In the second of an sixteenth (and wildly popular) series, we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario (and occasionally from further afield as is the case this month). A few years back I was flicking through the pages of a locally published periodical and noticed that when it came to Sommeliers it was the same names that seemed to pop up over and over again. I was also becoming gradually cognisant of the fact that we more established wine folks were well and truly “losing our edge” to these young blood Sommeliers. Being well aware of the depth of new talent that was out there I finally decided to get together with a couple of fellow Toronto Sommelier “Old Guard” (Anton Potvin and Peter Boyd) to assemble a line of questioning that would give us an entertaining insight into the minds of these rising stars.
Usually when I receive an email where someone suggests that I should interview them for the Young Blood Sommelier series I immediately hit delete.
I made a notable exception for this month’s interviewee.
Jeff Osborne is the classic overachiever, and is a young gentleman who possesses an enviable amount of both drive and shameless audacity (in equal amounts), so much so that I simply had to include him in this series.
I’m certain that you’ll see what I mean via the following words and pictures…
Good Food Revolution: So Jeff, just what is it that you are doing these days… I know you are a busy guy, so I am intrigued how you juggle all this stuff?
Jeff Osborne: Ohh, so many things… Well primarily I manage a small sales force as the Regional Sales Manager for Grape Brands Ltd. (a premium and ultra-premium wine import agency) and am the membership Manager and sommelier for the Charlie’s Burgers Wine Program. I also work as a Sommelier at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa as well as occasionally working as a Sommelier at Celeb [sic] Chef Corbin Tomaszeski’s intimate Savoury Restaurant. Further, I am co-creator of Grape Vines documentaries which will feature the struggles and triumphs of top international winemakers.
GFR: And what kind of experience and training did you have before doing what you do today?
JO: Wine training wise, too much money and hours in class. I’m a certified sommelier with CMS, WSET Certified “with Distinction”, SWE Certified Specialist of Wine, a Canadian Wine Scholar, and am currently enrolled in a winemaking course at Niagara college (as if I have the time) and am approved to write the VIA Italian Wine Ambassador exam at VinItaly next year. On the experience end, I have worked in food and beverage management within resorts, hotels, and private clubs within four countries, and both Vancouver and Toronto within Canada, ultimately opting to focus exclusively on wine.
GFR: How would you describe your role at Langdon Hall? As they have quite a few sommeliers working there, right?
JO: Yes indeed, there is quite the hierarchy. There is a Wine Director, Head Sommelier, and three Sommeliers, and, well, basically a warehouse of wine. We work on a full points system and literally just execute wine service within our section (really the ideal Sommelier situation). Three to four of us on the floor at any time, and quite simply we help the guests navigate our list, educate, and serve. With some rather knowledgeable and experienced guests we need to be on the ball with producer, vintage, and regional knowledge at any given time (or be honest, when we are out of our scope and check with another member of the team). The tasting menu is really the draw at the Hall, and Faye (Wine Director) has an extraordinary talent for food and wine pairing, and isn’t afraid to go drastically esoteric.
GFR: You have worked in a number different types of places… how does Langdon Hall compare? Tell us a little about the place for those who are unfamiliar…
JO: Langdon Hall is very much a high end Country House Hotel. and the restaurant is old world or old school class. The highlight is really the food (I mean, and the wine) but really the food. Chef Bangerter really pushes the envelope and provides both dishes and table side (or non table side – you’ll have to visit to see what I mean) experiences that go beyond anything I have seen in Toronto as of late. And in the last year and a half I have seen truly impressive progression and ambition with the tasting menu. See photo, Tuna amuse for 2 served on a Tuna Skeleton which is the perfect length to sit across a two top table. One benefit of Langdon is being away from Toronto, and not getting stuck in the Toronto sameness that tends to occur.
GFR: How open do you find the clientele to trying new things when it comes to wines? Is there a specific style of wine that the demographic crave? And just what is that demographic?
JO: I think those that opt for the tasting menu are truly excited and enjoy the exposure to new wines, but when it comes to selecting something esoteric off the list, unless they are experienced wine people, they are typically not so bold. There is a large demand for high end Burgundy at Langdon, and luckily we have an expansive Burgundy list and that is precisely what goes with Chef’s food. Alternatively many request or bring Napa Cab, and so long as they ease into it later in the meal, that can work with many dishes as well. The demographic in general can range from old money wealth all the way to a young couple’s first weekend getaway, so our team needs to be quite versatile.
GFR: Tell us a little about Charlie’s Burgers Wine Club and how you became involved in that?
JO: CB Wine program is a hand-delivered door to door monthly wine delivery service where we send our members artisanal thoroughly-sourced and vetted (even by yourself on occasion) wines from around the world which are not otherwise available within our market (i.e. not in LCBO or restaurants) for $117 a month. We also just started the CB Reserve program with the 1st round including an engraved wine crate, library vintage of Barolo, food stuffs from Buca’s Rob Gentile, and more, for just $1,200. Working with Grape Brands agency which works closely with CB, I got to know Franco and with time he asked me to help out with a few different wine related events. I genuinely had fun and found that Franco (AKA Charlie) and I had a lot of common passions. When I was presented with an opportunity to help both maintain the program and have some creative input and projects it sounded more like fun than work so obviously I jumped onboard.
GFR: And you sell wine also… how the hell to do you that too?
JO: Yes, truly proud to represent the premium wines and producers on our actively growing portfolio. Grape Brands is growing at a rapid pace and it is a really exciting time for the company. What I truly enjoy is the opportunity to move around the city (and beyond) and meet with several friends and or like minded individuals on a daily basis, and also to get inside so many top restaurants on a regular basis. You know you are in the right bizz [sic]when your clients are your friends and your meetings are in places you would want to visit during your free/social time.
GFR: Does your job allow you to travel much? Where have you been lately?
JO: Well as a matter of fact, Grape Brands is sending me to Napa and Santa Ynez this Sunday for a week. A super tough itinerary of rolling around the valley in a Jeep and tasting delicious wines. There is however a very specific goal, and I intent to achieve it! Otherwise, yes the industry has allowed me to thoroughly travel Italy in the past, and I will certainly return over the next year.
GFR: Now there’s also the matter of this documentary… ?
JO: Indeed. I am partnered with an award winning director T.J. Derry from the advertising sector and a director of photography ( who is currently DP’ing for Star Trek) as well as having a couple different networks who have sent us offers to air a six-episode series. An interesting game however, and as it turns out we will require a couple more networks to get onboard before we have full funding to proceed with the project. Mark my words, this will air on a network near you in the near future! We shot the Pilot with everybody’s favourite guy, Norm Hardie, and spent three nights sleeping on the tasting room floor and hanging with his awesome team. The project is however an international documentary series with top producers around the world focusing on dramatic challenges which have been overcome in the pursuit of greatness as well as the extreme successes. Picture volcanoes wiping out your vineyard, clearing ground, and starting a new region, or rewriting ancient wine laws.
GFR: Sounds like a pretty ambitious project!
You do some work with the tasting menus at Savoury restaurant. What are your thoughts on the whole tasting menu concept? Why do you feel that they fell from grace in Toronto? Who did them well? And who still does them well?
JO: Yes, Savoury by Corbin Tomaszeski is such a unique 10 seat intimate kitchen within a kitchen and such a fun venue to get intimate with the food and wine pairing experience. I’m proud of the level of passion in our city and the drive to offer tasting menu experiences. I think the true test is staying power with the tight margins in this industry.
I must give a shout out to Chef Lorenzo Loseto of George restaurant for executing an exceptionally unique and challenging tasting menu successfully for over 12 years. At George the tasting menu changes (to some degree) nightly and every guest gets a different dish for the same course within a tasting menu (so you and I do the 10 course tasting, and 20 different dishes hit the table, i.e. we do not eat the same food) and then the same for the wine. The sommelier will pour and explain different pairings for different dishes and member of your party. Uniquely the pairings aren’t fully scripted, and are often chosen on the spot as a new dish is developed mid service.
Easily Alo needs a mention, but what I notice at Alo is the experience revolving around the tasting menu. How when one team member takes the one step down from the service area after “mise-ing” the next takes a step up to pour the wine, his one step down is matched with the runner taking a step up to drop the food. All the while the music in the background is more millennial focused and the atmosphere around an exquisite tasting menu allows itself to be cool and chill while also being refined and best-in-class. Another thing that distinguishes these two Chefs I believe is their exceptional level of seriousness and dedication to their craft that I have yet to see in any other Chef I have personally met or gotten to know.
GFR: Now, how do I word this? Have you drunk the “Natural Wine Kool Aid”? I’m just kidding, kind of… I’m sick fed up of “natural wine” zealots with nothing but derision for those who feel otherwise. Saying that, I do feel that there are some astounding “Natural” wines out there, so don’t get me wrong. How do you feel about the scene?
JO: I love classic, old school natural producers such as ‘Marcel Deiss’ in Alsace or ‘Pelissero’ in Barbaresco whose wines are classic expressions, and really friggin good without any debatable faults, yet fully natural. While I love Kombucha, I’m not necessarily a fan of the trendy, over oxidative natural wines that taste more like Kombucha than wine. That being said, I’m pro health, organics, biodynamics, and a natural “no-junk-in-the-wine” approach, it’s just a matter of managing the limits of low intervention achievable within a winemaker’s given plot and facility. Otherwise, I am certainly a fan of innovation, passion, and pushing limits and trying new ideas. On a similar note, I am a huge fan of the re-emergence of skin contact whites as ideal food pairing wines or slow sippers and again its the old school guys that do it best.
GFR: What makes for a good agent/supplier/merchant in your mind?
JO: Passion and excitement for the product, and relationships are huge, but really the hardest part is time management and getting out there in person, making calls, emails, and really truly pushing hard for success. Its a tough bizz with huge ups and huge downs, but as Donato (owner of Grape Brands) says “when it Rains it pours” in a positive way. There is kind of a tipping point where the benefits of all your efforts come together all at once. Lucky for me I am genuinely proud to represent our portfolio, but for staying power in the industry, at some stage you need to actually learn sles tactics and not just how to be a proper hard working business man, but actual sales approach, and methods both old school and new. There are a lot of players in the Wine Agency game now and you really gotta know your market and know your product to maximize yield of your time.
GFR: And what makes for a bad agent/supplier/merchant?
JO: Hmm, giving in the temptation to sleep in because you are working from home for the day. Not keeping track of your stock and supply chain, and running out of detrimental stock and disappointing your accounts. Selling to make the sale and not being present to fully service and support the accounts you partner with. Hiding from your accounts when sh*t hits the fan rather than walking in their front door, facing them, and striving to find a solution to a problem. Also pricing manipulation is not cool.
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines?
JO: I’m proud of our better producers, our innovators, or our producers whom are striving to plant the appropriate grapes based on their climate and terroir and doing their best to make a great (minimal manipulation) wine. As opposed to someone who says “I’ve got money and I like Cabernet, so I’m gunna [sic] open a winery here and plant Cabernet” (though I suppose people can do what they want), or the mass volume, heavily-marketed brands that end up in little shops downtown giving Canadian producers a bad rap. A few locals I dig are Norm (obviously), Five Rows, Hainley (B.C.), Pearl Morissette, Charles Baker, and The Old 3rd.
GFR: What do you think that we do well here in Ontario?
JO: Cool Climate Chardonnay! and maybe some bubbly and Riesling.
GFR: And what do you feel we should really give up on?
JO: Haha Baco! Cab
GFR: How open are your customers to Canadian wines?
JO: Canadians at Langdon dig it (unless they are into high end wines), Americans and Europeans are heavily skeptical and don’t necessarily come around unless it’s something we can hand-select for them, or something off the tasting menu that obviously rocks.
GFR: Just as there is from everywhere in the world, there is quite a lot of dreadful wine coming from Canada (BC, Ontario et al.) also. How do you feel about the issue of people simply promoting something because of it being local, and not because of its quality?
JO: Well I feel like it’s a paradigm where young sommeliers automatically feel they are supposed to support local, and then they visit our regions and as a first or only exposure, they fall in love. This is great, but sadly it’s such a low percentage of producers, or low case load of great wine (comparably) that we are putting out and the vast majority of quality wine and producers are abroad and with deep historical roots. But yes, quality should be a key factor, because if we support sub-par Canadian wine or any other product we will be judged at that level internationally and if we support only quality, our overall quality level will rise.
GFR: Well said, that man.
How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
JO: As Kids we were allowed sips of $9 a bottle Piat D’or Chardonnay at Thanksgiving (while listening to my Dad’s “Pee at Door” jokes in relation to the brand name) and we (I mean my brother Bill and I) would scoop a couple bottles of my parents home made “Barolo” on a Friday night. But [I had] no real serious exposure until entering the high-end restaurant and hospitality scene in my early twenties.
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
JO: Yes indeed! It was the above mentioned Piat D’or and I was instantaneously turned off by the dryness (perhaps I my tastes were more in line with White Zinfandel as a kid lol).
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
JO: Honestly the younger the better! If its seen as something that’s disallowed they are more inclined to be drawn to it and overindulge at a young age.
GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine?… and was it with a view to being a Sommelier yourself?
JO: Well I started taking wine courses because I loved food, and wine and was at the level in my restaurant management career where that higher level of knowledge was expected. But what I didn’t see coming was that it was super contagious. After every course I would instantaneously sign on for the next, to the point that I ended up teaching WSET at the Wine School in Vancouver when they ran out of courses for me to take. It then took a certain amount of learning and exposure to become aware of all the neat avenues available in the industry and business and ultimately I found myself working long hours in restaurants, but with my passion being focused exclusively on wine. No, though coming from the restaurant industry, I initially just saw a Sommelier Certification and course as another perspective and another angle of learning to fill my craving for further wine education.
GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?
JO: Well my wine mentor is a gentleman by the name of Doctor Clinton Lee, and he’s the one that inspired me and caused my wine education addiction and basically guided me from WSET L#1 to today. Clinton is a ‘Master of Wine’ candidate, CEO of Vinoscenti Canada, and Vinoscenti Global, and to my surprise just bought a winery in B.C. [He is a] true mentor in that when I lived in Vancouver, I would eat dinners with his family, teach wine classes with him, tour the Okanagan with him, and even learn some of the behind the scenes of the wine export to China bizz.
GFR: The Sommelier world is notoriously full of pretentious arseholes, and after seeing that film Somm I worry about the emergence of a new Wine Bro culture… I’d love to hear your thoughts?
JO: Haha ya well at least here in Toronto I feel like we have a great community and all the right people are in the right places with regards to educators, restaurant sommeliers, and agents. Let’s let the Americans keep their Somm Bro Culture. p.s did you hear that Mike D from Beastie Boys just became a Sommelier in NYC??
GFR: Ah yes… I just read that. Funny. And they say sommeliers are the new rock stars…
Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit?
JO: Tuscany, Chianti Classico, Veneto, Campania (Taurasi), Napa, Santa Ynez, Santa Rita Hills, Columbia Valley, Rattle Snake Hills, Michigan wine route (oh yah!), Okanagan, Similkameen Valley, PEC, Niagara, and many more to come.
GFR: Have you ever made your own wine?
JO: Negative, but its an upcoming project in my Niagara College Wine Making course. Hoping to make the Dean’s list!! (a real thing)
GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?
JO: Chianti Classico! My time there was so magical and there is really something special about great Sangiovese in Tuscany consumed with local food. It would be the full experience of place and producing great wine. Second choice chablis. Friggin love Chablis
GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?
JO: After several years of managing large groups of people I prefer to be a business guy. While I do still manage a small team of great people, the focus is on the wine and my customers or accounts.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
JO: Well, I was responsible for four restaurants at a high end resort on a tiny secluded island in the Bahamas, that was pretty awesome! Nothing like scuba diving or spearfishing before starting your day of work! I am also quite proud of a recent high calibre producer I scored/ sourced us for the CB Reserve Wine Program. Also worth noting that I had loads of fun being part of the Shangri-la Hotel Vancouver pre-opening and opening team, sourcing F&B supplies globally (i.e.gold china from Paris, leather menu covers from Thailand).
Lows.. Certainly battling through the 1st six months or so as a wine agent with quite low initial earnings is super tough coming from a rather comfortable salary scenario. Also the early mornings that first winter after spending four years working in the Tropics, managing breakfast in a hotel, and waiting for the TTC at 5:30am… Why, why?
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?
JO: Locally, I’d Say Christopher Sealy at Alo. He reached out to me when considering to go there and I asked what he really wanted or what he was looking for. He said ‘I want to be part of a team that is better than I could ever imagine’! Christopher is deeply dedicated to being the best he can be at his craft and is a huge supporter of the sommelier role and career in Toronto and Canada and has been for quite sometime. [He is] the only Sommelier I know who studies his own physical movements on the floor with the intention of perfecting them in the future. He is a Sommelier’s Sommelier if that makes sense. Christoper has such a wealth of knowledge and talent and much of his knowledge is self taught or directed, rather than following the guideline of what various wine education organizations suggest we learn, memorize, and study.
GFR: And for Wine Agents/Importers?
JO: Well obviously Donato Carozza at Grape Brands :). But I’d say Kermit Lynch is really the man. A long-long time passionate quality wine supporter and importer of outstanding old world wines to the U.S. Without his early drive of high-end, high-quality wines to the U.S. it would have been harder to initiate the same in Canada. [He is] also an award winning wine author and general wine world celebrity.
GFR: I think that may be the first time there has been an emoticon used in a Young Blood Sommelier interview… seriously.
Do you have nightmares about working with wines? I do… regularly… and it usually involves being unable to find bottles in a cellar… and the clock is ticking away… I have them all the time, and I haven’t been in the role for over seven and half years!!!
JO: Lol, yes indeed, I have had many of those experiences and dreams over the years. Luckily our system at Langdon hall is so tight and well thought out that that simply never happens. Odd chance that we are 86’d [read : out of stock] on something, but if its not where its supposed to be, then we just don’t have it.
GFR: Sommeliers famously have their Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
JO: SAILING! Sailing, a bottle of Saint Bris, and BBQ out in the Harbour on a gorgeous summer Sunday, followed by a roast chicken dinner and passing out on the couch. Ya those are the best.
GFR: Oh man… that picture is an absolute cracker.
I cannot stop looking at it… it’s almost hypnotic. It feels as if someone has slipped me some Flunitrazepam or something.
Where are your favourite places to dine and drink in Toronto… perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of our city?
JO: The best $8.50 fish burritos in the city are at Bolets Burrioto and you even get a punch card to get get free burritos (but seriously, soo good). The new Broadview Hotel is a super solid venue with great food and Ludo has done a killer job with the Wine Program. Main stays are Miku, Brothers, Peoples Eatery, and 416. Or to class it up, may as well do it right at Scaramouche.
GFR: Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
JO: [I] Love to Cook! I make a roast chicken that would blow your mind! Also with half a day at my disposal I can do some pretty solid sushi.
GFR: Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Toronto?
JO: Certainly! I mean everyone learns from the same people, and visits the same local wineries and eats at the same restaurants, so we could use a little more perspective, but yes I genuinely think we have a bunch of great people, personalities and passion in the Toronto Somm community.
GFR: Do you hang about with other Sommeliers?
JO: Yeah some of my best friends in Toronto are sommeliers that I’ve either taken courses with or worked with in restaurants, but I don’t really manage to get out to many sommelier-focused social events and such things. Its great to even just pop in at one of my friends restaurants and have a coffee and have a little shop talk here and there. [It is] pretty easy to keep up with the Toronto Wine world goings-on.
GFR: How do you feel about Toronto as a wine and cocktail city? Where do you go if you need to get your wine or cocktail on?
JO: As one of the largest per capita alcohol consuming locations in the world it better be good. But in all honesty there is a lot of passion on both the wine and cocktail side, and I believe the quality across the board in our city is rising as a result. On the cocktail side, I dig Rush Lane, and Cocktail Bar, and for straight wine I dig Brothers, Archive, 416, and 7 enoteca.
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not doing what you are doing today?
JO: I’d take off abroad again and wind up managing at some resort in Bora Bora or Nicaragua, surfing in the am and rocking the office/floor in the afternoon/eve.
GFR: What are your thoughts on music in restaurants?
JO: Well, without it you hear all the little service staff conversations about how much they hate you, and that kinda takes away from the experience I think. I dig background music but am not a fan of club-level volume which disallows conversation and kinda takes over the mood of a spot.
GFR: Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?
JO: Have you ever seen Paso Robles Man ‘Vino Variety’?
GFR: Do you have many non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?
JO: Yes, mostly in the film industry. They always made me feel guilty when working long hours, weekends, and late nights in restaurants, but are all pretty stoked now that I’m working in the wine bizz.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?
JO: Love it as a training tool, and loads of fun with ex-class mates but the grid etc. is quite different from the formula we’ve established for panel tasting wines for Grape Brands or Charlie’s Burgers.
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
JO: Funny how in short bursts you can be better at certain things hungover. Probably somewhere in between, does that work?
GFR: Hahaha… I just blew tea out of my nose reading that.
What’s your current favourite wine region?
JO: [It’s] funny how I never used to be able to pinpoint one or two. Now it’s decidedly Chablis for white and Piemonte for red. My palate is evolving to enjoy cooler climate and higher acidity wines with time. Also [I’m] not into an excess of concentration.
GFR: In your mind, as an Sommelier, what is “hot” in the world of wine right now? And why?
JO: Skin contact whites! They have a great history, align well with gastronomy, and can also be played around with by innovative, modern wine makers.
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour? I why do you feel that is?
JO: I feel Bordeaux has completely fallen off. I feel they turned to other markets and that they are not seen as ethically focused or passionate, but are entirely something else that doesn’t really appeal to the modern young sommelier. Certainly not millennial Wines and as the Sept Decanter notes, millennials are the new mass wine market, overtaking previous, aging generations.
GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated?
JO: Hard to justify any bottle of wine over $400, so I’d easily say any wine over $400 is overrated or the price just doesn’t reflect the level of enjoyment or product quality. Happy to try it out on someone else’s dime though, or sell ya a bottle if you are at the Hall.
GFR: What is your favourite wine pairing right now, something nice and seasonal?
JO: Kale and potato chip salad with Willian Fevre ‘Saint Bris’ on a boat. So fresh and crisp!
GFR: Okay… three pairings with me on the spot?… this time with… crazy complex dishes… so let’s call them the tasting menu challenge:
What would you suggest to pair with them wine or beverage-wise… and why?
A Czarist kulebiaka
“A twelve-tiered skyscraper, starting with the ground floor of burbot liver and topped with layers of fish, meat, game, mushrooms, and rice, all wrapped in dough, up, up, up to a penthouse of calf’s brains in brown butter”
JO: Wholly jeez! Easily Brut Champagne with this one. I’d say Bereche ‘Reserve’. Gunna [sic] lighten this gluttonous load, bring out the breadiness in the dough, cut through the brain, liver, and butter and not overshadow but enhance the fish, mushrooms, and rice with its freshness and richness (an exceptionally rich Champagne).
GFR: Trojan Hog – from Magia Naturalis:
“The ancient Gluttons invented, how a whole Ox or Camel should be set on the table, and diverse other creatures. Hence the people had a tale concerning the Trojan Hog. So called, because he covered in his belly, many kinds of living creatures, as the ancient Trojan Horse concealed many armed men. Macrobius reports, 3. Lib. Satur., that Cincius in his oration, where he persuades to put the practise Fannius his law, concerning moderation of expense, did object to the men of his age, that they brought the Trojan Hog to their tables. Collers of Brawn and the Trojan Hog, were forbidden by the law of regulating expense. The Hog was killed, as Dalachampas translates it, with a small wound under his shoulder. When much blood was run forth, all his Entrails were taken out, and cut off where they began. And after that he was often well washed with Wine, and hung up by his heels, and again washed with Wine. He is rolled in Musk, Pepper. The the foresaid dainties, namely Thrushes, Udders, Gnatsnappers, and many Eggs poured unto them, Oysters, Scallops, were thrust into his belly at his mouth. He is washed with plenty of excellent Liquor, and half the Hog is filled with Polenta, that is, with Barleymeal, Wine, Oil, kneaded together. And so he his put into the oven, with a Brass pan set under. And care must be had to roast him so leisurely, that he neither burns, nor continue raw. For when the skin seems Crup, it is a sign all is roasted, and the Polenta is taken away. Then a Silver platter is brought in, only Gilded, but not very thick, big enough to contain the roasted Hog, that must lie on his back in it, and his belly sticking forth, that is stuffed with a diversity of goods. And so is he set on the table.”
JO: So you were sober when you wrote these questions? I would pair with ‘Pelaverga Piccolo’ probably the ‘Basadone’ from Castello di Verduno. It is said that only the beauty of a wild poppy can convey the characteristics of this indigenous grape and wine from Piemonte. A mix of elegance and rusticity at the same time. This is a wine of culture, history, and adventure and this is why this wine would align with the above tale and exotic feat. Pairing intrigue with intrigue, history with history, and this stuffed belly with a liquid whose character can only be described via looking at a wild poppy in its natural habitat.
GFR: I wasn’t drunk, simply hypomanic.
Redressed Peacocks which Seem Living; and How to Make them Breathe Fire through their Mouth – from Cuoco Napoletano
“You should first kill the peacock with a feather, driving it upon its head, or else drain its blood from under its throat as with a pig; but it is better to take out its tongue and then to slice it under its body – that is, from the top of its breast to its tail – slicing only the skin and removing it gently so that it is not damaged; when you have skinned it, pull the skin back right up to the head, then cut away the head, which will remain attached to the skin; do the same with the legs, and likewise the tail, taking out the leg bones so that the iron will make the peacock stand up will not be seen; then take the skinned carcass and set it to roast stuck with lardoons, or else baste it with grease often enough that it will not burn, and stick it with whole cloves, and fill it with the Piglet stuffing but without garlic; cook it gently so its neck does not burn; if the neck should get too much heat, cover it with a damp cloth; when it is cooked, take it down and redress it in its skin, whose inside you have coated with spices, salt and cinnamon. Then, when you have put its skin back on, get an apparatus of iron driven into a large cutting board and shove this iron through its feet and legs so it cannot be seen; in this way the peacock will be standing so that it will seem to be alive.
And to make it breathe fire through its mouth, get a little camphor with a little fine cotton-wool around it and put this into the peacock’s beak and soak it with a little aqauvita or else with a little fumey old wine that is volatile; when you want to serve it, set fire to the cotton-wool: in this way it will breathe fire for a long time. To make it more magnificent you can cover the peacock with gold leaf and then cover it with its skin.”
JO: Oh, well this one is easy! However you may want to extinguish the beak some time before consumption. Mencia from Rebeira Sacra in Spain! Probably the ‘Tolo di Xisto’ from Coca i Fito. Though a lighter mineral focused red, this has just enough silky body to take on and sooth all that fire char while having the acidity and minerality to enhance the gamey meat and cut the lardon. Both dish and wine have a wild side, some mystique, and certain charm. Harvested on the treacherous slopes of Rebeira Sacra, the winemaker has gone through almost as much torture to bring this wine to you as the peacock in this dish.
GFR: Probably the most difficult tasting challenge I have given anyone BTW.
Do you often drink beers, ciders or spirits? What do you currently enjoy?
JO: Dry Cider for sure! Anything dry and artisanal will do, KW Craft Cider from the Kitchener Waterloo area is easily my favourite right now.
JO: Letting perfectly good wine go to waste because I’ve decided to be too responsible to consume it myself… Oh what a shame..
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
JO: Light, sleek, single hinge, and most importantly an exceptionally sharp blade! I like to travel light weight and don’t want to put up with any crap from the foil!
GFR: And your thoughts on the Coravin system?
JO: I was an early adopter back in Vancouver when we used to offer 1 ounce of ‘2000 Vega Sicilia ‘Unico’ for $28. A huge money saver on the agency side, but only give bottles an 8 week shelf life. No wine is good indefinitely on Coravin… [I have] just read that they are releasing a Coravin that works on screw cap in the next year.
GFR: Speaking of which, where do you stand on the screwcap vs. cork debate? And how do your customers feel about that?
JO: Easy! Customers (diners) want cork, most sommeliers I know want screw cap and any account that does high volume wants screw cap. Really, unless the wine is meant for exceptional shelf time, everyone is going to save money and avoid spoiled product with screw cap. So go screw cap!
GFR: Due to us being around alcohol, many people in our industry often have quite the increased tolerance for wine/booze, or they develop issues. What is your limit and how do you keep yourself in check?
JO: Ultimately I strive to raise the quality level I consume and minimize the quantity. I’m far too ambitious to let the alcohol have any real impact on my performance in life but am also not afraid to have a good time. Balance I say! Balance.
GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time?
JO: Yes, am I supposed to remember the name of the place? Ossington somewhere maybe..
GFR: Speaking of which, do you have a good hangover cure?
JO: Activated Charcoal water, advil, infra-red detox sauna, cheeseburger. Works every time.
GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week?
JO: Between various roles a dozen on average maybe.
GFR: When tasting with agents do you choose to spit or swallow?
JO: I would more typically be tasting as an agent and would maybe taste and swallow a dribble of one or two wines, as a buying Sommelier I would spit every time. [It is] tough to get back on the floor and rock out service if you’ve been swallowing wine during the afternoon. [It is] also best for making sober informed business decisions and evaluations.
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
JO: Whatever I’ve got on Coravin thats gone slightly oxidized lol, or left over prosecco from tastings. But in a perfect world, William Fevre Chablis, Le Clos ideally..
GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?
JO: Hmm I Sat on a milk crate in the cellar at Langdon a couple weeks ago and had a glass of Bereche & Fils Brut Reserve Champagne which was an absolute eye opener of complexity, extreme richness, and biscuity almost caramel-like character. After an underwhelming experience with Perrier Jouet the week before, this more than redeemed Champagne for me, and may well be my favourite wine to date!
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy day at work?
JO: High acidity, mineral-driven, cool climate chardonnay! Anything William Fevre, or a Norm [Hardie] Chard.
GFR: And now the cheesy question Jeff… If you were a grape varietal which would you be? and why?
JO: Haha seriously? Nebbiolo obviously! Elegance, strength, and ruggedness all in one! A rather handsome grape as well
GFR: Thank you for taking the time Jeff. And I hope you don’t mind my gentle piss-taking.
JO: A pleasure! Thank you, Jamie.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution.
Peter Boyd has been a part of Toronto’s wine scene for over two decades. He has taught the Diploma level for the International Sommeliers Guild, and has been the sommelier at Scaramouche Restaurant since 1993. He also writes about wine, food and pop culture and raises show molerats for fun and profit. He’s also one of the most solid guys in the business.Trust this man. Seriously… he knows his shit and is slowly taking over this city. He just celebrated his 67th birthday!
A well-known and much respected figure on the Toronto food and wine scene for almost twenty years, Potvin has worked in many of the city’s very best establishments including Biffs, Canoe, and Eau. In 2004 Potvin opened his incarnation of the Niagara Street Café, a restaurant that has gone from strength to strength year after year, with universal critical acclaim. Anton spends much of his time traveling and tasting wine and has been ranked highly in consecutive years of the International Wine Challenge. Anton is now GM at DaiLo with Chef Nick Liu.