This year’s Imbibe Live saw UK sommeliers take part in a blind-tasting competition to win £1,000. Who had the greatest palate of them all? Chris Losh spoke to Chiara Sieni, senior somm at Bottles Group, who nailed the comp and claimed the prize
How do you feel about winning?
It was a great feeling – I couldn’t believe it. Honestly. I didn’t expect it. I just thought ‘let’s give the competition a go’ but it was more for fun than thinking I might win.
When did you hear about it?
I’d just started a new job. I was on the underground going back home after work. It all happened in the same week: starting the new job, winning the competition. Plus I’d done a course on Italian wines with the West London Wine School and that week I heard that I’d passed the course with 90% as well. I felt like I was walking on air.
How did you celebrate?
With a bottle of 2016 New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Do you do lots of blind tasting?
Not really. It’s not an easy discipline.
So how did you crack the competition?
Maybe it was the magical impact of Japan. I had just done a really interesting visit to the Japanese stand [at Imbibe Live] with all the sakés – they were fascinating. Perhaps it was the magical effect of saké that made me win!
Do you have a special technique when it comes to blind tasting?
You can often recognise wines from the New World, so that’s a good start. But of the wines we had to taste, one of them was Beaujolais, so that was pretty easy.
There was a Margaret River Tempranillo. That’s tricky to pick…
Syrah from Barossa would be easy because it’s a classic style. I’m not sure I picked the Tempranillo though! Australia is doing a lot of interesting things with Mediterranean grapes. For instance, they’re blending Sangiovese with Barbera, which isn’t allowed in Italy. These new Mediterranean blends are really interesting.
Do you have a favourite wine style?
I’m from Florence. I was born and bred with Sangiovese. I would have a Sangiovese perfume if I could.
Are you studying at the moment?
I will start the fourth level of the WSET in January.
And the big question: what will you spend your £1,000 on?
A nice holiday. I’m thinking of doing the wine route in Burgundy. September would be ideal because it’s the harvest season. It’s a trip I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve had it in my mind for many years, and now it looks like it might actually happen.
Many thanks to our sponsors at Imbibe Live, who put forward the wines for our competitors: Louis Latour, Lanchester Wines and Top Selection