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.
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.
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.
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.’