Winner of UK Ruinart Challenge 2017 named

Julia Sewell, junior assistant head sommelier at Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck, has won the UK Ruinart Challenge 2017, seeing off competition from 19 other sommeliers to take top place in the blind tasting, which this year featured four rosé wines.

Julia Sewell (right) saw off competition from 19 other sommeliers to be named this year’s Ruinart Challenge winner

Adapted from the original Ateliers Ruinart initiative, which launched in the UK market five years ago, the Ruinart Challenge is an international training and mentoring programme for sommeliers, run in partnership with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

While Sewell was crowned the winner, The Art School Restaurant’s Jitka Auermüllerová and Blagoy Kuzmanski, from 67 Pall Mall, were both awarded runner-up Magnums of Ruinart Rosé NV, meaning that two of the top three positions went to female sommeliers.

Just 20 candidates made it through to the UK final, which took place on 30 May at Brown’s Hotel. As well as the blind tasting, competitors took part in an in-depth rosé seminar hosted by Frédéric Panaïotis alongside fellow jury members Gerard Basset OBE MS MW and Ronan Sayburn MS.

“I’ve come to associate this Champagne House with education,” said Sewell. “I’ve competed previously in the Australian Ruinart Challenge, as well as in the UK last year when I first moved over,” she says. “The seminar given by Frédéric Panaïotis is what keeps drawing me back. The subject is different each time and so detailed and technical. Frédéric is very good at the scientific explanations and at not dumbing down the content.”

Sewell will join 13 other sommeliers from the eight worldwide Ruinart Challenge final days (held in the US, Nordics, Spain, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia) for an all-expenses paid, four-day educational trip to France in July, which will be hosted by Ruinart’s Chef de Cave Frédéric Panaïotis.

“This was the second year of the UK Ruinart Sommelier Challenge, and I felt it really drew a crowd of young and talented Sommeliers from across the breadth of the country,” said Panaïotis. “I found them an extremely receptive and engaged audience when sharing our knowledge and experience of rosé winemaking, alongside a tasting of some 2016 base wines. I hope they found it enlightening and useful.

“The blind tasting comprised 4 hard-to-guess rosé wines, and the jury was impressed with the level of entries from the finalists. That said, Julia’s intelligently reasoned and in some cases very accurate assessment of the wines saw her emerge as a clear winner.”

The Ruinart Challenge, previously known as Ateliers Ruinart, is an international training and mentoring programme committed to supporting sommelier wine education. As such, the winners’ trip, hosted by Frédéric Panaïotis, will not be simply an exploration of Ruinart, but will cover an as-yet-unannounced winemaking theme throughout Champagne and other French winemaking regions.

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