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Vinexpo blog - what does it take to be crowned Best Sommelier of the World?

Published:  21 June, 2011

Harpers features editor Laura Clark blogs from Vinexpo 2011.

A sharp suit and comfy shoes will get you one step closer to being crowned Best Sommelier of the World in the International Sommellerie Association's prestigious competition.

That's according to Gerard Basset - MW, MS and now OBE recipent, who has such accolades as Best Sommelier of Europe 1996 and Best Sommelier of the World 2010 under his belt. "For the competitions I bought suits so I felt at ease and a new pair of shoes - I wanted to be primed and ready," Basset told the audience at a major conference organised by the ASI at Vinexpo 2011.

But don't just rely on a natty look to get you through the grueling competition process. "If you're ill prepared you cannot test your luck and you cannot do it at the last minute," Basset said. In 2013 the Best Sommelier in the World competition will be held in Toyko - but with all the hard work and preparation involved, sommeliers only now considering whether they should participate are already too late, Basset believes.

The expert sommelier doled out his advice to a new generation of up-and-coming sommeliers eager to prove their mettle.

Finding someone to coach and advise you is essential, he said. "Have a sparring partner, like a wine waiter or person from the restaurant trade. Physically, mentally and technically, you have to turn up in fighting fit form. You mustn't be afraid of asking for help."

But participation in competitions doesn't come cheap, Basset admitted, especially if you have to put your job on hold. "You have to think about financing - it's an expensive exercise. And you have to think about travel expenses and tasting an awful lot of wine." Which is where the option of financing from a restaurant or wine merchant is worth exploring.

For Serge Dubs, crowned Best Sommelier of Europe in 1988 and Best Sommelier of the World in 1989, winning the title is all about hard graft. You have to study for a minimum of 15 hours a day, he told the audience.

But all the hard work pays off, Dubs believes. Winning is a "springboard", he said, "because it enables you to exploit all that you've learnt and the openings are fantastic."

For sommeliers eager to join the hallowed halls of the ASI's Best Sommeliers, determination is everything. "You have to have a competitive spirit," Basset said. And his advice to win it? In the run-up to the competition, consider everybody you serve as a judge, and not just a regular diner. Just make sure you serve those 'judges' in your best-looking best suit.