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3RD Annual Sommelier Report

Compiled by Kelly Schweitzer , Anupa Simon and Christopher Waters

After surveying more than 40 Canadian sommeliers for the new instalment of our annual Buyers' Guide report, we have come to learn a few things about the talented tastemakers working from coast to coast. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, they have unwavering fondness for Champagne, a keen interest in the benchmark regions of France, Spain and Italy and are used to patrons who continually ask: "What is your favourite wine?" But the similarities end soon enough, as regional differences, restaurant philosophies and personal preference shape and influence the style of service and scope of the wine lists at the workplaces of our respondents. As always, our roundup gives an interesting snapshot of how the country's wine scene is developing and allows us to share some insider information about how some of the top professionals shop, serve and enjoy wine.

Jackie Cooke, Calgary; Fred Gamula, Niagara-on-the-Lake; Jesse Harnden, Westbank; Courtney Henderson, Toronto; Erin Henderson, Toronto; Jennifer Huether, Toronto; Élyse Lambert, Montreal ; Mark Moffatt, Toronto; Lorie O'Sullivan, Toronto; Heather Rankin, Halifax; Jake Richards, Waterloo; Mark Taylor, Vancouver; Allison Vidug, Toronto; Astrid Young, Belleville


How did you become interested in wine?

Living in California at the time, it was hard to ignore. And it was interesting — you could never know everything! I took that as the ultimate challenge. I think also that since I didn't play golf, it was a good way to have something in common with the "suits" in the music industry (I am a working musician also). Who knew that knowing wine could make you more popular than a rock star? Astrid Young

Our dad was in the wine business in the '80s. He travelled the world and came back with fabulous stories of German vineyards built on impossible slopes, the cobwebs and mould in the cellars of France and the "new" wine region of South Africa. While all the other kids were learning to ride bikes, we were learning about fermentation. Courtney & Erin Henderson

I was living in London where there's a fairly big drink culture. I wasn't a fan of lager, so I started drinking wine. I drank a lot of terrible wine until one day I experienced a good bottle with a friend who knew a bit more than I did. That bottle changed everything. I realized then that there was good wine and there was bad wine... and I was never going back to drinking bad wine. Heather Rankin

I have been in the restaurant business in one capacity or another since the age of 12, so learning about wine was a job requirement. After breaking my foot and being unable to work for three months, my employer offered to send me to school for sommelier certification. Upon graduation, I quickly realized that my education had just scratched the surface and that this lifelong journey of self-education had just begun. Jake Richards

At first it was a natural progression from the position of waiter. Then I travelled to wine regions. Plus, I did it to impress girls. Mark Taylor


Night cap

We asked our participants what their favourite drink after a long day was, and many answered a Negroni cocktail, which also serves as an excellent aperitif.

1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 orange slice

Combine ingredients into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Gently stir and garnish with an orange slice. (Adding club soda will give a summer-fresh taste. To give it a more formal feel you may serve straight up in a martini glass with the option of topping with a dry sparkling white wine.) Here is how you can make your own at home.

Shop Talk X

Our Experts Provide Their Best Tips for Buying Wine

Be curious. Élyse Lambert

Buy what you like, not what you are told you will like. Mark Moffatt

Be confi dent in what you like, try not to lean on others' scores too much, and have fun and experiment with something new. Courtney & Erin Henderson

Get to know the staff in your favourite wine store and don't be shy to ask questions. Jackie Cooke

The biggest piece of advice: Enjoy! Wine is to be consumed, not pondered over. It will all turn to vinegar eventually, so drink it, share it, enjoy it… do it now! It's a natural treasure, from the earth to your glass. It's your responsibility as a human to embrace it. Astrid Young

What is the best way to sell wine?


Get them excited. Hypnotize them with a story. Astrid Young

Put the customer at ease. Jennifer Huether Be passionate about it. Mark Moffat

Describe the people who make it, or your last visit to the winery. Mark Taylor

Tell a story about it. We have wines on our list that are exclusive to us in Canada. I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing people in my travels and have developed close relationships with them. Jackie Cooke


Tell them the story behind it and then let them taste it. Courtney & Erin Henderson

Once I talk with a guest and get a gauge on their likes and dislikes, I like to provide them with up to three options; something tried and true, something a bit more adventurous, and something completely off the radar. Jake Richards

To sell a bottle, I give guests my sommelier guarantee — if they don't like then they don't have to drink it and they certainly won't be charged for the bottle. Lorie O'Sullivan