Swedish-born Arvid Rosengren was proclaimed the ASI’s Best Sommelier of the World 2016. He now directs the Wine Program at NYC’s Legacy Records restaurant and wine bar. He also serves as Director of the ASI’s Sommeliers Contests Committee, where he champions increased uniformity and professionalism in this showcase element of the organization’s work.
You have said that ‘Best Sommelier’ contests are an important tool and calling card for building our brand internally and externally. How do you hope to shape that brand?
By making the competitions hard, fair and fun. The last thing is actually important. We too often forget that the sommelier trade has evolved far beyond luxurious white tablecloth establishments. Nobody wants to sacrifice the integrity of the competition, but I do believe there are ways to bring the competitions into the 21st century and acknowledge that people are watching.
Today’s guest is far better informed about wine & spirits than at any other time in the history of the hospitality industry. How do you feel this has changed the criteria in competitions over the last 10 years, and how will competitions continue to evolve to reflect a different level of engagement with the guest?
Excellent question. Although guests may have access to more information than before, the sheer amount of it makes the sommelier all the more important in my mind. There may be guests who know a lot about some particular interest but it’s hard enough to keep track of the entirety of the world of wine at this point. The sommelier these days is a curator, interpreter and communicator.
Interaction and engagement with the guest is the most important part of the job. Unfortunately it is also harder to judge than a theory test or a blind tasting. But it is an explicit goal of the committee to envision and create more and better tests to achieve precisely that.
If you had one piece of advice for contest hopefuls not covered in the books, what would it be?
Try your best to be calm, balanced, happy. This is hard enough for anyone, but I at least found that I didn’t win until I could confidently say that my life was good and I didn’t need to win to be happy. I used a lot of physical exercise, meditation, breathing techniques etc. to be more balanced and even eke out a smile here and there.