It's not all grim for Gordon Ramsay. Despite the recent bad press hounding him, it seems that his sommeliers are leading the pack.
On Monday last week, Sud de France, the new moniker for Languedoc-Roussillon wines, launched their own Sommelier of the Year competition, focusing on food and wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The 10 semi-finalists (see the list below for details) gathered at London's Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon and subjected themselves to a fairly tough morning of tests, including a blind tasting of six wines, 20 questions to probe their in-depth knowledge of Languedoc-Roussillon, a map of the region which they had to label and a wine list with 10 faults that they had to identify (I was a judge but would not have known several of the faults). There was a fair amount of nail-biting during lunch while they waited for the jury to deliberate.
Three people made it to the final round, compèred by the delightfully melodramatic Charles Metcalfe. The intrepid sommeliers had to assess five wines verbally in front of a live audience and then take the stage for a restaurant role-play. They were judged on their technical skills (knowledge of the region's wine, tasting skills, food-matching ability) as well as creativity, passion, and most importantly their ability to communicate.
The judges (apart from myself) were Frédéric Grappe (owner of wine-importer Dynamic Vines), Anthony Moss (Research and Development Director, Wine and Spirit Education Trust), Guillaume Siard (owner of London wine bar and restaurant La Trouvaille) and Stefan Gorda (head sommelier, Hotel du Vin, Bristol).
In the end it was 26-year-old Romain Henry (right in the picture) of Gordon Ramsay's Maze who captivated the judges with his passion, professionalism and the magic he wove on stage. It was, however, a very close call between him and Marc-Andrea Levy of Murano, another Ramsay establishment, who also showed enormous competence and charm. Both young men clearly have exciting potential and Mr Ramsay should be proud of them. Rebecca Skinner of Green & Blue Wines came in third with her superior technical knowledge.
Romain walked away with a three-day luxury trip for two to Languedoc-Roussillon, including 4-star hotel accommodation, a tailor-made tasting tour of selected premium vineyards within the region, and a gourmet dinner at Hibiscus in London with specially selected wines. He was also presented with the Sud de France UK Sommelier of the Year trophy, designed and created from recycled vineyard wire by Languedoc-Roussillon artist Alexia Carmona.
The competition may not exactly be the most prestigious event in the sommelier calendar, but it was a great challenge for young, up-and-coming sommeliers in the UK. I'm looking forward to next year's contest.
Romain Henry - Maze
Marc-Andrea Levy – Murano
Rebecca Skinner - Green & Blue Wines
Hugues Lepin - Bleeding Heart
Philippe Moranges - Hakkasan
Romain Bourget - Hotel du Vin, Winchester
Stefan Neumann - Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons
Jacques Savary de Beauregard - The Cinnamon Club
Sarah Guignard - The French Table
Sylvain Lasternat - Yauatcha (Hakkasan group)
For those interested, the wines that were included in the two blind tastings are listed below.
2008 Vin de Pays d'Oc, Gérard Bertrand, Classic Muscat Sec
2008 Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Coustellier
2001 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Domaine Gauby, Vielles Vignes
2006 Collioure Blanc, Domaine du Traginer
2004 Vin de Pays d'Oc, Alain Chabanon, Trélans
2005 Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile, Domaine Aupilhac, Le Carignan
2004 Coteaux du Languedoc, Domaine La Terrasse d'Elise, Le Pradel
1998 Coteaux du Languedoc, Domaine Peyre Rose, Clos Syrah Léone
1992 Coteaux du Languedoc, Domaine Peyre Rose, Clos Syrah Léone
Muscat Saint Jean de Minervois, Eclat Blanc
Banyuls, Vial-Magnères, 7 ans d'Age