Star Sommelier Reveals Wine Pairing Secrets

Star Sommelier Reveals Wine Pairing Secrets


Here’s my second profile of a star Ottawa sommelier from the current issue of Ottawa Magazine, the sister publication of Toronto Life. You can read about the first sommelier, Grayson McDermid here.


Janet Fraser
Allium Restaurant
87 Holland Avenue

What made you decide to become a sommelier?

I was lucky enough to get a job bartending two nights a week at Beckta Dining and Wine in 2005. I always had a great passion for wine and food. I realized quickly that I was completely out of my comfort zone and how much I wanted and needed to learn.

Did you get special training or education to do so?

I signed up for the Sommelier program at Algonquin College with my good friend and co-worker Kristy Getts. I took the compressed course and graduated in June 2006. I am currently looking at signing up for the sommelier advanced course offered at the Vendage Institute, again with my friend Kristy. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to know!

How long have you worked as a sommelier?

About 3 years now.

What do you enjoy most about being a sommelier?

I enjoy tasting wines on a regular basis, working closely with the winery sales representatives and continually improving my wine list. Most of all, I love sharing my passion and information with the staff. It’s very encouraging to me when I introduce a new wine, get them to taste it, we talk about it and suddenly they’re selling it with confidence.  This is so gratifying and makes me feel so proud.


Pinot Grigio.


What difference does it make to a restaurant to have a sommelier?

Having someone who loves wine and can encourage the staff and give them confidence by talking about wine is very beneficial to everyone including the guests.  It’s also great to have a go-to person who knows the list intimately.

Tell me about the most memorable customer you’ve served?

It was 2006 when I worked at Beckta.  I was serving the National Capital Sommelier Guild in the private dining room. There were at least twenty members present.  The theme of their dinner was Champagne.  It was a bring-your-own-bottle dinner, but it was up to me to open every bottle and taste them. I was very busy and must have missed tasting a bottle. Of course, with my luck it was corked. I managed to top up almost every single glass in the room with corked Champagne. This was also the night that James Bertrand introduced me and let everyone know that I had won a National Capital Sommelier Guild scholarship.  This was a great lesson in humility.

What are the best food and wine pairings you’ve ever had?

For me, texture and acidity are the huge deciding factors, but I also love contrast. Foie gras au torchon with Cave Spring special select late harvest Riesling. Seared scallops with Thirty Bench Riesling from Niagara.

What’s the worst food and wine pairing you’ve had?

Seared big-eye tuna with Gruner Veltliner.  It caused a metallic reaction in mouth that was worse than a fork to a filling.

How is Ottawa’s wine scene changing?

It seems like more restaurants are into wine, pouring at the table, interesting varietals, more by the glass, house wine isn’t cool anymore.

What do you notice about Ottawa diners in particular when it comes to wine?

They are actually asking for wines by varietals, asking questions and looking for recommendations.

Which wines are most popular these days?

Pinot Grigio or Shiraz for the guest who’s less into wine. It’s hard to say really because we make recommendations with every dish and like to talk about wine so it seems to me like the meeker guests are becoming a little braver and trying our suggestions.

How is being a sommelier in Ottawa different from being one in Toronto or New York?

Ottawa’s definitely more conservative in pricing, so sales alone would make a difference. I would think my wine list would have a lot more big titles and prices in the bigger cities.

What tips would you give to diners on choosing wine from a restaurant list?

Ask your server what he or she is enthusiastic about.  Don’t choose the least or the most expensive, stay mid range.




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