Mike Roberts, Calgary Co-op’s sommelier coordinator, tells us about the bottle of wine he’s saving for a special occasion.

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

“Wine calls to me in my sleep. I look for any reason to open up every special bottle of wine that I’ve ever had,” says Calgary Co-op sommelier coordinator team lead, Mike Roberts.

Working in restaurants since he was fourteen years old, Roberts started at McDonald’s, then a ski resort in Banff, followed by over five years at Chateau Lake Louise. His parents often drank wine at dinner, but “it was never very good wine”, he says. “I can remember as a child tasting wine, but it was in Lake Louise that I really discovered wine.”

A staff training using smell-kits blew Robert’s mind, “I totally got hooked,” he says. “I had a little wine rack in my closet and started storing wine. I’ll always remember that staff training, it got me into wine, for sure.”

He moved to Calgary and took a job at Vintage Group, who had an instructor running ISG courses just for their restaurants, and took levels 1 and 2 back to back. “I finished level 3 and got my diploma, but that’s only the beginning,” says Roberts. “I’ve realised how little I actually know, so I’m now doing WSET level 4 online. I’ve bought myself stacks of textbooks. There’s lots of learning to do.”

Roberts gave up in restaurants in 2011. He had small kids, “And I wanted to put them to bed, rather than putting a restaurant to bed,” he says. On his course, he had met people who worked for the Co-op and had been watching their website to look for sommelier postings, until one came up and he was accepted.

So what bottle is Roberts is saving for a special occasion?

‘Funkadelic Syrah 2010’ is from Sleight of Hand Cellars, a small production winery in Walla Walla, Washington. The grapes are from ‘The Funk vineyard’ and are foot-crushed; only six barrels (145 cases) were produced.

“I chose it because we all know what to expect if you lay down a bottle of Bordeaux, vintage Champagne or Barolo. For me I’m very curious about how it will age being a new world syrah,” Roberts explains. “Most people don’t think of new world wines as something that you can age but I’ve tasted it before and I think it’s going to age really well. I think it will be beautiful seven or eight years from now, it might drink like a Côte Rotie.”

The big thing for Roberts is the label, as he is a big music fan. “The winemaker is all about music too, he has 6,000 records. I often relate wine to music; it’s an analogy that I use to explain different wine styles, so I feel attached to the wine. If I was pairing it with music, I’d have to say it would be Jimi Hendrix blues.”

And when might Roberts open the wine?

“I’m a terrible sommelier, I’m totally undisciplined. If guests come over I can’t help it, I know curiosity killed the cat but I open them and share them. I want to wait and see until this wine is ten years old, but I don’t know if I have that type of discipline. Maybe I can get tickets to a good concert and open it for that. I want to wait till it has matured.”

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