A look inside Germany's Top 100 event

The Sommelier Summit, followed by the Top 100 tasting, is Germany's premier event for sommeliers. Felicity Carter took a look.

Andrea Mullineux pours at the Top 100 event
Andrea Mullineux pours at the Top 100 event

The Sommelier Summit, organised by Sommelier magazine (also published by Meininger Verlag) is one day that’s dedicated to education and networking for sommeliers.

This year, the Summit started by asking the question of which winemaking techniques allowed Riesling to show its truest expression. “We selected eight Rieslings with different profiles,” said Sascha Speicher, editor of Sommelier and organiser of the event. “We started with someone who was not organic,” and then tasted wines made with less and less intervention. It turned out the wine in the middle – the Virgo Vergoren im Rothenberg Ganz Ohne Riesling, a wine that’s literally fermented in the vineyard, but which is not natural – was the one that “was the clearest expression of terroir for most of us”.

Other topics included Sake, dosage levels in Champagne and the old vines of South Africa, among others.

Working conditions

The discussion wasn’t confined to wine – participants also heard about working conditions for sommeliers in Germany. “We did online market research,” said Speicher, saying Sommelier magazine wanted to understand what kind of budgets sommeliers had, how much they were selling, what sort of salaries they had, and whether they were given time off for education and travel, or whether they were expected to do that on their own time.
“The best earn an average of €4,000 gross per month, and get a lot of tips on top,” said Speicher, adding that most of the 50 sommeliers who answered the survey seemed satisfied with their earning power.

When it comes to travel and education, on the other hand, most sommeliers have to do it on their own time, even though the knowledge they gain makes them better employees.

Another difficulty facing the profession is the working hours, which are unpredictable. “It’s a huge problem,” says Speicher. “A very important point is that they cannot plan ahead and it affects their social lives. You can clearly see that a lot of them are leaving the profession between the ages of 35 and 40.”

This is a particular problem for women, who cannot keep up with the hours once they have children. “There is no kindergarten at night,” as Speicher points out.

In general, highly qualified sommeliers who decide to leave the floor are able to move into industry roles, working for wineries or importers, says Speicher. So their expertise is not lost.

As to what they’re serving to clients, Speicher says Burgundy is trending throughout the German on-trade, especially in white wines. One reason is because Germany now has better allocations, thanks to the tariffs Trump has imposed on French wine sold in the USA.

The Finest 100

The day after the Summit, the sommeliers gathered once more, this time to taste some of the finest wines in the world. Each year, Sommelier magazine organises a tasting that brings together the top wineries in the world, to pour their wines and share their stories with the sommeliers. The line-up, which is star-studded, changes each year. This year the participating wineries included Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, LVMH’s Ao Yun, Ridge Vineyards, Foradori, Weingut Fred Loimer, Chateau Haut-Bailley and Henschke, among others.

Not only the sommeliers, but also the wineries themselves were impressed, with the people behind the stands taking time off to taste. “We could really learn something from the German way of organizing” said one New World winemaker, looking at the stations offering different glassware for different types of wines.

Then again, everyone learned a lot. Because education is the point of this annual event, held in the Saalbau in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in Germany. 

Felicity Carter

This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2019 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, available in print or online by subscription.

The Sommelier Summit and Top 100 were organised by Meininger Verlag, the publisher of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine.

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