MEET NEW ZEALAND’S SOMMELIER OF THE YEAR
“I’ve always been most satisfied when providing service to the customer, giving them what they need.”
The tale that Canadian Angela Allan tells of how she came to be in Aotearoa New Zealand will be familiar to many. As a young traveller looking to explore the world, you take the option of venturing first to an Englishspeaking Commonwealth country where it is comparatively easy to obtain a working holiday visa. Once you’ve arrived, you do the backpacker thing, use your fellowtraveller network, make it known you are ready and willing to do any job and, hey presto, your beer budget begins to look much healthier. Up until recently this has been a reasonably common pathway.
Decidedly less common is a journey that, 10 years later, results in you being crowned 2023 New Zealand Sommelier of the Year.
There is plenty that is unexpected about Angela Allan. For starters, it is art and music rather than sauvignon and pinot that are her greatest passions. “I am a bit of a romantic. I love things of beauty, long walks on the beach, making people happy.
“One of the art genres I like most is surrealism. Another is post modernism. But my current favourite is abstract art. I guess in some ways this might be because I am captured by its antithesis of the formality and ritual of the wine world I currently inhabit.”
So why New Zealand, other than finding a partner here? “I love New Zealand. It’s fab. But while New Zealand was not, in the beginning at least, a conscious choice as the country where I wanted to spend the rest of my life, it didn’t take me long to realise there is plenty to admire about the place.
“Food has my heart and I find the food culture here fascinating. For example, as an outsider looking in, I see strong links between food and drink and the way indigenous cultures celebrate. Another thing I particularly enjoy is the seasonality and how we deal with the restrictions the seasons place on things like ingredient availability and the compromises it forces us to make. Back in Canada we can, of course, get anything at any time but here it feels like much more care has to be taken and so much more care is delivered.”
Care of others and delivery of what people want are concepts that liberally pepper any conversation with Angela. “I’ve always been most satisfied when providing service to the customer, giving them what they need. My love of food and cooking, and the idea of feeding people magical creations, took me into kitchens at first, including a two-year stint in the kitchen at Mekong Baby on Ponsonby Rd.
“But I found kitchens to be kind of brutal so I switched to front of house and immediately found what I was looking for. I’m naturally interested in people and found I could connect food and people in a different, more satisfying way. On the floor I relished the opportunity to observe their experiences and look for ways to enhance that. That in turn led my drive to increase my drinks knowledge so that I was of more value to the guest.”
It’s been just over 10 years since Angela arrived in New Zealand and in that time she has climbed high on the ladder of professional recognition. In 2019 she completed her Court of Master Sommeliers certification qualifying in both wine and spirits, and in 2021 she completed the Certificate in Professional Wine Knowledge at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine. In 2022 Angela represented New Zealand at the ASI Association of Sommeliers International Training Bootcamp in Malaysia and in February 2023 she was a volunteer at the ASI World Best Sommelier Competition in Paris. It was also in 2023 she was named Sommelier of the Year.
Angela is now head sommelier at Mexicaninspired wine and mezcal bar La Fuente in Auckland’s CBD, but La Fuente is not her first wine gig. She has also completed stints at Culprit, and Oyster & Chop among others. But this is a role she says she finds “challenging and, for the moment, all consuming”. For the time being that limits her indulgence of another of her passions – travelling into New Zealand wine regions to drink in the local knowledge she finds there .@ there is a so mm in here
Slick & Sassy Media Ltd