Circa’s Liam O’Brien becomes dux of sommeliers class of ’08

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 30th October 2008

Liam O’Brien, from the highly regarded Melbourne restaurant Circa the Prince, has been awarded The Yabby Lake Dux Award for topping the class in the inaugural  Sommeliers Australia Education Program.

The intensive six-week course gave a select group of 12 up-and-coming sommeliers from some of Melbourne’s top venues an incredible opportunity to further develop their skills, with a view to ‘raising the bar’ and streamlining the accreditation of Australian sommeliers.

Sommeliers Australia Co-President, Ben Edwards, noted the level of consideration that went into creating a meaningful and highly relevant program. “The role of a sommelier in Australia is at an incredibly exciting time, with our diners making greater demands on the wine knowledge of restaurant staff. We were keen to up-theante of the sommelier professional in Australia, and elevate it to a truly international standard,” he said. “Already many of our sommeliers are being courted for international posts, and we want to further the reputation of this very important role in the dining experience. This Program consolidates this goal.”

For Liam, the accolade now means he is considered “one-to-watch” in the Australian restaurant wine scene and, as part of his prize, is heading to Burgundy, France, with arranged appointments at many of the greatest Burgundy domains.

Despite an accomplished collective of students, Liam was the individual that most impressed the panel.

The world-class program acts as a preparatory course for those wishing to enter the international Court of Master Sommelier program, and combines Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the Court of Master Sommeliers and The Len Evans Tutorial in an unique and distinctly international tasting and benchmarking program that is also very sympathetic to the Australian market.

After the coursework*, students completed a theoretical and practical examination, with the customer foremost in the judges’ minds. “It was critical that the students answered the questions as they would to a customer – clearly, concisely, with confidence and great accessibility,” said Ben.

Joining Liam O’Brien in the Class of 2008 were Gabrielle Poy (City Wine Shop), Lisa Beck (The European), Jason Tozer (Circa, the Prince), Travis Howe (Taxi Dining Room), Thayer Eiby (Stokehouse), Sally Humble (St Judes Cellar), Brian Fort (Seagrass), Cam Whiteoak (Attica), Ainslie Lubbock (Verge), Vincent Pastorello (Rockpool) and Adam Foster (312 – who is yet to complete his examination due to overseas commitments).

In 2009, Sommeliers Australia aims for application to the Program to be available to aspiring sommeliers nationally. Details about the coursework and application process will be announced in May 2009.

* The Sommeliers Australia Education Course comprises three components deemed critical in the role of the perfect sommelier – 1) THEORY: assessed by completion of WSET Level 2; 2) SERVICE: a focus on inspiring international standards of service (based on the Court of Master Sommeliers program) and defining them to the Australian table, featuring ‘customer communication’, ‘opening wine and service style’ and ‘wine list construction, maintenance, ordering & stock control’; and 3) TASTING: almost 100 wines representing benchmark styles and varietals from around the world comprised the masked tasting component which tested palate development using the deductive method of tasting, an internationally accepted process. This was an incredibly rare opportunity to sample the most revered wines of the world, creating a tasting component of the highest international standard. Each wine was scored out of 20 (in line with the Australian wine show judging system), and each student was required to present their tasting notes to the panel to showcase their verbal communication ability.