Vancouver played host to the finals of the Master of Port Canada 2022 contest, a contest that challenged Canada’s top sommeliers to test their knowledge of Port, the famous fortified wines of the Douro Valley. This was only the second time Canada had hosted the prestigious competition. Organized by the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto) in coordination with CAPS (the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers), the Vancouver finale marked the end of a long journey for the competitors. Last year, a qualification round was held via online testing, with sommeliers from across Canada, vying to earn the right to qualify for the semi-final round held this past June in Porto. The test required competitors, more than 75 of them, to answer numerous questions on Port production and viticulture in a time pressured online, monitored testing environment. Ten sommeliers, two each from CAPS’ then five (an Alberta chapter was recently added) chapters were whisked to Porto and the heart of Douro Valley for hands on instruction before being tested by members of the IVDP.
In Portugal, the ten competitors were given hands on learning experiences before being put to the test. Of the experience in Portugal, Caroline LeBlanc, CAPS National Vice-President, and President of ACSP (the Québec chapter of CAPS) who attended the week on CAPS’ behalf says “the Douro and Porto are truly spectacular, and revered, wine regions. Having our top sommeliers there to learn about this iconic region, from the people that actively work the land, and passionately craft the wines, was an experience none will forget, and I am sure they will translate this passion and understanding to their colleagues and guests.”
The final five including two West Coast sommeliers, Leagh Barkley who recently took the position of Manager of the Prestigious Vancouver Club’s restaurants and a runner-up in the previous Master of Port Canada contest, and Justin Isidro, sommelier, consultant and now General Manager of Vancouver’s Kiss Tanto. Joining the hometown favourites were Nathan Hooper, an Ontario-based sommelier whose dramatic rise in Ontario sommelier circles has been swift. Hooper, who previously worked in Niagara, now works with Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner at Toronto’s Somm Factory and Grand Cru Deli. Alexandre Fortin, like Hooper, has risen to the top early in his career. The 8-year veteran of Québec’s restaurant scene received his sommelier designation in 2018 and is currently near completion of his Advanced Sommelier certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Rounding out the top five was Lesley Quinn, a former Best Sommelier of Atlantic Canada, and owner of Stellar Somm, a Prince Edward Island-based wine consultancy business.
Last month, the five semi-finalists gathered in Vancouver for two days of competition. On the other side of the judging table Manuel Lima Ferreira, Head of the Tasting Chamber at the Port and Douro Wines Institute, was joined by Paolo Russell Pinot, a wine educator with the IVDP, Gabrielle Plastre, the reigning 2019 Master of Port Canada champion, and well-known West Coast wine educator, DJ Kearney.
After the first day’s competition, the final three, who would compete for the title, were announced. To few people’s surprise, Leagh Barkley was announced as one of the three finalists along with Hooper and Fortin, both of whom were competing in the contest for the first time. While Fortin and Hooper performed exceptionally in the final round, Barkley was announced as the winner at a gala dinner, fittingly held at The Vancouver Club, where Barkley now works. Of the event, CAPS National President Domer Rafael says “the ongoing relationship CAPS has with the IVDP, and the Port producers, is only getting stronger, year by year. While this event crowns one deserving winner, all sommeliers benefit from the opportunity to learn, compete and challenge themselves to be the best they can be. Leagh (Barkley) is such a worthy champion. His commitment to his craft, and willingness to share his knowledge with others, is an inspiration for all sommeliers, and those wishing to enter the field.’
CAPS would like to thank the IVDP, its Port producer partners, and The Vancouver Club for its generous support of the sommelier profession in Canada.