Somm kind of party

Professional sommeliers are gathering and they hope you’ll raise a glass with them


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Manitoba sommeliers are uncorking a week-long celebration, and wine lovers of all stripes are invited.

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Manitoba sommeliers are uncorking a week-long celebration, and wine lovers of all stripes are invited.

The Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) kicks off MB Somm Week on Monday, with a week of tastings, masterclasses, tours, competitions and more running through May 16 and taking place in venues throughout the city.

The events, which are open to both members and non-members, coincide with the 10th anniversary of the local chapter, which is made up of those working in the wine industry — at restaurants, wine stores, Liquor Marts and the like — as well as amateur enthusiasts and wine lovers. (For details and to buy tickets, see

Manitoba’s CAPS chapter holds tastings throughout the year featuring local experts, visiting winemakers and export managers.

“The events are advertised in a tiered system,” says Manitoba CAPS president Sean Dolenuck, who works at De Nardi Wines. “So if you see one glass on the advertising, it’s meant for more of a novice or beginner, if there’s two glasses it’s at an intermediate level, and three glasses means the event is more geared towards sommeliers, professionals… It’s going to be technical.”

One of the goals of MB Somm Week is to raise awareness about the local wine community and entice those outside the industry to check out the range of events.

“For non-professionals and consumers to come to an event where they can sit beside someone that’s in the industry, to be able to taste wine and try something new… that benefits our cause, helps grow the community,” says Domer Rafael, sommelier and food and beverage manager at the Manitoba Club and president of the national CAPS organization.

“We’re built for sommeliers, but our reach is into hospitality and to enthusiasts,” adds Dolenuck. “We’re an open organization that wants to foster relationships and network on all levels.”

                                <p>Sean Dolenuck (left) and Domer Rafael of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, Manitoba chapter, invite wine lovers to participate in MB Somm Week.</p>


Sean Dolenuck (left) and Domer Rafael of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, Manitoba chapter, invite wine lovers to participate in MB Somm Week.

MB Somm Week events will also help celebrate and showcase the local talent working in the community. Events being held throughout the week include a number of sit-down seminars on wine, with sessions being led by local industry experts focusing on champagne, Riesling and port.

Sommeliers also need to be able to navigate the wider world of other drinks, which is why MB Somm Week also includes sessions on sake and scotch whisky, as well as tours of Patent 5 Distillery in the Exchange District and Good Neighbour Brewing Co.’s new Sherbrook Street brewery.

The week’s biggest event is the In Good Spirits cocktail competition, being held in the Fort Garry Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom on May 15. The competition will see 14 of the city’s top mixologists, bartenders and the like create signature cocktails to be sampled by guests and a panel of judges (full disclosure: I am one of said judges). The winner chosen by the judges will win a trip to Kentucky and a tour of a bourbon distillery, while the people’s choice winner will win a bursary to help further hone their skills.

MB Somm Week culminates with the live finale of the Best Sommelier of Manitoba competition, which takes place May 16, at Hy’s Steakhouse. After an initial round of written examinations, the top three contenders will advance to the live finale, where their skills will be on full display. “The finale covers blind tasting, bartending, food-and-wine pairings and service,” says Rafael, who took top honours in Manitoba in 2017.

The winner of the best sommelier competition will advance to the national finals, which will be held in Halifax in November.

“The competition shows people what we do and what we are really all about,” says Dolenuck, who won the top prize in the province in 2015.

Rafael hopes the events will also serve to dispel misconceptions the public might have about sommeliers. “There’s that intimidation factor… some automatically associate our association with, you know, being wine geeks or wine snobs. We’re here to spread the knowledge, share our passion.”

Wines of the week

Amalaya 2021 Rosé (Salta, Argentina — $12.60, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Sourced from vineyards in the Salta region of the Calchaqui Valley, some 1,800 metres above sea level (one of the highest-altitude winemaking regions in the world), this pale pink rosé is a blend of 95 per cent Malbec and five per cent Torrontés. Raspberry and strawberry aromas are front and centre, with secondary watermelon candy, floral and ripe orange notes lingering below. It’s a light-bodied, bone dry rosé, with the red berry and ripe citrus flavours coming with a splash of acidity before the modest finish. It’s been discontinued by Liquor Marts and, for $12.60 (regular $17.99), is a great-value pink wine for spring. Get it while you can; see the Liquor Marts website for availability. 3.5/5

Bread & Butter 2021 Rosé (California — $23.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

An intriguing blend of Barbera, Grenache and Muscat grapes — the former two red grapes, the latter a white — there’s a medium-deep salmon colour to this pink wine, with aromas of ripe strawberry, raspberry candy, a mandarin orange/marmalade component and a hint of spice. There’s a touch of sweetness on the light-plus bodied palate that accentuates the ripe raspberry and orange flavours, bringing an initial intensity that peters out fairly quickly. A simple but decently tasty option for warmer-weather sips. 2.5/5

Famille Gassier 2020 Halos de Jupiter (Côtes du Rhône, France — around $27, private wine stores)

This 75-15-10 blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah is deep garnet in colour and aromatically brings ripe black cherry, blackberry, iron, red licorice and earthy notes on the nose. It’s full-bodied but dry and slightly jammy, with deep, very ripe berry/fruit flavours coming with iron, black olive, white pepper and black tea notes that add plenty of complexity before the slightly hot finish (it’s 15 per cent alcohol). Drink now with steak, ribs, lamb or game after letting the wine breathe in a glass for 20 minutes or so, or set aside for three to five years to let it mellow out a bit. 4/5


Ben Sigurdson

Ben Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

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