Air Canada hires Gatineau sommelier to pair wines at 30,000 feet

Véronique Rivest, a world renowned, Quebec-based Sommelier and owner of Soif wine bar in Gatineau, is Air Canada's new sommelier.

New wine list coming to business class in April

In 2013, Quebec's Véronique Rivest placed second at a worldwide sommelier competition held in Tokyo, Japan. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP)

World-renowned sommelier Véronique Rivest is rising to new heights — from her Gatineau wine bar to 30,000 feet in the sky.

The owner of Soif is Air Canada's new sommelier, tasked with pairing wine with food in the sky.

"That's something I'm looking forward to test a bit more," she said Monday on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"You're obviously in a different environment — in a cabin up in the air, there's the altitude but I think there's, especially, the very dry environment of the cabin, which is said to really reduce our perception of fruitiness in wine and accentuate acidity and tannin."

Naturally, she said the interview process was part talk, part presentation.

"They gave us some dishes that we had to match with wines," she said.

Rivest said her preference is for well-balanced wines — not too acidic or too sweet — as well as "wines that are made organically or at least with a great respect for the enviromnent."

A 2015 study by a Cornell University food scientist suggested that the loud noises on airplanes can have an effect on taste buds — suppressing sweet flavours while enhancing savoury ones. That's why some people claim tomato juice tastes better in the air, including Rivest.

"I drink tomato juice almost only in the air," she said. "Your environment influences your tasting no matter where you are. I often say, half jokingly, that you can have the best wine in the world [but] if you're with someone you really don't like, it's going to taste a little bland."

Listen to the full Ottawa Morning interview here.

Rivest has made her first selection for the airline, which will start being served in business class in April, but she has yet to actually taste the wine in the air. 

"I'll have a chance to try them in the air as of April, and I'm really looking forward to that to see how different [they are]," she said.

There are five wines: two whites and three reds.

"The direction so far has been: five different countries, five different grapes," she said.

The wines are:

  • Vineland Estates Winery white wine from Ontario's Niagara region. 
  • Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
  • Les Athlètes du Vin, a French Pinot Noir.
  • Sangiovese from the Chianti region in Tuscany, Italy.
  • Full bodied-red from Priorat in Spain.

The wine list is expected to change every three months, she said. It is pair by menu items developed by award-winning B.C. chef  David Hawksworth.