On 27 November 2014 Kévin Barbry from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in the UK, Nikolas Giannopoulos from Oenophorum Luxury Hospitality Services in Greece and Paweł Demianiuk from Thai Thai restaurant in Poland met at the Gaggenau Brand Centre in Lipsheim, Alsace to compete for the title of Gaggenau Sommelier of the Year 2014.

There were no losers, but there was one winner: Nikoas Giannopoulos. He convinced with his knowledge of top international wines and the duties and responsibilities of a sommelier when he and many other contenstants were put to the test in the first round along with presentations and their professional career to compile the shortlist of three finalists.

The sommelier profession has come a long way from traditional wine waiter to expert advisor of guests in their choice of wine. With competence and a great deal of intuition they compose wine recommendations to match a wide variety of different foods. Asidefrom familiarity with regional and international wines, in-depth knowledge ofspirits, beer, coffee, tea, water and other non-alcoholic beverages is expected. Theextensive knowledge of the finalists in the first Gaggenau Sommelier Awards was put to the test before a panel of jurors and around 40 international guests in a blind tasting competition and subsequent dinner. They impressed everyone with their considered selection of wines and charming presentation during the eight-course dinner created by top chef Riccardo Camanini. Following intensive consultation thejury’s choice fell on Nikolas Giannopoulos as Gaggenau Sommelier 2014.

Sven Schnee, Global Head of Brand Gaggenau, said: “We wanted to emphasise the importance of sommeliers with this award and boost media presence. Even preparing the shortlist was no easy task as the candidates from Europe, Asia, USA and New Zealand awed us with their wealth of knowledge. All three finalists are evenly matched contenders.”

Young ambitious sommeliers

Nikolas Giannopoulos, the overall winner, has been elected Greece’s best sommelier several times. He has already received various international awards including being ranked as the third-best “Young Sommelier of the World” in 2011. He is currently working as Managing Director of Oenophorum Luxury Hospitality Services, a service that recruits wine and culinary experts for exclusive restaurant and hotel management.

Young French born Kévin Barbry, is employed as sommelier de rang in Raymond Blanc’s restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. During his training he also made the acquaintance of the internationally famous three-star French chef Guy Savoy in Paris. For Kévin Barbry taking part in the Gaggenau Sommelier Award is his first major international challenge.

The third finalist, Paweł Demianiuk, comes from the Polish capital. In the course ofhis training he has gained various sommelier qualifications, including the ASI diploma. In 2011 he was elected Poland’s best sommelier. Having held various posts, he is currently engaged as manager and sommelier at the Thai Thai restauranton Warsaw’s Theatre Square, which is famous for its extensive wine cellar.

The jury

The award concept was developed in close collaboration with Annemarie Foidl, President of the Austrian Sommelier Association. She is responsible worldwide for the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) training and continuing education for sommeliers. In her view an important aspect of this is to arouse greater public interest in the importance of the profession.

The name Serge Dubs is familiar to all gourmets who enjoy touring Alsace, and most well-known as the long-standing sommelier of Marc Haeberlin at the Auberge de l’Ill. As former World, European and French national champion sommelier, he was an additional juror for the Gaggenau Sommelier Award.

The third juror was the American wine expert Joel Brian Payne. The wine author, who lives in Germany, has been writing for leading international magazines in the USA, Asia and Europe for more than 25 years. He is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the annual GaultMillau WeinGuide and founder member of the Grand European Jury, an association of international wine experts.

The jury was rounded off by Sven Schnee, initiator of the Gaggenau Sommelier Award. His particular focus is the candidates’ attitude and philosophy regarding wine culture – aspects that also play a defining role in the Gaggenau brand presentation.