The 8th Indian Sommelier Championship drew to a close with a massive gala on the 12th of October at The Leela Ambience Hotel & Residences, Gurgaon, starting with a poolside cocktail and ending in the banquet halls which were bedecked for the evening in black, white, and gold, the theme this year.
The nine finalists had been through a grueling three days of masterclasses in Delhi or Mumbai and post a rigorous theory and service exam, they had been shortlisted and invited to Delhi for the last round. Here they were required to perform all the tasks of sommellerie (opening wine bottles both still and sparkling, decanting and serving wine, tasting and commenting, suggesting food pairings, and a viva) with utmost skill of execution and perfect knowledge.
When we conceived the Indian Sommelier Championship (ISC) over eight years ago, the idea behind it was simple: to provide our servers with the means to appreciate and consequently communicate beverages effectively to their clients. In a bourgeoning nation as ours, such an endeavor is easier imagined than executed.
Since then, the ISC has evolved to become the definitive platform to educate oneself in the fine art of sommellerie. For young aspirants nothing serves as a better honing tool than a good ol’ fashioned sommelier championship where they get to pit their palates against each other.
But the run-up to the final day was nothing short of exemplary: two cities, six days of masterclasses, 70 brands and over a 100 participants. The focus was on masterclasses, and professionals from India and abroad shared their expertise with the participants, arming them with all they need to go forth and serve. But not just wines but beers, spirits, liqueurs and even cocktails were included in the competition as we believe that the ideal sommelier’s repertoire should boast a knowledge of beverages across boundaries.
Many brands, both Indian and foreign, came forth to support the cause. Among them, brands like Wines of Austria, Gramona Cava (Spain), Brancaia (Italy), Tenuta Sant’ Antonio (Italy), Saint Clair (New Zealand), Mouchao (Portugal), Zonin (Italy), Nederburg (South Africa), and spirits like Patron Tequila (Mexico), Amarula liqueur (South Africa), Skyy Vodka (America), and Campari (Italy), and beers like Paulaner (Munica) and Bira (Belgium) all were present to educate the students.
The Indian wine industry was represented by Fratelli Vineyards, Grover-Zampa Vineyards, York Vineyards, KRSMA Estate, Nine Hills, Vallonne Vineyards, and Myra Vineyards. All in all, the heady mix and the the headier discussions during the masterclasses made for a lovely environment to encourage the cause of wines. And all this was supported by Zwiesel glassware, Rubberband wine journals and Sommelier India Wine Magazine.
The eminent jury panel who assisted us in selecting the next champion were:
• Xavier Gramona – Cava Gramona, Spain
• Oscar Balcon – Artusi Restaurant, Delhi
• Laurent Guiraud – Runway Rising, Delhi
• Ravi Gurnani – York Vineyards, Nasik
All candidates were required to:
• Open a bottle of sparkling wine, serve it in six equal portions without returning to the same glass,
• Blind-taste a different sparkling wine,
• Decant a still wine and serve it,
• Blind-taste a different still wine – a mix of Indian + internationals,
• Open, pour, and serve a beer
• Blind-taste a different beer and comment on it
• Taste and comment on a cocktail
• And finally, pair wines with a mock menu displayed on screen.
That’s a fair list of chores, and the contenders were to perform all this within a set time duration of 20 minutes. Any extra time taken attracted marks’ deducted.
Here then are the shining stars of sommellerie in India for the year 2015:
• Zwiesel Food & Wine Pairing Round Winner: Neeraj KAPRI, The Lalit, New Delhi
• Bira Beer Round Winner: Neeraj KAPRI, The Lalit, New Delhi
• Aspri Spirits round Winner: Lalit RANE, JW Marriott Sahar, Mumbai
• Nine Hills Best Tasting Skills: Neeraj KAPRI, The Lalit, New Delhi
• KRSMA Estates Indian Wine Round Winner: Pratik ANGRE, Taj Blue Diamond, Pune
• York Vineyards Sparkling Wines Round Winner: Lalit RANE, JW Marriott Sahar, Mumbai
• Grover-Zampa Vineyards Best Service Flair: Pratik ANGRE, Taj Blue Diamond, Pune
• Fratelli Vineyards 2nd Runner-Up: Lalit RANE, JW Marriott Sahar, Mumbai
• Wine Park 1st Runner-up: Pratik ANGRE, Taj Blue Diamond, Pune
• Austrian Wine & Marketing Board Winner: Harish ACHAREKAR, The Four Seasons, Mumbai
Honing the senses is one thing but the real lesson that we wish for the participants to take back isn’t one that pertains to tasting and deciphering wines but that of humility, for apart from the tactile skills, being a sommelier is a lot about listening, and accepting that the world of wines is just too vast to know it all.