2022 Gosset Matchmaker Finalists

GOSSET MATCHMAKERS is a competition, now in its seventh year, in which teams pair their best gastronomic hand with the finest of wines, competing for the coveted title of Gosset Matchmaker of the Year 2022.

The results are in, and the six teams below have made it through to the finals, which will take place at Le Cordon Bleu’s CORD restaurant on 20th September 2022.

  • Sotir Semini & Julien Deschamps from Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London
  • Tristan Wright & Jason Ramplin from The Dining Room at Chewton Glen 
  • Max van Sminia & Will Golden from Fenn Restaurant in Fulham, London
  • Nicholas Sharp & Sean Flatley from Roots, York
  • Arthur Ng & Murid Laly from Spry Wines, Edinburgh
  • Daniele Palomba & Stefano Cilia from Zuma, London

At the Gosset Matchmakers Final, the teams will be invited to prepare a dish to perfectly pair and highlight Gosset’s Grande Reserve champagne. Their second task will be to create a dish from a set of ingredients they will be given on the day, and this dish will be expected to match a different champagne, revealed on the day. 

Each team must demonstrate their ability to work together and show that they are able to deliver results under pressure.  They will present their dishes and wine pairings to a panel of expert judges, made up of some of the best master sommeliers, chefs and wine industry leaders.  The 2022 judging panel includes Matthieu Longuere MS from Le Cordon Bleu London, Odilon de Varine, Champagne Gosset Cellar Master⁠, Laetizia Keating, Head Chef at The Pem⁠, James Shaw, Head Sommelier at The Pem, and Guy Nightingale, Director at Louis Latour Agencies.

As well as being awarded the coveted title of ‘Gosset Matchmaker 2022’, the winners will visit Champagne Gosset for a money-can’t-buy experience including a blending workshop with cellar-master Odilon de Varine.

Gosset Matchmakers

If you want to win, work as a team!

Entries might be closed now for this year’s Gosset Matchmakers competition. But we decided to ask the judges what they look for when it comes to a chef/somm partnership.

Obviously, if you’re one of this year’s contestants this is a must-read, to give you an early steer on what the judges are – and aren’t – looking for.

But even if you’re not entering the competition, there’s some great advice from seriously experienced and talented people on the subject of competition strategy, presentation skills and champagne and food matching.

Mathieu Longuere MS, Wine Development Manager, Cordon Bleu

As a long-time Matchmaker’s judge, what’s your number one advice for competitors?

It’s important that they’ve worked as a team. To show that they’ve done a bit of research, but without creating anything gimmicky. A well thought-out match, rather than a statement dish.

What do you look for in the food?

We like to see something that’s well made with fresh ingredients and that’s made on the spot, rather than people arriving with dozens of pre-made components. Seasonal is important – and I like to see that they don’t waste too much.

How should they create the match?

Because it’s the Gosset Matchmakers competition, you should start with the wine – look at its flavour profile and try to create food to match that, rather than vice versa. They should have a good rationale about why they have paired the wine and the dish. Ideally when you do a matching like this, run it past as many of your colleagues as possible. The more input the better. A new perspective is always welcome.

How about presenting to the judges?

We need to feel that they have been working together; that it’s not just one person monopolising the presentation. Why not get the sommelier to talk about the food and the chef to talk about the wine from their perspective? It would prove they’ve been working together.

Presenting as a team is important, says Mathieu – both of you need to understand the match

How do you see the Mystery Box round?

To me, it’s really important because it shows what people can do. They can’t just present a famous chef’s dish that they make every week. All the ingredients are raw, and they have to think on their feet.

Is there anything you think they should beware of?

If you’re in this industry you’re trying to ensure that people have a good time with good food and good wine. It’s not about theatre. I find it irritating to be presented with a bonus mise en bouche or have people telling me I have to eat something in a certain way. Don’t waste your time.

Laetizia Keating, chef, The Pem

As a chef, what do you think marks out a great entry?

A solid foundation for cooking is essential; being able to display impeccable technique in executing your own menu will set any competitor above the rest. I’m looking for thought-provoking bravery. Unpredictable and unconventional, not for the sake of being different but because the teams nail the brief in a boundary-pushing kind of way.

Is it more about the food or the wine?

I really enjoy when I get together with James (Pem sommelier), choose a wine, and work ‘backwards’ to create a dish. I don’t think it’s more about the one or the other when it is indeed a true pairing. If the team works well together both components will be showcased at their fullest potential.

How about the presentation to the judges?

I would expect that both team members fully understand the pairing and have immersed themselves in each other’s field relative to the competition, so that if I were to ask the chef about the contents of the glass they would be able to elaborate confidently, and vice versa.

How do you see the Mystery Box round?

It’s exciting and fun, however I wouldn’t put much emphasis on it as it’s not the way we generally create dishes and pairings in restaurants. I’d be a bit more forgiving if things don’t go their way out of the mystery box.

Any final advice for the competitors?

Don’t try anything new! Competition is not the time to be experimenting, maximise the tools and the knowledge that you already have. Also, taste absolutely everything.

Be imaginative, don’t try something for the first time… and taste everything, says Laetizia

Odilon de Varine, Cellar Master, Champagne Gosset

Do you have any advice on how to approach matching with Grande Reserve?

There are different ways of matching. You can hide one element or another, or you can try and discover new aromas by using what’s in the wine – it could be saltiness or freshness or vinosity. It will depend on the food you have.

Is there anything the contestants shouldn’t try?

I’m happy for people to be experimental, but they should probably avoid very spicy things, or things like asparagus, artichoke and vinaigrette. People used to say that champagne doesn’t go with red meat, but we’ve proven a number of times that it depends on the meat, the sauce, the way you cook it, rather than the wine itself.

Do you have any good starting points for the competitors?

It can be interesting to match with dishes where you have ‘surf and turf’ on the same plate. You have red grapes, giving richness, and then white grapes bringing that slight iodine character. The wine can link with the two things in the dish.

Champagne should be the starting point of all your matches – and Odilon says that it’s more versatile than you might think!

Have you tried any successful left-field matches?

We recently had a tasting of a blanc de blancs with Peruvian chocolate with a low proportion of cacao. It was a match of light, flowery delicate aromas – very different experience than matching with port, but thanks to the acidity and the touch of saltiness it worked very well.

As for savoury matches, one of my best memories is having Grande Reserve with Chinese pork with cashew nuts. The bubbles are refreshing, while allowing you to get a good taste of each element of the dish. It turns the volume down on ‘loud’ flavours.

Any final advice for the contestants?

There are lots of elements for competitors to explore in champagne: the richness of Pinot, the creamy brioche notes of the lees, the zest of Chardonnay, the brightness of the acidity. But remember that the wine is not just there to freshen up the food. It needs to retain an element of its personality.

Last year’s judges get busy as they assess one of the competitors… Could you be there this year?
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
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!

Taittinger UK Somm of Year

Finalists announced for Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year

After being postponed for two years because of Covid, the first round of judging has taken place for the 2022 Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year competition.

After a first round that saw competitors from 18 countries and a record 12 female sommeliers the quarter finalists are:

Rudina Arapi, London Hilton on Park Lane

Vincenzo Arnese, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

Stefano Barbarino, Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar

Biagio Castaldo, Maison Estelle

Emma Denney, The Clove Club

Gareth Ferreira, Core by Claire Smyth

Christopher Parker, Inn The Park

Phillip Reinstaller, Trivet

Agnieszka Swiecka, The Five Fields

Lorenzo Tonelli, Maison Estelle

Dion Wai, 67 Pall Mall

Elvis Ziakos, TILA

Many congratulations to all of you from us here at the Sommelier Collective! And we hope you enjoy the planned visit to Reims with Taittinger.

The quarter finalists will be showing off their skills on June 27th at Berry Brothers’ St James office, with the final round of judging taking place on July 18th at the Savoy.

All somms are welcome to attend the final to support their friends/co-workers and pick up tips on how to nail service and blind tasting.

Good luck, in advance, to all the finalists with their training – and see you next month!

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

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.

The Copa is a real three-day immersion into the world of sherry

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 there to represent the UK, and thought it would be more like what we did in the regional heat in London, which was quite formal. But you get there and it is like Masterchef meets The Final Table: the Dutch team brought carriages of trolleys with all the silverware and chinaware, the Russian had massive beautiful trays. It was incredible.

It didn’t feel like a competition – more like a World Cup or the Olympics – everything was bigger and more spectacular.

Mattia Mazzi

You watch the videos and it looks amazing, and you go ‘wow, I was part of that’.

I’d recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of taking part, but be aware: we’ll probably take part too – and now we know what you need to do to win!

You get a taste for it. You see what the rest can do. London is big and international, but being able to challenge other countries and the approach that they have is just crazy. It’s very inspirational.

The Belgian team were sheer class. Paul-Henri Cuvelier was best maitre d’ in Belgium three years in a row and Fabian Bail was a Bocuse d’Or finalist. Particularly in terms of presentation, there was definitely inspiration there from the other teams.

No shortage of media and audience
The classy Belgians in action
A truly international event

Inspiring visits

While I was there I also learned from the producers who gave me great ideas on how to pair sherry. Fernando de Castilla gave me a really good insight into the way the negotiant world works over there.

El Maestro Sierra, who provided my chosen sherry match for the main course, gave me a great historical snapshot into how sherry evolved.

I hadn’t planned to see them. But the oenologist, Ana, approached me at the competition and told me to come and visit. They don’t do tours or accept many visitors, and their bodega has a life of its own – with no electricity! It’s a place of silence and love.

A trip to Barbadillo was one of our scheduled visits

Top-class pairings

During the Copa there were some great masterclasses. On the afternoon after the competition, there was a debriefing of some of the sauces that we used. There are little samples circulating on the stage and you get to try it, which is really clever – it’s not just someone talking you through a pairing; you’re actually experiencing it.

Matteo Mazzi
Tasting and matching on stage

Ex El Bulli super-somm, Ferran Centelles

Throughout the competition there were masterclasses and food pairings. For instance, I went to a talk by Ferran Centelles, who was the sommelier at El Bulli. It was really geeky, but really digestible, and eye-opening.

Matteo Mazzi

While I was there I also did a tuna ronqueo where you try cuts from nose to tail moving from those with less blood to those with most blood, then fat and finally the cheeks. It wasn’t part of the Copa, but someone invited me, so I went, and it was amazing; the perfection of the pairing with the manzanilla was stunning, and they only used three ingredients per dish.

Preparing…
Presenting…
The judging panel

No regrets – well, just one…

From this year’s competition, I’ve only got one regret: I wish I’d gone to the region before the Copa, doing these kind tastings and visiting the wineries. It would have taken my presentation to the next level.

The Copa de Jerez is like the Champions League: it’s a thrill, a journey, doing something you love with a friend, the back-stage stories…

You have to be a bit of a performer – it’s not like service – but now we know how much we can push it. And we’re already thinking about our idea for 2022.

Vincenzo and I hope to be back again next year!

Find out more at http://www.sherry.wine #sherrywinesjerez

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

Top Tips For Matching Champagne And Food

Want some top starting points on how to match champagne and food? Or how to smash it out the park when it comes to doing it competitively and under pressure, with a glittering prize tantalisingly within your reach?

2020 Winners: Joshua Castle (left) and chef Myles Donaldson; Photography: Miles Willis

Of course you do! And we figured there’s no better place to start for either of these points than asking Joshua Castle, the winner – with chef Myles Donaldson – of last year’s Gosset Matchmakers competition.

And with a good few Sommelier Collective members probably considering their entries for this year’s Matchmakers competition right now, the timing could hardly have been better. Lucky coincidence, huh?

So sit back, take a few notes, pop a bottle of Grande Reserve if you have one, and prepare for instant success!

So where do you begin when it comes to matching champagne? With the flavours? The texture? The acidity?

I think you’ve almost got to take one step back away from the food. So in the case of the 2020 Matchmakers Competition first of all I listened to what Gosset had to say about their wine. A lot of champagne and food pairings have been born out of changing styles of champagne, with slightly warmer base vintages, and wider, more gastronomic wines.

But Gosset described their Grande Rosé as a very ‘winey wine’, which I really agreed with. It wasn’t the richest rosé, but certainly it had this freshness – this gastronomic side. I think understanding the wine is step one.

So you start with the wine. What next?

Next I’d look at the pairing in general and see how the food might link in with it. So acid, tannin – in a rosé at least there might be some of that, dryness, autolytic character, aromatics. How does all that translate onto the palate and how does it combine as a texture? Then you can think about ingredients that will interplay really nicely with those.

Contestants in 2021 can choose from Gosset Grande Reserve and Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs

But you can also go one step beyond that and think ‘how would I put this dish in a dining setting? Is it an aperitif-type a dish, and is the wine an aperitif wine?’

What’s the hardest element when you’re matching with champagne?

Champagne is such a cool thing to pair. It can be a really intelligent thing to use in the right context. It’s true that you’re contending with high acidities, but the thing that is most tricky to me is allowing the delicacy of the champagne to not be overpowered by a dish.

Sure the flavours can be very concentrated in high quality champagne – and they certainly are in Champagne Gosset. But there’s also very delicate parts of it. There has to be room on the stage for the Champagne.

Your dish was ‘calves’ brains seared in brown butter, with Lardo di Colonnata, Kentish Cob Nuts, Champagne vinegar and watermelon radish’. How did you come up with that?

Sorry, we just have to say this in our best ‘zombie voice’: ‘braaaaaiiiiinnnns.’

I’d been doing a bit of research into German wine that week and I’d been coming across all these amazing old venues from ships and hotels in New York at a time when German wine was as expensive as Chateau Margaux. One of the recipes was for larded sweetbreads.

Basically the idea is to combine sweetbreads or offal – so not a particularly fatty cut – with lard, so you’re basically substituting the lack of fat in the cut. Lardo di Colonnata is basically pork fat aged in these marble sarcophagi, and it develops this amazing nutty earthy flavour. It goes sort of translucent when it’s warm and the fat melts. The idea sort of stemmed from there: something that is textually and visually very interesting.

So I was playing around with a couple of ideas in reference to that with champagne. And I thought ‘imagine ordering larded sweetbreads in this amazing regal dining setting, and having it with something that is texturally, really bright’. I thought: that’s a killer pairing – that’s really cool!

So how did you see it working with the wine?

You could easily go for a richly textured white wine – like Burgundy – with a dish like this. But here I wanted something that is going to make your palate sort of ‘pop’.

Brains are texturally hard to describe, but they’re not very filling, and we wanted to bring an element of acidity, that was not overwhelming to the wine, so we added a little champagne vinegar.

Creating the dish with chef Myles Donaldson

If you think about it, it’s a really simple dish: protein, acid, and then we kind of had to work around texture, which we achieved through these really cute little watermelon radishes. They kind of bled ever so slightly into the vinegar, giving it this pinky hue. We hadn’t expected that, but it really worked!

You’ve mentioned that your dish was really simple. Do you think entrants need to beware of trying to do too much on the plate?

Yes and no. We were pretty blown away by our competitors;  some of the dishes that they were putting out were technically phenomenal and visually really blew ours out of the water. But I think that represented who they were as sommeliers and chefs. If you can achieve that technically in that period of time, then go for it!

But the core of it has to be a wine and food pairing. The dish doesn’t have to be complex as long as it represents you – and we had a nice story behind it as well. It felt like something that we would put up in the restaurant, and it was collaborative between me and the chef. It felt natural.

The competitor dishes looked great…

But a watermelon radish pink tinge…

and superb matching skills won out

So a final ‘in a nutshell’ bit of advice?

It’s important to remember that this isn’t a cooking competition. Simple and repeatable is good – particularly if it has a nice story behind it.

You need to ask whether the cooking is being done for the sake of it, or whether it’s a means to an end – which is matching the wine.

The five finalist teams of 2020

The Gosset Matchmakers competition is now open to all chefs and sommeliers with less than five years experience. More information – including entry form – visit www.gossetmatchmakers.uk. Entries must be received by Thursday 30 June, 2021.

2022 Entry NOW OPEN

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Eight tips for competition training success

I’ve often heard it said that a sommelier’s training for a competition is similar to that of a sportsman, and I think this is true.

We can liken a wine competition to a sprint – you need to be the best on the day over a short period – and an exam to a long distance race where it is important to be consistent for longer. 

As with any competitive pursuit, of course you require skill. But to succeed also requires time, passion, dedication… and lots of practice.

It is important also to realise that though you might be the one competing, this is a team sport. It is crucial to be surrounded by like-minded people.  This will help you to push yourself but also bring different views and ideas which can really make the difference between winning a competition, passing an exam and of course, developing your skills as a whole.

image courtesy of Consejo Regulador Jerez y Manzanilla – judging panel at Copa Jerez 2019

1. Have a Team

Everybody has their own way but, to me, it works well to have between one and three other people to assist you on a regular basis. They are your team and it’s important that you keep them involved.

Ideally, these persons will be from the wine trade (or have experience in the trade) and can provide constructive feedback. 

It can also be good at times to present to people who are not related to sommellerie at all since they may bring a different perspective – even if you don’t like what they tell you!  Embracing criticism is key to helping your development and becoming sharper.

2. Get friends and family on board

Obviously as well as your ‘team’, it helps if you have the support of your colleagues and management as well as friends and family.

3. Work with the kitchen

l-r: Karl O’Dell, head chef and Alan Bednarksi, head sommelier from Texture restaurant competing at Copa Jerez 2019

A sommelier should be able to identify wine, spirits, cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, tea and coffee.

But we are also expected to have an extensive knowledge of gastronomy, and understand dishes and cooking methods so we can accurately pair a wine or beverage with a dish.  Working closely with your chef (assuming you work in a restaurant) I find is vital. 

Discuss the dishes on the menu. Don’t just taste them as a finished dish but  look at each element separately and break down the palate of flavours. 

4. Create a positive environment

Having a positive environment at work and at home is vital for your well-being. Of course, this is always the case – but it’s particularly true when it comes to competitions if you are to perform at your best. You need to take care of yourself and have a clear mind to help your studies. 

5. Use your suppliers

It is crucial for a sommelier to have a good relationship with their suppliers as they are often happy to help with tastings and all too pleased to show new and interesting wines for you to try.

6. Non-blind can help…

Blind tasting wines is a great way to learn but, from time to time, taste wines that you find more difficult with the bottles next to you. Personally, doing this has helped me, especially when it comes to varieties that I get mixed up in blind tastings.

7. … so can by the glass!

It can help to have a couple of wines that you might struggle to identify on your offering by the glass. This way you can get familiar with them.

8. Be structured

I find it important to have a structured plan for my studies to ensure that I am consistent in the way I do tastings and cover every point.

I can say that I personally have had (and still have!) many great people who have helped and mentored me throughout my career and it would take a much longer article to thank them all.

We are lucky to be a very close family in the sommelier world, and this is a great force that we need to use. This will only continue to increase the already high level of sommellerie and wine education in the UK – and help us all on to greater success.

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