Words by Howi Bakunawa
Photos by Alyssa Gabrielle Chen and Jeanne Dizon
“No two things bring people together like sports and drinking“–or at least that’s what the whole of South East Asia must be feeling as the SEA Games took place concurrently with the 8th SEA Sommelier Competition and Manila Uncorked 2019. Wine-experts from the region have gathered together to compete in a set of challenges designed to push their sommelier-knowledge to the limit. Recognized sommeliers from all across South East Asia came together for the finals of the competition the Dusit D2 in Taguig.
For the 8th SEA Sommelier Competition, the 3 finalists—Ervin Ong (Malaysia), Lucas Liu (Singapore), Mason Ng (Singapore) (pictured left to right below, facing forward)—went through a series of 3 challenges to determine who would become the overall champion.
Each of the participants looks on with anticipation while they listen intently to the challenges that await them in the finals.
The first of these challenges was a restaurant simulation where participants were tested on their hospitality in terms of who should be served first, what drinks to serve for the occasion, and food-to-wine pairings. The next challenge was the blind-tasting where the contestants were asked to taste from a selection of wines laid out before them and then asked to describe their taste, give the name of the wine, and provide the time and place of its vintage.
The look of absolute concentration on the face of Singapore-based sommelier Mason Ng as he inspects the nose of an undisclosed white wine.
The final challenge was a wine-list correction where participants were tested on their knowledge of wine by correcting a wine-list prepared by the esteemed judges of the competition, including the 1st Filipino Master Sommelier, Luis de Santos. All this goes to show that being a sommelier is a craft whose mastery requires keen attention to detail and years of dedication.
Exuding the presence that comes with being 1 out of the 269 Master Sommeliers from around the globe, Luis de Santos would later give us his thoughts on the state of drinking in the Philippines.
While the judges tallied the results from the finals, attendees at the event were treated to all the wine they could drink from nearly 30 different distributors at Manila Uncorked 2019. Present and at the event were different varieties of wine ranging from Furmint, Grüner Veltliner, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Temperanillo, Merlot, Port (everything from white to rosé to ruby to tawny) just to name a few.
Just a preview of all the wines to come.
A wide selection of wines from Happy Living PH and their Tasting Room.
This stall specialized in Latin American wines including Altas Cumbres and Lagarde, from Chile and Argentina respectively.
Making its debut appearance at Manila Uncorked 2019 is Japanese rice wine, or sake.
Once everyone had sufficiently drank and the atmosphere had shifted from that of a rigorous competition into something more cordial and casual, we approached the first Filipino Master Sommelier Luis de Santos. When asked for his thoughts on the state of drinking in the Philippines, he notes with a sense of both hope and excitement: “We’re not drinking, we’re learning.” He continues with just how much he was impressed by the events at the 8th SEA Sommelier Competition saying that though the variety of tastes in liquor still remain relatively small here in the Philippines, it is slowly growing to include different tastes from around the world.
After the results had finally been tallied, the winner of the competition was ready to be announced. The contestants were given one last chance to display their skills by pouring glasses of champagne for the judges, their fellow competitors, and the guests in attendance.
(From left to right) Finalists Mason Ng, Lucas Liu, and Ervin Ong pour their drinks together one last time before one of them is announced as the champion.
The winners were announced as follows: Lucas Liu (Singapore) in 3rd place, Ervin Ong (Malaysia) coming in 2nd place, and, finally the champion, Mason Ng (Singapore). When reached out for a comment on his victory, Ng, still stunned, replied: “I thought Ervin [Ong] was going to win,” and then turning with a look of grimace: “It’s going to be expensive paying for the champagne tonight.” It turns out that there was an agreement between all the other contestants that the winner should treat everyone else out to champagne! If that isn’t the best example of sportsmanship and camaraderie, then I don’t know what is. An announcer at the event expressed it best when he said: “The tagline for the SEA Games is ‘We win as one’, but here tonight all of us wine as one.”
Philippine Sommelier Association