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Female noses win out once more at the 'Nariz de Oro'

Prestigious prize for Spain's top sommelier goes to a female contestant for the third year in a row

The world of wine stopped being the exclusive domain of men a long time ago. For the third time in a row, a woman has won the prestigious Golden Nose Award that goes out each year to the country's best sommelier.

The winner this year was Montse Velasco, a 33-year-old wine specialist from Catalonia who works at the family restaurant La Cuina del Guinardó, which serves no more than 20 diners at a time at eight tables and where the menu features seasonal dishes.

A proud Velasco, who had to correctly identify the contents of five dark wine glasses using nothing but her sense of smell (tasting is not allowed), said she has "regular clients who are very devoted" at the restaurant.

"It used to be a sexist world, but now there is a growing appreciation for the work of women with wine," she added.

Before her, two other ladies in their thirties beat out tough competition to win the prize in 2009 and 2010: María José Vázquez, who works at the restaurant inside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and Andrea Alonso, the sommelier at the food wholesaler Makro in Alicante.

"It is the perfect vantage point - I advise restaurant owners and I have a huge cellar," says Alonso, who was born in Uruguay and trained in Argentina before becoming a leading figure in the industry.

The new winner, Velasco, explains that she likes to seek out small wineries and "less well-known brands" and that she favors "national production with an international flair."

Although she often gets requests for "trendy wines such as verdejo or fruity whites," clients also ask her for recommendations. "You choose," patrons often tell this one-time tourism student who later switched to enology and studying ideal food-wine combinations.

There were female winners in 2000 and 2003 as well - María Saiz from Cantabria and Itxaso Arana from the Basque Country - but successive editions were won by male noses, including those belonging to David Seijas of the arch-famous elBulli restaurant (owned by celebrity chef Ferran Adrià), and Jordi Raventós of El Bosc.

"They say women are more sensitive, but I think it's instinct," says Velasco. Yet even instinct requires a capacity for decision-making.

"When I followed through on my first impression, I won; when I hesitated, I failed," she admits, speaking from the experience of four Golden Nose editions in which she was a two-time finalist. This year, she correctly named each of the five mystery spirits simply by smelling them.