By Paige Nichols | September 3, 2019
Valeria Gamper knows her wine. This, of course, is an understatement, given that just last night she was crowned Mejor Sommelier de Argentina at the Usina del Arte in La Boca. In the final – where she competed against Stefanie Paiva Harwat and Andrea Donadío – Gamper stood out in the variety of challenges and tests the somms were tasked with undertaking in front of a live audience and a panel of expert judges. The reward? Bragging rights for life as well as a spot in the international Best Sommelier of the World championship.
So, what does it take to win Best Somm? Imagine having to taste a wine blindly, describing its aroma and flavor profile before moving onto the harvest and geographical region from which it came. Then, find and correct all of the errors in a restaurant’s wine list. How about guessing the exact country, or determining the best wine and cheese pairing for the judges panel? All these tests – and more – form part of the interactive, high-stakes nature of the competition, which covers three essential pillars of the profession: tasting, pairing, and service.
After all, a sommelier does more than suggest any old wine for you to drink with your bife de chorizo. They’re extremely knowledgeable professionals, trained to develop wine lists, pair and suggest wines to complement all kinds of food, understand the role that beverages (not just wine!) play in the culinary experience, and work with patrons to enhance their dining experience. It’s a career that’s not for the faint of heart, requiring years of training, certification, service experience, and diverse knowledge. The Best Sommelier of Argentina competition has taken place in the country every two years since 2002; winners move on to compete at the global level where the stakes are even higher. This year, 27 sommeliers participated, a record for Argentina. Past winners include the illustrious Agustina de Alba (who just published her first book this week), Martín Bruno, and Paz Levinson. In fact, Bruno is the only man to have won in the history of the event.
According to her LinkedIn profile, before crushing yesterday’s big final, Valeria placed fourth in 2018’s Best Sommelier of the Americas competition, held in Montreal; she also placed second in both 2012 and 2017’s Best Sommelier of Argentina. Currently a brand ambassador for the prestigious Viña Cobos winery, Valeria works as a teacher at CAVE and IAG in Buenos Aires.
“Whoever wins this competition becomes an important voice in the wine world, and whoever makes it to the final has studied, worked, and tasted a lot. But on the day of the final, a little bit of luck is necessary too, so the nerves that come with carrying out the tests in front of a crowd don’t get in the way,” commented Matías Prezioso, president of the AAS (Argentine Association of Sommeliers).
The competition is not only a chance for the country’s best professionals to showcase their skills, but also serves as a broader platform for Argentina’s wine industry as a whole. As global demand for the country’s wines continues to grow, the relatively new industry – when compared to Old World markets like France or Italy – pushes forward, discovering new and innovative ways to showcase both the best grapes and human talent that stands behind them.
If you’re curious to see how the full competition played out, you can check the live transmission shared on the AAS’s YouTube channel.