Q&A: Imbibe Live £5,000 Challenge winner Olivier Marie

Drinks: Wines

It was a strong year for cardboard checks at Imbibe Live, but none quite as big as Olivier Marie’s winning prize in the second annual £5,000 Sommelier Challenge.

The Coq d’Argent head sommelier and wine buyer triumphed over some of the UK’s best wine professionals in a competition that included an aroma test, a blind tasting, and two fingers-on-buzzers rounds on Imbibe Live’s Centre Stage.

‘The Sommelier Challenge is an interesting and fun competition,’ said Ronan Sayburn MS, Imbibe Live’s wine ambassador and the competition’s compère. ‘You need to have nerves of steel and a good knowledge as pressing your buzzer too early, when you don’t know the answer, will lose you points. Olivier Marie had a very consistent performance, he looked calm and relaxed. Not easy when the prize is £5,000!’

We catch up with Marie two weeks later, now that he’s had some time to think about how best to use his winnings…

How did you get into wine?
‘It all started when I was a kid. My dad is a wine buff and I always followed him in vineyards on holidays. I tasted wines from an early age, mainly from Burgundy because I went there often. I was probably nine or 10 years old and that’s how I caught the bug.’

Why did you decide to enter the £5,000 Sommelier Challenge?
‘I thought it would be a good new challenge for me. I’ve been very much into competitions lately. It’s good to put myself out there and see if my knowledge is still good or not. Obviously the prize was quite motivating, but it’s also about making sure you’re on top of your game.’

Olivier Marie looking focused during the Imbibe Live £5,000 Sommelier Challenge

‘This is most definitely not Disney castle, right?’

What other competitions have you taken part in?
‘I’ve been in the trade over 20 years and God knows why, I was always against competitions. Then I entered the UK Sommelier of the Year competition, and I was quite happy when I finished fourth the first year I entered it. I’ve done it for the last three years now. I find it interesting – I think knowledge is power, so the more you learn, the more power you have.’

Which was the hardest bit of the Imbibe Live £5,000 Sommelier Challenge?
‘Being on stage in front of people was the most nerve-racking aspect. When you’ve got a buzzer in front of you, you have to make sure you’re quick and ready to go. It’s difficult keeping your nerves together when you’re answering.’

Were any of your co-workers there to support you? How did they react?
‘Some of Coq d’Argent’s bartenders and sommeliers were in the crowd. Had I known they would be there I don’t know if I would’ve entered! But they were quite supportive and all congratulated me when I came back to work.’

What do you think you will spend the prize money on?
‘I’m going to use part of it for a family holiday. Initially I was thinking of eastern Europe, but I might actually go for a more exotic destination – maybe Mauritius.’

Do you think you’ll make it back from the tropics to come and judge SWA again?
‘Absolutely, I love it. The Sommelier Wine Awards are a fantastic way to meet people and try new wines you may have overlooked in the past. Tasting every single price category is also very interesting – at Coq d’Argent I taste a lot of fine wines, but with SWA I get to be exposed to entry level categories that I don’t usually get to work with.’

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