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Journey to the top

Updated: 2013-09-08 07:40
By Rebecca Lo ( China Daily)

The final round in the young sommelier competition consisted of five contestants judged on international-level standards. Each was given tasks with set time limits by different judges. The tasks consisted of serving various wines to judges, identifying a wine list's mistakes, explaining the properties of a spirit, recommending a cocktail with a specific ingredient and a blind taste test. The latter included two wines and four spirits, with points awarded primarily based on the sommelier's sensory notes. Identifying the correct label on the wine took secondary importance.

"I personally hate blind tastings," admits Gerard Basset, Master of Wine and lead judge during the competition afterwards at a master class for the sommeliers. "It's like golf: you're already on par if you get the grape correct. And we can all have a Tiger Woods day. It's a difficult exercise because you have to be physically well and trained to do it."

Winner: Mark Moffatt, Wine Director and Sommelier, Shangri-La Toronto.

A native of New Brunswick in Canada, Moffatt opened Shangri-La Toronto a year ago after managing a wine bar in downtown Toronto and selling rare wines.

Moffatt said:"We got our liquor license the day that the Toronto International Film Festival opened. Our challenge is that Shangri-La is a new brand in Canada yet we are charging the same rates as Four Seasons. Toronto also has a strong wine culture. All the Bay Street bankers have wine cellars and they will call you out if you get your information wrong.

"I entered this competition very late and found out I was coming to Shanghai the day after holidays. During the competition, I made some rookie mistakes and got the Chinese spirit wrong because I've never had Chinese rice wine before. But I think everyone knew that they made mistakes and had strong points.

"This was a great way to meet my colleagues. It's good that the company is investing in wine and shows how vital our roles are. It is another way to empower and nurture future sommeliers.

"I am humbled to have won."

First Runner-up: Eduardo Contreras, Head Sommelier, Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi.

Hailing from Mexico City, Contreras first began tasting at his father's coffee plantations. As Mexico's wine culture is limited, he moved to Barcelona to study wine and trained under experts who worked at el Bulli and other Michelin-starred establishments. After working in San Francisco, Dubai, Doha and Mauritius, he moved to Abu Dhabi to join Shangri-La.

"I never expected to get here. When I was working at Four Seasons in Mauritius, the wine families I dealt with told me that Shangri-La was the only company with a future for sommeliers.

"It was really great for Shangri-La to bring us all here to discover our weaknesses and strengths. It lets people follow their dreams."

Second Runner-up: Liao Weiyi, Chief Sommelier, Jing An Shangri-La, Shanghai.

Originally from Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Liao has devoted himself to wine for nearly a decade after initially discovering his passion as a stock boy responsible for wine inventory. Despite suffering from a cold, he was able to rise above his illness during competition. Liao said: "This was the hardest competition I have ever taken part in. It's really on an international level; I think it's the highest-level sommelier competition held in China so far. I was only able to prepare in my spare time; maybe five minutes on the metro after work. "China is like a blank slate for wine. A lot of wineries want to get into China. There is more opportunity here than anywhere else in the world. The potential is huge. And the knowledge of ordinary consumers is getting better all the time."


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