Andrew O' Gorman presenting Hector Vergara Flores, President Chilean Sommelier Association with a personalised bottle of Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey on behalf of Mary O' Callaghan, President of the Irish Guild of Sommeliers.

Written by:

Andrew O’ Gorman, Secretary The Irish Guild of Sommeliers and President Bartenders Association of Ireland.

Santiago, Chile hosted the most prestigious sommelier competition at international level during April, 2010. The World’s Best Sommelier competition is organised by Association Sommelier International (ASI) and sommeliers from 51 countries around the world gathered to compete for the much coveted “Moet Silver Mathusalem” trophy.

ASI was founded in France in 1989 to promote and standardise the profession of sommelier. The Chile chapter was founded in 2000 in accordance with ASI guidelines to promote good service in Chile. Wines of Chile were founded in 2002 to promote the quality and image of Chilean wine worldwide.

With its soft rolling hills and Mediterranean climate, the lush central-southern valley is the historic home to Chilean wine. Although “terroir hunters” seeking new viticulture zones have expanded south and north, even to the edges of the Atacama Desert, the region is still home to more than half of the wineries that have made Chile a wine powerhouse over the last two decades. It was also one of the hardest hit areas by the February 27th earthquake. The 8.8 magnitude earthquake was felt most strongly in Maule, Colchague, Cachapoal valleys, representing 80% of Chile’s wine industry. The quake cracked storage containers, sent oak barrels crashing and shattered bottles. In all, 125 millon litres of wine – bulk, bottled and aging – worth an estimated US$ 250 million washed away.

However, Wines of Chile President Rene Merino points out the loss will not affect the ability of the industry to meet export commitments. Much of the structural damage from the quake affected older buildings at wineries, many used for offices, or for the growing wine tours that bring tourists to the region. The actual vineyards and the more modern wine facilities fared well through the quake. Many cellars that were damaged are already repaired and work is continuing. The losses have driven up the price of bulk wine, which has fluctuated since the quake.

As an industry that exports 70% of production, the US dollar also affects Chilean wine. Exports are sold in US dollars but costs which are bound to increase in the short term are counted in Chilean Pesos. Many vineyard and winery workers homes were destroyed; this is another issue the industry must resolve.

Local agencies are keeping in close contact with importers assuring them that Chile will be able to meet its international commitments. The industry exports more than half its bottled wine, 22 million cases worth US$ 500 million, to Europe, including the important Irish market. Their motto is that there was a brutal earthquake “but the wine industry is absolutely ready to meet this challenge and continue to provide the best wine in the world to its customers”. This was particularly evident in all the vineyards we visited during our stay in Chile.

The Chilean Sommeliers and wine producers had no loss of lives among their members and workers.

The following travelled from Ireland: Andrzej Dasiac,  Competitor from the Annebrook House Hotel, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath and now working in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone, Co. Westmeath. He is from Poland, a graduate of the Vocational College, Katowice, Poland, Athlone Institute of Technology and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, Andrew O’ Gorman, Secretary and Honorary Life Member Irish Guild of Sommeliers, travelled as Acting President, as the Guild President Mary O’ Callaghan was unable to travel.

The contest is the driving force behind the steady progress of the sommelier profession. Young professionals master more and more knowledge when trained by their experienced peers along with attending formal courses. The competition encourages them to master their trade perfectly. The competition is only the tip of the iceberg as standards continue to rise. All professionals of the hospitality business must be able to identify wines, buy them at the best price and be able to recommend them in the most professional way particularly in regard to the marriage of food and wine.

The delegates from 51 countries attended various seminars and tastings at the following wineries: Casa Vina Montes, Vina Lapostolle, Vineyards in the Maipo, Casablanca and San Antonio valleys, Vina Undurraga, Vina Concha y Toro,Vina Errazuriz, Vina Santa Carolina and Ventisquero, Valdivieso among others. Many tastings of high quality wines were held at Mundo Del Vino – this is a fabulous wine and spirit shop with product from all over the world, but with a most extensive range of Chilean wines. It is owned by the President of the Chilean Sommelier Guild, Hector Vergara Flores. The Moet & Chandon closing gala dinner was held at Castillo Hidalgo where various presentations were made to the contestants and judges. Andrzej Dasiac, and Andrew O’ Gorman were presented with competitor and jury certificates respectively. Andrew O’ Gorman presented a commemorative plaque on behalf of the President of the Irish Guild of Sommeliers to the President of the Chilean Sommelier Association as a token of our gratitude.

Chile has been producing wine since the mid 16th century, shortly after Spanish settlers arrived and planted the first vines in the new territory. The industry was completely reorganised in the 19th century when modern technology, expertise, and noble French vines were introduced prior to Europe’s devastating phylloxera crisis. A third wave of modernisation took place in the late 1980’s when wineries throughout the country were updated with the latest technology, and modern vinification techniques became standard practise throughout the country.

Today’s ongoing efforts to continue improving the quality of Chilean wine has led to the discovery and development of new terroirs that have seen vines stretch ever closer to the sea and climb higher into the Coastal and Andes Mountains in search of the perfect conditions for each varietal. The work with Chilean terroir has also seen an exciting increase in the production of excellent cool-climate varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Chile has long been known for its outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, but in the mid 1990’s it also made a name for itself with the rediscovery of Carmenere, a varietal of Bordeaux origin that had been mixed into Merlot-based field blends 100 years earlier. It has since been separated out and today’s better understanding of the long-lost varietal has resulted in exceptional wines that have earned Carmenere its place as Chile’s signature variety.

Andrzejz Dasiak, candidate and Andrew O’ Gorman

Back in Santiago the candidates then sat a full-day examination which comprised three written papers covering all aspects of beverages and cigars – ranging from the wines of the world to spirits, liqueurs, beers, non alcoholic drinks including teas and coffees. This was followed by a blind tasting of two wines, questions on the marriage of food and wine and a practical test. This was followed by the semi finals and the finals. For the final competition the candidates assembled before an audience of 1,000 guests and three competitors were selected to compete in the final competition for the title of “The World’s Best Sommelier”. Over more than three hours of competition the candidates were tested in the following categories: blind tasting of spirits and liqueurs, the correction of a wine list and the service of wine to guests in a restaurant, the service of champagne and an aperitif (cocktail), among other practical tests. Andrew O’ Gorman was selected as one of the judges for both the semi finals and the finals. This I accept as a great honour.

After a very short wait as the judges deliberated, Gerard Basset representing the United Kingdom was declared the winner with Paolo Basso representing Switzerland, 2nd place, and David Biraud representing France in 3rd place. The Irish candidate, Andrzej Dasiak competed to a very high and professional standard. He found the competition and the visits to the vineyards and tastings  a great learning experience. He was a great ambassador for Ireland and the Irish Guild of Sommeliers and will no doubt feature in national and international competitions in the future. Mr. Paddy Keogh, Wines Direct, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath was a big help to Andrzej by facilitating him with numerous wine tastings at his premises during his preparations for the competitions in Chile.

The World Competitions were a major event in Chile, this year as they were also celebrating the bicentenary of their independence. The event attracted huge sponsorship from wine, spirit and water companies both national and international as well as manufacturers of glassware and national and regional tourism organisations. Moet and Chandon Champagne has been the main sponsor of the international sommeliere since 1989. (Edward Dillon & Co. Ltd is the agent for Moet and Chandon in Ireland).

Sommeliers are consultants, experts at world level, sharing on a daily basis the extent of their knowledge and skill. The key to this are competitions and a gateway to an international career. In accordance with ASI international regulations a recognised expert from another country is invited to oversee their national competition. Mary O’ Callaghan, President, Irish Guild of Sommeliers was the international expert at the Italian competitions. William Wouters, President Belgium Sommelier Association was the expert who visited Ireland for the national competitions which were held in November,2009.

The Peter Lehman World Sommelier Award also took place in Santiago. In order to compete for this award candidates took a special written test based around the Shiraz/Syrah family theme followed by a tasting. A cash prize of €10,000 along with a piece of contemporary art from the famous “Hess Art Collection” was awarded to Veronique Rivest , the candidate representing Canada , who achieved the highest scores in the special written test and tasting. This award is overseen by Hans Astrom, President Hess-Family Estates Europe.

There was also a special prize for the candidate who got best marks in the San Pellegrino – Acqua Panna water paper, which was won by Iulia Gosea from Romania.

The Irish Guild of Sommeliers has competed at the world wine competitions since 1983 when the candidate was Michael Farrell, Ashling Hotel, Dublin, and other candidates were Albert Mulligan,DIT  who was placed 5th in Venice in 1986, Didier Fiat, K Club, Straffan, Co. Kildare won a bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, this being the best result to date.

Santiago

Santiago is in the middle of the Mapocho valley. The small river and the Andes Mountains are the main geographic landmarks in the country’s capital. The area closest to the mountains is known as Santiago Oriente. The mountains seduce your gaze and between June and October, they invite you to go skiing. During the summer they are the regular destination for trekking and hot springs enthusiasts.

Valleys

Colchagua valley which we visited is an agricultural valley. It is very good at producing red grapes. Warm and naturally dry but with an abundance of water supplied by the Tinguirrica and Colchagua river; it is a narrow agricultural valley that starts at the foot of the Andes and extends in a westerly direction to the Pacific Ocean. In between you can find numerous microclimates and types of soil, uneven slopes, ideal for plantations and a number of growing vineyards, to make excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and very good Carmenere and Malbec.

As old as the discovery of Chile, the vineyards in the country’s central region have more than a centenary of tradition. Wine has become part of the national identity, one of the products representing the largest number of exported units that has turned Chile’s valleys into an obligatory reference among wine experts from around the world.

Over the past few decades the introduction of new capital and technologies has allowed the best of each of the valleys to be developed, from the Elqui area down to Constitucion. Constitucion was badly affected by the most recent earthquake with a large loss of life and destruction of property.

Diverse and varied grapes and wines identify each of the country’s regions.

Bernardo O’ Higgins:

This year Chile is celebrating the bicentenary of their independence. Bernardo O’ Higgins (1778-1842” hero of Chile’s struggle for independence was born on August 20th ,1778, in Chillan, Chile, then under Spanish rule. Bernardo’s father, Ambrose O’ Higgins, had come to Chile from Ireland. Bernardo’s mother was of Spanish descent.

Bernardo was sent to school in England. There he met a Venezuelan patriot Francisco Miranda. After a journey to Spain, where he met Jose de San Martin, O’ Higgins returned home a convinced republican. In 1810 he joined a group of Chilean liberals, who rebelled against Spain and established the first National Congress. In 1813 O’ Higgins was given command of the republican forces. But Spain’s royalist forces defeated him in 1814, and O’ Higgins had to flee with his broken army into free Argentinean territory. There he joined San Martin. After three years of preparation an army of some 5,000 Chileans and Argentinians, under the command of O’ Higgins and San Martin, marched across the Andes. In 1817 they were victorious at the battle of Chacabuco. San Martin was appointed supreme director of Chile, but he declined in favour of O’ Higgins.

On February 12th, 1818 O’ Higgins declared the independence of Chile. After a final victory over the Spaniards, at Maipu, he put into effect the first constitution for his country. He aided San Martin in the liberation of Peru. In Chile, O’ Higgins founded schools, imported teachers from England, and started public works. He abolished slavery and titles of nobility. He instituted freedom of worship and taxed the church and the aristocracy.

These liberal reforms turned Chile’s conservatives against him. In 1823 he was made to resign. O’ Higgins left Chile for Peru. In 1839 the Chilean Senate asked him back. But old and sick O’ Higgins first refused and then was unable to return. He died in Lima, Peru, on 24th October, 1842.

Andrew O’ Gorman, Acting President presented personally signed bottles of Tyrconnell Whiskey to the ASI President Kazuyosho Kogai, President of the Chilean Association Hector Vergara Flores, Vice President Europe, Serge Dubs. Various other presentations were made throughout our visit.

Overall an excellent competition and visits to the Chilean vineyards. On the way back to Ireland we had to spend six days in Madrid due to the Volcanic Eruption in Iceland as all flights were cancelled.