In the second of a fourth (and very popular) series, we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario… and occasionally elsewhere… as you’ll see today.
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.
Last year we put Pizza Libretto/Enoteca Sociale Sommelier Lesa LaPointe through the wringer in one of our most popular articles thus far. We followed this with an interview with the Owner/Wine Geek of Parkdale’s Café Taste, Mr. Jeremy Day, then with Zinta Steprans, who at that point was Sommelier at Toronto restaurants L’Unita and Malena but is now at Soho House, Carolyn Balogh of Abcon International Wines, Christopher Sealy of Midfield fame, then a debacle of an interview (my fault) with the mercurial Ms. Sheila Flaherty, ex of Mercatto and Pearl-Morisette, Café Boulud‘s Jordan Alessi, Lawrence‘s Sommelier Etheliya Hananova, Momofuku‘s Service Director Steve Sousa, the lovely, warm, generous, knowledgable lady that is Svetlana Atcheva, Mistress of Wines at Toronto’s Enoteca Ascari, Josh Corea, from Dundas West’s splendid Archive Wine Bar, the irrepressible Jasmine Black, now of Enoteca Ascari, and then just the other week, the gentleman Sommelier who goes by the name of Gary Stinson…
This week we spread our net just a little bit further… all the way to the famed Three Chimneys restaurant up in the north of the beautiful Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland. It is here that you’ll find a young man very much worthy of inclusion in our Young Blood Sommeliers series, Mr. Will Blamire.
Good Food Revolution: So Will, what are you up to?
Will Blamire: At this stage here in Skye we are really winding down towards the end of the season. It’s a remote and cold part of Scotland so for the next two months we will be closed. I must say its not the most interesting time of year as the wine list shrinks a little.
GFR: Describe your wine program at The Three Chimneys?
WB: Well it’s really a blank page. The owners have been very trusting over the years with their sommeliers. I have been grateful to be given an opportunity to place my own influence over the wine list. We run two menus, one of which is an eight course tasting and requires a wine pairing option so lots of scope for changes and excitement there.
GFR: Being in such a remote location, is access to the more interesting wines an issue?
WB: I guess not so much nowadays. It’s easy to imagine problems when you take the last 7 miles towards the restaurant on a single track road covered in sheep but with communication links and transport links so developed now it’s not too bad.
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
WB: My folks is that answer that I guess you will hear from most sommeliers around the globe. Kinda like music, but i do feel that if they were ever interested in wine it manifests itself into you too. In scotland we like a bevvy so I didn’t have to wait until i was old before I was allowed to try.
GFR: If you were to have a child/children, at what age would you introduce them to the wonderful world of wine?
WB: I think awareness begins at 5, taste at 8 and do what you like when you feel like it. It’s not a case of forcing it on them. That comes naturally.
GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine?
WB: It grows on you the more that you are around it. I guess i was late to pick it up at 24
GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine? Did you have a mentor?
WB: My good friend James took a sommelier role when he was 19 and it started then. He is not so much a role model as someone to enjoy a bottle with.
GFR: Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
WB: Down under. Looking into the production side of things just now. I feel that could really help me relate more to wine. After that it may well be out of the restaurant.
GFR: It must be interesting to have the opportunity to pair wine with so much terrific seafood?
WB: That really is the beauty of it here on Skye. It doesn’t get any better.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
WB: A high point came in August when we went down to London to collect an award for our service in the restaurant. nice to get recognised. as for lows…….none yet
GFR: Tell us about your WORST customer ever? (and don’t say me, please)
WB: We are a restaurant that prides ourselves on locality and seafood. so when someone comes in who only eats “chicken or beef”, literally. It takes the fun out of it all. I dunno about you but I like to enjoy myself when I spend my hard earned cash.
GFR: Sommeliers famously have Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?… or perhaps you have Mondays off? Actually… what does one get up to for fun in the remote wilderness of Skye? Nightclubs?
WB: The good old sunday roast! Me and the misses recently had a pretty chilled out day. Roast and a bottle of white burgundy that hit the spot. We used to get together and do margarita sundays at home back in Edinburgh. That was fun.
GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine in Scotland… perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of my homeland?
WB: There is this really remote pub on the Knoydart peninsula. No roads. Just a boat coming in with the day’s catch. So simple. My mates also run a restaurant in Edinburgh called the Timberyard. They got a good thing going on there.
GFR: Strangely enough, they are friends of mine also, and Jo Radford is one of our next Young Blood Sommeliers!
Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
WB: Homemade curry.
GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters?
WB: I once put fish stock in the gravy once for a chicken roast and we only realised that when we were eating it! not a good combo.
GFR: Do any of your customers still turn their noses up at screwcaps? (It drives me nuts when people still think of this as an issue)
WB: That hasn’t happened in a long time. Sometimes people get surprised when they see a cork!?! What up with corks!?! What are they?
GFR: Have you ever had a chance to taste Canadian wines? What do you think of when you hear the term “Canadian Wine”?
WB: We got couple on the list. cracking stuff. Vidal ice wine as you might expect. And a traditional method method sparkler with a dosage of the nectar. I’d like to get some others too. This might be a good time to ask what’s good?
GFR: I’d suggest you check out some Ontario Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinots… actually, I’l bring you some the next time we are in your part of the world!
Are there any particular wine writers that you have great respect for?
WB: Not really. Sorry, wrong answer….
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not a Sommelier?
WB: Kicking punts in the Canadian Football League.
GFR: What does your Mother wish you were doing?… I know that mine probably wishes I was a Doctor…
WB: Probably starting to pay her back for all the help she has given me over the years. Thanks Ma.
GFR: Do you have many non-industry friends and how do they feel about what you do for a living?
WB: Plenty. I spend most of my time trying to convince them that I’m not a wine snob.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting?
WB: Don’t make a fool of yourself. I can’t say I’m very good. It does help to break down some barriers but vision is part of the enjoyment of wine too.
GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?
WB: Old world = Rioja
New World = Mornington Peninsula
GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated right now?
WB: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I’m not necessarily saying I don’t like them…
GFR: I know through eating at your restaurant that that you have wine pairing to accompany each dish, particularly on the tasting menu… What is your favourite wine pairing right now?
WB: We have a venison dish with plums and a Tuscan classic from Montepulciano to go with it. Just oozes quality.
GFR: I know that many people don’t think of Scotland as being a centre of gastronomic excellence… why do you think this is?
WB: Because we were a nation of poor people for centuries. Poor people food ain’t always the best of the prettiest.
GFR: Being a good Scot, I really do love good haggis, although I have always been a little confused as to what one should pair with it?
WB: Has to be a big red. Pepper and spice in the dish. I can think of a few lovely wines from the south of France that relate to that. Syrah/Shiraz, Mourvedre Cab Sauv. Big flavours need big Wine. I reckon the ‘Dead Arm’ Shiraz from d’Arenburg would be just awesome.
GFR: Now… which wines would you pair with these pieces of music?
GFR: The old classic Skye Boat Song performed by The Corries
WB: Whisky. Talisker. no choice really
GFR: The spectacularly crap Gentleman by Psy
WB: I’d take glass of water pour it over the sound system and enjoy a glass of Ribeiro del Duero it the peace and quiet.
GFR: ACDC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n Roll) replete with Bon Scott playing the bagpipes.
WB: Wild Boy Chardonnay from the US.
GFR: You have a pretty good beer list at The Three Chimneys… Do you often drink beers or spirits?
WB: All the time. That love started before wines. Whisky might take a while though….
GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as Sommelier? For me it was doing inventory…
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
WB: Laguiole. Steady for life
GFR: What are your thoughts on Organic, Biodynamic, and Natural wines? The jury is still out for me on the Natural stuff…
WB: There is a positivity towards it all that i like.
GFR: Sommeliers often have quite the increased tolerance for wine. What is your limit?
WB: I don’t know my limit. oops
GFR: Have you had the opportunity to visit many wine producing regions?
WB: Sonoma and Napa once on a bike. quality. Languedoc is the only other region I have been to for wine purposes. Thats gonna change soon.
GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”?
GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week?
WB: I like to taste two a day. a supplier comes up every month or so with 10+ new wines to try. taste taste taste. Books are great but nothing without taste. It’s the only way to truly learn.
GFR: Do you spit or swallow?
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
WB: Côtes du Rhône. my girl is French…
GFR: Do you keep a cellar at home?
WB: Slowly slowly. I like to drink them unfortunately.
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy night at the restaurant?
WB: Chardonnay new or old. boring. but it’s top dogg (sic) for a reason.
GFR: And now the cheesy question… If you were a grape varietal what would you be?
WB: I’m skinny and blonde so Riesling I suppose!
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 it TAKING OVER THIS CITY!
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 currently a free agent.