Each year, the province’s top professional sommeliers, the best and the brightest in the hospitality industry, come together to test their skill, knowledge and experience in the Best Sommelier of B.C. competition, hosted by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers.
The day is a gruelling one. Competitors begin the morning with a blind tasting and a written exam that is notoriously challenging. When competitors are asked for feedback, the word “humbled” comes up often.
Once the morning’s judging is done, the top three competitors are announced. This year, from a pool of 13 seasoned somms, the formidable trio of Ian Casterton of Andrew Peller, Andrew Forsyth of L’Abattoir and Ashley Costa Sousa of Elisa Steakhouse were given the nod to move on to the second stage of the competition.
For Casterton, it was his third time competing, Forsyth his second, and Costa Sousa her first. Each executed the competition with poise and professionalism as if the competition was second nature.
The second stage of the competition is where things really heat up. The top three competitors execute a series of practical service challenges in front of a live audience of industry, family and friends. Unlike the bustle of clinking cutlery, conversation and activity in your average restaurant, the competition is so focused and intense you could scarcely hear a cocktail pick drop.
The competitors were first asked to craft a perfect gin cocktail by judge Peter Van de Reep, the Best Somm B.C. winner of 2020. That was followed by Champagne service, decanting white wine and proper tableside decanting and service of a magnum of red wine. The competitors then had to blind taste and identify three glasses: one spirit (surprise, it was shoju!), one unknown fermented beverage (surprise, it was de-alcoholized wine!) and one red wine. They also had to describe winemaking, quality and how they would sell it to a guest or consumer.
After that, Best Somm B.C. of 2022 Jayton Paul asked competitors to review a menu for a theoretical private dinner and name two perfect wine pairings, one each from Italy and B.C. Then competitors were asked to identify the subjects of 18 slides, 14 of which comprised influential people of wine, iconic wineries and other wine-based knowledge, and the other four slides were designed to spot wine list errors. Competitors only 10 seconds to identify each.
Finally, the most deceptively difficult final challenge: To blind taste just two wines—a red and a white—and describe them in full ASI Sommelier Association format, judging overall characteristics for visual appearance, aroma, taste, quality, grape variety and potential region/producer.
Once all three competitors were finished and the room took a collective sigh of relief, attendees filtered into a reception of food and wine graciously hosted by Rogers Arena and the event’s winery sponsors while the judges deliberated behind closed doors.
Finally, Jenna Briscoe, CAPS director of competitions, delivered the results to an attentive crowd. The top honour of Best Sommelier B.C. for 2024 was awarded to Ian Casterton; second place and the top taster award was given to Andrew Forsyth; and the third place to Ashley Costa Sousa.
A genuine bravo to the top three competitors as well as the pool of B.C.’s top sommeliers for continually elevating B.C.’s exceptional wine culture. Their futures are truly bright.
The gauntlet of challenges and captive audience aside, the competition’s panel of judges deserves its own nod—these are without a doubt top industry brass and well-respected members of the hospitality industry. They watched every cork-pop, swirl, pour, analysis and dialogue with discerning and experienced eyes. To say these competitors were under a microscope is an understatement.
Van Doren Chan
Peter Van de Reep
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