Three days of competition, 14 wine challenges and four seminars. Oh, and a written test on different wine and cheese regions in France, to boot.
Now into its third edition, last year’s Asia Best Sommelier Competition in French Wines organised by SOPEXA was held in Taipei from 13 to 15 December 2017.
Candidates came from 10 countries, including Thailand, Singapore, Korea and China. From placing eight glasses correctly according to the customers’ requirements to blind-tasting wines and spirits, wine pairing, mixing cocktails and even naming cheeses, candidates were put through gruelling tests of wine knowledge and expertise focused on that most revered of Old World regions—France.
In the end, it was Japanese sommelier Daisuke Kawai, representing Singapore, who won. This is the latest feather in the cap for the 41-year-old, who has won numerous competitions and accolades, including World Gourmet Summit 2017’s Best Sommelier of the Year. We caught up with him on his win and the can-do mindset that has taken him from teenage waiter to award-winning sommelier, Tokyo to Singapore via stops around all the key wine regions in the world.
I cannot remember my first encounter with French wine. I must have been 18 or 19 then, working as a waiter in Tokyo. I cannot choose a favourite wine either. I like them all. In fact, I like the wine I have not tried because I want to know and taste it.
The best things about French wine are its variety, elegance and especially the complexity of wines from old vintages.
Compared to many other winemaking regions, the French have a more evolved and complex wine culture. They emphasise longevity, and they are willing to be patient and keep their wines. French wines from the 1970s and 1980s are still available today; you will be hard-pushed to find the same from other countries. I was lucky to have sampled a Lafite from 1904. It was quite an experience, and the wine still had a lot of fruitiness for something so old.
Some people mistake what we do. A sommelier’s job is not to describe wines, nor to excel at blind tasting. Our job is service and hospitality.
My motto in life is to do the best I can, to do better today than yesterday, tomorrow than today.
Of course I was nervous to represent Singapore in the competition in Taiwan. I wanted to win.
The biggest challenge I faced is running La Terre while actually preparing for the competition. I didn’t have much time to read and study as I was working, so I had to be very disciplined.
The fact is, my life is all about preparing for competition, whether it is this one or the next. I believe in constantly improving myself, in my knowledge of wine. So I guess my preparation for the competition is really built upon my 20 years’ of service on the floor.
I am really happy that I won, but I believe that the real competition is with myself. To be a winner, you have to win over yourself and believe that you can do it. One day, I want to be world champion.
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s Mar/Apr 2018 issue – Wonder Women, ‘Sommelier’