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Kyoto and ASI Asia Oceania Best Sommelier Competition

Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, it is crammed full of notable buildings, temples, beautiful gardens and its food delicacies and sake offer another unique experience. As hosts of the ASI Asia Oceania Sommelier competition, we were very fortunate to be based at the famous Kyoto Hotel Okura, located near the Imperial Palace gardens and the river, Kamo. Autumn in Kyoto is a favoured time to visit - not too hot and not too cold.

The programme was a mix of competition along with cultural activities, visits to sake breweries, wine tastings of Japan's growing local wine industry and spectacular feasts of Japanese kaiseki cuisine. 

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The Japan Sommelier Association has over 16,000 members and hosted the inaugural competition in 2009. 

Founded in 1969, today the Japan Sommelier Association  is committed to enrich the knowledge and skills of all its members and offers professional certification, sake qualifications, a monthly magazine ‘Sommelier’ as well as regular master classes held in its 39 regional branches.

Sommelier Group  

Competing this year were Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Kazakhstan soon to become member and New Zealand. Each country was invited to bring two sommeliers to the competition.



1Welcome party

L-R Marek Pyzyborek, Andrea Martinisi, Celia Hay


At 8:00 on Tuesday, the sommeliers met to sign the rules of the competition, draw their candidate’s number before the theoretical part of the competition started.

First task was a written exam and blind wine tasting. Meanwhile the other guest were taken to Gekkeikan Sake Brewery in the Fushimi area Kyoto.

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L-R Sake rice has been soaked in preparation for production; Sake flowchart; Outstanding sake especially the last bottle, Daruma - 12 year old aged

Gastronomic Luncheon at Seiwa-so Restaurant

Gastronomic luncheon of Kaiseki – traditional Japanese cuisine- at Seiwa-so ( You can look at this short video of the restaurant.


Zensai - Appetiser includes shibori - boiled chestnuts, barracuda on sushi rice, raw fish with salted entrails of sea cucumber, chicken liver with thigh meat.

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 Takiawase - turnip, conger eel boiled in sake with mirin and soy

 Duck and Sake

Duck, autumn eggplant, shiitake mushroom hohba miso, ginko seed cooked in a Japanese magnolia leaf.


Mizumono - a dessert of persimmon, Budoh grapes and pomegranite in a delicate jelly

This was followed by a visit to home of Suntory Whisky and its original Yamazaki Distillery.  The tasting and welcome was introduced by vice-chairman of Suntory Holdings, former chief blend and grandson of the founder of Suntory.


In this photo, you can see the different flavours and aromatics of each Suntory whisky style.


Dinner was at Chouraku-kan ( where the semi-finalists were announced. And naturally I am delighted to say that both Marek and Andrea made it into the semi-finals.

Somm Semi finalists

Nine semi-finalists: Mattia Antonio Cianca (Australia), Kam Fung Reeze Choi (China), Kwong Shing Derek Li (China), Taku Iguro (Japan), Wataru Iwata (Japan), Justin Li Vern Ho (Malaysia), Andrea Martinisi (New Zealand), Marek Przyborek (New Zealand) and Hsin-Wei Thomas Ho (Tawian). 



Andrea Martinisi (New Zealand) waits before the judges to blind taste one white wine, one red wine and 3 spirits in served in black glasses.

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Mattia Antonio Cianca (Australia) prepares for to present the Sancerre - but is it blanc or rouge?

 Marek talking

Marek Przyborek (New Zealand) during the verbal blind tasting before the judges.

Visit and luncheon at the Heian-shrine

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Founded in 701, the Matsuo-Taisha temple is one Japan's oldest Shinto shrines and enshrines the deity of water, which sake-brewing families have worshipped for centuries. The pure spring water is highly valued and many local sake and miso producers would come to the shrine each year to pray that their product would be blessed.

Asia presidents

At the temple with presidents from Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia

 Sake temple

Kinkaku-ji - The Golden Pavillion, UNESCO World Heritage site

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Shabyu Shabyu Luncheon at Nanzen-ji Junsei

Japanese hot pot is healthy and delicious especially with fresh Waygu beef.

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This meal included a diverse selection of local Japanese wines including an orange wine made from Koshu grapes.

Japanese grape Koshu fermented on skins from Coco Farms

2 Coco farm orange

Coco Farms Koshu fermented on skins 

Two of our former NZ School of Food and Wine professional wine students, Satoshi Amano (2014) and Fuminori Ono (2015) have both had periods working at Coco Farm. It has a unique story. In 1969, COCOROMI GAKUEN was founded as a residential facility for intellectually handicapped people. In 1984 Coco Farm residents producted their first wine. The property had grown with more vines being planted including Koshu, Norton (r), Chardonnay, Tannat (r), Petit Manseng (w) Dai Ichi Gakushou (red hybrid from Japan). They make sweet, dry and sparkling wines.

Currently there are about 150 people who are involved in COCO’s wine making, supported by wine makers in Japan and around the world.


Three competitors made it to the final round.

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L-R Final competitors:  Kam Fung Reeze Choi (China), Andres Rosberg (President of ASI)  Wataru Iwata (Japan), Justin Li Vern Ho (Malaysia)

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Japanese sommelier Wataru Iwata pours wine from the decanter for the judges in the finale of the contest. 

Presentation of Certificates by Yuko and Shin Kibayashi

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Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, the creators of the famous manga, The drops of god, presented all 24 candidates with a personalised certificate at Best sommelier of Asia & Oceania competition. Kibayashi are credited for helping to grow interest in wine across Asia through their enormously popular series.#anime #manga #asisomms #asiasiaoceania2018 #dropsofgod

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Wataru Iwata from Japan is announced as the winner. Wataru told me later that he spent three years in NZ first studying English and then working as a chef at Renkon in Ponsonby. During this time he started to discover wine and would visit the Brakjovich estate at Kumeu River, Maison Vauron and taste as much wine as he could. He now credits his time in New Zealand as starting his love of wine! 

Iwata photos supplied by JSA credit: Yusei FUKUYAMA


2015 – Hiroshi ISHIDA  (Japan)

2012 – Franck MOREAU (Australia) 

2009 – Satoru MORI (Japan)

 #asiasiaoceania2018 #asibestsomm #asisomms



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Celia Hay

Celia is a qualified chef and holds the WSET (London) Diploma of Wine. She has a Bachelor of Arts in History, Master of Education (Distinction) and MBA Master of Business Administration from the University of Canterbury.

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The School

Founded by Celia Hay, the New Zealand School of Food and Wine opened its first campus in Christchurch in 1995.

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