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N°161

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5th ASI & APAS Contest of the Best Sommelier of the Americas

21/06/2018
Pier-Alexis Soulière wins Canada’s fourth title

Aged 30, Quebecker joins his compatriots Ghislain Caron, Elyse Lambert and Véronique Rivest on the list of winners of a challenge that confirms the advent of North- and South-American sommeliers with an excellent level. Martin Bruno (Argentina) and Carl Villeneuve Lepage complement the podium of the contest organized in Montreal.
 

 Elyse Lambert, Pier-Alexis Soulière et Véronique Rivest.

No explosion of joy, all the more did he clap his hands when Andrés Rosberg , the president of Association de la Sommellerie Internationale, announced his name. Though, young Canadian Pier-Alexis Soulière, 30, had just won the title of Best Sommelier of the Americas. A victory he got after finals that revealed three talents that might meet at the next world competition in Antwerp in March 2019. Indeed, Canada will have a second candidate, and Carl Villeneuve Lepage who finished third, and Argentinian Martin Bruno, second, will be invited to participate in the national selection in the coming weeks.

But before looking that far, let’s go back on the 5th edition of a competition that has been mobilizing the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers for a week in Montreal. Twenty candidates representing 10 countries got together in the end of May with the technical committee, especially led by four Best Sommeliers of the World (Serge Dubs, Andreas Larsson, Paolo Basso and Arvid Rosengren) in Gérard Basset’s absence.

A team who chose the classical themes of the contests for the selection stage. The morning was dedicated to the written part and a practical workshop. Two blind tastings were scheduled with a Brouilly (Cuvée Sous les Balloquets 2016 Louis Jadot – France) and a Rioja (Reserva Contino 2011 – Spain). Then 4 beverages had to be recognized: a Dominican rum Barcelo Gran Anejo (Dominican Republic), a brandy Torres 10 Imperial Grand Reserva (SPain), a 3-year-old apple brandy “L’heure de mettre la pomme à off” by Michel Jodoin (Canada).

At last a hard questionnaire in 53 items finished to call into questions some of the candidates.

 

 Piero Sattanino, Serge Dubs et Paolo Basso, ainsi qu'Andrés Rosberg et Ricardo Grellet.

Race against time

Before concluding this first stage by the announcement of the semifinalists on the terrace of a sugar house at an hour driving from Montreal, the twenty contenders for the title had to demonstrate their technical skills and reactivity. A service exercise with six customers, half a bottle of Cava in three minutes. As a bonus during the workshop, a question about the adequacy of the pairing of a sparkling Spanish wine with an asparagus appetizer. The audience had to wait until the sixth candidate to see all the guests be served in time … In total nine out of the twenty sommeliers managed to succeed in this exercise.

A few hours later Andrés Rosberg announced the names of the semifinalists. The Argentines Valeria Gamper and Martin Bruno, the Canadians Carl Villeneuve Lepage and Pier-Alexis Soulière, the Mexicans Luis Antonio Morones and Steve Ayon met Brazilian Diego Arrebola and Peruvian Joseph Ruiz Acosta.

Two workshops had been prepared for them on the day after with two main themes: tasting and marketing on the one hand and service and marketing on the other hand. With each time a race against time. From the blind tasting and comment of a Pol Roger Rosé Champagne 2008 to the service of a magnum of rosé wine from Château de Miraval for twelve persons, each highlight aimed at showing the expertise of each candidate in order to keep only the three best for the final round.

A g., le Canadien Carl Villeneuve Lepage, ici dans l'épreuve de cocktail, a pris la troisième place du concours. A d. Bruno Martin a pris la seconde place confirmant, trois ans après le succès de Paz Levinson, la montée en puissance de l'école argentine.

Stress and talent

And fot the finals organized at the Marie-Gérin-Lajoie Hall at Quebec University, the two best Canadian sommeliers confronted with their Argentinian colleague. A very dynamic and exciting series of tests that could be followed live on the internet.

First to go, and future bronze medallist, Carl Villeneuve Lepage set the pace and gave some references to the numerous audience. Pier-Alexis Soulière came after and from the beginning of his final performance he gave his supporters some cold sweats. Invited to serve an aperitif to three “customers” he nearly made an irretrievable mistake. Two of the guest ordered a glass of  Champagne (Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut), when the third one asked for a classic cocktail, a Manhattan. Though the seven minutes seemed comfortable to fullfil the whole test, the future winner made things complicated for himself. Under the inevitable stress he decided to shake his cocktail. Exactly the contrary of what had to be done … Pier-Alexis Soulière managed to get out of the trick just in time and managed, with shaking hands, to start over and serve everything before the final gong!

Un médaillé d'or qui va désormais se tourner vers le concours mondial d'Anvers avec sérénité. « Un concours, il faut le préparer, pas le subir... »

For the next stages talent did the rest. Food and wine pairings over some classical dishes from the Americas,  decanting of a magnum of white wine (Cuvée Attitude by Pascal Jolivet, a wine grower from the Loire Valley), tasting of a red wine (Barolo from Paolo Scavino), marketing and identification of a white sweet wine (Madeira Colheita 2002 from Domain Blandy’s Wine Lodge) and geographical identification of three Cabernet Sauvignons and five spirits: the sommelier from the La Chronique restaurant in Montreal went through this quite easily.

And even though Martin Bruno showed a very high level that owed him the second place, Pier-Alexis Soulière came close to a kind of state of grace.

A victory that guarantees his automatic qualification for the next world competition as the continental champion and enables another Canadian candidate to come with him.

Andrés Rosberg underlined both the youth and multiple qualities of the final podium. “This is the future of the international sommellerie!” he concluded.

Jean Bernard

 

The final ranking

The technical committee of the competition announced the ranking of the 14 first candidates:
  1. Pier-Alexis Soulière, Canada
  2. Martin Bruno, Argentine/Argentina
  3. Carl Villeneuve Lepage, Canada
  4. Valeria Gamper, Argentine/Argentina
  5. Luis Antonio Morones Lopez, Mexique/Mexico
  6. Diego Arrebola, Brésil/Brazil
  7. Joseph Ruiz Acosta, Pérou/Peru
  8. Steve Ayon, Mexique/Mexico
  9. Federico de Moura, Uruguay
10. Misato Inaoka, Chili/Chile
11. Andres Villegas Green, Colombie/Colombia
12. Paulo Limarque, Brésil/Brazil
13. Pablo Rodriguez, Uruguay
14. Gonzalo Troncoso, Chili/Chile

 

Pier-Alexis Soulière

Three questions
to Pier-Alexis Soulière

What has been your training, then professional, path?
I was born in a family of maple syrup and sugar producers near Quebec. But although I spent all my holidays working for them, I chose to train for catering professions. I entered the Institute for Tourism and Hospitality of Quebec in Montreal. That is where I discovered the wine universe and that I took advantage of a partnership with the Wine University of Suze-la-Rousse to head for France and specialize a bit more.

Why did you choose to come back to Canada after so many experiences abroad?
Because I feel a family atmosphere in this restaurant and that secures me, and I have always thought that I woudl be able to win the Best Sommelier of the Americas if I prepared myself here. My journeys abroad also had the consequence to exclude me from the Canadian competitions. In 2011 I was in London, and in 2014 in Australia. In 2017 my Caliornian boss allowed me to attend the Quebecker contest that I won, and three months later I took the second place at the national challenge behind  Carl Villeneuve Lepage, a rank that qualified me for the Best Sommelier of the Americas competition. That is when I decided to come back to Montreal.
I trip I decided to do by car from California where I took the time to visit the vineyards. I did the same in Oregon and Washington, in the Okanagan Valley, and at last the area of Toronto. I met wine growers and many sommeliers who accepted to train me. During this 21-day road trip and more than 8,000 km later, I discovered that there is not one single sommellerie but many different ones.


What did you learn from yor different international experiences?
In France, I discovered a fairly stiff but necessary classicism, as well as the wines from the Rhone Valley that really seduced me. Besides, the only place where I feel like at home is Tournon in front of the hills of L'Hermitage.
In London, for the opening of Mandarin Oriental, I experienced something magical with a team of ten sommeliers that united in a difficult context. It was the very first time that chef Heston Blumenthal cooked outside his walls. He thus was very much expected!
In Australia, I met Franck Moreau, head sommelier of Merivale, Six months that taught me the rigor and business of wine. A rigor that does not prevent from some relaxation though we were in a conquering spirit with the opening of new establishments and original concepts.
At last, after New York, I wanted to know about the west coast of the US with the goal to work with Jim Rollston, head sommelier of three-starred restaurant 'Los Gatos'. He was my reference in California wines and enabled me to discover them. A knowledge that helped me a lot for this contest.

Collected by Jean Bernard