals.

Two

The regional finals too place in March 2016, X-Factor-style at four locations around the country – Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, and London. There entrants had to undertake a written paper, a blind tasting and perform some sort of service. The three highest scoring entries went on to then complete in two further practical service test and a food and wine matching session

Three

The five regional winners and the five highest scoring candidates then went on to the grand final which was held on May 16 at London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Four 

At the final the sommeliers all had to complete three initial tests which brought the tally down from 12 to six. These were designed to really sort the “wheat from the chaff”.

Five

The six then became three after a series of further tests, including blind tasting, elements of service and tests of knowledge.

Six

And so the grand final itself. Here the candidates Terry Kandylis from London wine members club 67 Pall Mall, Jess Kildetoft from MASH and Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie all performed a series of tasks in front of a trade audience, many of whom included past winners, world sommeliers of the year and the biggest commentators in the UK wine and spirits trade.

The final tests included:

  • pouring a magnum of Champagne to a group of judges

Jess Kildetoft from MASH performing on stage
Jess Kildetoft from MASH performing on stage

  • decanting a bottle of wine to a couple of judges
  • blind tasting a series of wines and finding the combinations and links between them
  • identifying spirits blind
  • And then the hardest task of all choosing four wines to accompany a set menu from their choice of iconic New World wines.
  • the final three then had to identify mistakes in a wine list

The three UK finalists
The three UK finalists

  • and answer a series of questions on famous wine personalities and vineyards

Winning sommelier Terry Kandylis performs the sommelier challenge
Winning sommelier Terry Kandylis performs the sommelier challenge

  • before finishing off by pouring the exact amount of Champagne in to 16 glasses from a single magnum bottle.

After all this it was finally decided that Kandylis was the overall winner, with Kildetoft not too far behind. Kandylis will now be invited to take part in the next world championships. Which will give him just about enough time to go and feed the ducks before being sucked back in to training camp again.

So are you up for the challenge? If you think you have what it takes to compete then contact the organisers the Academy of Food and Wine. 

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