There was some seriously hot competition at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena this week. And it wasn’t on the ice. CAPS BC (more lengthily known as the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, BC Chapter) held its annual competition to determine the best sommelier in the province.

Vying for top honours were Sean Nelson of Vij’s Restaurant (Vancouver), Shane Taylor of CinCin (Vancouver) and Alistair Veen from Tap Restaurant (Surrey).

This is one of the most arduous contests on the circuit. Somms have to successfully identify wines poured blind; suggest appropriate wine and food pairings; execute correct table service, including opening and pouring; and identify errors on wine lists, among other tasks.

If it sounds easy, it’s not. This is a high pressure event, with previous winners and the contestants’ peers choosing the questions and generally setting the bar very high indeed. Even the blind wines chosen were kept secret from everyone—even after the fact.

The competition was so fierce that when the scores were in, only one point separated first and second places, said CAPS BC President Michelle Bouffard. The judges deliberated long and hard, meaning that the Joey’s Wine Room after party stretched well into a couple of hours, which didn’t seem to bother anyone particularly.

The big winner turned out to be Alistair Veen—a major coup not only for him but also for Surrey, as few Vancouver food and wine ‘insiders’ were aware of Alistair or his restaurant—until now.

However, says CAPS’ DJ Kearney: “To those who taste, study, and practice in the sommelier competition arena, Alistair Veen’s triumphant victory was no surprise.  He’s part of a close circle of dedicated tasters.”

And he’s a chef… Sommelier chefs are a rare breed. In Vancouver (and Surrey…) you’ll find Vikram Vij and Dino Renaerts; and in in Kelowna, Mark Filatow of Waterfront Bistro. I believe they’re the only BC chefs to be ISG (International Sommelier Guild) certified.  Dino was the first Chef in Canada to earn his certification with ISG, in 1999.

The other major force (although I’m not sure what his credentials are, but he doesn’t need any) is Pino Posteraro. If you’ve been to a Cioppino’s wine dinner you’ll know what I mean.

Veen goes on to represent BC at the CAPS national contest—which next year will be held in Vancouver.

Kearney sums it up:

“Alistair Veen’s triumph reminds us about the true spirit of competition – a level playing field where anyone can compete and win. It’s less about reputation (of restaurant, wine program, accomplishments) but what you bring to the table in a given moment, on a given day.  Alistair won the day with service flair, theory scholarship, tasting proficiency  and intuitive, mouthwatering food and wine pairings. ”

“Let’s all go and experience his sommelier arts at….  who knew: Tap Restaurant in South Surrey,” says DJ.
Here’s a nice clip about Alistair and what he’s doing at Tap, courtesy of …

CAPS only got off the ground in BC a couple of years ago. They’re a powerhouse group of people, who are certainly carrying out their stated goals…

The CAPS-BC Mission Statement:

•           To raise awareness of the Sommelier profession and its value in the hospitality industry and to the general public.

•           To enhance the role of the Sommelier and promote the culture of wine through instruction, competition, accreditation, and events.

To provide a professional forum to encourage community, networking, and education for our members.