If you have been lucky enough to have dined at a top restaurant with a world class sommelier providing the wine service, then you will be well aware of just how quality service can enhance the overall experience. However, few of us have ever witnessed a competition for sommeliers.

Last month I was invited by Sopexa, the International Communications Agency, to attend Vietnam’s Best Sommelier in French Wines Competition 2018. “Sopexa introduced this competition here in Asia in 1986 and it involves all major countries except Japan,” Damien Bazin, Sopexa’s business development manager, said.

This event took place in front of 140 guests from the hotel, restaurant and wine business. The four finalists, selected from 35 semi-finalists, were set varying tasks with time limits. The judging panel,led by Jean-Pascal Paubert, included industry specialists from France, the UK and Vietnam.

The first task involved serving a bottle of sparkling wine to a table of six judges. The second was to take an order of three drinks from a table, prepare the drinks and serve in the correct order and at the correct temperature. The third was a blind tasting of French cheese, where the contestants were asked to identify the style and origin of the cheese and recommend a pairing. 

Next they had to serve a bottle of red wine to a table of six in under three minutes whilst explaining the wine. The fifth task was a blind tasting of spirits and wines.

None of this was particularly easy and the time constraints made everything even more difficult. “What the audience doesn’t see,” said Nguyen Khac Huy, the winner of this event in 2017 “is the tricks that are hidden in each task.”

For example, in the first challenge, two identical bottles of sparkling were on the serving table in two ice buckets, however the bottles were at different temperatures. I suppose what struck me most was the poise and professionalism of the four contestants, including two who each had just one year of wine experience. Unfortunately there can only be one winner and Hua Phu Tan from Danang collected the award, with Hoang Trang Trinh named runner up. Both will now represent Vietnam at the Asia finals in Korea this year.

Recommended Wines:

2016 Barton & Guestier’s Cotes de Provence VND491,000, Finewines Co, 137 Dien Bien Phu, District 1. Ph: 3911 0508

2017 Vignerons de Saint Tropez “Cep d’Or” Côtes de Provence Rose VND485,000, The Warehouse, 15/5 Le Thanh Ton. District 1. Ph: 3825 8826.