A 24-Year-Old Just Became Japan's First Master Sommelier
The 2019 class also includes Bulgaria's first Master Sommelier and Germany's first female Master Somm.
The Court of Master Sommeliers deserves plenty of respect. Along with Masters of Wine, the 262 people who hold a Master Sommelier title are regarded as the most educated wine professionals in the world — and achieving these distinctions isn't easy. But the name itself — Court of Master Sommeliers — feels a bit stuffy. If you were casting them for a Hollywood movie, the call would probably be for "old French men, white hair a must." But over the weekend, the Court welcomed a diverse group of five new Master Sommeliers into its ranks. It includes Germany's first female Master Somm, Bulgaria's first-ever Master Somm, and Japan's first-ever Master Somm who happens to be just 24-years-old.
Ronan Sayburn, CEO of the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe, said that this recent class of Master Sommeliers is also atypically large, even at just five people. "The pass rate of these exams is usually 4 percent. I don't think we've ever had five people pass in one go before, or at least we haven't for some time," he told The Drinks Business, who reported that 18 people took the test over the weekend. "We held the same examinations in Austria last year and had zero passes. It was difficult to do my speech at the end of the course when everyone was quite down, but this year it was fantastic to have five people who passed."
Though every pass is noteworthy, Sayburn singled out 24-year-old Toru Takamatsu as particularly extraordinary. "He passed the exam in just two attempts," he was quoted as saying. "He's a very smart guy, if he wasn't doing wine exams he'd be working for Tesla or something similar, colonizing new planets! He's very switched on." While not quite the youngest ever to pass earn the title — that would be Xavier Rousset who did so in 2002 at 23 years of age — Takamatsu is currently assistant wine manager at Hide Restaurant in London. (For the record, the drinking age in Japan is 20, though clearly he's taken his pursuits internationally as well.)
The rest of the class includes Helga Schroeder, Germany's first woman to pass the test, and Svetoslav Manolev, who became the first Bulgarian to join the Court. Carlos Simoes became just the second Master Sommelier from the often underrated wine country of Portugal. Lastly, Pierre Brunelli rounded out the group: A worthy Master Somm in his own right, Brunelli has been a finalist for U.K. Sommelier of the Year and worked at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck.