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ASI Contest of the Best Sommelier of Europe in Cyprus

Benjamin Roffet, the candidate for France

Alternate of David Biraud several times, the Best Sommelier of France 2010 won the selection that pitted him against Dominique Laporte. In Cyprus, next November, he will live his first international competition.

Candidats, organisateurs des ateliers et membres du jury après l’annonce du résultat.

Almost a year to the day before the final of the next ASI Contest of the Best Sommelier of Europe, the Union of French Sommellerie has organized the selection of its future representative. And if, potentially, a good forty candidates would be entitled to participate (Best Sommeliers of France, Best Young Sommeliers of France and Best Craftsmen of France), only two had validated their registration.

The one, Dominique Laporte, has already participated in the Ruinart European Trophy and even finished on the podium in 2004 behind Andreas Larsson and Paolo Basso. The other, Benjamin Roffet, has observed a lot since 2013, when for the first time he played the role of David Biraud’s alternate. He has accompanied the French competitor on almost every continent, immersing himself in the atmosphere, meeting the other candidates and, above all, preparing each selection with the hope of finally bearing the official candidate’s suit.

This accumulated knowledge and experience has enabled him to finally reach his goal, even if over the last few months his studies and training have been somewhat disrupted by the preparation phase and the opening of the Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower, where he is the head sommelier.

Benjamin Roffet, dans le décor du restaurant Jules Verne, a encore sept mois pour bien se préparer.

Unexpected guests

Now under the responsibility of Olivier Poussier (Best Sommelier of the World 2000), the French selection tests are evolving to be as close as possible to the environment of the competition itself. Thus all the tests are held in English and the jury has been enlarged with, for example, the presence of Jérémy Cukierman, Master of Wine, in the jury. “He can give us a lot in terms of reading the wine and an Anglo-Saxon view of the way the wines are tasted.”

But this year, Olivier Poussier wanted to go one step further by inviting a foreign observer. Arriving from Stockholm, Andreas Larsson (Best Sommelier of the World 2007) followed the course of the selection and assessed the tasting. “It is important for us to have the impression of a foreign professional afterwards”, underlined the organizer. The organizer also wished that this day would take place in total transparency by welcoming a bailiff who did not miss anything from the different workshops and then took charge of adding up the points of the different candidates before announcing the name of the winner. A decision which is in line with a proposal by Philippe Faure-Brac in order to avoid any risk of contestation during the various competitions placed under the responsibility of UDSF.

Finally, even though he has chosen to turn the page on international competitions, David Biraud was present in the lounges of the Mavrommatis restaurant that was the setting for this day. And although he is determined to share his experience with his successors, he had first selected the products (brandies and spirits) intended for identification during the written test. A way for him to smoothly handle this decision which he clearly admits he does not regret after so many years devoted to professional events, from the Ruinart Trophy of the Best Young Sommelier of France to his four participations in world championships.

Preparation time

The day after his selection, Benjamin Roffet embarked on an intense work phase. Even though he has acquired solid skills, he still needs to expand his knowledge and practice both in terms of tasting and serving. Although he was an attentive spectator of the last finals of the European and World competitions, he also took care to watch the films of the tests, candidate by candidate, in order to dissect their performance in the slightest detail. A personal work that should be supported by Team France, as Olivier Poussier points out. “It is now up to all those who have chosen to join this team to give a day of their time to work on tests or a specific theme that meets the candidate’s wishes. An organisation has been set up to support the candidate in his or her quest for understanding and knowledge. A unifying approach which must support him in his preparation.”

Benjamin Roffet imagined the outlines of this preparation with the integration of various participants at his side. “For a long time, I had been considering, modestly, that one day I would be France’s candidate. So the programme is thus already written and now I will at last be able to move on to the next stage. A trip to Cyprus also seems necessary to me. I need to consider the country as a whole, to understand its gastronomy, culture and especially its wines. But the discovery of other vineyards abroad will be necessary in order to continue to progress internationally.”

To progress and above all to be competitive in order to give himself the means to bring back a title that France expects for twenty years now ...

Texts and photos Jean Bernard