Malaysia Best Sommelier Competition 2012

Updated: 14 Sep 2012 | By:

It was a crispy morning when I arrived at the Taylor’s University lakeside campus on the 2nd September 2012. This was the first time I observed a sommelier competition. Never did I know that Malaysians are well known for having good sommeliers until the President of Sommelier Associatin of Malaysia – Roderick Wong told me that for the past 2 years, the champion in South East Asia Best Sommelier Competition were both Malaysians.

I was introduced the history of The South East Asia Sommelier Alliance. It was established in 2009 with the focus to foster friendship and development of the profession within the region. Seven participating countries will take part for year 2012 namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, with Philippines as a new member country and Taiwan to participate under a friendship entry but not in the running for the title.

The first South East Asia Best Sommelier Competition was held in 2010 in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Subsequently in 2011 it was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. This year, Malaysia will be hosting the event and it will be taking place at The Westin KL on the 7th November. The welcoming cocktail reception on the 5th though, will be held in Atmosphere 360ᴼ, the revolving restaurant in KL Tower.

Today, I was at the lakeside campus to see the choosing of the best sommelier who would be representing Malaysia in November. The first thought that came to my mind was, whoever represents Malaysia this time, would be under so much pressure to continue the South East Asia champion legacy!

Now, I was very curious to see how the competition would be assessed.

The Qualifying Round
The competition was assessed in 3 parts – the paper exam, the Q&A and the practical. 

The Paper Exam
Nosing and tasting are the most important skills a sommelier must possess. In the paper exam, the sommeliers were given 6 different types of liquid, comprising of wine and spirit, for blind tasting. The sommeliers were to smell and taste the liquid and give the notes of components comprised in the liquid, the year and the region where the liquid was produced. In this round, we saw perfect score! This was most encouraging.

The Q&A
During the Q&A session, the contestants were asked about pairing of food and wine. A sommelier not only advises on the list of beverages (including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages) suitable for the intended customers to the restaurant, but is also the coordinator for the pairing of food that goes with the beverage list. A sommelier therefore, works closely with the chef in the restaurant in creating a most enjoyable menu for their customers.

The Service
The last part was the serving of wine. The sommeliers were tested the flow of their work and skills when serving the customer. From opening the bottle to serving the customer according to the sequence, this stage truly put the sommeliers’ daily practise to test. Other than the usual formality in serving wine, the sommeliers were also expected to apply common sense in their practise. For example, if the wine was still warm when it should have been served chilled, the sommelier during the time of the test should have under that circumstance, notified the customer of the temperature of the wine and that it would take a little more time before serving.

Choosing the Champion

Three sommeliers entered the final to compete for the champion, one would represent Malaysia. The tests were almost similar to the qualifying round - a blind tasting, serving of the beverages and a Q&A session. There was an additional part of the test which I thought was very tricky, it was to find errors from the wine list.

The Blind Tasting
The finalists were assessed individually. First, the finalist was given 6 minutes to describe all 5 beverages placed on the table. Unfortunately for this round, none of the finalists finished their task in time.

The Bartending
After this, the finalist had to serve a couple their order of one gin and tonic and one sparkling wine. This was to test the sommelier’s skill in mixing a basic cocktail and the serving sequence for male and female diners.

The Spelling Mistakes
Then, it was the test of finding errors from a wine list provided with spelling mistakes or wrong descriptions. This was not to test the sommeliers’ common English grammar or spelling mistakes; it was to test their knowledge in the name and the varieties of wines worldwide. Unless you have paid a lot of attention on the wine labels or you have memorised a wide range of wine varieties, this test would be ridiculous to complete. From this test, we learned that our sommeliers still needed to work on their wine varieties.

Use of the Decanter
In this part, the finalist was to present a bottle of wine already picked by the customer with a decanter and serve it to the six guests who were wine lovers. A candle was used during the decanting to watch the collection of sediment at the neck of the bottle. A bottle of old wine is never poured out entirely to leave around 30ml of the sediment behind.

Customer Service
At the end of the test, the finalist was asked a question related to how they would handle a difficult request by the customer. This part really tested the experience of the finalists and it made the choosing process a tat bit easier.

Before the champion of the competition was announced, Head Judge Teng Wee Jeh concluded that this year’s competition has seen improvement in the overall performance by the contestants. However, he also said that the contestants were losing many points from small but obvious mistakes and hoped that they would keep practising their skills and come back to compete again next year.

Edmund Liew stood out from the crowd for his smooth presentation in serving and his mature wine knowledge. We wish him good luck in the South East Asia Best Sommelier Competition and bring Malaysia another year of glory!

Champion - Edmund Liew (Consulting)
2nd Place - Han Yew Kong (Osteria Mozza - Marina Bay Sands, Singapore)
3rd Place - Lai Wei Choung (Sky on 57 - Marina Bay Sands, Singapore)

Others contestants - Zulikernain Rosli (Hilton Sentral Kuala Lumpur), Justin Ho (Taylor's University Lakeside), Goh June Ling (Booze It), Ronald Willie Binati (Berjaya University), Chermaine Wong (Wine Warehouse), Loh Jun Wei (Vintry Cellars)

Head Judge - Teng Wee Jeh (Barrique Fine Wines & Chinoz)
Judges - Sebastien Le Francois (Consultant sommelier at Le Gourmet & Fitou Restaurant and Lecturer KDU College), Yuhei Teraoka (Manager at Vinum Fine Wines Malaysia), Stephen Hall (Owner and Manager at Matildas Winery)