Gatineau | 88, rue Montcalm | 819-600-7643 | soifbaravin.ca
Véronique Rivest is a star in international wine circles. Setting her sights close to home, the Outaouais native chose to leverage the prestige from a second-place finish at the 2013 World’s Best Sommelier Competition to open a wine bar in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa. Soif (thirst in French) shares key personality traits with the 120-odd bottles on its wine list: It’s lively, smart and devoid of pretension. Just what a wine bar should be in 2015.
The red-brick building is an incubator for wine appreciation. The squadron of young, bilingual servers are also trained sommeliers who know their Bourgueil from their Brouilly (Loire vs. Beaujolais). The decor – cork walls, stools that resemble champagne corks with their metal muselets, and hanging racks of polished glasses that double as chandeliers – is as playful as the cellar. In the kitchen, Gold Medal Plates winner Jamie Stunt builds clever small plates that fit Rivest’s dictum: “We like wine-friendly foods, and food-friendly wines.” The tostada dazzles, spread with house-smoked yogurt and stacked with chorizo rounds, oversize chunks of cucumber and radish, and purple peonies. And a vegetable platter assembled from chilled asparagus, blackened garlic scapes and raw, salt-dusted chard belongs in an art museum.
Thanks to the two-ounce pours (and our resilient livers), my guest and I manage to taste a dozen wines in two hours: an energetic assyrtiko from Santorini, a dense and bitter white field blend from just outside Vienna and a brambly Rhône-style red from South Africa’s Western Cape. While nurturing a new generation of oenologists, Rivest enjoys her role as host, visiting tables and overseeing a playlist that includes Beck’s “Devils Haircut.” This bubbly somm is overflowing with good taste.