In March 2013, French Canadian Véronique Rivest became the 2nd best sommelier in the world. The entire country was proud. But how do you get this title? Why is it that in BC, where we have tremendous wine talents, we had no ways to participate, not even at the Canadian level?
The world competition is held through ASI (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale), headquartered in Paris. CAPS (the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers) is affiliated with ASI. The mandate of the organisation is to raise awareness of the sommelier profession and to promote the culture of wine through instruction, competition, accreditation and events. It also aims to provide a professional forum to encourage community, networking and education for our members.
Until very recently, BC was not part of this association. The CAPS BC chapter was formed last April. Vancouver held the very first competition of this kind in BC on November 3rd, 2014.
Walking into Edible Canada at 9:00 a.m. where the competition was held was moving. The room was filled with 16 top BC sommeliers ready to put their talent on the line. The excitement, the fear, but most importantly the sense of a tight community was palpable. Candidates wrote a 90-minute exam which was a combination of hard theory and two blind tastings. The top three candidates who earned the most points moved on to the afternoon competition.
By 1:00 p.m., the room was filled by a public eager to watch the live performance. The calibre was extremely high and there was no certainty about who had moved to the final round. In no particular order, the finalists were: Jason Yamasaki from Chambar restaurant, Chris Turyk from Unsworth Vineyards & Shayne Taylor from CinCin.
One by one, candidates were brought in to a restaurant set up where their skills were tested. Each stop had its own challenges and time constraints. First, the sparkling wine service table. They had to empty a bottle equally, continuously and without topping up between six flutes. Next, decantation of a magnum of red wine. While executing that task candidates were asked difficult wine questions. The third stop was food and wine pairing. Recommending three wines from three different countries except from Canada for a three-course meal is not that easy when the menu is tricky and you are under pressure. And what is headcheese? They had to explain. The wine list correction was next. Projected on a big screen, the list contained 32 mistakes. Sommeliers had three minutes to find the most mistakes. Finally, the most entertaining station of all, the blind tasting. Competitors had to do out loud tasting notes for a white and a red wine. They had to identify the country and the name of a spirit and a liquor and decipher a cocktail they were served, listing the ingredients.
It was stressful and exciting to watch. The calibre was high and the race was tight. Judges deliberated for two hours. Jason Yamasaki came first and was crowned Sommelier of the Year 2014. Shayne Taylor came second and Chris Turyk third. A special award was given to Shayne Taylor for being the best blind taster of the day.
Congratulations to Jason Yamasaki! This title is well deserved. We are looking forward to seeing you battle for the National title next March in Toronto.
Michelle Bouffard is a wine educator and journalist who splits her time between Montréal & Vancouver. She co-owns the Vancouver-based company ‘house wine’ and is the president of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. She Tweets @housewine_girls and Instagrams @michellebouffard.