Organized by Benny Chung out of Shangri-La's Hong Kong corporate office and led by Yang Lu, wine director for the group, the event's coup was securing the services of sommelier Gerard Basset. The highly decorated Frenchman's titles include Master Sommelier, Master of Wine, Wine MBA, 2010 Best Sommelier in the World and 2013 Decanter Man of the Year.
Basset was instrumental in raising the bar for the young sommelier competition, which attracted contestants from Shangri-La's 82 properties from around the globe. Thirty-five sommeliers participated in an online examination, with 13 of its highest-scoring semi-finalists flown into Shanghai to compete in person. The top five finalists then battled it out in front of a live audience and paparazzi during the climactic finale.
Basset led a panel of 13 international judges for the final competition that included representatives from Kerry Wines and independent wine magazines, including Nicholas Siu from Cru Magazine, and Chinese wine experts such as Tommy Lam.
"This is like the Stanley Cup," says Lu, referring to North American ice hockey's annual prize as he handed the trophy to winner Mark Moffatt from Shangri-La Toronto. "You will have to bring it back next year so that we can pass it along to the new winner."
In addition, Basset hosted a series of master classes that showed how to differentiate similar grape varieties from different countries, the role of the sommelier today and a practical clinic showing how to provide the best service to guests.
"Today, there is a lot of information online about wine," Basset says during the seminar to a classroom full of glass-swirling sommeliers. "Our way of communicating has changed. Some customers know a lot - wine is a hobby for them. But there are others who don't know anything; they just want a wine that they can enjoy with their meal. As a sommelier, your job is to please all types of guests.
"A good sommelier adapts his wine list to different customers and different cultures. I always let my sommeliers do the buying.
"But you should never include a wine that you are ashamed to recommend. In the end, for me, a sommelier is a salesman first - a noble profession nevertheless. Good sommeliers don't show off their knowledge. They make people happy, and sometimes that means being diplomatic."
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