Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Pier-Alexis Soulière
To meet our next sommelier we cross the Atlantic, please meet Canadian top sommelier Québécois Pier-Alexis Soulière MS (Master Sommelier)
During his studies Pier-Alexis already knew he had a special connection with wine, it was like it had passed some kind of spell on him during his time at the 'école hôtelière de la Capitale and Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie du Québec'. It even made him cross the Atlantic to study at the famous Université du vin in Suze-la-Rousse, a place that will always remain special to him. The spell must have been a serious one as on top of that he obtained the level 3 and 4 WSET diploma that just like with his Master Sommelier diploma he managed to obtain it in only 1 year (something that seemed impossible). So we can defenitely state that Pier-Alexis is a literate man that knows a thing or two about wine and sommellerie.
Pier-Alexis' first steps in his professional career were in Montreal as assistant head-sommelier at the fine dining restaurant ''La Chronique' (it has a little Belgian influence as chef Marc De Canck originates from Gent). For the next step in his career Pier-Alexis started to teach at the WSET at the institute de tourisme et d'hôtellerie de Québec. He eventually continued his career on top of the food chain aka 2 and 3 Michelin star awarded restaurants like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal ** (London), The Modern ** (NYC), Manresa Restaurant *** (California) and a stop down-under as sommelier at Merival (Sydney).
We also found out that Pier-Alexis likes his fair share of competition as over the years he won the 2014 Best Young Sommelier Australia and Best Young Sommelier of the World. In 2017 he won the Best Sommelier of Quebec contest and in 2018 he even won the Best Sommelier of the Americas contest. Pier-Alexis also made it in the top 10 (out of 66) during the 2019 Best Sommelier of the World contest in Antwerp
Today Pier-Alexis works as a wine consultant, teaches WSET courses, hosts private and corporate events. Something we didn't see coming is that Pier-Alexis is also a professional Maple syrup maker (his family has been doing it for many generations), he makes the syrup without use of electrical appliances resulting in a finished product that has nothing to do with the mass production product you can find in supermarkets accross the globle. His goal is to show people what the the real deal is with maple syrup and educate them... we already learned that Maple Syrup is actually a seasonal product, which is something we didn't know.
Please join us in getting to know this intriguing top sommelier a bit better. Enjoy the read!!
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
In the beginning of my career when my interest in wine started to grow I went to follow a course at the wine university of Suze-la-Rousse. During that time I fell in love with wines from the Northern Rhône. For me it is the most captivating region with intriguing wines. I have the feeling that Syrah opens up and has a lot of stories to tell when it gets some air. Every time when I'm in France (or close enough to France) I try to visit the area. I even served a wine from this region at my wedding. But obviously choosing a wine has a lot to do with emotion, so it can change, but there are always the evergreens :-)
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
It takes a lot of things, the role of a sommelier has changed a lot in past 5, 10, 20 and definitely 50 years. But what it takes is that it is still a career that you’ll learn by taking bits of everywhere you work … like back in the days. It is true craftsmanship. You have to have generosity as you need to share knowledge and skills, but at the other side you will have to give much more then you will ever receive… at the end of the day to become good you have to do it all over and over. You have to have an unconditional love for the artisan of the wine word, from the winemaker, to the seller, the restaurateur, etc… Discipline and most importantly be yourself, don’t try to copy somebody else.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Like I mentioned in the previous questions, the job changed a lot over the years. I had the chance to work all over the world and I noticed that the job of sommelier is perceived depending of country, style of restaurant, even per region of a country… but next to that also the guest expectation changes. So the term ‘Global Sommelier’ is has many different meanings across the globe.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
I grew-up in a family with a mom that was very avant-garde – we were vegan before it was a thing and we tried to open our horizons by trying that back in those days weren’t seen as common. She was ahead of her time on both food and wine (normal table wines that is). So it has all basically been part of my life. When I finally got to a legal drinking age the sky was the limit for me. The hotel management school was the real eye opener and trigger for me wanting to find out more.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
I admire lots of my colleagues, but the person who has taught me a lot is MS João Pires. I was lucky enough to have worked together with him for 2 years when I was in London. Just to show what a master he actually is, from the 10 sommeliers that worked for/with him 3 (4th coming) became MS. He was a good teacher and he transmitted his energy to us. He was a huge inspiration
What is your approach for pairing wines (or other beverages) with dishes?
In the past I noticed that sommeliers were having lots of problems with pairing, I thinking basically because often it is a ‘guessing’ game and for a small business it costs a lot of money to open random bottles to try with dishes. In the period of one year I would only remember 1-5 pairings I did.
Today when I smell and taste a wine the aromas I experience make me think of a color. Some wines make think of green or orange. The same goes for dishes, they are all colored, green apples, green basil… The next step would be associating the colors from both.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
The Douro wine region. It is an UNESCO protected, completely eye-opening region where they have been doing a wonderful job over the centuries. The white wines from the Douro valley are sensational, not to forget mentioning the port wine. MS João Pires actually guided me to this wonderful region
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
I wouldn’t really make a big sacrifice to taste a particular wine, but rather re-life a moment I drank wine. To be more precise, I’m thinking of drinking old Noval National overlooking the Douro river with my 10 colleagues (that I mentioned earlier) from when I was working in London with João.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
For that I’ll have to go back to when I did my WSET diploma in London. It was the first time that they offered to do it in 1 year instead of in 2 years. At that time I already used to work +70hours and when mentioning the program to João he thought it would become impossible to do it in 1 year… but some way I managed to do it… driven by passion I guess (and the support from my colleagues and João), but it is a moment I will always cherish.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
Many people don’t know that Maple Syrup is a seasonal product, just picture yourself sitting in an old sugar shack and get to taste the fresh maple syrup when there is still snow outside. Or even better first you eat a snow crab that was boiled in salted water, followed by some fresh farmers bread with some freshly made maple syrup on top of and to top it off you open a bottle of Krug…. Heavenly.