In the spring of 2020, a sommelier certification under ASI rules was held in Kazakhstan for the first time. The Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) is a non-profit organization that was established in 1969 in Paris with the only aim to set high standards for professional sommeliers as well as to promote these skills internationally.
ASI currently has 56 member-states and five observer countries. Kazakhstan is one of these countries, having joined ASI in 2019. When some state is called an observer, it means this country is only one step away from full membership in ASI. During the observation period, the national association has an opportunity to hold the annual international certification of local sommeliers, visit annual ASI assembly to stay informed about all changes in the industry, and participate in relevant competitions around the world. The maximum probe period is two years but according to Artem Lebedev, president of Kazakhstani Association of Wine Experts, Kazakhstan hopes to get official approval for its membership this year though.
ASI certification is an annual test that occurs in member-states to identify highly qualified specialists who are eligible to be considered “world-class sommeliers” on the local wine market.
The job of the sommelier is not only about communicating with the guests of a restaurant and serving drinks in the right way, it also comes to wine menu preparation, gastronomy, interaction with suppliers, accounting, promotions, personnel training and so on.
“The professionalism of a sommelier lies in encyclopedic knowledge, practical skills, responsibility, communication skills, creativity and endurance. A professional sommelier is the heart of the restaurant hall, just as a chef is the heart of the kitchen,” Artem Lebedev said.
This year 74 sommeliers from 14 national associations including seven professionals from Kazakhstan pretended to ASI Diploma. All candidates were obliged to pass some tests. For example, to blindly taste-off wines, hard liquors and beverages; write a test and essay on a topic about their profession; show strong sales skills, and skills to serve wine as well as good taste in preparation of gastronomy menu. Among the judges for Kazakhstan’s certification were Artem Lebedev, president of the Association of Wine Experts of Kazakhstan, Aleksandr Proshenkov, chef of the Afisha restaurant and Petr Lubyantsev, owner of the Eco-trade wine company. To make judgment quality as high as possible, the entire certification process was recorded on video with checking for final results by ASI experts.
According to ASI, 52 candidates were tested successfully. Among them are five participants from Kazakhstan: Dayana Nassyrova, Ratmir Akhmetov, Zulfiya Ibragimova, who got gold medals while Anton Khasbiyev and Alexandre Averianov were awarded silver. All players believe that these results are very important for the whole wine market.
“As a restaurateur, I want to note that we are constantly in need of qualified personnel. We need well-trained specialists who could draw up an interesting wine list, competently tell guests about wine, and captivate them. Without specific knowledge, this is impossible,” said Zhanar Aumusheva, the chef at La Rioja.
Kuan Ketebaev, owner of Monte Bianco wine company, acknowledges that wine companies can benefit from the professional growth of sommeliers.
“We see a lot of young professionals who are following global trends. They request us to import wine from new regions local customers unfamiliar with. We are trying to be open to sommeliers’ opinions because they are the people who represent us and our product to the final consumer,” he said.
As Artem Lebedev noted, the influence of a sommelier on the customer’s habits is very powerful.
“The higher the level of the sommelier, the better and more interesting is our assortment, higher level of wine culture in the end. Communication skills and mastering in service are key professional skills of the sommelier. And most importantly, the sommelier is a master of finding interesting and honest positions for the wine menu. So, due to this, everyone wins,” Lebedev concluded.