Meet the world’s best sommelier winner: Marc Almert

World's best sommelier 2019
The winner Marc Almert

Almert, from Germany, is the 16th winner of the world’s best sommelier competition since the event was founded in 1969. He is also one of the youngest to take the prize, at just 27 years old.

He came out on top in a field of 66 candidates from 63 countries during an intense series of tests in Antwerp, Belgium, which hosted the final rounds of the competition last week.

Nina Jensen, from Denmark, came second, while Raimonds Tomsons, from Latvia, came third.

All three competed against each other in a grand finale, having already emerged from a group of 19 semi-finalists in front of a live audience.

Almert said that studying theatre in school, as well as practising breathing techniques before going on stage, helped him to overcome his nerves when blind tasting under time pressure.

‘We keep throwing harder and harder tests at them’

Andres Rosberg, chairman of the International Sommeliers’ Association (ASI), praised the skill and tenacity of the contestants in an ever-changing wine world that necessitated knowledge of new grape varieties and wine-producing regions.

‘We keep throwing harder and harder tests at them, and they keep reacting incredibly well, going through the tests as if they were nothing,’ he said.

ASI organised this year’s final in liaison with Belgium’s national sommelier association.

How the final played out

Candidates are judged in three main areas, with roughly equal weighting:

  • Service
  • Tasting
  • Theory

But Rosberg said that attitude and language would also be assessed.

The seven tests in the final were a mixture of service, blind tastings, theory, and food and wine pairing.

This included:

  • Serving Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance with ice cubes
  • Decanting a bottle of Vega Sicilia
  • Blind tasting 10 spirits
  • Suggesting wine pairings with a food menu within one minute of viewing it

Contestants appeared to have the most fun with a task requiring them to name the dominant grape variety for 24 wines, after only seeing the name of the wine and its producer.

           ‘You never know how it is going when you are in the task’

Almert said the theory test and blind tasting of spirits were the hardest sections of the competition for him.

‘It is very difficult to stay focused, to concentrate on the nose and palate and to identify them correctly,’ he said. ‘This is such a high level that you never know how it is going when you are in the task.’

Third-placed Raimonds Tomsons said that the pressure was the hardest part overall.

‘But representing a small country like Latvia and being in the top three is still a huge achievement. I am very honoured and happy,’ he said.

Second-placed Nina Jensen had to deal with an unlucky moment on stage when a sound technician accidentally knocked glasses flying from her hands.

‘I was extremely upset, I really started to get nervous, but I was thinking I had to continue until they tell me not to,’ said Jensen, who only started working in hospitality in 2012, and with wine more specifically in 2015.

‘They are the judges, they have to decide what is fair. So I was just trying to focus.’

Controlled movement

Eric Zwiebel MS, the 2019 candidate representing the UK in Antwerp, said that he used sophrology and the Alexander Technique as part of his preparation.

The Alexander Technique involves improving movement and posture by becoming more aware of your habits.

‘Most of the people who use the Alexander Technique are musicians and actors,’ said Zwiebel.

‘It is a good way to notice how you walk, how to deal with things, and how to be a little bit more free with your gestures. To be a little bit more yourself.’

In a post-contest press conference, it was noted that the ASI and the sommelier profession in general is welcoming a younger generation; a new wave of sommeliers from more countries and including more women.

‘We were all very happy to see such a huge spread across all the continents, and happy to see women make it through [to the final three],’ said Almert. ‘It shows that the profession is becoming more dynamic.’

Tribute to the late Gerard Basset OBE MW MS

In his introduction to the finals, Rosberg made a moving tribute to the late Gerard Basset OBE MW MS, a previous winner of the competition. Basset was also Decanter World Wine Awards Co Chair.

Rosberg announced the creation of the Gerard Basset Lifetime Achievement Award in his honour, which will be presented to a sommelier who makes an impact on the industry. A way to continue his legacy, and thank him for all that he has done for the profession.

Editing by Chris Mercer. Reporting by Natalie Earl in Antwerp.

The 19 semi-finalists were:

Raimonds Tomsons – Latvia

Pier-Alexis Souliere – Canada

Wataru Iwata – Japan

Martin Bruno – Argentina

Loic Avril – Australia

Antoine Lehebel – Belgium

Kam Fung Reeze Choi – China

Nina Hjgaard Jensen – Denmark

David Biraud – France

Marc Almert – Germany

Julie Dupouy – Ireland

Satoru Mori – Japan

Martynas Pravilonis – Lithuania

Andrea Martinisi – New Zealand

Piotr Pietras – Poland

Julia Scavo – Romania

Aleksandr Rassadkin – Russia

Vuk Vuletic – Serbia

Fredrik Lindfors – Sweden

See also:

Master sommelier vs Master of Wine: What’s the difference 


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Mount Eden Vineyards: Comparing the Cabernets 1990-2000

Owners Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson had lined up the 22 wines on a long table in their light-filled home, with views of vines from every window and a panorama of Silicon Valley far below…

Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon Comparison
Jeffrey Patterson was hired as Mount Eden’s assistant winemaker in 1981 and was promoted two years later.

Some of the first great California Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Cabernets I tasted back in the 1980s were from Mount Eden Vineyards. Perched at an altitude of over 600 metres on an isolated ridge in the remote Santa Cruz Mountains, the winery already had superstar status thanks to its colourful history and classic wines.

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What is stuck fermentation? Ask Decanter

stuck fermentation
What causes stuck fermentations?

Jane Anson, Decanter’s chief Bordeaux reviewer, mentioned there could have been ‘potential issues with stuck fermentations’ in her Bordeaux 2018 vintage preview – in this case, due to high sugars and high pH levels.

‘A stuck fermentation is essentially an alcoholic fermentation that stops before the winemaker wants it to,’ said Matt Walls, DWWA regional chair for Rhône.

There are a range of factors that can cause this to happen, and it can be more of a problem for anyone not using temperature-controlled fermentation vats.

‘These days it’s often caused by a lack of nitrogen in the grapes, which yeast cells need to grow and develop,’ said Walls.

‘Very ripe grapes can also cause problems, because high sugar levels lead to high levels of alcohol, which can also pose a challenge to yeasts,’ said Walls.

What does this mean for the wine?

‘It’s a serious problem, because the part-fermented must is prone to bacterial spoilage and oxidation,’ said Walls.

‘Stuck fermentations can be very difficult to restart, particularly because when yeast dies it secretes a compound that inhibits the future growth of yeast cells in that batch.’

How can stuck fermentation be prevented?

As well as temperature control mentioned above, the ‘addition of nitrogen and cultured yeasts that are resistant to high temperatures and high alcohol levels can help prevent stuck fermentations’, said Walls.

‘But these may have undesirable effects on the finished wine, like affecting the flavour.’

More wine questions answered here

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Champagne sales creep to new record in 2018

champagne sales 2018
Champagne increasingly look beyond Europe.

Global Champagne sales in 2018 edged ahead of 2017 by 0.3% to hit a new record value, said trade body Comité Champagne, at Prowein exhibition in Germany.

However, shipments fell by 1.8% in volume to 301.9 million bottles, said the trade body. Its figures are based on shipment data rather than retail sales.

Weaker demand for Champagne in France and the UK hit overall volumes; both markets were down by around 4% in volume versus 2017, said the Comité Champagne.

‘Demand is most dynamic beyond the European Union,’ it added, after reporting that total exports hit €2.9bn, up by 1.8% versus 2017.

Gap closing between UK and US

While the UK remains the largest export market for Champagne by volume, the gap between it and the US in second place has narrowed in recent years.

In 2018, 26.8m bottles of Champagne were exported to the UK and 23.7m were shipped to the US, which saw a 2.7% increase on 2017.

Exports to the UK were 31.2m bottles in 2016, according to figures released at the time, with the US on 21.8m bottles that year.

New markets open up beyond Europe

Total Champagne exports in 2018 rose by 1.8% in value to €2.9bn, said the Comité Champagne, noting that much of this growth came from beyond Europe.

In volume terms, exports rose by 0.6% versus 2017, to 154.8m bottles.

The US remained the most valuable export market for the Champenois, despite seeing shipments drop by 1.5% to €577.1m. The UK was second, albeit with a 2.2% decline to €406.2m.

Exports to Japan, the third largest market, rose by 3.9% to €318.8m, and by 5.5% in volume to 13.6m bottles.

China, Hong Kong and Russia also saw strong increases in demand for Champagne in 2018.

Exports to Hong Kong rose by 14% in value to €46.7m and by 12% in volume, to 2m bottles.

Shipments to China rose by 12% in value to €40.9m euros and by 10% in volume to almost 2.2m bottles.

For Russia, exports rose by 10% in value to €32.7m and by 13% in volume to 1.9m bottles.

Elsewhere, exports to South Africa topped the 1m bottle mark for the first time after a 38% rise in volume terms and a 43.4% jump in the value of shipments, to €25m.

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Benevolent ball raises £50,000 for drinks industry charity

benevolent ball 2019
Tables await at the Benevolent Ball 2019.

Benevolent Ball guests donated £13,500 inside 10 minutes during a so-called ‘power pledge’ initiative led by the charity’s master of ceremonies, Charles Metcalfe.

That pushed the total for this year’s event up to £50,000, said The Benevolent, which thanked the 430 drinks industry members who attended.

Guests sipped Laurent-Perrier, Louis Roederer, Moët et Chandon and Taittinger Champagnes in the Natural History Muesum’s ‘Fossil Way’ before sitting for dinner in the Hintze Hall, beneath a 25-metre skeleton of a blue whale that is suspended from the room’s ceiling.

A new fundraising campaign using the tagline ‘it could be me’ was launched at the ball by Benevolent chairman Michael Saunders.

He asked guests to consider sparing ‘a drink a month’ for the charity, which referenced a £5 pint of beer or a £10 glass of wine.

After dinner, guests packed the dancefloor and drank cocktails at the Aperol Spritz and Mayfiled Sussex Hop Gin bar.

‘I am delighted with the amount that we have raised,’ said Saunders.

‘Please know that every penny will go towards helping those in our drinks industry community who are suffering financial and emotional hardship at this time.’

The charity thanked its main sponsors for the evening: Diageo GB; IWSC group; JF Hillebrand; Matthew Clark; Mayfield Sussex Hop Gin; Pernod Ricard UK; and William Grant & Sons.

The Benevolent was founded in 1886 to help drinks industry members facing health and financial difficulties, as well as issues at work or at home generally.

Find out more and donate to the Benevolent here.

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Best Piedmont wines: Latest-release Barolo & Barbaresco

Best Piedmont Wines Barolo & Barbaresco
Decanter’s 2018 Italian Encounter, where Michael Garner led a Barolo masterclass.


Stephen Brook has singled out 2016 as a five-star vintage for Barbaresco, so it’s perhaps no suprise to see three wines awarded 94 points and above – even more than the two from the similarly five-star rated 2015 vintage.

Equally, it seems that the latest-release Barbaresco Riserva 2014s have outperformed last year’s Riserva 2013s. Bruno Giacosa’s Asili Riserva 2014 even tops the ranking, one of the two 2014s achieving 94 point and above.


Meanwhile for Barolo, five 2015 releases have been awarded 94 points and above, compared to three in 2014. Aldo Conterno’s Romirasco has topped the charts in both years, marking it out as a top buy, with Stephen Brook noting that it’s the most structured of the Monforte d’Alba estate’s wines and is built to last.

When it comes to Barolo Riserva, no 2013s achieved over 93 points, of which there were six wines. Four 2012 Riservas were awarded 94 points and six were awarded 93 points, and so may be the better vintage if you’re after top-end wines for ageing.

Stephen’s top scorers from his Piedmont report:


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Clos Rougeard: Loire’s top Cabernet Francs?

Yohan Castaing reports on the Cabernet Francs (plus a splash of Chenin) of one of the Loire’s best-kept secrets…

Clos Rougeard Profile
Clos Rougeard produces world-class Cabernet Franc, as well as a small amount of Chenin Blanc.

Clos Rougeard has always been a truly exceptional estate in the Saumur-Champigny appellation of the Loire, but its Cabernet Francs are rarely applauded outside certain circles, and rarely seen outside of collectors’ cellars.



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Cheap vs Expensive Wine Taste Test ($7 vs $75)

What are the real differences between a $7 wine and a $75 wine? This cheap vs expensive wine taste test delivers some sweet berry knowledge that’s going to change how you shop.

How is it possible to have two Merlot wines with such different price points?

Cheap vs Expensive Wine Taste Test

For this video we busted out the good ol’ credit card and dropped $100 on two bottles of wine. But, not just any two bottles.

Both wines had to be same grape variety.

Did you know that marketplace economics apply to wine grapes too? For example, more people know about (and buy) Cabernet Sauvignon than Petite Sirah. Thus, the popularity of a wine grape can increase the cost of wine.

For this tasting we picked an old standby: Merlot.

Cheap vs Expensive Wine Taste Test - Wine Folly - Merlot 2019

Both wines had to be from independent producers.

Call us sappy if you want, but we were dead set on proving that it’s possible to buy good cheap wine from independent estate wineries. So, for this tasting we managed to find two wines on K&L Wine Merchants that were farmed and made into wine by independent producers. Cool beans!

Here’s a rundown on of the wines tested:


The “Cheap” Wine

Villa Poggio Salvi “Lavischio” 2016 – Toscana IGT (~$7)

This is a 100% Merlot wine from a lesser-known producer called Villa Poggio Salvi who is perhaps better known for Brunello di Montalcino. The grapes for this wine were grown in a vineyard owned by the winery that’s north of the famous Montalcino zone in Siena.

This was was produced at the winery and aged for a brief period of time (about 3 months) in large, used Slavonian oak botti. Barrels like these are used year after year and do not impart much oak flavors.

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Tasting Notes and Conclusion

The wine was both fruity and earthy on the nose with aromas of fresh red currants, red cherries, clay bricks, thyme, and raspberry sauce. I didn’t smell any toasty oak.

On the palate it was tart! It tasted well-balanced overall with easy tannins, but was definitely more of a food wine (like something you’d pair with pizza). The tartness in the wine made me think this wine might actually age well for the next 7 or so years. Might be fun (and affordable) wine to cellar and enjoy when it smooths out.


The “Expensive” Wine

Pahlmeyer Merlot 2014 – Napa Valley AVA (~$75)

This wine is a 93% Merlot from the small Atlas Peak AVA within Napa Valley by the famous producer, Pahlmeyer. The vineyard was obsessively created by 4 renowned vineyard consultants including Helen Turley, John Wetlaufer, Erin Green, and David Abreu! The vineyard is well-situated – you can see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.

Making this wine included the purchase of small, new French oak barriques (225 liter barrels) that impart lots of oak flavors in the wine.

Tasting Notes and Conclusion

Whoa! This wine hit my nose with massive wafting aromas of macerated cherries, blackberries, blackberry jam, vanilla, tobacco, hibiscus and subtle notes of sage and thyme. It was a complex wine. I kept coming up with tasting notes with ease.

On the palate this wine was big. It had a complex taste profile that started out with more fresh fruit notes (on the dark fruit side) that lead into rich vanilla and sweet berry flavors and ended on a toasty, tobacco-and-blackberry note. It was definitely one of those wines you could just sit and sip without anything (but maybe a good view!).

A photo of Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly March 2019 - holding 2 bottles of wine

Is it worth the extra cost?

If you love oaky wines you should expect to spend more on a bottle of wine. But how much more? Find out the true cost of oak barrels and regional grape prices and how they affect the cost of wine in the next article!

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Château Haut-Bailly renames second wine

haut-bailly second wine, II
Haut-Bailly II to launch from the 2018 vintage.

The Haut-Bailly second wine will be known as ‘Haut-Bailly II’ from the release of its Bordeaux 2018 vintage – set to be tasted in-barrel during en primeur week next month.

It had previously been called La Parde de Haut-Bailly since its launch in 1967.

The Pessac-Léognan estate added that its third wine will be named simply ‘HB’.

Both changes are accompanied by new label designs for the second and third wines. They are intended to add a more contemporary feel to the estate, which has traced its vineyard heritage back to 1461.

The grand vin label remains unchanged, the estate said.

haut-bailly wines

The new line-up from Haut-Bailly. Credit: Haut-Bailly.

‘This “N°II” is proud to be a reflection of the grand vin; this wine comes from a strict selection but with a capacity for more immediate pleasure,’ said Haut-Bailly.

‘This new label will also be the symbol of a second generation that will write an additional chapter of the Wilmers family at Haut-Bailly,’ it said.

Bob Wilmers, Haut-Bailly’s American owner, died aged 83 in late 2017.

In December last year, Haut-Bailly announced that work had begun to build new cellars and winery facilities at the estate.

The Château has recruited architect Daniel Romeo for the work, with new cellars set to be completed by 2020 and new winery buildings by 2021.

See Haut-Bailly reviews and scores

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Barbaresco 2016 & Riserva 2014: Latest releases

Barbaresco 2016 Vintage report
The hilltop village of Barbaresco, overlooking the Tanaro river.

Barbaresco 2016

Very warm weather in early September and October fully ripened the grapes, which remained healthy. Structured, balanced wines of finesse and freshness. Worth waiting for.

After a mild and mostly dry winter, the spring of 2016 was rainier but cool temperatures kept disease at bay.

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