Preparations are now well underway for the Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa contest, to be held from 16 – 20 November 2020 in Limassol, Cyprus. The contest is considered one of the most important on ASI’s calendar, and for good reason: of the 14 historical winners of this event, 6 have gone on to become Best Sommelier of the World!
AN EAGER HOST
President Georgios Kassianos of the hosting Cyprus Sommeliers Association expects candidates from as many as 40 different nations to vie for the crown. Organizing the event has proven a delicate dance in the current health situation: “I believe the worst challenge is the uncertainty about COVID-19 that we are facing in every country. Cyprus has fared relatively well, but our worries are focused now on what is happening abroad: how many borders will be opened and how many of our European friends and presidents from around the world can travel to join us in November. ”
The rewards for walking that tightrope are many. First, Cyprus will briefly become the center of the wine service world, and the considerable influx of talent and decision-makers is a massive help in drawing the partners who are the lifeblood of any major event. Claire Berticat, ASI’s director of partnerships, sees important benefits for all parties at events like this: “Everyone coming to Cyprus should be ready to immerse themselves into fantastic wines from Cyprus, Portugal, Austria… not to mention sakés and many other surprises. The program will also feature superb workshops and get-togethers full of unforgettable moments.”
Second, Cyprus will enjoy the economic benefits that come from hosting such an event. Beyond the direct economic impact of a large-scale event for Limassol, there are also more subtle effects. While Cyprus is a wine-making nation, its bottles are not well known on the international stage; this event gives those winemakers the chance to catch the eye — and palates — of front-line wine professionals from around the world. And this chance can’t come too soon — as Kassianos notes: “Our concern also is for the local winemakers, as they have been hit badly with lack of sales” during the COVID crisis.
Third, Cyprus is raising its own regional profile. By successfully hosting this event, the Cyprus Sommelier Association intends to take an important leadership role in the region. This includes advocacy efforts for the professional as a whole, including its efforts to help neighboring countries like Lebanon and Israel forming their own professional associations.
INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE CONTEST
Limassol was selected as host city in 2017 at ASI’s General Assembly in Bordeaux. The Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa, as with all continental level events, is organized as a joint effort between the ASI and the host nation. This is important to ensure that candidates experience a very high-level competitive setting — or as Rosengren says: “not far at all from the Worlds.”
With this in mind, the BSEA contest will serve as a testing ground for a number of changes and points of emphasis from the ASI Sommeliers Contest Committee. In the words of SCC Director Arvid Rosengren, the rise of a new generation of members on his commission has brought fresh views and some interesting tasks. They are calling for a contest that is fast-paced, challenging and interesting, while also reconnecting to some of the core values and skills of the profession. Or in Rosengren’s words: “hard, fair and fun.”
Each competing country will send a delegation including the candidate, the president of its national sommelier association and a journalist. Invitations will also be extended to all ASI presidents outside Europe and Africa as well.
The contest was first held in 1988, with 13 countries participating. It was then called Trophée Ruinart, by the name of the champagne house which sponsored the contest until 2006. True to form, the first winner (Serge Dubs, France) went on to become Best Sommelier of the World a few months later, in 1989.
ASI took over organizational responsibilities in 2008, shifting it from every two years to every three. The most recent edition was hosted in Vienna, Austria in 2017 where Raimonds Tomsons of Riga, Latvia claimed the title that year, beating out 36 other candidates. 2017 saw the inclusion of three candidates from Africa, and a change in title to Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa. In addition, the Sommelier Bar was introduced in 2017 as well. According to President of Sommelier Union Austria, DS Annemarie Foidl, “This is a concept that showcased our partners and allowed them to present their wines in an informal atmosphere to the sommeliers and guests.”
For Michèle Aström Chantôme, the organizational force behind the original event, the contest has served its purpose magnificently: “It has considerably boosted sommellerie in Europe.” She sees the inclusion of Africa as promoting a similar stimulus to the quality and professionalism of that continent’s candidates and organizations.
An incredible city for business and pleasure
Limassol is an internationally renowned center for international business, with an appealing mix of modern and historical. Beyond its picturesque castle and old city, it features not only plentiful shopping but also high-quality restaurants with impressive wine lists.
As such, it represents the perfect backdrop for the contest and ASI’s general meeting, which due to COVID-19 could not be held in Ningxia, China as planned. The GA will be held immediately preceding the contest on 16 Nov 2020.
ASI President Andrés Rosberg expressed confidence in the event and its organizers: “Cyprus is a land of fantastic beauty, exquisite food and fascinating wines, domestic and imported. It is the perfect island meeting spot for a contest expected to draw the savviest wine professionals from two continents. It’s going to be a fantastic event.”
Follow the event on the ASI website and other social media using its official hashtag: #ASIEuropeAfrica2020, @asisomms (Facebook, Twitter) and asisomms_ (Instagram). The latest news about the event is also available on the official pages of the Cyprus Sommelier Association @cysommsofficial