Alex Allardyce felt more than a little overwhelmed when she was named Manitoba’s best sommelier in September.
Allardyce was crowned Manitoba’s top wine taster at the 2021 Best Sommelier of Manitoba Competition, held Sept. 7 and 8 in Winnipeg. The two-day event featured some of the province’s most esteemed wine experts competing head-to-head in a series of challenges including a written exam, blind tasting and mock wine and food pairing.
“I learned so much and it was so amazing to compete alongside the other somms. (It was) definitely something I will never forget.”
"I was incredibly nervous (going into it). I haven’t been in the industry that long. I’ve only been a working somm for two years now," says Allardyce, who works at the Manitoba Club.
"It was incredibly surreal when I won. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I saw the livestream later on. I was hugging the other competitors and I don’t even remember that happening. I was so shocked, but it was a great feeling."
The win earned her a spot in this year’s national sommelier championship in Penticton, B.C. Although she didn’t win at the national competition, it was an unforgettable experience nonetheless for Allardyce. Although she didn’t win at the national competition, it was an unforgettable experience nonetheless for Allardyce.
"I learned so much and it was so amazing to compete alongside the other somms," she says. "(It was) definitely something I will never forget."
Allardyce had always enjoyed a glass of vino but never imagined she would one day end up working in the wine business. She studied history and politics at university and was set to join the Manitoba Public Utilities Board as a policy analyst following her graduation.
Those plans changed during a backpacking trip through Europe that took her to the south of France where she worked briefly at a winery. She enjoyed the experience so much she returned there the following year to work full-time for a few months.
Upon her return home, she soon realized that her future was in grapes rather than policy analysis. She enrolled in a wine sommelier course offered through Banville and Jones Wine Co. and worked at the wine retailer while she studied. She graduated from the program two years ago and was hired by the Manitoba Club soon after.
"I work 16 hours a day sometimes and getting that diploma was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My university degree was nothing compared to that. But it was the best decision I ever made," she says.
As part of her job, Allardyce helps build the wine list along with her boss, Domer Rafael, the food and beverage director at the Manitoba Club. She also helps maintain the club’s wine cellar and sells and pours wines to clientele.
"That’s the part of the job I really love," she says of interacting with customers. "I chat with them about what they like and what their tastes are. I go find a bottle for them, I pour it for them and then I see the reaction on their face. That’s why I do what I do. I want to make people happy for a living and I feel like I do."
You don’t have to become a sommelier to enjoy a glass of wine. That said, Allardyce does recommend getting to know your own palate to get the most out of your tasting experience.
"That’s easier said than done and takes a little practice. The next time you are drinking a glass of wine you like, sit down and thank about what you like about the wine. The better you can describe your own taste, the better you can describe it to the person at the wine store or restaurant — and the better they can help you find something you like."