For anyone interested in becoming the world's greatest sommelier, take note: It isn't easy. As Arvid Rosengren, who won the 2016 Association de la Sommellerie World's Best Sommelier competition says, "I've woken up every morning for the past six years and spent at least two hours studying. The fridge in my apartment has been nothing but bottles of wine and a couple of eggs, that's it. I've barely read a book that wasn't about wine or watched a movie, because if you do, you feel guilty; you could be studying! If you turn on the TV, you think, but I should be learning the different wine regions of Bulgaria."
How could knowing the different wine regions of Bulgaria possibly matter, you might wonder? Well, consider that in the initial round of this year's competition—in which 60 contestants from around the world were winnowed down to 15—Rosengren did in fact have to name from memory all 13 grapes allowed in the production of the Hungarian wine Egri Bikaver, or "Bull's Blood." Among the 13? Such obscurities as Bíbor Kadarka, Kékoportó and Turán.
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To achieve the title, Rosengren, who works at Charlie Bird restaurant in New York but is Swedish (and competed for Sweden at the event), had to respond to written wine-theory questions like the above, but also blind identify multiple wines—as well as beers, sakes and ciders—and compete in practical challenges as well. The service challenges take place in front of an audience, in a mocked-up restaurant setting. This year, for instance, Rosengren was presented with a table of guests who wanted a specific bottle of Champagne—a Moët Extra-Brut. The hitch? That wine doesn't exist. "So you have to know that Moët's recent vintages are low enough in dosage that they could be labeled extra-brut," Rosengren said, "and you have to explain that to them without offending them, and offer a substitute they will like, and pour it for them. And then in the middle of the whole thing, one guest tells you he'd rather have a dry Martini, and you have to go mix that perfectly and serve it as well." And, it should be added, do all of that within four minutes.