As the disgustingly lovely & prematurely illustrious MS Alpana Singh explained to me, the Concours de Meilleur Sommelier du Monde is the Olympics of oenology, a major global event for virtually every wine-drinking nation except the US, whose absence glares a bit on the long roster of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale. Apparently we got kicked out a while back—undoubtedly with good reason for bad breeding.

Still, it’d be interesting to see how our homegrown master somms (including a disproportionate number of then-or-still Coloradans, not least Bobby Stuckey & Richard Betts) would perform against the crème de la crème de la culture in a grueling competition that takes place over the course of 6 days—in this case at the W Santiago—encompassing written, oral & practical exams on every subject from the obvious (viticulture, organoleptic analysis, service) to the obscure (alcohol legislation, cigar pairings, fluency in 3 languages—English, French & Spanish).

I arrived in Chile on the last day of the Concours, in time for the championship round. Here’s a look-see.

Introduction of the 12 semifinalists (among them 4 women!) before the announcement of the 3 finalists—hotelier & French-born representative of the UK Gerard Basset; France’s David Biraud, of the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris; & Switzerland’s Paolo Basso, owner of Lugano wine boutique Ceresio Vini:

This trio of almost cartoonishly distinguished gentlemen had to serve champagne, make cocktails, pour wine from a traditional basket (top below), suggest food pairings for a wine list, taste, describe & identify several wines & spirits (bottom below), & answer oral test questions ranging from the philosophical to the geographical—all in front of a crowd of 100s, among them the flashbulb-popping global wine press. (I’m keeping the narrative brief for various reasons, not least that the pics tell their own story; for further details, however, don’t hesitate to comment or e-mail me at


Drum roll for the champ: the charming-under-fire Basset, a 5-time contestant & 3-time finalist before this year, for whom the 6th time was clearly itself a charm.

Concourswinner2On the right, being congratulated by 2007 winner Andreas Larsson

Painfully exciting as it all was, the ultimate thrills for me came at the luncheon preceding it (top below) & the gala dinner (bottom below) following it. Keep your eyes on these tables, soon to be laden with all manner of Chilean delicacies.