2023 Competition

Young Sommeliers Competition

March 25 & April 1, 2023

Llyn Strelau, Vice-Echanson
Ashley, Vice Chargée de Presse

The 2023 Young Sommelier Competition was held at the Ranchmen’s Club in two segments: March 25 and April 1. The prizes they competed for are:

  • The title of Alberta’s best Young Sommelier
  • The Roger Baekeland memorial Award to be displayed in their place of work for one year.
  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd place medals
  • $1750.00 in prize money
  • A set of 6 Chef & Sommelier wine glasses generously donated by our sponsor Canvas Tabletop and Equipment.

The candidates for the competition were required to be between 21 and 26 years of age to participate. This does limit the number of potential competitors, especially this year, given the aftermath of the pandemic in the hospitality industry worldwide and particularly here in Alberta.

We were very pleased to have three young people enthusiastically (and bravely) come forward to participate!

  • Elijah Chilton (Kensington Wine and Spirits)
  • Dallis Jossa (Student)
  • Marianna Pirhalova (The Guild)

The initial written test is extremely difficult and requires a large breadth of wine, viticulture, and spirits knowledge.

After the test was written we invited our competitors to begin preparations for the Service & Blind Tasting portions of the competition held on April 1.

This year we decided to augment the service segments of the competition with an educational component for both our candidates and our judges. Peter Smolarz, (a previous winner of the Jeunes Sommeliers Competition who went on to compete internationally in Australia), graciously volunteered to present demonstrations of professional Champagne service and the decanting/service of a mature red wine.

The candidates were given 12 minutes to complete each of the three service components (decanting, Champagne service and menu pairing). The dining room was set up with three guest tables simulating a realistic dining room situation and the judges provided scenarios to provide further interest and challenge.

  1. The champagne service test is meant to allow each competitor to display professional sparkling wine service. This challenges each of them to master the fine details required for opening, presenting and then serving Champagne to restaurant guests. Competitors were also quizzed on details relating to Champagne during their sessions. This year’s Champagne service test was once more sponsored by the house of Taittinger Champagne much to the delight of the judges.
  1. Red wine service and decanting is performed in the traditional method using a wine cradle, gueridon (a rolling side table) and candle. This is something not often seen in Calgary and requires the competitors to practice on their own prior to the competition. Not only is the competitor meant to flawlessly execute the decanting and service of the red wine tableside they are again subjected to multiple questions about the wine from the table guests, making this one of the more challenging parts of the competition.
  1. The menu pairing allows the competitors to exhibit both their wine knowledge and their appreciation of food and cheese. In the dining room setting they were asked to suggest specific wine pairings to suit the guest’s chosen menu (designed by Chef Graham Smith of the Malcolm Hotel, Canmore). In this segment we really see the competitors’ ability to understand client needs and the occasion blended with smart wine choices that would result in repeat business for their establishment. Being a sommelier is not just about wine expertise it is also about the business of customer service and sales. Our two judges engaged the candidates in discussion about their suggestions to offer further challenges.
  1. The final component of the practical exam was a blind tasting of four wines (two red, one white and one fortified) led by Peter Smolarz and Linda Robinson, our Vice-Chancelier and president of Pacific Wine and Spirits. Each competitor was given 15 minutes to blind taste the wines using the Court of Master Sommeliers deductive tasting method.

In the end we tallied up the scores from all five parts of our competition to determine the winner – written test, champagne service test, menu pairing test, red wine decanting & service test and blind tasting test.

1st Place: Marianna Pirhalova
Roger Baekleland Memorial Award, First place Medal, $1000.00 cash and set of wine glasses.

2nd Place: Dallis Jossa
Second Place Medal and $500.00 cash and set of wine glasses.

3rd Place Elijah Chilton
Third Place Medal, $250.00 cash and set of wine glasses.

Congratulations to our three competitors and grateful farewell to Marianna and Dallis who will unfortunately be past the age of participation with Elijah Chilton still eligible (by his age) to compete again next year. We hope to see him return to challenge a new slate of Young Sommeliers and potentially go further!

2024, will be a VERY exciting year! In addition to our Regional competition, Calgary is hosting the International Jeunes Sommelier Competition together with the Bailliage of the Okanagan. We look forward to welcoming candidates from around the world and sharing BC’s wine region and Calgary’s hospitality! We hope to include participation from competitors from this year and previous years competitions to assist with the event next year.

Finally, a huge debt of thanks is owed to our Sponsors and Judges:

  • General Manage Will Trow and the Ranchmen’s Club for their very generous host for the event.
  • Wine sponsors Taittinger Champagne, Willow Park Wines and Niche Market Imports.

Our Judges for their generosity and enthusiasm:

  • Toni-Marie Ion-Brown
  • Samuel Hayes
  • Robert Kulhawy
  • Edward Marran
  • Mel Miners
  • Peggy Perry
  • Linda Robinson
  • Joseph Scorgie
  • Peter Smolarz
  • Chef Graham Smith
  • Llyn Strelau
  • Will Trow