Cyprus wine industry presented to the world

A prestigious sommelier competition was held on the island this week, won by a Sicilian who now works in London

What a great week it has been for the wine world in Cyprus! The 14the The competition for the prestigious ASI (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale) Best Sommelier in Europe and Africa ended on Friday afternoon at the Rialto Theater in Limassol, in a very tense final. A live audience watched Salvatore Castano of Italy named Best Sommelier in Europe and Africa, beating Nina Jensen of Denmark, who came second, and Suvad Zlatic of Austria, who came third.

“I’ve never won anything before!” declared the new ASI Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa. However, he has been a close finalist in previous international sommelier competitions. In 2018, he obtained the highest mark for any student passing his advanced exams at the Court of Master Sommeliers. Castano is originally from Sicily but now works in London at the wine company Friarwood Fine Wines.

The 34 candidates from Europe and Africa who started at the start of the week were reduced to just 10 semi-finalists on Tuesday evening. This was decided by blind tastings, practical and written tests, when all the candidates were closely examined on their service, their tasting and their theory.

During the final live in front of a full house, the three sommeliers were responsible for several practical actions carried out in a restaurant setting. The judges played the role of the diners to experience firsthand the skills and knowledge of the competitors. The ASI technical committee was chaired by Oliver Poussier, world champion in 2000. The other judges included former world champions, master sommeliers and wine masters. Castano drew the short straw and had to go through a series of role-playing actions first, each of which was strictly timed.

Winner Salvatore Castano

First, applicants had to prepare and serve a cocktail from a list provided for a table of three, in four minutes. Then they had to identify a selected wine and offer a full sound tasting to the audience. For the next task, they had to choose a red wine from a cellar made available to accompany Sole Meunière. The selected wine was to be decanted and served to the guests at the table on stage, with the previous winner of the title playing the role of the host. After this seven-minute exercise, the finalists were asked to identify five wines and rank them from driest to sweetest. They were then asked to come up with a four-course menu to pair with four of the five wines. The final parts of the gigantic test included identifying three drinks and correcting a wine list with lots of mistakes and fabricated information. Throughout their exercises, all of the finalists demonstrated a vast knowledge of their subject matter to an audience of dignitaries, competitors and the general public, including via a live YouTube link.

Castano now automatically qualifies as a continental winner and will participate in the ASI competition for the best sommelier in the world, which will take place in Paris in 2023.

The final concluded the week-long competition, which began on Monday with the arrival of competitors, presidents of European and African sommelier associations, journalists and dignitaries. Throughout the week, visiting delegates enjoyed Cypriot hospitality, dining at some of the best restaurants on the island, participating in wine masterclasses and visiting local vineyards. The competition has undoubtedly placed Cypriot wine on the global wine list and was even filmed by a visiting BBC crew as part of a series they are currently producing on the sommeliers.

“Last week in Cyprus has been wonderful,” said ASI President William Wouters. “After postponing the competition twice due to the pandemic, the Cypriot team, led by George Kassianos, finally succeeded. They have shown a fantastic sense of flexibility and goodwill. The organization in beautiful Limassol, the hospitality, the unique welcome, the exceptional food and the very interesting local wines will be etched in our memories for a long time.

It was a huge task of organization and skill to take care of all the delegates and to organize such a successful competition.

“We proudly showcased the legendary food, wine culture and hospitality of Cyprus and introduced our island to the world,” said Cyprus Sommelier Association President Kassianos.

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