UK Champagne Ambassador Competition


EdwinMy passion for things sparkling, particularly Champagne, chimes in rather nicely with my role here at Berrys as the designated Champagne Expert (below our esteemed Champagne Buyer, Simon Field MW of course!). My new role will include hosting and presenting many of Berrys’ Champagne-themed tastings, courses and dinners, and because of this, I was invited to take part in a competition for tutors and teachers on the subject organised by the Champagne Information Bureau (CIB)- the UK branch of Champagnes governing body, the CIVC.  Several weeks ago I was told that I’d reached the final which was taking place at the Dorchester Hotel in London on 12th September. 

I was one of three finalists gathered there at 7.55am to meet the judging panel, which included the head of the CIB, a representative from the CIVC (amidst a round tour of Europe judging on this and the seven other European finals in the space of about ten days), and a Master Sommelier, who has recently won World’s Greatest Sommelier and who also happened to be an MW and OBE! My fellow finalists had had long experience of the wine trade, one now teaching at Plumpton College and the other running wine tours and tasting courses through her own company. 

After meeting and greeting over tea, coffee and croissants in one of the anterooms of the sumptuous Pavilion Suite located on the 8th floor, we had the days proceedings explained to us. We were each to give a 30 minute presentation, which included presenting and tasting four champagnes, followed by 15 minutes of questions from the judges. Despite the vast knowledge of our expert judges, we were told to ignore this and encouraged to speak as though they were customers with only a little knowledge of Champagne theory. We would be given the subject of the presentation in sealed envelopes and shown the champagnes 30 minutes before our allotted slots, and during these 30 minutes we were to prepare what we were going to say and familiarize ourselves with the Champagnes. We then drew lots to determine the order of our presentations. I was due last, so then followed the waiting game…….

Now, there are worse places to wait than the lobby of the Dorchester. We could have as much tea, coffee, breakfast as we liked but as I was going to be tasting champagnes, I stuck to water and the occasional nervous nibble of a croissant whilst chatting to the other finalists as first one and then the other completed their stints.

Then I was summoned and finally saw my topic: the talk was to be about the art of blending in Champagne, to include discussion of the three major grapes and terroir, and discussion of the four champagnes was to include food matching.  Two of these were tricky as they were of just one grape from seemingly just one location- how to bring in blending? Those 30 minutes went by incredibly quickly but I managed to get my head around everything and then was ushered into another room. Well, it’s a number of years since I did a viva, but I’ve never done one in anything like these surroundings. I’m no expert on luxury hotel interior decoration but would say there were elements of art deco, empire, rococco amongst possibly others with a smidgeon of gilt and velvet.  The judges were sat around a rather large and grand table, behind them a terrace with wondrous views over St James’s Park towards Parliament.

Again, time flew, but I thought I’d covered everything without making too many howlers.  Before I knew it I was back with the other finalists down in the lobby awaiting the result of the judges’ deliberations. Our final summons back to the Pavilion Suite and the result, which saw me announced as the winner! A mixture of relief and elation was eased by Champagne (and some rather good canapés including one of my favourite matches: Champagne and foie gras), which I was at last able to drink rather than simply taste! After the presentation of certificates and told that I would be off to Champagne in October for the European finals with candidates from seven other countries, then there was more champagne and canapés on the terrace before a wonderful lunch at the Greenhouse Restaurant in London’s Mayfair.

Now time for more preparation, with perhaps some more practise in the art of tasting…..

– Edwin Dublin, Berrys’ Champagne Expert