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UK Sommelier of the Year 2009 announced

Published:  30 April, 2009

The 2009 UK Sommelier of the Year was awarded last night to 27-year-old Laura Rhys from Hotel TerraVina in Southampton.

The final organised by the Academy of Food and Wine was held in the Tate Modern and was sponsored by Champagnes Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck.

The competition saw the country's best sommeliers competing for the title under a high-profile panel of judges which was headed by master sommelier Matt Wilkin and included last year's Sommelier of the Year Gearoid Devaney and food and drink writer Tom Parker-Bowles, the three assessed the 15 semi-finalists on numerous technical skills including a blind tasting and written exam.

Christian Holthausen, international house communications director, Champagnes Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck said: "The standard of this year's competition was unbelievable.

"To have the UK's top 15 sommeliers demonstrating such high levels of expertise under such nerve-racking conditions was thrilling."

"The current economic climate has prompted an interesting set of new challenges for the sommelier with an added emphasis on the ability to direct customers to interesting fine wines that suit every budget.

"Today's exhilarating competition has been a true test of these talents and highlights the complex skill set a sommelier has to master, combining the art of showman, authority and businessman."

In the afternoon the three finalists, Laura Rhys, Yohann Jousselin from Hotel du Vin & Bistro, Winchester, and Christopher Delalonde from The Square, London, had to compete in a series of tasks including a realistic role-play restaurant scenario - which tested the sommeliers' ability to deal with customers, their management skills and ability to cope under pressure; a blind tasting; a food and wine matching exercise; and an against-the-clock wine list error-spotting exercise.

The grand finale saw the three sommeliers having to pour a single magnum of Champagne Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Brut into 16 Champagne glasses, filling each equally without returning to any of them.

"We are delighted that this year's competition was supported so well by independent restaurants and chains," said Sophie Roberts-Brown, executive director of the Academy of Food & Wine.

"It's easy to overlook the value of a well trained bar person or sommelier - they have an incredible knowledge of wine and are a real asset to any establishment."

The Hotel TerraVina in Southampton is the vision of Gerard Basset co-founder of Hotel du Van.