After a week of rigorous tests ranging from blind tastings to expertly pairing wines with sumptuous meals, a Latvian has beat out 37 rivals to become Europe’s top-rated sommelier.
Raimonds Tomsons, 36, won the prize late Thursday after a gruelling final round of competition of nonstop tasks in Vienna that went on for several hours.
After starting out as an assistant waiter at Riga’s noted Vincents restaurant, Tomsons became its chief sommelier in 2006, winning several prestigious prizes along the way.
On Thursday, he and the other three finalists from France, Poland and Romania had to open a magnum bottle of Champagne and rapidly fill 18 glasses — with the exact same amount in each glass.
They then had to choose a Japanese sake for an aperitif and explain why, before choosing which grands crus wines to serve during an imagined meal to celebrate a president’s six years in office.
During the blind tastings, they had to identify an Italian wine and then reveal within three minutes the complex characteristics of a French calvados brandy.
Last but not least, they were given photos of different vineyards and wine growers and tasked with identifying each precisely.
Throughout the tests of both taste and nerves, Tomsons maintained his composure while putting years of study and experience on the line.
The tests included rapidly filling 18 glasses of Champagne with exactly the same amount in each
“He is fast, he is a charmer, I felt like he was an ice skater, it was like watching ice skating — without any effort, such a beauty!” said Gerard Basset, chairman of the European Sommelier Championship Committee, told AFP.
“The candidate has to be able to control himself, to perform at the right time, to mentally prepare himself… It is a real sport,” he said.
Tomsons said he hoped the prize would inspire his colleagues in fine dining back home to take up similar challenges.
“I think it will be a huge motivation that a small country like Latvia can do a big thing,” he said.
“You have to put your theoretical knowledge and charisma in front of the customer and most important, you have to make him feel humble, elegant and very comfortable.”
The previous winner, a Swede, was crowned in 2013, and the next competition will be held in 2019 in Antwerp, Belgium.