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ASI Competition of the Best Sommelier of Asia&Oceania in Kyoto

Wataru Iwata sacred !

Twelve countries, twenty-four candidates, a finalist from Malaysia and a third Japanese success in the fourth edition of this competition, these are some of the highlights of a contests whose level keeps increasing.

Wataru Iwata

Millenial imperial capital city of Japan, Kyoto has been the setting of the consecration of a new talent. On last October 18, it is in this city filled with history that Wataru Iwata has won the 4th edition of the ASI Competition of the Best Sommelier of Asia&Oceania. After Satoru Mori and Hiroshi Ishida, he is the third Japanese professional to prevail in the challenge. A contest that, for the first time in its history, welcomed 24 candidates from 12 countries, i.e. 3 more than in 2015 in Hong Kong. A significant increase that underlines the growth of Association de la Sommellerie Internationale.

Certainly the competitors’ level remains somewhat disparate as the technical committee could observe. But agreeing to engage in such a challenge can help young sommeliers to progress all the faster that they are driven by a real passion. They could especially understand how much theoretical knowledge is important to pass the first stage.

Ambiance traditionnelle pour la cérémonie d’accueil des 24 candidats...

Nine candidates in semifinals

This stage enabled to select the nine best candidates who showed a fairly homogeneous level afterwards : an Australian (Mattia Antonio Cianca), a Chinese (Kam Fung Reeze Choi), an Indonesian (Wicien Widjaja), two Japanese (Taku Iguro and Wataru Iwata), a Malaysian (Justin Li Vern Ho), two New-Zéalander (Andrea Martinisi and Marek Przyborek) and one Taiwanese (Hsin-Wei Ho).

Two main themes had been chosen by the technical committee. The first one aimed at assessing the qualities of each candidate in terms of tasting and food and wine pairing, whereas the second one focused on service and marketing. This second worshop disturbed the candidates most. Though the service of a 2015 white Sancerre from Daniel Chotard presents no major difficulty, the candidates have been disturbed by the bottles at their disposal. Actually three bottles, all from the same estate, were available for the semifinalists: the 2015 white Sancerre ordered, another one from the 2014 vintage, and a red Sancerre. Three bottles were displayed on a small table, three others in a functioning service cellar and the three last ones in a service cellar turned off. Only one of the eight competing sommeliers chose the right bottle at the right temperature whereas the others made a mistake on the temperature or the storage ...

… Ainsi que pour les membres du comité technique.

Smiling finals

The next day in a sporting atmosphere, the Japanese fans were waiting impatiently for the designation of the three finalists. Which filled their hopes with the presence of one of their two candidates. Wataru Iwata was accompanied by Kam Fung Reeze Choi, the Chinese candidate from Hong Kong. A Japan-China match, as in 2015, judged by a surprise guest. This time he did not come from Australia but from Malaysia. And just like his two opponents, Justin Li Vern Ho showed a wide smile as he started the tests. After drawing lots, he had the privilege of diving first into the workshops that followed each other in front of the eight hundred spectators who had taken their places in the lounges of the Okura Hotel.

A bar and service test, tastings associated with a food and wine pairing test, the decanting and serving of a magnum at two different tables, the estimation of wines proposed to a collector and the identification of spirits were the first phase of this final. Then the candidates participated together in a photographic quiz before ensuring the show with the service of a magnum of Champagne Piper-Heidsieck in 17 glasses.

The rest we know ... After all these workshops, the three finalists, faithful to the smile that illuminated their faces throughout the contest, waited for the announcement of the winners by Andrés Rosberg, the president of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale. His gold medal around his neck, Wataru Iwata was joined on the podium by Chinese Kam Fung Reeze Choi who climbed on the second step then by Justin Li Vern Ho, the Malaysian who ranked third.

A trio who, with enthusiasm, mastery and knowledge, evidenced the powerful development of the Asian sommellerie. Which is no longer only dominated by Japan. A country that, thanks to the success of Wataru Iwata, will have two candidates in the ASI competition of the Best Sommelier of the World in March 2019 in Antwerp, Belgium. He will accompany Satoru Mori, the candidate selected by the Japan Sommelier Association.

Jean Bernard


The winner in a few words

Why did you choose to become a sommelier and how did you train?
It all happened in a country where viticulture has an important place. It was in New Zealand when I was studying English. Wine was part of my life. For my training, I did not go to a specialized school. I studied alone, not only by reading books about wine, but also visiting wineries, and talking with the winemakers I could meet.

In which establishment do you work and is wine important?
I live in Kyoto and I work in a wonderful wine bar, Cave de K. We serve mainly French wines and the taste of the local clientele is mainly oriented towards the classic vineyards that are Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne. We pair the proposed wines with a simple cuisine.

Who did you prepare the competition with?
With Hiroshi Ishida, vice president of the Japan Sommelier Association, who won this competition in 2015 and with my best friend Taku Iguro who reached the semi-final this year. I think I will follow the same program to prepare the world contest. But I know it will be a lot harder and more intense.

You smile all the time, even during the competition. Should we understand that it was easy for you?
No it was not easy, quite the contrary, it was very difficult. Yet I always tried to smile because that’s how I work everyday. To stay relaxed, I thought that nothing should be changed and that it was by being myself that I could be the best performer in front of the judges and the public.

What is your favourite wine?
Always Bordeaux!