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Friendly rivals, 2 sommeliers in Mérida offer wines and tasting events

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Boris Olver, co-owner of The Peninsula Wine Society, pours us a sampling of whites. Photo: Cathy Quinn

By Cathy Quinn

Wine lovers in Mérida have alternatives to simply purchasing bottles in the supermarket or specialty store. We’re talking about an option that includes local expert advice and delivery directly to your door. 

How often have you used the services of a sommelier? Maybe once, or maybe not ever?

Perhaps sommeliers might seem intimidating with their hard-won and secret knowledge of wine, and wine pairing with food. You might think sommeliers are only in the restaurant to sell you an overpriced bottle of wine. Let’s take a closer look at what they can do for you. Their key function is to help you get the best wine for sipping or for matching with food. They will help you get wines in your desired price range that will complement what you are about to eat and that you’ll truly enjoy. They take the guesswork out of choosing wine.

That said, meet Boris Olvera, a chef, sommelier, and co-owner of The Peninsula Wine Society. He and his partner, Larry Le Meiux, moved themselves and their six-year-old business from San Miguel de Allende to Mérida just before the pandemic hit. They offer affordable yet excellent wines, and wine tasting events.

Similarly, meet Fernando Almazan of Sommelier Express. He was busy reconfiguring his nine-year-old business model as the pandemic hit. He’d decided to switch from training bar and restaurant professionals to a retail business model offering wine and spirit products, and wine and spirit tasting events.

Basically, these two businesses are competitors, with some real similarities, both operating in a new market and both starting during the very trying year of 2020. Both, now in 2021, have managed to get their businesses off the ground and running. 

Competitors are often wary of each other, but I think the shared food and wine passions of Boris, Larry, and Fernando allowed them to overcome at least some of the wariness. Yes, they still must compete with each other in many areas, but they are now friends, too. 

Recently Boris and Larry set up a wine tasting in their lovely air-conditioned tasting room in Mérida’s north near Galerías Mérida — and they invited Fernando along. A small group of us wine lovers signed up and gathered to learn from Boris as the lead sommelier.  Larry, as host, greeted us on arrival with charm and conviviality. Boris and Larry work together seamlessly.  

But we were surprised to see Fernando attending the Peninsula Wine Society event. He is a competitor. But really, it made sense to have them both. Their presentation styles complement each other, and so we were fortunate to get two sommeliers for the price of one.

Boris poured the first tastes. We were only tasting whites today, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, and Macabeo. Boris decided to pair the four different wines with sushi. Boris’ mission during the tasting was to teach us to “enjoy the experience” of pairing the food and wine, and this is one of the most precious lessons a person can learn from a sommelier. The mixing of wine and food offered us the experience of savoring things. So a wine tasting isn’t just drinking wine. It’s an introduction to noticing details and nuances as you savor things. You are encouraged to think and talk about the different flavors you are tasting and how the wine taste changes after the first sip, as the wines mellow once opened, and as the wine is experienced with food.

Boris loves teaching people about wine and food. He is engaging, encouraged questions, and told us not to worry about seeing “legs” in the glass. Legs are little streams of wine that cascade down the inside of the glass and seem to be one of the only things many people take away from wine tastings. His takeaway for us was learning to savor and enjoy the whole experience and forget about legs. 

As we started on our second bottle of wine, Fernando joined in with Boris telling us stories about their careers as sommeliers, funny things that happen on the job, and gave us some insight into what it is really like to be a Sommelier. It is not all glamour, wearing tuxedos and communicating with like-minded wine experts. It is more like trying to guide people to a decent food wine pairing at the table night after night. On other days, having to taste a hundred plus wines between 7 a.m. and noon to select appropriate wines for restaurants and other businesses. Like most other jobs, being a sommelier means lots of repetitive tasks, too.

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Moving along, we were on our third and then a final bottle of wine, and everyone was having a great time. My table mate accidentally knocked her glass over on me and we both thought it was hilarious. Then Fernando summed things up as only someone who has been drinking wine for a few hours can, he said, “The more you drink, the more you learn.”

Well, in Boris’s and Fernando’s cases that is true. They do know a lot about wine, about world wine regions and they also know about beer and spirits and food because they have worked hard to learn. 

Boris studied at Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and continues learning about wine and developing an appreciation for the history of wine and viticulture as he works. 

Fernando studied in Spain, first at the Tourism Enterprise Management at Complutense University in Madrid. Later he completed Sommelier training at Consejo National de Vinos in La Rioja. He also attended Midwestern State University in Texas for International Public Relations. 

While Boris and Fernando’s careers flowed differently they share many qualities. They are both bright and personable and passionate about sharing their knowledge of wine with people. Their prices seemed fair, too. 

“At Peninsula Wine Society we are happy to help you find the wine you’ll love,” said Boris. “We also can help you host a wine tasting, assist with food matching, and can even hold the event in your home.”

Fernando has trained and helped educate people to be successful working with the public in restaurants, bars, and on cruise ships, including the famous British ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2. 

“We are a small company that strives to provide fantastic products and service at very competitive prices,” Fernando said. “We have more than 600 wines and spirits from all over the world to choose from. If our guests fancy something that we don’t have, we will go out and about in search of that product.”

Reach Boris and Larry on Facebook at @PeninsulaWineSociety or peninsulaws1@gmail.com

Reach Fernando at 984-131-1503 or sommelierexpress@live.com.

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