Véronique Rivest has made wine-related history, becoming the first woman and the first Canadian to land on the podium at the 14th Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World, held over the past few days in Tokyo, Japan. Rivest was the runner-up at the contest, besting an impressive collection of palates from around the world.
Rivest and Ontario sommelier Will Predhomme earned entry to the international competition, held every three years in different locations, by qualifying through the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) national competition in Halifax last September. Rivest and Predhomme came 1-2 in that competition, and Rivest went on to win the title of best sommelier of the Americas as well. Predhomme placed in the top 20 in the Tokyo competition.
(Aside: There were no Manitobans in the Canadian competition, although CAPS is just in the process of setting up a Manitoba chapter, so that should change going forward.)
Contestants in the Tokyo event had to go through a series of tests including simulated wine services skills, decanting, blind tasting, and much more. Fifty-plus contestants began the event, and were then knocked down to 12. Predhomme didn't make the final 12 (he finished 17th), but Rivest did along with two other women — impressive considering there were only six women in the competition to begin with. Rivest then went on to make the final three, marking the first time a woman or a Canadian had done so.
This isn't just glorified restaurant service — it takes serious skills, a perfect palate and quick thinking on your feet to compete with the best. For example, at the national competition in Halifax contestants had to go through a table-side wine service in great detail, explaining the finer points of wine to faux-diners in a language other than their own native tongue.
Oh yeah, it's probably worth mentioning the winning sommelier was Paolo Basso of Switzerland, the runner-up in the 2010 competition. Aristide Spies of Belgium placed third.
Congrats to both Rivest and Predhomme in their impressive achievement — especially to Rivest for her impressive finish and her historic run. I've had a chance to taste wine with both, and they're as down-to-earth as they are wine-savvy. I know Rivest a bit better and she's a complete hoot — the complete antithesis of what one might assume about sommeliers and wine biz folks. (Half of the time we're just looking forward to the post-tasting beers.)