It was a full day at Somm360’s Toronto Bootcamp, with around 50 enthusiastic Sommeliers taking a day off at Toronto’s Artscape Sandbox on Adelaide to taste and learn together with their peers.

Somm360’s ever-ebullient Vincent Lafortune began proceeding by explaining the organisation’s mission statement of “A platform for every Sommelier seeking perfection through continuous education and training for competition.”

The one and only Willi Klinger of Austrian Wine fame spoke to the audience at length about his experience of marketing Austrian wines before taking the room through a fascinating tasting of Austria’s top grapes (Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, Bläufrankisch, as well as a delightful sweet wine). The wines were seriously top notch bottlings, and great examples of Austrian wines. Willi was also there to introduce his successor as Managing Director of Austrian Wines, Chris Yorke.

Without any warning I was called to the stage to tell a little story about Willi Klinger’s extra-curricular adventures into Rock & Roll singing… something I have always been so very impressed with. I’ll never forget the very first time I witnessed him in action in Vienna. He is really quite something.

GFR Old Bastard Sommelier Veronique Rivest took to the stage twice over the course of the day. Her first performance was to guide the room through a tasting of wines from the Médoc. From some simpler (but solid) examples to some wines that were a bit more special without seriously breaking the bank, it was a pretty good line up. I’m just glad that when tasting blind I was immediately drawn to the Second Growth Durfort Vivens, which has been a favourite of mine for almost three decades. Of all the wines in this session, it was showing extremely well, even in its relative youth.

That’s Life Gourmet’s Mariko Tanjeri took us through a session exploring the world of different sake yeasts, a topic that I believe few in the room had much knowledge of. The lineup of four sakes perfectly captured the nuances that different yeasts and processes brought to the final wine. I learned a hell of a lot from this part of the day’s proceedings, and was reminded that I must keep up on my sake knowledge.

After a quick boxed lunch we were back into the tasting, with an intense forced-participation blind tasting of a selection of Bordeaux wines. Many of the young Somms present really lapped it up, loving being put on the spot in this manner in front of their fellow Somms. Me? I hid in the shadows at the very back… perhaps I’m just not that confident of my blind tasting skills these days.

John Szabo MS led us through a superb study of Vinho Verde, with some lovely examples of varying styles in the lineup. I was just sad that we didn’t have a chance to taste any of those delectable lighter reds from the region, a particular favourite of mine over the past year or so. GFR’s Malcolm Jolley is just about to head off to Vinho Verde, so expect many a write-up about these wines very soon.

Veronique Rivest was back on stage again, this time taking us on a “deep dive” into the much-misunderstood Ribera del Duero. Her wit and charm simply shone through during this session, as she is such a natural educator. Despite fighting a heavy Scottish cold, I soldiered through these wines and found the session a most satisfying and to the day’s studies. At this point I had to head off in order to pick up our son from school, but most stayed on for a post-symposium tasting of wines presented by Coravin. What a terrific day!


Check out Somm360’s website for more details of upcoming events.

Jamie Drummond

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And that was an extremely well-organised symposium. Great stuff!