Tenth Anniversary of the Habanosommelier Contest


22/02/2011

An original and attractive contest that was part of the official program of the Habano Festival since its fourth edition in 2002, this competition is celebrating its first decade as it beefs up as one of the most interesting events of the world-class gathering.

A habano is a work of art, so it requires to be treated as such. That’s why a serious selection and the process of both lighting and puffing on it has from the very beginning captured the attention of this competition as a setting for training and fostering a culture of habano among sommeliers, bartenders, gourmet experts and aficionados.

Since 2002 when Habanos S.A. organized this contest for the first time, the main goal was aimed at encouraging participants to get closer to this traditional Cuban product with the same requirements and professionalism wine experts, maître, bartenders and restaurant connoisseurs have. Mastering the properties of the habanos, their many formats, vitolas, strengths and distinctive differences, is a basic procedure when it comes to offering and marketing these Premium cigars since this knowledge allows for documented suggestions depending on customers and the kind of habano they’d like to smoke.

From the word go, the Sommelier Club of Cuba –founded in 1995 at the National Hotel in Havana- led efforts in the professional training of staffs given the increasing number of tourists who were flocking to the island and the amount of travelers used to having good cuisine and sipping wine in their meals.

Thus, the contest became a part of the Habano Festival as more sommeliers and experts from Cuba and the rest of the world embraced this new professional category: the Habanosommelier.

The competition kicks off with the national contests in the different markets, conducted under the supervision of Habanos S.A.’s exclusive distributors. They assess participants’ knowledge and expertise on the product and their skills in handpicking the right cigar, cutting the tip and lighting it, plus a matching proposal between a habano and a spirit.

The grand finale zeroes in on the three first places of the preliminary round where they make open-doors presentations before the public while an international jury of experts from the habano and restaurant realms determines the winner of the grand prize.

Ten years later, a vast number of interesting experiences has piled up. In some occasions, jury chairman Jose Ilario (Spain) has told the press his satisfaction for an event that demands profound knowledge and boosts up working styles and services of the highest quality possible. Other criteria are contributed by the contesters, like the winner of the 2002 Habanosommelier Contest, Orlando Blanco, who also said in time how pleased he was with the competition and the positive outcomes it’s had on his job as sommelier since it requires preparation for the event and a greater commitment for the winners.

Chile’s Philip Ili, winner of the 2010 contest, admitted to the press that he’s a passionate lover of habanos and a traditional attendee to the Festival due to the additional interest this competition has. “Attending these world festivals puts you among friends, lovers of the finest cigars, and that’s a pleasure I share with all of them.”

Spain’s Manuela Romeralo, the winning contester in 2006 and the first women who ever grabbed that recognition, said she is a devotee of Cuban black tobacco and admitted that winning the top prize takes “some profound knowledge of everything related to the habano market and that special product, the undisputed star of any evening or meeting that brags with being special.”

Zudlay Napoles, the young Cuban who walked off with the prize in 2008, confessed all the passion she poured into her proposals and how happy she was at that time for taking part in the competition because she knew she could be the winner. “This continues to be very encouraging for my job and it’s been a key factor to the culture of habano, especially for those who work directly with restaurant patrons and know habanos are the perfect thing to wrap up a lunch or a dinner, no matter whether they know or not about habanos. They always need information on what the best cigar for them really is.”

Winners of the International Habanosommelier Contest’s previous editions

2002

I Contest

First Place: Orlando Blanco, Cuba.

2003

II Contest

First Place: Christian Amann, Austria

Second Place: Matthew Wilkin, UK

Third Place: Leonel Marcelo, Cuba

2004

III Contest

First Place: Ivo Dvorak, Czech Republic

Second Place: Leonel Marcelo, Cuba

Third Place: Matthias Martens, Germany

2005

IV Contest

First Place: Bjorn Ericsson, UK

Second Place: Orlén Guerra, Cuba

Third Place: Laigle Xauiu, France

2006

V Contest

First Place: Manuela Romeralo, Spain

Second Place: Zulay Nápoles, Cuba

Third Place: Henry Thomas, Germany

2007

VI Contest

First Place: Fabien Garriges, UK

Second Place: Ernesto Cárdenas, Cuba

Third Place: Arnaus Marcos, Spain

2008

VII Contest

First Place: Zudlay Nápoles, Cuba

Second Place: Félix Hartmann, UAE

Third Place: Carlos Echapresto, Spain

2009

VIII Contest

First Place: Félix Hartmann, UAE

Second Place: Arnaus Marcos, Spain

Third Place: William Arias, Cuba

2010

IX Contest

First Place: Phillip Ili, Chile

Second Place: José Joaquín Cortés

Third Place: Nerissa Orinday, UAE