China wine flashback | First National Sommelier Competition seven years ago this week

By Jim Boyce | Seven years ago this week, I flew to Shanghai for the first China National Sommelier Competition, co-organized by Tommy Lam and Asia Business Group, with Stacey Choe involved in the logistics. There was some excitement in the air and a feeling we were witnessing something special.

Shinya Tasaki, technical chair of Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) and “world’s best sommelier” in 1995 flew to China for the event. A large number of reps from China’s wine industry, including from the top importers, attended. And there were, of course, the eight contestants, members of a growing sommelier scene, with five winning trips to Argentina or Austria or Australia or France or Spain

The sommeliers faced a written exam, a blind wine tasting, a decanting and a food and wine pairing test, and lunch service. My strongest memory involves spirits rather than wine. It was toward the contest’s end and the contestants were on stage. Each was asked to identify a spirit blind: they tasted it, wrote the answer on a piece of paper, and held it above their heads. It was interesting to see “rum” and “baijiu” and “vodka” all given as answers for the same spirit!

The winner of that first contest was Hans Qu, then of the Intercontinental in Shenzhen. He was followed by Vivian Tian of Kee Club in Shanghai, Jason Shi of China World in Beijing, Ma Jun of Les Millesimes Wine Club in Beijing and Diego Zhang of Intercontinental Puxi in Shanghai. (To the best of my knowledge, all of them have moved on from those jobs.)

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