Eric Zwiebel, cellar master at Summer Lodge in Dorset, has been chosen to represent the UK in the Best Sommelier of the World competition, being held in Tokyo next month.
Zwiebel was born in Alsace, France, but is eligible to represent the UK having lived and worked here for more than three years and having held the Moët UK Sommelier of the Year title (2004).
He was selected by the Academy of Food & Wine Service (AFWS) in a tough contest that included Matthieu Longuere of La Trompette (UK Sommelier of the Year 2000), Nicolas Clerc MS of Pont de la Tour (2007) and Jan Konetzki of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (2012).
Zwiebel said: "This is a great honour. In the past I have competed as the French candidate, but it's fantastic to be picked as the English candidate. The support I get from this country is very important to me."
He was placed equal second in the Best Sommelier of the World in Rhodes in 2007 and is currently spending four hours a day studying in the run-up to Tokyo, focusing on viticulture, wine making and his knowledge of a range of beverages. He has also spent time in other restaurants to experience different set-ups.
The Best Sommelier of the World competition, organised by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI), takes place every three years. The last competition was held in Chile in 2010, with UK sommelier and hotelier Gérard Basset OBE, MW, MS, taking the ultimate title. This will be the 14th time the competition has taken place, and this year Basset, who as technical director of AFWS headed the UK's selection panel, will be going to Tokyo as part of the judging panel for the world competition.
"Eric won what was a tough selection process in a clear-cut way, so he deserves to go to Tokyo," Basset said. "He is a very thorough and also a very determined sommelier, a great competitor and someone who works hard to prepare. He has a great chance to do well and, perhaps, win."
The competition will begin with the quarter final (27 March), a semi-final (28 March) and the final on 29 March between the top three candidates. More than 50 entrants are expected to compete for the title in front of an audience of 5,000 people. The candidates will be tested on their wine and drink knowledge, service skills and ability to deal with various restaurant scenarios.
Among Zwiebel's opposition in Tokyo will be AFWS member Isa Bal of the Fat Duck in Bray, who is representing his native Turkey. Bal was a runner-up in the Moët UK Sommelier of the Year in 2008 and in the same year won the Best Sommelier of Europe title.