Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Veronique Rivest

I already introduced to one leading lady in the Canadian Sommelier scene, so it is now time to meet another :-) Please meet Top Sommelier Veronique Rivest.

Veronique has a degree in German & Spanish (Modern Languages & Literature)and an MBA in International trade and yet she chose to devote her life to wine :-) the least you can say is that she is very devoted as next to gaining the title of Best sommelier of Canada (2 times 2006 & 2012)) and Best Sommelier of the Americas 2012, she became the 2nd Best Sommelier of the World in 2013 (Paolo Basso won that year and our Belgian friend Aristide Spies became 3rd)... not bad for an autodidact I'd say?!

After becoming a certified sommelier at the Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology, the student became the teacher as she started teaching and developing courses at Algonquin College . A job she combined with being sommelier at Restaurant Les Fougeres that she did for over 16 years.

Today Veronique works as consultant, sommelier,Wine columnist for Le Droit newspaper and Radio-Canada in Ottawa, she also writes for numerous magazines and appears on many television and radio shows all over the world. In 2014 she also opened her own wine bar SOIF in Gatineau and tries to pass on her passion more then ever!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Ha! That’s like asking me which of my kids I prefer! It depends on the day :-) One of wine's great appeal is that there is so much variety and that there is always more to explore.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Curiosity, humility, a true passion for customer service and lots of work.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

A bit too much of a buzz right now. The recognition and valorization of the profession is great, but the celebrity status is ridiculous. It's just wine; we're not saving lives. If we excel at what we do, we will be valued as professionals.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I like to say I fell in it as a child :-) I have always loved eating and drinking, I am extremely curious and I love to learn. So wine was just perfect. I never thought of it as a career at first. I started working in restaurants at the age of 16 as a student job, but quickly fell in love with the hospitality industry and realized my student job was more exciting for me than what I was studying. I then spent 7 years in Alsace and started working for a winery, almost by chance. It then became clear to me working as a sommelier and studying wine was a perfect fit for me.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

I won't be original here, but as a sommelier, Gerard Basset is an extraordinary example: ultra-professional, kind and generous, and continuously striving to be better. Wine wise, every winemaker out there that works hard to produce authentic, moving wines.

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

I spent years studying and experiencing how to better match food and wine, and it is a great part of our job. I try to think of aromas and texture, but even more so of the guests' preferences, their mood, the occasion, the time of year, etc. Context is of the utmost importance.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

So many!! I of course have a week spot for Alsace which is beautiful and has great diversity of terroirs (and amazing food!). Greece is also amazing in its diversity of grape varieties and terroirs. And it has amazing landscapes, fascinating history and utterly delicious food. Argentina has breathtaking landscapes. And the Okanagan Valley in Canada is also one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world!! But seriously, every wine region is beautiful and fascinating through its people, its wines and its food. They are all a window unto a region's traditions and culture.

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

Being able to taste very old wines that have stood the test of time is the most wonderful opportunity. Wines that are 30, 40 years or older; they take us back in time and let us reflect on what things might have been like then. We often think of what the climate was like in a certain year, but I also like to think what events happened that year, how did the people who made the wine live, what they might have talked about.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

I am self-taught!! But my most wonderful memories are all the people I've met who have helped me grow along this path: other sommeliers, mentors, winemakers, guests.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc…?

I think regional wine and food matches, experienced in the region, are always absolutely wonderful. But nothing will ever beat good food and good wine enjoyed with your very best friends or family, when time does not matter. That is still the best combination ever.

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