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The inaugural London Wine Competition was judged during the first full week of March including a number of Sommeliers from London’s dynamic fine dining scene. These tough taskmasters have the highest standards of wine quality in mind and yet a keen eye for both value and presentation, as we were about to find out. We were lucky enough to spend some time with them after their organoleptic rigours.
Mathias Camilleri added the industry’s top award of 2017’s Moet and Chandon Sommelier of the Year to his collection. He enjoyed the fact that the LWC judges presentation as well as value and quality. He stands out from a number of his peers in identifying that presentation is important even in the restaurant business. For Mathias, the wine must make an impression on your customer and presentation is a part of that. He also felt that Australia and New Zealand were the most consistent wines, which backs up his professional experience.
In contrast Anna Botting, Head Sommelier & Consultant, whilst understanding that presentation is important for off the shelf products, in the fine dining scene it is something that matters much less. Personal recommendation hallmarks Anna’s approach and how the wine is presented at the table can be ‘played’ with. Anna sees it as though she is a ‘Director’ in this wonderful theatre of food in which, carefully crafting the diners experience for the most gratifying outcomes is a responsibility taken seriously.
How would she deal with a poor presentation then?
There are decanters and glassware as an example. Zalto glasses, so delicate, but offering the best vessel and dimension for service and extend the ‘storytelling’ of the capable sommelier seeking to enrich the guest's experience.
What these last two Sommeliers agree on is that the LWC tastings enrich their experience. They can be awkward days to contribute to, as often they come out of personal time, however, planned well in advance are massively informative. Many sommeliers end up with narrow wine experience, not because of their lack of desire, but because of the lists in the special restaurants that they work in.
So it is for Elvis Ziakos, Head Sommelier for The Greenhouse Restaurant, tranquil, two-star Michelin eating in the heart of London’s Mayfair. This unique venue has 3,500 bins of which 2,000 are Burgundy. For Elvis to broaden his horizons with such a range price and style is of invaluable contribution to his experience.
The expression is art for Elvis and wine is an expression. Wine experiences must match food experiences and despite the high level at which he operates, the value is still of critical importance. This takes us back to the centre of the unique value of the London Wine Competition.
Clement Robert, MS, is similarly attracted to value for money at whatever price. Texture and the 28°-50° Wine Workshop and Kitchen, whilst in the same group have different approaches to wine, one fine dining, one more relaxed. They include many by the glass options. Clement feels strongly about value; he is searching for it every day, as he tastes nearly 100 wines per week. He was particularly pleased to taste labels in the competition that are not common on the wine circuit.
The LWC star-studded sommelier collection included Julien Sarassin, Head Somm. at Club Gascon. After a number of years working his way up the hospitality tree, Julien was rated 3rd best UK Sommelier 2017.
Quality of wine is paramount for Julien and sharing the philosophy of people who in turn are sharing their work in making these wines. Working with purely French wines, he enjoyed the broad range from the rest of the world especially the presentation side of judging. We all judge books by their covers; presentation makes the first impression and is, therefore, an important element of the proposition. In the restaurant context, however, Julien always selects by quality, not the label in front of them.
Matteo Montone, at the fabulous Edition Hotel of the Jason Atherton group, has 8,00 bins and has 200 covers on average per evening. He enjoyed the well-organised judging which focussed on the quality of the wines, whilst accounting for the value.
Serving the wines blind without the shape of the bottle contributed to the objective analysis and he also had something to say about presentation. How a wine is packaged adds to the overall value of the experience. The instinct is that you put a good wine in a good bottle. Cork adds interest and this whole experience, whereas screwcap says ‘cheap’.
Fiona Bastia Sommelier from The Arts Club, a historic venue in the centre of Mayfair, London. Its founding role is as a haven for “people who had professional and amateur relationships with the Arts, Literature, and Sciences”. As such it has quite a reputation to maintain. Fiona’s highlight was the Pinot Noir’s and Champagne. The value aspect stood out for Fiona and was surprised by some results. She awarded 3 or 4 golds during her judging.
Sushi Samba, a unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian culture and cuisine, borne out of the emigrants that arrived in South America in the early 20th century and now with restaurants in Miami, Vegas, Amsterdam and London. Adbelilah Ait El Caid, Sommelier at Sushisamba London, was kind enough to join us and lend his wisdom to the medals and awards. Naturally, he was engaged with the Sake. The presentation part of the judging was intriguing for Abdel. One label was in English, which he reported is excellent for the market. Many producers don’t present their products to the market and could be improved
The LWC judges have done a sterling job ploughig through the thousands of entries. What is clear is that the three tenets of the competition - value, quality, and presentation – are the pillars around which the trade judge wines on a daily basis. This set of judges clearly enjoyed the ensuing battle between the different elements that make up exciting commercial propositions in the wonderful world of wine.
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