Vancouver’s sensational sommeliers

Keep your glass topped with some of the city’s top wine pros

Vancouver's top sommeliers (left to right): Lisa Haley, Jesse Walters, Bryant Mao, Jill Spoor and Jason Yamasaki | Photo: ViranllyLiemena / Allison Kuhl / Contributed

Dining out in Vancouver has never been better. We are spoiled for choice of great restaurants serving every type of cuisine imaginable. What really impresses me, though, is the critical mass of the top-notch wine pros who are managing lists and keeping my glass topped up. Here's just a few of the who's who that should be on your radar and why.

Hawksworth wine director Bryant Mao is one of the pillars of the industry and has received many deserving accolades. His service is impeccable and knowledge vast. Despite an affable personality, he lets the wine take the spotlight rather than stealing it for himself. He also gives due credit and opportunity to his fine sommelier team. And Mao always makes sure I have my glass of Champagne within seconds of sitting down.

Jesse Walters is the sommelier at Burdock & Co., which won a Platinum Award for Wine Program Excellence at the Vancouver Intentional Wine Festival this year. The wine list is tiny and focuses exclusively on natural wines. But it’s not just about the selections; it's also about how they are presented. Walters is 100 per cent passion and enthusiasm, zero per cent pretention. He wholeheartedly embraces the list’s philosophy and gives context to each of the wines. It is absolutely impossible not to feel charmed and comfortable in Walters' presence.

As group sommelier for the Joey Restaurant Group, Jason Yamasaki is on fire. After being named Best Sommelier of B.C. in 2015 he continues to challenge himself in wine competitions while mentoring others. He was recently named Chianti Classico Ambassador for British Columbia after coming out on top in a blind tasting and oral exam. Besides his eloquence, ability and understanding of the wines and the region, it was his humility that impressed the jury.

Being a sommelier isn’t limited to picking cool wines and putting on a dazzling show. Behind the scenes, managing a list is a balancing act with a whole host of challenges. One of them is maneuvering the distribution system to get wine into a restaurant, particularly problematic as of late. Rather than simply griping about it, L’Abattoir wine director Lisa Haley is addressing the issue head on by presenting it directly to Todd Cooper, executive director of the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. She's rallying the troops and encouraging her colleagues to formulate their complaints as well. Her efforts aren’t just for her restaurant but the industry as a whole.

For Jill Spoor, wine director of Botanist at the Pacific Rim, giving back meant collaborating on a wine that was released this year. Crafted with the team at Okanagan Crush Pad, it’s called Terroir and is a fragrant white blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Sales proceeds go to the BC Hospitality Foundation for their scholarship program geared at industry professionals looking to pursue higher level wine education certification. You can try Jill Spoor’s Terroir by the glass at Botanist.

And the list could certainly go on. It is a great pleasure getting to know Vancouver’s super somms over a glass at their various establishments. Best of all is the palpable camaraderie – rather than rivalry – that exists between them.

Westender