ASI 2023 Best Sommelier of the World Contest

7th place for Jo Wessels
The South African candidate is one of the ten best sommeliers in the world.

12th February / Paris – The Association de la Sommellerie International (ASI) hosted the Best Sommelier of the World 2023 competition from 8 to 12 February in Paris, France. 68 competitors from 65 countries competed for the title of the world's best sommelier. After a week of competition, the ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2023 was announced: Raimonds Tomsons (Latvia), followed by Nina Jensen (Denmark) and Reeze Choi (China). South African candidate Jo Wessels made it to the semi-finals and is now proudly ranked 7th in the top 10 best sommeliers in the world.  

The ASI Best Sommelier of the World Contest is held every three years. 68 competitors from 65 countries competed for the title of the world's best. Three of the sommeliers qualified by winning an ASI continental competition: 2021 Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa, 2022 Best Sommelier of the Americas and 2022 Best Sommelier of Asia & Oceania.   

To qualify for the ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest, which is held every three years, a candidate must be nominated by an ASI member association. Typically, sommelier associations appoint the winner of their own Best Sommelier competition, although it is up to the individual association to propose a candidate based on their criteria. 

The South African Sommelier Association (SASA) successfully runs the Best Sommelier of South Africa competition every second year, and to select the representative candidate for the ASI contest, a series of challenges were arranged between all the previous winners. From these competitions, Jo Wessels, the winner of the 2018 Best Sommelier of South Africa, came out on top.

Jo has several years of professional and competitive experience. Since he participated in the ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019, he has already been ranked among the top 25 sommeliers in the world. In the ASI Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa 2021 contest, Jo was awarded 7th place. His professional stations as a sommelier include renowned German Michelin-starred restaurants such as OPUS V in Mannheim and Restaurant Ente in Wiesbaden. He also studied International Wine Business at Geisenheim University. Jo is currently responsible for the wine and beverage list as well as service at Mary Jane Space in Heidelberg.

The ASI Best Sommelier of the World competition is a multi-day event consisting of several tests, including written theory, blind tasting and practical service tasks. The competition begins with a quarter-final, followed by a semi-final and finally, a final between the top three sommeliers. To add to the complexity of the competition, contestants must compete in one of the official languages of the ASI: English, French or Spanish. However, they are not allowed to perform in their native language. Between each round of the competition, there are also numerous masterclasses to train the candidates. 

The announcement of the three finalists took place on Sunday, 12 February, at the Paris La Défense Arena in front of 4,000 wine professionals and enthusiasts. First, all the semi-finalists were called on stage and celebrated with big applause. Jo Wessels being announced as one of the 17 has already caused enormous excitement amongst his South African/German peers. Spencer Fondaumiere, President of SASA and Erica Taylor, General Manager, who supported his participation, were thrilled with his excellent performance.

Then the contestants were called by name and had to leave the stage, followed by honorable applause. Jo was announced as number 7, and the happiness of belonging now to the top 10 of the world's best sommeliers was overwhelming. To have Jo come so far because of his professional performance and mindful manner is an absolute masterpiece. 

For the grand final on stage Nina Jensen (Denmark), Raimonds Tomsons (Latvia) and Reeze Choi (China) qualified. The final competition consisted of various tasks designed to test the sommeliers' knowledge, tasting skills, service acumen and ability to remain calm under pressure. It brought out the best in the candidates. In a nail-biting battle, the decision has finally been made: Raimonds Tomsons from Latvia is the "Best Sommelier of the World 2023". He follows Marc Almert as the "Best of Sommelier 2019".

In this illustrious setting, South Africa shined.

Jo was overwhelmed: "It was a great privilege for me to represent my home country of South Africa in this prestigious circle. It's been a unique opportunity to showcase our wine country, our world-class gastronomy and genuine hospitality. I have enjoyed interacting with colleagues from all over the world. We may be competitive, but more than that, we are united by an extraordinary passion for our profession and an irrepressible thirst for knowledge. Jo continues: "Preparing for such a high-profile competition is demanding and time-consuming. But at the same time, it is an incentive to delve deeper into the subject matter – from wine to spirits, non-alcoholic alternatives in conjunction with food recommendations and service under time pressure. It is a sporting achievement that is required. Any competitor here can be proud to have reached this league."

South Africa was well represented in this illustrious setting. In addition to Jo, two wines from the Cape were in the spotlight in Paris on Sunday, 12 February: Alheit Vineyards Monument Semillon and Eben Sadie's Columella.

Commenting on this year's entrants, ASI President William Wouters said: "Not only was this the largest pool of candidates ever to enter an ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest, but it was, without doubt, one of the most diverse and talented we've ever had. I can unequivocally say that the quality of the sommellerie worldwide is rising yearly. The gap between sommeliers' skills in traditional wine-producing countries, such as Western Europe, and the rest of the world is narrowing yearly. But I can assure you that all participants are fantastic ambassadors for ASI and an inspiration to our global sommelier community."

Photos: Semi-finalist at ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2023 contest; Jo Wessels, South African Candidate; Jo Wessels – South African Candidate in the practical test in the semi-final
Photo: credit: ASI/HRVPROD

For more information about the ASI Best Sommelier of the World, please contact: 
Barbara Wanner, ASI Press Officer,
Other than that: Petra Mayer –
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