The competition will be judged over two days by a panel of 18 distinguished wine and hospitality experts chaired by Sonal Holland MW, a professional wine trainer and consultant for the hospitality industry. Essential to this process is inviting the industry’s best palates as judges. We strongly believe, that the integrity of the competition’s results lies in the quality of the tasters.
India's first and only Master of Wine, Sonal Holland is the country's most qualified and acclaimed wine professional. She is the founder of the SoHo Wine Club, which specializes in bringing an expertly curated selection of wines from across the globe, tutored tastings and finely curated wine experiences to highly discerning wine consumers in India. Her other company, Sonal Holland Wine Academy, Is India’s foremost institution offering WSET-certified wine education, consultancy, and research-backed knowledge and expertise to the hospitality, retail and the global wine trade. Internationally, she is on the judging panels of Decanter Asia Wine Awards, Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition and Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Blackbook – India’s top Luxury Insider – has recognised Sonal among the top 100 Most Influential People in Indian Luxury, and also among the Top 50 Most Powerful Women.
Rahul Akerkar started his culinary journey 35 years ago working in many of New York’s top kitchens, over a ten-year period during the 1980s. He returned to India in 1989 and since then, has been busy changing the way we eat. Known for setting industry trends with his creative, ingredient-driven cuisine, and warm attentive hospitality, Rahul’s award-winning restaurants secured his position as one of India’s first successful, chef-restaurateur entrepreneurs. Among his many accolades, he was featured in Asiaweek’s Survey of “Kitchen Gods” in 2001, and was 28 on San Pellegrino’s List of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013. More recently, he won Chef of The Year at the Times Food Awards 2016, Mumbai.
Pratik Angre is a Sommelier at Sofitel Mumbai BKC and has been working in the hospitality industry for over six years. A passout from IHM Mumbai, joined the Taj Group of hotels as a management trainee. Has worked in different aspects of food and beverage from being in the Bar and then shifting to Specialty restaurants as a manager and now a sommelier. He is also the winner of the 9th Indian sommelier championship 2016 held at Pullman Aerocity, Delhi with awards for best sparkling wine round, best cocktail round and best tasting skills.
Subhash Arora is India’s most distinguished wine writer and journalist. He is the Founding Editor of delWine, India’s first online newsletter on wine, food and hospitality, which has been running for 729 editions (and counting!) distributed to 33,000 readers in 70 countries. Subhash also founded in 2002 the Delhi Wine Club, which curates fine wine and dining experiences for discerning wine consumers in Delhi. He has organised 268 events for the Club and been on the judging panel of 53 international wine competitions, including Mundusvini for 11 years, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, HKIWSC, Decanter and Vinitaly, among others. He has been knighted by the Italian President and is the only Indian to have been awarded a Medal of Merit by the OIV.
Jasjit Singh Assi, popularly known as JJ, is the Hotel Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai. He says "It’s the little things that matter, the minor details that really make an experience special. The more you talk to your guests the more comfortable they become. I always try to welcome every guest as if I am welcoming them into my home." JJ has been with Four Seasons for 13 years and has worked in India, Thailand and Australia. Part of pre-opening team of Four Seasons Mumbai he opened the famous AER bar and Lounge and San Qi Restaurant. In Four Seasons Sydney, opened a 1 Hatted Restaurant with celebrity chef Mark Best as Pei Modern. An avid Wine Drinker loves to promote Wine Culture and encourages everyone to have a glass of wine everyday.
Ajit an alumnus of S P Jain and IHM,Mumbai runs The Happy High; a wine and spirit consulting and education co. He has been associated with hospitality and drinks since 2001 has worked as a sommelier, managed bars and worked as a beverage consultant. Ajit is one of the leading beverage professionals in the country was selected as delegate from India for the Austrian Wine Summit, 2015 and also successfully bagged the Cochran wine, beer and spirit fellowship, a program by the US government in 2016 and more recently he was the only Indian national who attended ESPAI Priorat 2017 in Spain. He is slated to judge the Michelangelo wine and spirit awards in August 2018. Ajit is a WSET educator and also has written for TOI, Deccan Chronicle, Asian Age, Sommelier India etc.
With an enriching career spanning over 16 years, Mr. Abhisek Basu is the Executive Assistant Manager of Food and Beverage at The Leela Mumbai. He began his professional journey with the Leela Group in 2002 as part of the prestigious Management Trainee Programme and has never looked back. Abhisek has enjoyed a long and fruitful association with the Group, ably juggling multiple parts before working his way to the top of the corporate ladder. He formerly headed the Food and Beverage department at The Leela Palace Kovalam. Mr. Basu played an instrumental role in the pre-opening The Leela Palace Udaipur, The Leela Palace New Delhi and Jamavar Mumbai. He has also successfully managed to shift the wine focus of Mumbai to the suburbs by hosting a series of bespoke wine dinners in collaboration with the house of Taittinger, Marchesi Di Barolo, Marchesi Di Frescobaldi to name a few. Being a wine aficionado at heart, Abhisek has played a major part in curating the award-wining wine list at Le Cirque Signature. Proof of this would be the restaurant being bestowed with the coveted Wine Spectator award in 2016 and 2017 and he expects a hat- trick of sorts with the 2018 awards just around the corner.
Aneesh is an award winning photographer and all round bon vivant. Photography and his travels around the world got him interested in wines and spirits which eventually led him to start Hipcask, India’s first wines & spirits discovery app. Aneesh recently also Svami, a range of artisanal mixers including tonic waters. He has served on the jury of several wine and restaurant awards in Europe and India.
A journalist with 32 years of professional experience behind him, Sourish Bhattacharyya is India’s most eminent food writer. He wears several hats, including that of a columnist for Mail Today (India Today Group); founding Consulting Editor for the leading hospitality magazine, BW Hotelier; Blogger at Indian Restaurant Spy and co-founder of the Tasting India Symposium. His love of wine is well documented as he continues to garner huge popularity, reviewing restaurants for their wine programs and writing about wine and food pairings as his special area of expertise.
Kumar has over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He embarked on his journey with the Taj Group in 1992 and has been an integral part of the company’s legacy ever since. He began as a management trainee in the Food and Beverage function at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi and swiftly moved up the ladder. In his long association with the group, he has held diverse positions across properties including Resident Manager at The Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi, General Manager at Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, Deputy General Manager at the Taj Group’s flagship hotel – The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and General Manager at the Taj Group’s contemporary luxury hotel – Taj Lands End, Mumbai. Kumar’s forte is his thorough knowledge of the industry. His understated elegance coupled with a progressive and inclusive mindset towards his colleagues has won him credibility across all ranks and levels. An alumnus of the Institute of Hotel Management, Pusa, New Delhi, he immersed himself into hotel operations and perfected the art of F&B service for 15 years across Taj restaurants in multiple locations including Mumbai, Delhi and Udaipur. His significant contribution to the group has made him an indispensable part of the Taj success story.
Alok Chandra is an independent Management Consultant with a focus on wine, based in Bangalore, India. He is the founder and past-President of the Bangalore Wine Club (established in September 2001). Alok has been writing a fortnightly column “The Wine Club” for the Business Standard newspaper’s ‘Weekend’ magazine since December 2004 and has written in the past for Food Lovers Bangalore magazine as well as the Metro Plus section of The Hindu newspaper. He has passed the WSET Level III Advanced Certificate exam with distinction, and is a qualified as a trainer for the WSET Level I & Level II courses.
Gauri Devidayal is the co-founder of South – Mumbai‘s most famous restaurant - The Table. A WSET Level III, Gauri has also been at the forefront of the farm to table initiative for the restaurant by setting up The Table Farm in Alibag, from where the restaurant gets much of its fresh produce. She also co-founded Magazine St Kitchen along with husband, Jay Yousuf, a culinary playground for intimate dinners, cooking workshops and more, housed in a restored heritage structure, in Byculla - a space that has already created an unparalleled buzz within the food community. They have together also created Mag St Bread Co, a bakery which supplies breads around the city to other cafes and restaurants. Most recently, they have opened a South East Asian inspired restaurant in Colaba in collaboration with the founders of Woodside Inn. Gauri was named in Blackbook’s list of 50 Top Women in Luxury in India and also listed in GQ’s 50 Most Influential Young Indians in 2017.
With significant years of experience in Marketing, Corporate Communications & Brand Management, Vaniitha has passionately transitioned into the world of Wines, Spirits & LuxuryBrand Management. During her stint in the corporate career, she has held leadership roles inhighly reputed organisations such as FLIPKART.COM., Edifecs Inc, Adecco India, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide & Mahindra Satyam. Having realized her passion for wines & luxury brands, she has studied advance level wine courses at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, London and Luxury Brand Management from Essec Business School, Paris. With the Wine & Spirits expertise, Vaniitha serves as a consultant to Restaurants, Hotels, Importers, Corporates, Lifestyle brands and HNI’s for wine buying, wine training, wine based events, brand management and curation of wine lists etc. She dons the hat of a wine judge at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, an interntional wine competition and also a wine TV educator on her youtube channel.
Ms. Suneeta Sodhi Kanga is a corporate trainer, mentor and coach in the area of grooming, international etiquette, fine dining and wine and spirits appreciation. Suneeta has a very exclusive client list who have benefited from her interventions. She specializes in developing customized training modules. She is a regular speaker at various T.V. channels, seminars and discussions in educational and other institutes on the subject of good grooming, etiquette and wine education. Suneeta has been featured in many newspapers and magazines, the most recent being Forbes India. Suneeta has been recently honored and included in the “Cambridge Who’s who” listing by Donald Trump Jr. Suneeta’s engages herself in various wine and spirits events, including wine and spirits tastings and appreciation, judging blind tastings and writing articles about them. She has a WSET Level 2 certification in Wines as well as Spirits.
Rukn was the Managing Director for Remy Cointreau responsible for the Indian Subcontinent & Gulf from 2009 to 2015 and was instrumental in setting up a distillery in a Joint Venture to produce India’s most premium Brandy ‘Janus’ with Sula Vineyards. Prior to this, he was the Asst. Vice President at Pernod Ricard India and over the years managed the Wine business, Import Division (BIO) & Export of IMFL brands to the Gulf & African markets. He also setup the successful ‘Nine Hills’ Winery for Pernod Ricard in India. Rukn has previously worked with Nestle, E&J Gallo Winery and the Oberoi Group of Hotels.
Over the years he has launched several wine & spirit brands in India including LXIII Cognac, Jacob’s Creek Australian Wine, Mount Gay Rum, Metaxa Brandy, St. Remy Brandy, Piper Heidsieck Champagne etc. He is currently the Vice President of India’s ‘Wine Society’ and a judge for ‘Sommelier India’.
He founded the FBAI over 5 years back, initially as a hobby for the love of food and now streamlining and organising the proposition to position it as one of the leading online and social media organisations in India. Sameer is an ardent lover of all things wine, and constantly learning more on wine varietals, tastes and flavours and loves hosting wine dinners at home and restaurants alike. Sameer is also an Education Specialist, for pre-schools, K-12 schools, International schools and his company, EMMCI distributes learning products and services, including National Geographic Explorer across schools in India. He also consults on set-up of International schools, offering end to end solutions His prior work experience included Ogilvy & Mather and Discovery Channel India. He is an ardent gamer, loves social media, an occasional chef in the home kitchen, a wine lover, is passionate about music and loves to travel.
He started his food career in journalism and writes extensively on food and the people behind it for luxury publications, nationally as well as internationally. He has worked in best kitchens in India and abroad where he got to interact, cook, learn and execute finest cuisines of the world from the culinary masterminds. In his blog - Nonchalant Gourmand, he relives his experiences and shares his cooking escapades with the world.
Shahrom Oshtori began his career with AccorHotels as an Assistant Food and Beverage Manager at their flagship property in India, Sofitel Mumbai BKC. Recognized for his dedication and skills, he was promoted as Director of Food and Beverage in April 2014 within a short span of two years. Mr. Oshtori has spent nearly 10 years in the hospitality industry in prestigious hotels like The Taj Mahal Palace, Grand Hyatt, JW Marriott, Sofitel Mumbai BKC. He is currently working with Gourmet Investments as the Vice President Operations – India Gourmet Investments Pvt Ltd. He strongly believes that to run a successful F&B operation, there has to constantly be new ways of thinking and specialised attention to the guest’s dining experience. With his creative thinking, Shahrom brings several innovations to the table, offering personalised service to the esteemed guests.
A veteran of the Indian magazine industry, Reva K. Singh is the owner and publisher of Sommelier India Wine Magazine, the first and only Indian magazine dedicated to wine. Prior to this, Reva edited The Oberoi Group Magazine for six years raising it to a level of excellence comparable to the best international hotel magazines. She has led or been on the editorial team of several high profile publications in India and abroad over her 30-year publishing career.
Reva has built a formidable reputation for herself in the Indian wine industry. As Editor in Chief and CEO of Sommelier India, she gets the privileged opportunity to taste a variety of wines from around the world. This has built her knowledge base, a knowledge that she gladly shares with her readers. She has been quoted in newspapers and magazines around the world discussing the wine culture in India.
Ruma Singh is a former full-time journalist who turned wine writer to pursue her interest in wine. She blogs about wine, along with food and travel on her dedicated wine website, Between the Wines at http://rumasingh.com/, listed on The Top 100 Wine Websites To Follow for the last 3 years. She also contributes features and columns for newspapers and wine and food magazines in India and abroad, and loves travelling whenever possible to learn more about wine. A former president and committee member of the Bangalore Wine Club she is also occasionally a wine educator, believing that the way to inculcate wine culture in India is through communication. She has done her Wine & Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) Level 3 exam with distinction and is also a member of the exclusive London-based group of top wine journalists, known as the Circle of Wine Writers. Ruma continues to work actively to promote the culture of wine in India.