"Wine, beer and fun" in Antwerp

The contest to find the world's best sommelier or wine waiter has landed in Antwerp.  Sixty-six candidates representing 63 countries are here.

The city on the Scheldt is hosting the sommelier world championships for the first time.  "Our Belgian humour won the day" organiser William Wouters told Flemish wine expert Dennis van den Buijs. "We beat Bordeaux, the cradle of wine production, in the race to stage the event."

Antwerp is perhaps better known for its ‘Bolleke Koninck’ than for wine and no large vineyards surround the city, but that doesn't deter William Wouters: "A wine waiter or sommelier is more than a connoisseur of wine.  Beer, spirits, coffee and mineral waters too are to be considered.  Belgian beers will play a leading role during these championships.  Every contestant I speak to mentions the ‘Bolleke’, the Antwerp pale ale brewed by De Koninck.  A number of sommeliers also travelled through Belgium to discover our beer culture."

William Wouters believes the event will provide top entertainment and represents a great challenge.  He has been taking part since the Nineties.  It was still a somewhat amateur enterprise at this time, but that has now changed.  “The French candidate travelled with his psychologist and stress coach.  The Swede is backed by a team of eight. Taking part requires years of preparation”.

Most of the proceedings take place behind closed doors.  Otherwise there would be too much pressure on the candidates.

The general public will be able to witness the final in the Queen Elisabeth Hall on 15 March.

William Wouters claims the members of the jury will try to unsettle candidates by running off to take a call during the proceedings or interrupting a wine tasting with a query about beer.  Candidates will also have to be in the know about allergies. Sommelier charisma too will play a role.

36-year-old Antoine Lehebel, sommelier at the Bon Bon restaurant is Brussels, is the ‘Belgian candidate’. He’s taken part in the European and world championships before but didn't make the final, but now he should be better prepared. Antoine Lehebel is really a Frenchman, who has been waiting for his application for Belgian nationality to be processed for some time now!

BELGA/WARNAND