The Italian Sommelier Association (ASPI) showed admirable creativity in establishing a fair, equitable and COVID-friendly method for identifying its candidate for the upcoming BSEA 2020 in Cyprus. The first stage of the selection was held in April 2019, with the pool of 10 candidates whittled down to 4 finalists. The second round was scheduled for April 2020 but could not be held in person — many of the candidates work abroad and could not travel during the lockdown to Italy. It was instead delayed until 13 July.
Salvatore Castano (Head Sommelier & On trade Advisor at the Friarwood in London) was ultimately declared the winner after a grueling gauntlet of online tasks. This included 50 written questions, 20 oral questions, written and oral tastings, a decanting exercise and food and wine matching scenarios. The candidates were also evaluated for their attitude and foreign language skills.
ASPI has provided a functional model for many other nations currently facing severe in-person restrictions on professional gatherings. It is also worth commending the long lead time on the process. The first round was held over a year ago, giving the contestants extra time to prepare, but also made it easier to devise alternative plans when the unexpected struck… as it certainly has in 2020! Bravo!