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Meet the maestras: Ashleigh Smith

Mar 8, 2024  ·  6 min read

Loved by locals and travelers alike, the Canberra District wine region is home to over 140 vineyards pouring the finest drops. At the helm of some of our favourite labels are a community of women, pioneering the way for others in the industry. In a five-part series exclusive to QT Canberra, we’ll meet the maestras in the wine local industry, to learn a little more about their journey. Starting with QT Canberra’s Sommelier, Ashleigh Smith. 

 

Hi Ashleigh! We’d love to hear a bit about your experience as a Sommelier, and what made you want to get into the industry.  

I had exposure to the hospitality industry at an early age, growing up in an eco-tourism resort in Western Australia. My dad also worked for the Accor group so I also got to travel and see the sights of Australia, getting a glimpse of the hospo world. You could say I certainly developed a taste for it!  

Even though I initially explored a career in ballet, I received a scholarship at the prestigious McDonald Performing Arts College, an unfortunate back injury redirected me back to hospitality. 

I worked in various restaurants for 10 years, getting some incredible restaurant and management experience. Working at two-hatted regional restaurant, Biota, sparked my passion for fine dining and natural wines. Working with the crew in Biota I learned so much around the intricacies of the Australian wine industry, knowledge I still refer to until this day. While at Acquafresca By Pilu, part of the esteemed Pilu Group, I was exposed Sardinian wine, which was fascinating. I also had the pleasure of heading to Canada, where I joined the opening team of Smokey Bear restaurant in Edmonton. You can still catch a glimpse of me on CTV Edmonton, talking about the Australian wines from the wine list I curated. 

I kept falling in with the wine world, so I studied and received my WSET certification and International Sommelier’s Guild Advanced Wine Certification.  

When COVID-19 happened, I had planned to head back to Canada, but pivoted and used the time to setup my own business, Crazy Wine Lady.  With my adoration and passion, I freelance with restaurants to help the curate incredible wine lists, to each unique brief. 

In 2022, I joined the QT Canberra team, and it’s been amazing. In just a few years I’ve worked with the team to develop a strong (and delicious) wine list that’s been recognised with 3 Goblets at the Australian Wine List of the Year Awards 2023 and Best Wine List at the 2023 AHA Awards. 

  

Wow, what incredible achievements! We’re really excited for the upcoming Uncorked event. Can you share what guests can expect and the wines being showcased? 

Uncorked is going to be a wine experience like no other. I’m thrilled to guide our guests through a journey of flavours and stories. The three-course feast held in Capitol Bar & Grill will be paired with outstanding wines crafted by four remarkable Canberran women in the industry. 

First served will be the 2022 Sparkling Riesling from Four Winds Vineyard, a refreshing, bursting drop with citrus and stone fruit flavours. This will be paired with an amuse-bouche to kick off the evening. We’ll next dive into the 2023 Fiori from Sapling Yard Vineyard, which is a beautiful, aromatic blend showcasing notes of white flowers, orchard fruits, and zesty lime. 

Then onto some bigger flavours, with the bold and adventurous Intrepidus Vineyard 2023 Nero D’Avola. This is a wine with a story as captivating as its taste. I can’t wait for Chrissie to share with us how as a busy, single mother of three she has taken the wine world by storm. Last year Chrissie won Young Gun of Wine, how incredible. 

Last but not least, we will be serving the enchanting 2022 Collector “Golden Mean” Late Harvest Riesling,  a sweet treat with notes of white flowers and grapefruit. 

To say I’m excited us an understatement! I can’t wait to stand alongside our community of female leaders in the space and present a selection of wine near and dear to us this International Women’s Day. 

 

Now that we are moving into Autumn, what are some of your top drops to try? 

I have three hero drops that we’ll be serving in Capitol Bar & Grill this Autumn:

  

MADA Wines – Canberra District Wine: 2022 Pétillant Naturel 

Let’s kick off with my top pick for the season, MADA Wines’ 2022 Pétillant Naturel. It’s like capturing the essence of autumn in a bottle. It transports you to a moment of wandering through the vineyards of Canberra District wine region, the falling leaves crunching underfoot, and the sun still warming your back… 

It’s a burst of lemon sherbet, followed by the crispness of fresh apple and pear, all wrapped up in a cosy toasty finish. This bubbly blend is versatile enough to pair with a variety of dishes. Whether you’re enjoying it solo or sharing it with friends, MADA’s Pétillant Naturel is my pick, for embracing autumn while still savouring the last bits of summer. 

 

Unico Zelo Truffle Hound Nebbiolo Barbera – Adelaide Hills: 2022 

This is my absolute go-to for when you’re snuggled up on the couch, ready to unwind after a long day. You pop open a bottle of Truffle Hound and suddenly, you’re transported to the hills of Northern Italy. It offers a touch of that Aussie charm that you’ll find in the Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley. This blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, and Merlot, a real symphony of flavours that’s too good to resist. With its savory kick and smoky, amaro-like notes, it’s the perfect drop. 

Unicozelo

 

Dawning Day Farms – Southern Highlands NSW: 2022 “Added MSG” 

My winter essential, the Dawning Day Farms’ 2022 “Added MSG” is the perfect companion for those outdoor fire pit gatherings or cosying up in Capitol Bar. It’s like a liquid embrace, with rich dark chocolate, mocha intertwining with juicy cherry and raspberry. This wine is tailor-made for pairing with hearty dishes. 

Dawning Day

 

Ready to take a sip? Join us at Uncorked or make your booking at Capitol Bar & Grill today.


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