What a day!! My respect for professional sommeliers got bigger by the second during the annual Belgian Sommelier Trophy. First things first, before I start talking about anything else I want to clear out something. The title of “Best sommelier of Belgium” given yearly by the Belgian Sommelier Guild is the one and only real title as they are the only association recognized by the ASI or “Association de la Sommellerie Internationale” to hand out this title. During this competition there is also no favoritism as this contest gets observed by a bailiff to make sure the whole contest happens correctly. Secondly, during this contest every participant gets thoroughly tested on his/her knowledge and get judged by an international jury with special guests like Bernd Kreis (Best Sommelier of Germany 1990, Best Sommelier of Europe 1992, Semi-finalist Best Sommelier of the World 1992), Jan-Willem Van der Hek (Best Sommelier of Holland 2013, Candidate for World and European championships 2013), Cees Vos (Past president of the Dutch Sommelier Guild), Louis Havaux (Past president of FIJEV, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles…), international winemakers, me 🙂 and a few more… so basically people who know what they’re talking about. I (together 5 other judges at my table) had to evaluate the participant’s handiness, efficiency, politeness and professionalism during his tests. It might seem an easy task, but it really wasn’t!!
Now you know the above I can continue with talking about the actual competition. Last Sunday 3 young sommeliers (remaining from the 11 candidates that participated the semi-finales) Yannick Dehandschutter (Restaurant Sir Kwinten), Antoine Lehebel (Restaurant Villa Lorraine) and Jan Rots (Restaurant Brasserie Latem) competed against each other to become the this year’s Best Sommelier of Belgium . I was really honored to be part of the jury and glad I was at the good side of the table as it wasn’t easy competition :-).
To give you guys an idea how difficult a contest like this I’ll give a few examples of tests they had to do. The first test they had to do might seem like a very easy test, but don’t get fooled!! They had to serve (according to the rules of the art) my table of judges a 2006 Telmont Blanc de Blancs Champagne and also tell us more about this champagne… to make it more difficult they also put a 2004 Blanc de Blancs and a totally different champagne in the ice bucket and to do this all they had 5 minutes. Only 1 of the 3 participants’ served us the correct bottle… it did cost them a point, but this way I got to try 3 different champagnes 😉
The most difficult tests were saying from 6 glasses of alcoholic drinks which kind of alcohol it was and the country it comes from or maybe telling from 3 glasses of wine as much as much as possible and which wine it is… all this just by looking at the color, smelling and tasting again for which they only had between 5-9 minutes to accomplish. Or was it the 7 course menu for which they had to give 7 different wines from 7 different countries and tell us why? Although finding the mistakes in a wine list also didn’t seem like child’s play as the mistakes could be typo’s, but also references to wrong regions or vintages… so if after this test your respect doesn’t get bigger for them I don’t know what will?! Next time I’ll see a title like this given by some magazine or guide I’ll think twice and wonder on what they based themselves to determine the winner of their title!!
Grading the 3 finalists wasn’t an easy task as they matched on many levels… I mean they all had parts they did less or better, but in the end it evened out. I waited until I had seen all 3 participants before grading. I personally didn’t know as there were around 20 judges each judging a different aspect so it could go every direction… but in the end the best man won, the 2013 Trophy of Best Sommelier of Belgium went to Yannick Dehandschutter from restaurant Sir Kwinten
Check the following link for a little video of the awarding ceremony
With every victory there must be a good meal and celebration and boy did we eat and celebrate, but I’ll talk about that another time 😉
Congratz Yannick and see you soon @ Sir Kwinten 🙂