Created in 2012, the ASI Diploma was designed to develop professional sommeliers’ capabilities corresponding to the ASI by-laws, which involve a wide range of theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Offered in French, English or Spanish (the official languages of ASI), the yearly uniform exams, administered on the same day by participating national associations, include written tests, blind tastings, essays, service tests and oral presentations. The ASI Gold Diploma is recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious designations any sommelier can achieve in their lifetime. In 2021: The Year of the Sommelier we will be celebrating our ASI Diploma sommeliers.
We interviewed Rie Matsuki (Japan) and Julia Scavo (Romania) to discover more about their journey to become ASI Gold Diploma sommeliers.
About Julia Scavo: Romanian Sommelier and ASI Gold Diploma recipient, Julia Scavo is no stranger to the winner’s circle. Although she has a degree in math and physics, it was ultimately wine that won her over. Since 2008 she has won countless titles including “Central-European Sommelier Championship” (2012), 5th place in ASI Best Sommelier of the World, double bronze medalist at ASI Best Sommelier of Europe (2017, 2013), and first place in both “Best Sommelier of Romania” (2018) and Master of Port (2017). And yet with all that success, she still considers herself, and sommeliers in general, first and foremost as “educators.”
About Rie Matsuki: ASI Gold Diploma recipient Rie Matsuki started her career as a sommelier in 2000. Since that time, she has continually challenged herself to be better by working abroad – she worked for 6 years in France – as well as competing in various national sommelier competitions, achieving 4th place in the Best Sommelier of Japan Competition.
ASI: Why were you inspired to take on the challenge of achieving the ASI Diploma?
Julia: I first wanted to pass the ASI Diploma in 2012, at its beginnings. I was pregnant with my first child and for 6-7 months I had only participated in a cuisine contest and reached the finals, as well as successfully passing the selections for the Master of Port 2012….unfortunately only 2 people enrolled in France and the certification couldn’t be organised and my pregnancy (I was then 8 month pregnat) didn’t allow me to travel to another center in Europe. In 2013 I was involved in the Best Sommelier of the World ASI Competition and couldn’t attempt the ASI Diploma…In 2016, pregnant with my second kid, I decided to enroll and by January I started preparing again. Unfortunately, I got the flu, and my health prevented me from attempting the exam that year. 2017 was the awaited moment. I was preparing the Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa by that time. A turning point as I have decided to change my competition language from French to English. It was a good moment to rehearse for the contest, so I subscribed again and passed it in English, obtaining the Gold Distinction. As you can notice my inspiration was continuous. I believe the ASI DIploma is an excellent way to rehearse when involved in competition, a helpful guide to prepare further on, and a very good tool to keep you up-to-date. It was for me a good way to prepare for other contests and certifications, I eventually finished 3rd in the Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa 2017 and won the Master of Port the same year.
Rie: It was a natural progression for me to take the ASI Diploma exam, which tests all my knowledge and service skills and my ability to provide customers with my knowledge of wine while providing them an enjoyable experience.
ASI: What were the most challenging aspects of preparation for the exam and the exam itself?
Julia: For me preparation is such a normal lifestyle that I wouldn’t say it was challenging. I actually use one contest or diploma to prepare for another, so since I am preparing all along the year, I do not use a very specific preparation from case to case.
As for the exam, there are challenging aspects that differ from the contests. The tasting format is quite different, the essay writing does not always appear in contests and the practical tests are more, I should say, examination tasks. So, my advice is not to search for tricky things like in competition, just show your skills and push the gestures to the pinnacle. Another challenge for me was the change of the language…Before enrolling I passed and obtained my WSET Level 3 in Wines in order to practice my wine English. I enjoyed the change of the language that much, that I did the rest of the competitions in English and also enrolled and eventually passed my DipWSET with Distinction quickly thereafter. So the ASI Diploma was for me an excellent test to decide whether I choose English or continued in French.
Rie: Balancing work and studying for exams is always a challenge….three months before I decided to take the exam, I started preparing in earnest and studied intensively for about two hours every day in the early morning before work. I would open my notes from my training for sommelier competitions, and I also referred to the past questions of the ASI Diploma to prepare me for the various questions. Since I work as a wine educator, I have a good knowledge of wine, however, the ASI Diploma exam requires knowledge of beverages from all over the world, so I worked hard to learn beverages other than wine that I was not particularly familiar with, in a short period of time.
To prepare for the service and tasting, I found it very useful to watch videos of the ASI Best Sommelier of the World Competitions to rehearse in my imagination.
ASI: What advice would you give an aspiring sommelier thinking about taking the exam?
Julia: My advice is to prepare as he or she prepared for an international competition. The theory level is quite the same. Practicing his/her writing in the language chosen is important, since there is an essay task and remember from school years how one writes an essay with word limit. As for the practical tasks, I’ve already mentioned above that this should be taken as an exam: do not look for impossible tricks, focus on your skills and give a natural, though precise style to your gestures.
Rie: Studying for this exam is very useful for work. It will help them gain both credibility and confidence. One should definitely give it a try. Taking an active role even after passing the exam will increase the value of ASI Diploma and lead to future generations.
ASI: Do you think ASI Gold Diploma should be recognized as equal to the Master Sommelier designation?
Julia: ASI Gold Diploma deserves a very high international recognition. I would not compare neither of MS nor to other certifications such as DipWSET. They are all different. However, the ASI Diploma should gain more recognition and hence the highest rewards will be better known and understood abroad!
Rie: When I moved to France from Tokyo, having a Sommelier certification helped me a lot in finding a job. If the recognition of this exam increases, the ASI Diploma will become a passport to work in restaurants around the world for key positions such as Chef Sommelier.