Les dix demi finalistes étaient (de haut en bas et de gauche à droite) : Andreas Jechsmayr, Aristide Spies, Paolo Basso, Samuil Angelov, Eric Zwiebel, Fabio Miccoli, Merete Boe, Manuel Moreira, Soren Polonius, Isa Bal.
30 countries were represented for the occasion of this first event of a new era
A competition which began by stage of selection, held in the reception salons of the Kempinski Zografski Hotel in Sofia, and continued on to a final held in the magnificent setting of the Ivan Vasov Theatre.
Initially, to bring the number of candidates for the title from 30 to 10, the technical committee used classic tests. A tasting of a white wine and a red wine with written comments, then three liqueurs to identify, preceded a test of matching food and wine. The white and red wine used for the previous commented tasting test returned again, served with smoked trout for one, and carpaccio for the other.
Each sommelier had to choose a wine that suited both dishes and explain why. Finally 57 question covering Europe and the various aspects of the sommelier metier completed this first stage. The conclusion came with a service test. Seven glasses, half a bottle of champagne and the obligation to serve five people… There were traps … naturally!
All favourites amongst the ten finalists
10 candidates were selected and won the right to continue the adventure: Andreas Jechsmayr (Austria), Aristide Spies (Belgium), Paolo Basso (Swiss Federal Republic), Samuil Angelov (Finland), Eric Zwiebel (France), Fabio Miccoli (Italy), Merete Boe (Norway), Manuel Moreira (Portugal), Soren Polonius (Sweden), Isa Bal (Turkey). All the candidates were potentially favourites.
For these semi-finalists the series of tests continued: commenting a red wine in five minutes; a test using a computer; decanting and serving a wine for three people; opening and providing comments about a bottle of white wine and then serving ten glasses. After this whirl of tests, only 3 candidates were still in competition: Paolo Basso and Eric Zwiebel (who were in this final threesome in 2006 at the competition held in Paris); the trio was completed by Isa Bal.
The Turkish candidate works at the three-starred Michelin restaurant, ‘The Fat Duck’ in Great Britain. This establishment is rated as the second-to-best restaurant in the world by the magazine ‘Restaurant Magazine’, and this has clearly enabled Isa Bal to progress enormously, because in Bulgaria he stepped into the limelight without previously having obtained any real references.
Who remembers that he was a candidate for his country at the World competition in Rhodes? He did not even get past the first stage of selection at that time.
Then, last April, during the competition held in Great Britain, he came second, whereas in 2004, when the French candidate, Eric Zwiebel, became “Great Britain’s Best Sommelier”, he won just third place. “He has never been such a strong candidate until now” acknowledged Gérard Basset “and he was considered an outsider; his progress working in prestigious establishments since his arrival in the United Kingdom has enabled him to make great progress.” To the extent of sweeping aside his opponents and leaving little opportunity for questions from experts present in the Ivan Vasov Theatre.
Precise, competent, attentive to the precise expectations of the jury, he also showed he is a formidable taster, leaving the Swiss and French candidates behind him.
On the podium, but without the title, as in 2006, Eric Zwiebel did not let doubt settle for long as concerns his intentions for the future: “I want to succeed in bringing a title to France, so there is no question of giving up even if doubts are in my mind at present…”
Like many other candidates present in Sofia, he is also thinking about the World competition to be held in Chile in 2010.