At the recent 1st ASI Contest of the Best Sommelier of Asia-Oceania held in Osaka, La Tour D'Argent Tokyo’s Satoru Mori took first place and Nobuhide Tani, a sommelier from the same restaurant, took third place. The contest was a qualifier for the ASI Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World, held tri-annually with the next championship taking place this year in Chile. This also marked the first time that the Asia-Oceania region has held such an event. This competition clearly shows how popular wine has become in Asia, and the results in particular spotlighted the talent of Japanese sommeliers.
Competing in the finals with Mori and Tani, and coming in at 2nd place, was Franck Moreau, an Australia-based Frenchman. Sparks flew up on the stage as the three underwent the strict final tests involving not only the straightforward blind tasting of wine, but also various practical tests at three tables onstage.
The first table involved champagne service, while the next task was to explain the dishes on a given menu (including their preparation), and to recommend a wine to suit the cuisine. During this test a serious looking Mori explained the menu faultlessly, and made unique recommendations which included local wines with a consummate ease. Tani also made a distinctive impression with his beautiful, elegant champagne service.
Ten customers were seated at the second table. After serving each of them from a bottle of wine, errors in an incorrect wine list had to be corrected and explained to the guests, which puts the contestant on the spot and is incredibly demanding and difficult for all of the sommeliers— brows unconsciously formed frowns. There was an incident where Moreau, who came second, accidentally broke a cork when removing it. But he remained calm and cleanly dealt with the problem on the spot.
The last table was reserved for the blind tasting. Firstly, three kinds of wine were tasted, and then the finalists had to identify the type and place of origin of six varieties of spirits. The wine posed a particular challenge. Although all of the sommeliers successfully identified the first glass of white as a Sauvignon Blanc, its special characteristics led them to judge it as being from New Zealand. In fact it was a Chilean wine from the Montes Vineyards, demonstrating just how much the quality of wine from these new regions is improving.
The winner, Mori, is a mere 32 years of age. He commented, ‘I was very nervous throughout all of the tests. I think I was especially tense during today’s wine service test. But as I look towards the world stage I want to improve my language skills even more and be able to carry out my work in a typically Japanese manner.’
Perhaps it was precisely this characteristically Japanese approach which led to Mori and Tani’s success in the competition, as it left a lasting impression of true sophistication and refinement. Mori is currently in training at the original La Tour D'Argent in Paris, but Tani’s expert service can be experienced at La Tour D'Argent in the Hotel New Otani Tokyo, in Chiyoda. Next time you are going to enjoy a bottle of champagne on a special occasion, consider the service from a first-class sommelier like Tani to make it all the more special.
Hotel New Otani La Tour D'Argent
Address: 4-1 Kioicho, Chiyoda, Tokyo
Telephone: (03)3239 3111
Open: 5:30pm-10:30pm (LO 8:30pm), closed Mon
Dress Code: Jacket and tie required for men
Translated by Virginia Okno