Russia isn't generally known for breeding wine connoisseurs, but Russian-born Andrey Ivanov is making sure St. Louis is.
The 27-year-old general manager and beverage director of Elaia and Olio (1634 Tower Grove Avenue; 314-932-1088) is the Midwest Regional Winner in the national "2013 Best Young Sommelier" competition sponsored by The Société Mondiale du Vin USA, the wine division of the international food and wine organization, Confrérié de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
The competition is divided by region into Northeast, Southwest, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Pacific Northwest, Far West, South Central, Hawaii/Pacific and Midwest. Ivanov competed in Kansas City on March 11 against Eric Faber from Cincinnati and Michael Scherzberg from Kansas City. The first round of the competition took place in December and involved a written test. Now that Ivanov has won the second round, he will compete against eight other American sommeliers for the title on May 4 in Sonoma, California.
Ivanov moved to the U.S. with his parents in 1992 and settled in St. Louis. After receiving his degree in international business and Russian studies from St. Louis University in 1997, Ivanov decided the corporate sales world wasn't for him, so he returned to the food and beverage industry.
In 2011, Ivanov passed the demanding test to become an Advanced Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers. He served as sommelier for 33 Wine Shop and Tasting Bar, Brasserie by Niche and Vin de Set Rooftop Bar & Bistro before going to work at Elaia & Olio.
In a press release from Confrérié de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, Ivanov discussed his career in wine saying, "For me, it ties together everything I have ever been interested in studying. It blends together history, geography, sociology, biology, chemistry, food and many other disciplines and adds the ability to converse with a wide variety of people -- usually when they're in a celebratory mood. The wine industry opens doors to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world, and to experience some of the best dining experiences available today. It is the perfect career path in my opinion."
Ivanov also comments on how he believes consumers are going back to old-world wines with subtlety of flavor as opposed to "fruit bombs." He also praises St. Louis as a "progressive and supportive environment" for sommeliers.
"It's a lot of fun," Ivanov says of the contest. "If you are not having fun while doing this, you shouldn't be in a competition."
The national winner of the Société Mondiale du Vin USA "2013 Best Young Sommelier" award will represent the U.S. in the international competition on October 18 in Washington, D.C. The American contestant has won gold the last two years.
Best of luck to Andrey Ivanov! Show the world that the Midwest does indeed know a thing or two about wine -- even the kind that doesn't come in a box.