The new Junior Sommelier of the Year title was won by Richard King, a 24-year-old from the Hilton in Queenstown, who has been celebrating his win with a helicopter tour over the vineyards of the Central Otago region and an afternoon of tutored tastings as part of the prize offered by Misha’s Vineyard, who sponsor this award.
The New Zealand Sommelier Awards are coordinated by Celia Hay, Director of the New Zealand School of Food and Wine with head judge Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas. The competition is a highlight of the New Zealand School of Food and Wine’s annual Wine and Food Celebration held in Auckland each September.
The finalists were required to taste and correctly identify six wines which have their identities concealed and are drawn from around the world, sit a theory exam and then perform practical wine service in front of four judges where they must open wine under cork and answer a series of questions. The final practical component of the exam requires the correct technique for opening and pouring a bottle of champagne, which was from Louis Roederer who sponsor the Open Sommelier of the Year title won by Dion Wai from Auckland.
For King, the old adage of ‘third time lucky’ certainly came true as he has competed in this competition since 2014 and was delighted to take out this year’s title, open to those under 30. As the Sommelier at the Wakatipu Grill at Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa, King has gained some great experience over the past two and a half years and now plans to travel overseas for six months to extend his knowledge as well as to spread the word about Central Otago wines.
This year’s Junior Sommelier of the Year has also worked as a barista, bartender, food and beverage team leader and holds the National Diploma in Hospitality Management from the Whitireia Community Polytechnic and is enrolled in the Court of Master Sommeliers certification programme. King has also been an active member of the Queenstown Sommelier Club where he’s been able to gain exposure to a broad range of wines which no doubt proved useful given the rigours of the competition judging.
“Central Otago always surprises me with the quality of its Pinot Noir and as a small wine producing region, it excels in so many different styles of wine as well,” said King. He’s captivated by the beauty of the Central Otago landscape and looks forward to promoting the region and the wines when overseas.
Misha’s Vineyard has been the sponsor of the Junior Sommelier of the Year title since the competition was established three years ago. “As a company, we’re focussed on working with the country’s leading restaurants who distinguish themselves with outstanding food and wine and also outstanding service” said Misha Wilkinson, director and co-owner of Misha’s Vineyard. “Our sponsorship of these awards, is just a small way that we are able to help provide some inspiration to the country’s up and coming hospitality professionals.”