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TerraVina Sommelier Wins UK Sommelier of the Year Award

Laura Rhys, 27, from Hotel TerraVina, Southampton, was announced last night as the 2009 UK Sommelier of the Year, following a tense final held at the Tate Modern in London.

Laura RhysThis prestigious competition, organised by the Academy of Food & Wine and sponsored by Champagnes Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck, saw the country’s best sommeliers competing for the title under the scrutiny of a high-profile panel of judges.

 “The standard of this year’s competition was unbelievable. To have the UK’s top 15 sommeliers demonstrating such high levels of expertise under such nerve-racking conditions was thrilling,” commented Christian Holthausen, International House Communications Director, Champagnes Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck, distributed in the UK by First Drinks Brands Ltd. 

“The current economic climate has prompted an interesting set of new challenges for the sommelier with an added emphasis on the ability to direct customers to interesting fine wines that suit every budget. Today’s exhilarating competition has been a true test of these talents and highlights the complex skill set a sommelier has to master, combining the art of showman, authority and businessman.”

The panel of judges, headed by master sommelier Matt Wilkin and including last year’s Sommelier of the Year Gearoid Devaney and food and drink writer Tom Parker-Bowles, assessed the 15 semi-finalists (winners from the regional competition held in February) on numerous technical skills including a blind tasting and written exam.

Tensions rose in the afternoon when the three finalists, Laura Rhys, Yohann Jousselin from Hotel du Vin & Bistro, Winchester, and Christopher Delalonde from The Square, London, were announced. A series of demanding tasks were presented: a realistic role-play restaurant scenario testing the sommeliers’ ability to deal with customers, their management skills and their ability to cope under pressure; a blind tasting; a food and wine matching exercise; and an against-the-clock wine list error-spotting exercise. The grand finale saw the three sommeliers having to pour a single magnum of Champagne Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Brut into 16 Champagne glasses, filling each equally without returning to any of them.

“This year it was very difficult to choose between the three finalists. All are professionals at the top of their game and who have a passion for the subject. They all handled the pressure of the competition admirably - the industry should be proud of this level of achievement,” commented chief judge Matt Wilkin.

Laura wins a fabulous trip to Champagnes Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck in the heart of the Champagne region of France to meet and taste with the celebrated award-winning Chef de Caves Régis Camus. The prize includes staying for two nights at the three Michelin-starred Château Les Crayères, Reims, a private tour of Champagnes Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck and a guided vineyard tour.

“We are delighted that this year’s competition was supported so well by independent restaurants and chains,” commented Sophie Roberts-Brown, executive director of the Academy of Food & Wine. “It’s easy to overlook the value of a well trained bar person or sommelier - they have an incredible knowledge of wine and are a real asset to any establishment.”

It’s hardly surprising that the wine events at Hotel TerraVina are so popular.

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