“There’s something to be said for perseverance.”
Those words were uttered late Monday night (January 9) to a crowd of Vancouver wine-industry professionals at downtown’s Cibo Trattoria by Véronique Rivest, who came in second at the Best Sommelier of the World competition in Tokyo in 2013.
Quebecker Rivest was in Vancouver to judge the 2017 Best Sommelier of B.C. competition, put on by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers’ British Columbia chapter.
Alongside her were fellow judges Michelle Bouffard of Montreal and Barbara Philip, the Vancouver-based Master of Wine and European-portfolio manager for B.C. Liquor Stores, the three of them under the tutelage of technical judge and local wine educator D J Kearney.
The perseverance she spoke of was that of Shane Taylor, the wine director of CinCin Ristorante + Bar, who not only was being crowned best sommelier of B.C. for besting 15 other competitors but overcame the psychological distraction of placing second in this very competition the previous two years.
The competition began early Monday morning in a room at Rogers Arena, with all 16 candidates writing an exam and blind-tasting a series of wines. In the early afternoon, as industry players gathered to watch the technical part of the competition, officials announced the three finalists, those who scored highest on the exam and tasting: Todd Prucyk of Hawksworth Restaurant, Matthew Landry of the Stable House Bistro, and CinCin’s Taylor.
With the other two finalists secluded away, each competitor had to undertake a series of challenges. The first was a service component, where he had to do wine service for three separate tables of industry colleagues acting as guests.
The first table requested a bottle of sparkling wine to be opened and poured completely and evenly into six glasses without going back to top up. The second table ordered a magnum of red wine and asked for it to be decanted, all the while peppering the competitor with questions about the wine. The third table presented a three-course menu, asking for wine pairings for each course.
The challenge that followed was a blind tasting of four wines, two spirits, and one cocktail. This is a remarkably daunting aspect of the competition, because not only are competitors under a lot of pressure, they’re also describing these wines in front of about 150 peers and colleagues in a room where you could hear a pin drop.
The final task was to find errors in a wine list that was projected onto a giant screen. The errors could be anything from spelling mistakes to a wine being listed as from an incorrect region to certain bottles touting a vintage in a year when that wine wasn’t even produced.
All in all, each competitor took the stage for about 45 minutes.
Once the competition wrapped, the judges headed out to deliberate. There was an official after-party taking place at Cibo Trattoria, and that’s where much of the crowd and all the competitors headed for some much needed wine, beer, cocktails, and snacks.
The pressure release was palpable in the room, where there was plenty of revelry for a couple of hours. We got word on two separate occasions that the judges required an extra 45 minutes, and although we were all eager to find out who the winner would be, those minutes must have felt like hours to the three finalists.
Finally, the judges arrived and announced Landry as the third-place finisher. Following that announcement, they went straight to the winner, and as many wondered if the third time would be the charm for Taylor, the moment we heard the word perseverance, it was clear to whom it was a reference, and the crowd erupted.
Taylor runs a phenomenal wine program at CinCin and is known as a mild-mannered, topnotch sommelier who deserves every accolade thrown his way. He’ll have to get right back to hitting the books, though, as the national competition for Canada’s best sommelier is happening this coming September right here in Vancouver.
The winner of that event will represent our country at a continental contest, then look toward the world competition in 2019.
Do pop in to CinCin Ristorante soon, check out the killer wine program run by B.C.’s best sommelier, order a glass of something delicious, and give the guy a well-deserved pat on the back.