Mark Patana

Mark Patana wins Ruinart Sommelier Challenge

Medlar’s Mark Patana has capped a whirlwind 12 months by taking top spot in the Ruinart Challenge.

It’s the 27-year-old’s second win in a year after claiming victory in the Chaine des Rotisseurs last June, and books him a week-long trip to Champagne in the autumn as a VIP guest of Champagne Ruinart.

The competition involved contestants sitting a 40-minute exam during which time they had to blind-taste four wines. This year all four were Chardonnays: Vincent Dauvissat Premier Cru Chablis Les Vaillons 2019, Domaine de la Vougerie Beaune 2018, Domaine Faiveley Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2019 and Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2018. Tight, cool-climate and reductive, the latter was the hardest wine for most of the sommeliers to pick.

The tasters wrestle with the four Chardonnays before them. Very few identified the fourth wine.

The entrants had to fill in a tasting sheet for each wine, based on Court of Master Sommelier tasting criteria. As well as aroma and palate descriptors, the 25 contestants had to provide a vintage, assess where each wine was from and describe serving criteria and food-matching suggestions.

‘Doing it in 40 minutes is tight,’ said Mark, ‘and writing it down is a format I’m not used to – I usually talk about the wines. But you’re going to taste some amazing wines.

‘So I tried to relax and say ‘right, let’s have some fun!”

Several of the judges correctly identified most of the wines – including the runners-up, Faidon Dernikos from 67 Pall Mall and Coravin’s Frederic Mounnery, both of whom will receive a magnum of Ruinart.

However, as well as sound tasting skills, it was Mark’s comprehensive and imaginative serving suggestions that made him stand out.

‘We had people who got a lot of the wines right,’ said judge Ronan Sayburn MS of 67 Pall Mall. ‘But he got the added details – the serving and the food matching – which is a sommelier’s job.’

The three winners, Faidon (right), Mark (centre) and Frederic (left) with judges Ronan Sayburn MS (second right), Roxane Dupuy (second left), and Ruinart chef de cave Fred Panaiotis (back middle)

Originally from Milan, Mark is excited about going to Champagne for the first time in his life.

‘I’m most looking forward to going to the crayeres and seeing them with my own eyes,’ he said. ‘Feeling the natural environment and seeing how the wines attain such complexity and maturity. It’ll be very special.’

‘It’s the best trip you can have,’ said Roxane Dupuy, winner of the Swiss heat in 2018 and now of The Twenty Two. ‘You go to places that are not open to the public, with amazing tastings. I met some of my best friends through the Ruinart Challenge.’

Other contestants: Alex Ranzetta, the Royal Exchange
Augusto Gherardi, La Dame de la Pic
Nicholas Sharp, Roots
Best UK Somm 2022

Charm wins out as Chris Parker takes Best UK Sommelier

Chris Parker, head of wine at Winchester’s Inn the Park won this year’s Best UK Sommelier competition at a tense final in London yesterday.

As one of the 12 finalists in the Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year, the win gives him a unique chance of ‘doing the double’ – holding both top UK somm competitions at the same time.

Judge Olivier Gasselin described him as ‘a very big talent’.

Following a morning session, where contenders had to sit a one hour theory paper, taste three wines blind and do a food and wine pairing, 15 ‘semi-finalists’ were chosen. The three highest scoring contestants – Giuseppe d’Aniello (Berners Tavern Edition), Chris Parker and Francesco Varoni (Il Borro) went on to compete for the top prize on stage.

The seven ‘live’ tasks, to be completed in half an hour in front of 200 spectators and 12 judges were: a tasting of three wines, serving sparkling wine as an aperitif, themed food-pairing with four courses, decanting, identifying two beers and three spirits, explaining wines on a list, and talking about a famous person and wine estate.

The hot and noisy atmosphere in the Leonardo Royal Hotel – which seemed sometimes to make it hard for contestants to fully understand their instructions – only added to the pressure on the somms.

Five of the judges: Igor Sotric (China Tang), Rudina Arapi (Galvin Windows), Remi Cousins (Le Gavroche), Olivier Gasselin (Jadot) and Eloise Feilden (Drinks Business)

Giuseppe d’Aniello went first, after what must have been a nerve-wrackingly long wait at the side of the stage. He was slick and focused in his technical skills, and briskly decisive with his blind tastings – even if he did somehow mistake a mezcal for a vodka.

But, like everyone, he struggled with the food matching round – finding wines made with flor from two different countries to match four dishes was definitely a tough challenge. Some judges said they felt Giuseppe needed to relax and interact with his ‘guests’ more to build on his undoubted skills at service.

Francesco Varoni was also confident in his tasting, though didn’t talk through his thought processes clearly and seemed less secure in his wine knowledge outside Italy. With more work, his time will surely come.

Giuseppe d’Aniello – ‘slick’
Chris Parker – ‘engaging’
Francesco Varoni – ‘confident’

Chris Parker’s performance was possibly less technically polished than that of Giuseppe, but he did a good job of fulfilling all the elements of every task, without seeming too hurried, and this, along with his relaxed manner won over the judges.

‘He was consistent, with good knowledge,’ said judge Rémi Cousin from Le Gavroche. ‘He missed some of the technical elements, but he was flexible and his personality was good.’

Former winner Matteo Furlan from the Ritz – who won the last competition in 2019 – was also impressed. ‘You score for knowledge, but our job is to engage and understand the customer,’ he said. ‘Chris showed us what a sommelier needs to do to entertain the guest; they want the emotion behind the bottle.’

The Best UK Sommelier competition is run by the UK Sommelier Association. In the past, the UK winners have gone on to compete in an international final, though details on this are yet to be confirmed.

The winners, with UK Sommelier Association president, Andrea Rinaldi (second left) and vice president Federica Zanghirella (second right)
Chaine des Rotisseurs

Two young star somms win Chaine GB

The results of this year’s Young Professional Awards, run by the Chaine des Rotisseurs have been revealed, with two young sommeliers picking up their first ever competitive prizes.

Freddie Johnson (aged 25) from the Fat Duck at Bray won the Young Sommelier of the Year title and will go on to represent Great Britain in the national finals in Wiesbaden, Germany, in the autumn.

Magdalena Babik (aged 22), from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, won the Gerard Basset Trophy, awarded for the best score in the blind tasting and food and wine matching sections. Ryan Duffy, of Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, was Highly Commended for his performance.

Freddie started at a culinary school in Woking, but was inspired by a wine course given by John Downes MW, and moved into the world of drinks, joining Vagabond Wines. He followed this up with a degree in wine and business studies at Plumpton College before working at Church Road restaurant in Barnes.

He is one of a team of eight at the Fat Duck, describing his time there as ‘quite a learning curve.

‘I suppose you could call me a rough diamond and I’m now being polished!’

Freddie Johnson

Magdalena has had an equally circuitous route into hospitality, working at a Fullers pub to pay her way through her university course in London, ending up at the Parcel Yard in Kings Cross.

‘I learned so much so quickly, and really loved it,’ she says. ‘That’s why I decided to ditch my studies and become a sommelier.’

On this evidence, they’ve both made great career choices. So very well done to both of the winners – and we hope to see you at an event, tasting or judging session shortly – and to see you rising up through the profession!

Gosset cellar

How to win the Gosset Matchmakers competition!

We asked the experts for five killer facts to help you create a winning food-match

Entries are now open for this year’s Gosset Matchmakers – the competition where young somms team up with young chefs to create an inspirational food pairing with these top-class champagnes.

If you were thinking of entering, or encouraging one of your colleagues to enter (and you totally should because it’s a lot of fun with great prizes), we thought you might like a few expert tips to get you started.

So we asked cellarmaster, Odilon de Varine, and head of marketing, Thibaut de Mailloux, for the essential facts that prospective candidates needed to know about Gosset and its wines – and how this might affect how you go about matching them with food.

Odilon de Varine; Pic: Franck Kauff

1. Gosset is the oldest wine house in champagne

Gosset was founded in 1584 – so for the first 150 years of its existence champagne didn’t even exist! But that long winemaking heritage is still part of the house’s thinking today.

‘We always speak about making wines first, and then champagne,’ says Thibaut. ‘The bubbles are just there to enhance the wine.’

Throughout our conversation, the word ‘vinous’ comes up again and again. It’s a useful key-word to bear in mind when you start to drill down into what’s in the glass.

Vinosity and a bright acidity are hallmarks of the Gosset style

2. There is no malolactic fermentation in any of Gosset’s wines

Acidity is a key part of the character of any champagne. Many houses allow their wines to go through malolactic fermentation – when appley malic acid converts to softer lactic acid.  But not Gosset*.

‘The way we try to explain it is that our winemaking approach preserves all the natural freshness and aromas of the grape,’ says Thibaut. ‘Lactic acid is not part of the grapes when you harvest the fruit. So we block it for all the wines.’

Odilon also points out that, with climate change, there is probably the same amount of acidity in a non-malo wine now as there would have been in a malo wine 30 years ago!

3. The wines spend a long time on lees

Gosset’s wines spend much longer ageing in bottle than the stipulated minimum for the appellation. In fact, they spend six months on lees even before they are bottled! This extended contact with the dead yeast cells gives a creamy richness, rather than an overt ‘bready’ character, that wraps around the bright wire of the wine’s non-malo acidity.

‘It’s always about balance,’ says Odilon. ‘Balancing acidity, body and roundness.’

Extended time in bottle is crucial to Gosset’s complexity. Photo: Leif Carlsson

4. There’s a lot of subtlety in the wines

It’s important to distinguish between power and weight. ‘We believe our wines are powerful in terms of aroma, which doesn’t mean they are heavy,’ says Thibaut. ‘The acidity opens up the palate to be able to appreciate the extreme complexity.’

Odilon, meanwhile, focuses on the nature of the perlage.

‘For us the bubbles are just there to allow the wine to express itself,’ he says. ‘We have very fine, delicate bubbles. We want the wine to be there before the bubbles.

‘The palate-cleansing aspect of our champagne is very important,’ he goes on. ‘It prepares the palate for more flavours. That’s why we work a lot with salinity – and a small bitterness that helps to clean the palate.’

Again, the term ‘vinosity’ seems appropriate.

5. Explore the balance between red and white grapes

Gosset’s Grande Réserve brut is typically evenly split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (about 45% each) with 10% of Pinot Meunier. But it changes every year. ‘A recipe is the exact opposite of winemaking,’ says Odilon. ‘The grape varieties are tools [to create a consistent style].’

Nonetheless, Odilon and Thibaut point out that the more or less equal balance of red and white grapes can make for some interesting opportunities when it comes to matching, allowing you to pull out elements of freshness, aroma or florality from the Chardonnay, or richer more red-fruit elements from the Pinots.

Competitors to this year’s competition must come up with a food match for the Grande Réserve brut

A few highlights from last year’s winners

Last year’s winning dish from the team at Fischer’s, Baslow Hall in Derbyshire
Adam Eyre (chef) and Matthew Davison (somm) presenting their creation to the judges
And then later on finding out that they’ve won!

We hope you find this introduction to Gosset’s wines, history and style useful and that it inspires you to AMAZING food-matching suggestions. Don’t forget, you need to apply for your entry pack by June 23rd, and upload your entry (photo or video) by June 30th. So don’t delay! Apply today and get entering! More info here. And click here if you want to read the full story of last year’s final.

* Gosset’s Extra Brut (in the standard Champagne bottle) is the exception to the ‘no-malo’ style.

Romain - UK Somm of Yr

How To Win In Competitions

With the heats for the UK Sommelier of the Year competition approaching, we asked reigning champion, Romain Bourger from the Vineyard at Stockcross for his six top tips on how to succeed.


Get the basics right

If it’s your first time you just need to cover all the bases – studying the different countries. The classic ones, obviously, but don’t omit the more unusual ones. They’re putting more stuff in from places like Eastern Europe and Uruguay now.

Romain at work at The Vineyard

Prepare service, and work on your timings

We all practice service in the restaurant every day. But it’s important to be timed doing it and do training as well, so when you have a practical task you can stick to the schedule. When you’re doing a decanting, for instance, it’s important to have like a check list of everything that you need and make a plan for your station. You need to make it as flawless and easy for yourself as possible, so it all comes naturally.

Breathe – and get in your bubble

Calmness comes a bit with experience. The first time you are on stage it’s always a bit stressful and you can lose focus more easily. You can practice it by doing your training in front of a small audience. But having four or five people in front of you is different to having 200 people from the trade. Some people are more prone to stress than others, but before you go on stage take a couple of minutes to yourself to breathe, concentrate and get in your bubble.  At the upper level [like the Sommelier du Monde] some sommeliers treat it like a sport and would train like an athlete, training their mind as well as their body. Breathing exercises can help.

Performing in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking the first time

Be natural

When you’re on stage you should treat it as though you’re in your restaurant, serving your guests. Breathe, relax and be natural. Think it’s like you’re at home and you’re serving guests like you would at home. It’s easier said than done, but the judges basically want to know ‘would I want to be served by this person’ and if it’s very cold and robotic that might go against you.

Be creative where you can

When I won, the blind-tasting element was a scenario was two guests who had brought their own wine, and I had to analyse the wine, describe it, talk about temperature of service, decanting, whether to drink it now – then create a menu around those wines for the guest. So yes, there’s blind tasting but there are whole other elements around it. Some questions in the exam are closed questions, where there’s only one way to answer. But in these open scenarios it’s important to be imaginative. That’s where your personality can shine through.

Experience helps – and all experience is good

When I won I’d done a few competitions in the past and had feedback. That helps because you can focus on your weaknesses. But it’s not all about the winning. It’s a journey. You get good feedback, which means you can work on your weaknesses. It’s also great for networking. I’ve made some great friends through exams and competitions; different generations all going up the ladder together.

Hard work and practice were the key to Romain’s success in 2019

Discover more

If you’d like to take part in one of the many sommelier competitions visit our COMPETITIONS page for more details.

Read about Collective member Mattia Mazzi’s experience of competing in the last Copa de Jerez; and read Romain’s excellent article about the wines of the Santa Rita Valley in California

It Was Like The Champions League…

After taking part in this year’s Copa de Jerez, Collective member Mattia Mazzi is already dreaming of next year’s competition. This year’s Copa de Jerez [held on November 9th and 10th in Jerez] was incredible. Really unique. For me and my chef Vincenzo it was something else – and not what we expected. We were… Continue reading →

Santa Rita, Sideways and Sea Breezes

Romain Bourger takes us through Santa Rita Hills – one of the best cool-climate areas in the world. Located in the southern part of California, 148 miles north of Los Angeles it stretches for about 10 miles inland between the towns of Lompoc to the west and Buellton to the east.… Continue reading →

And, the winner is…

The judges have deliberated and made their decision for the #koshufoodmatch competition. And, the winner is…

🥇 The overall winning dish is “Scottish mackerel fillet, marinated in rice wine vinegar & lightly torched” by Josie Phillips, The Macallan Estate

Koshu is a receptive/versatile wine that can accept even blue fish (mackerel) without any discomfort at all. A dish in which the body and flavour of Grace Koshu Hishiyama is well balanced with the richness of the pine nuts and rillettes, and the pleasant acidity of the Hishiyama can be expected to balance with the elderflower jelly. It is also interesting to note the spiciness (cumin in this case) in the delicacy of the Koshu, and the combination of yoghurt. A dish with a high degree of perfection.

🥈 The silver medal goes to “Cured seabass, pickled forced rhubarb, rhubarb juice & smoked oil” by Harry Cooper, FENN Restaurant.

This dish shows a good sense of the subtle astringency in the delicacy of Koshu and the smokiness that gives “Grace Koshu Hishiyama” its depth. A refined dish that adds a lingering root-like astringency behind the sharp acidity of rhubarb and smoked oil to the subtle flavours of sea bass.

Cured seabass, pickled forced rhubarb, rhubarb juice & smoked oil by Harry Cooper, FENN Restaurant

🥉 The bronze medal goes to “Handpicked Cornish crab, kohlrabi, apple and shellfish broth” by Max Manning, Allegra.

The delicate, gentle sweetness of the Cornish crab and kohlrabi is expected to harmonise with the subtle flavours of the Koshu. The combination of shellfish soup and seaweed with the wine’s minerality is also excellent. The textures of kohlrabi and apple and the fragrance of mint are also good accents.

Handpicked Cornish crab, kohlrabi, apple and shellfish broth by Max Manning, Allegra restaurant

Well done and congratulations to all. The Sommelier Collective would like to thank Grace Wines for hosting the competition for our members.

Find out more about this and other the competitions.

#KoshuFoodMatch Competition

Create the perfect Koshu food pairing with Grace Wine

Delicate Japanese Koshu wines are now more widely available in the UK and if you have not yet had the chance to try this unique Japanese varietal then this is the moment.

Not only are the wines naturally lower in alcohol, but they are a great match with a wide variety of dishes. Seafood is an obvious choice, but there are a lot more flavours to experiment with, including umami, spring vegetables, spicy dishes and recipes featuring poultry or pork.

Grace Wine has joined forces with The Sommelier Collective to find out the best Koshu and food pairings with two of its white wines.

Since its foundation by the Misawa family in 1923, Grace Wine has been pioneering the making of fine wines in Japan. It established the use of vertical shoot positioning for Koshu and has been winning awards since 2013, when it won Japan’s first gold medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Grace Wine embodies the delicate precision and rigorous craftsmanship of Japanese culture and remains a family-owned business with Ayana Misawa its chief winemaker and a fifth generation family member.

Its Koshu wines are an exciting partner to a wide variety of international cuisines, not just classic Asian pairings. You might love the citrus, floral, mineral quality of their native varietal Koshu or be really into the nuances of a lees-matured wine…whatever your choice, Japan’s No.1 white wine producer, Grace Wine, is challenging the top sommeliers in the land to find the best food and Koshu pairing.

How to take part

It couldn’t be simpler…

All you have to do is apply for one of ten special Grace Wine tasting packs that will contain two bottles: Grace Koshu 2020 and Grace Koshu Hishiyama Vineyards 2020; then select your best food pairing for each Koshu wine; and explain why you think each wine matches perfectly with your chosen accompanying dish.

Grace, Koshu 2020

Grace, Koshu – Hishiyama Vineyards, Katsunuma 2020

Grace, Koshu – Hishiyama Vineyards, Katsunuma 2020

Share your creative #KoshuFoodMatch

  1. Take a photo, or two, of each of your Grace Wine Koshu food matches
  2. Add a tasting note and brief description of why the matches work
  3. Share it on your social media channels with #KoshuFoodMatch #SommelierCollective @sommeliercollective @gracewine_1923

It’s up to you!

Your match might be simple, using a single ingredient like red snapper ceviche, or you could choose more elaborate dishes to pair with your Koshu wines. Have fun trying something different – it certainly doesn’t have to be a Japanese dish to be a winner. In fact, we’re looking for a new pairing, so be daring!

Now it’s up to you discover the best Grace Wine Koshu food match and enter the #KoshuFoodMatch challenge to see if one of your matches scoops you the prize.

For more information, and for more ideas about food pairing Koshu visit the LEARN section.

Winner’s prize

Each entrant will be featured on http://www.sommeliercollective.co.uk and instagram.com/sommeliercollective.

And, the best overall pairing will win a Grace Wine Tasting Menu dining experience for 2* at private members’ club for wine lovers, 67 Pall Mall, London.

*Terms & Conditions apply

  • Open to The Sommelier Collective members.
  • Only ten tasting packs available.
  • In applying for a set of wines to try you are required to enter the competition and share your matches on your Instagram account, using the competition #KoshuFoodMatch #sommeliercollective and tag @sommeliercollective @gracewine_1923
  • This competition is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with Instagram.
  • Tasting kits available for UK mainland delivery only. Damages/lost items cannot be replaced or refunded.
  • By taking part in the competition you give permission for The Sommelier Collective to copy, store and share your text and photography with due credit and without exclusion.
  • Entries must be published on your Instagram account before 23.59pm, 25/2/2022.
  • The prize will be awarded for originality and thought by the organisers (Grace Wine & The Sommelier Collective).
  • The winner will be announced on 4 March, 2022 on http://www.sommeliercollective.uk and communicated to members in the email newsletter.
  • Prize must be taken by 31 July, 2022. No cash alternative. Non transferable. Travel expenses not included.

Application form

Grace Wine imported by Hallgarten & Novum Wines

Any questions?
Simply email us and we’ll help you out.

#KoshuFoodMatch #SommelierCollective