In the second of an thirteenth (and wildly popular) series, we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario (and as is the case this month, occasionally elsewhere). 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.
This week we sit down with Terry Kandylis, Head Sommelier at London’s exclusive wine-focused private club, 67 Pall Mall. Just a few days after we chatted Terry was awarded the title of the UK’s Best Sommelier, so clearly this young man’s considerable talents are being recognised!
Good Food Revolution: So , what is it that you are doing these days?
Terry Kandylis: I am currently working as Head Sommelier at 67 Pall Mall in London, the newest Members Club in the St.James area, focusing on Wine. We opened officially last December, so we can say we are still in our infant steps. Though we have managed to make a breakthrough in the wine world with our Events and extensive wine list with really low mark-ups. My role entails to manage a team of 10 Sommeliers, guide them and support them with constant training, tastings etc. I am involved together with our Head of Wine (Ronan Sayburn MS) on the development of our wine list and the planning of events and Masterclasses for our members, private events and Château Dinners.
GFR: And what kind of experience and training did you have before doing what you do today?
TK: I have studied with the WSET, where I am holding the Diploma certification and have passed successfully the Advanced Exam from the Court of Masters Sommeliers.
GFR: How would you describe your role at 67 Pall Mall?
TK: Is multidimensional, as it escapes from the boundaries of a classic restaurant business. Yes, we do have a restaurant, which of course gives us the opportunity to work on our wine pairings, suggestions and classic service with attention to detail, on the other hand it gives me the opportunity to host Tastings and Masterclasses, where I can develop other skills, like Speaking in public, Teaching and of course Organising Events.
GFR: You have worked in a number different types of places… how does 67 Pall Mall compare?
TK:Is giving you more freedom and opens up a different horizon before your eyes, not only to think within the restaurant borders.
GFR: Describe the membership there? What kind of wines do they enjoy?
TK: We have a wide audience, including from Billionaires to Wine enthousiasts and Merchants. Classic Regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy are by far the best sellers, but ‘off-piste’ options are not uncommon for many of them as the general feeling is that these days people are more keen to try and explore new things.
GFR: So you just won the UK Best Sommelier title… How does that make you feel? You must be feeling pretty good?
TK: Still haven’t realised it yet. The feeling is amazing, is a dream that came true. Just to think that I managed to write my name on the same list with Gerard Basset and Ronan Sayburn (Our Head of Wine) is makes me feel extremely proud. If someone was saying this to me couple of years ago, I would call him crazy.
GFR: Now, how do I word this? Have you drunk the Natural Wine Kool Aid? I’m just kidding, how do you feel about the scene?
TK: Hahaha. Big topic. So, firstly I believe that wine is a natural product anyway. Biodynamic and Organic cultivation are of course practises that are trying to create an equilibrium in the environment with the vineyard and the surroundings, with the less possible impact and the ban of synthetic chemicals that are scientifically proved that cause reduced micro-organism activity etc. this though, doesn’t mean that everyone who is following these practises is able to make a fine wine. Sometimes people hide their laziness under the term ‘Natural’, ‘Orange’ ..you name it, as the faults that detected in some of these wines are numerous, because of their laziness to maintain a clean environment in their winery and take things seriously, which leads to high Volatile Acidity, Brettanomyces and many other spoilages. Don’t get me wrong, have tried many amazing wines made with the above philosophy and have quite a lot of favourites from this camp. Though, a wine should taste and smell like wine, and being ‘natural’, should not mean that if it’s forgotten for couple of months to macerate and 3-4 years in the barrel, the wine is naturally made, because at the end you have no grape variety characteristics or a definition of the place, but just the winemaking style.
GFR: What makes for a good agent/supplier in your mind?
TK: The supplier, who understands your wine list philosophy, your reduced time for tastings due to long working hours, so can plan ahead, take the time to have a look at your list and come and show us few wines that can really fit into our project. The people that constantly come and see you not only for selling purposes, but can build up a relationship with the establishment, the team and the people. This partnership needs to benefit both. This is the correct supplier in my mind.
GFR: And what makes for a bad agent?
TK: Probably the opposite of the above, the people that just turn up during a service (need to laugh here probably) and see you just as another account. For me, is all about personal trust and building up a relationship.
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? Any current favourites?
TK: I feel that the evolution made in the last decades is phenomenal. There are many wines that deserve recognition outside of the Canadian borders and they have the quality to do it. Personally was really impressed with the wines from Pearl & Morissette.
GFR: What do we do well in Ontario, in your mind, and for your palate?
TK: Riesling is performing well I think, as Chardonnay and Pinot. The varieties I feel will get more importance in future are Cabernet Franc and Syrah, especially to those with a preference to Loire / Rhone like styles.
GFR: And what do you feel we should give up on?
TK: Tough question. Maybe the hybrids…
GFR: Just as there is from everywhere in the world, there is quite a lot of dreadful wine coming from Ontario also. How do you feel about the issue of people simply promoting something because of it being local, and not because of its quality?
TK: That’s something that I have recorded many times in my life especially in my native Greece. People sometimes feeling quite patriotic and are a bit more narrow minded, thinking that promoting the local ones will give them a stability in their local community- economy. This though restricts the growth and the evolution, as people getting used to the poor quality and they are not pushing for more, so the local – poor performers don’t event get into trouble to see the competition.
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
TK: My grandfather and uncles were always making their own ‘house-wine’, which of course was from bought-in grapes and made in a very old-fashioned rustic style.
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
TK: Pretty dreadful and uninteresting, as it was lacking aromas and flavours.
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
TK: I think from the age of 12 onwards, as they cannot digest alcohol earlier than that.
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?
TK: When I was 23, quite late according to others. I liked the Hospitality Industry and being with people around, so it came quite naturally.
GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?
TK: My cousin. I own him so much, because he was my early inspiration.
GFR: The Sommelier world is notoriously full of pretentious arseholes, and after seeing that film Somm I worry about the emergence of a new Bro culture… I’d love to hear your thoughts?
TK: Is true, that Sommeliers especially in Americas are turning to be the new rock-stars, after Chefs. Here in Europe still needs to pick -up at these levels, though of course we can see the increasing importance in our profession. Is probably because we are more reserved or because the profession was around for many years and it seemed almost obligatory in restaurants to offer the services of a wine specialist. Is in our hand, based on this increasing interest to educate the average consumer of our roles, maintaining a humble approach. At the end we are sales persons that people trust us to ‘invest’ their budget on creating unique moments and memorable experiences.
GFR: Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit?
TK: Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Alsace, Languedoc & Roussillon, Savoie, many different regions in Germany, Austria, Spain, South Africa, Niagara in Ontario and of course Greece.
GFR: Have you ever made your own wine?
GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?
TK: Burgundy, Germany or Santorini.
GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?
TK: I like both. To manage people encounters more talent, as psychology plays an important role.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
TK: Winning of course the UK Sommelier of the Year was definitely a highlight.
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?
TK: Gerard Basset, with his humble approach and persistent thirst for knowledge. This is why I consider him as a role model for everyone in our industry.
GFR: 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… in fact I had one last night!!! And I haven’t been in the role for over six and half years!!!
TK: Sometimes I do. Dropping an expensive bottle of wine is definitely something I hope will never happen to me.
GFR: Sommeliers famously have their Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
TK: Barbeque with friends in the park, or of course on the beach. Prefer the latter one.
GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine and drink.. perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of our city?
TK: I quite like more informal places, like Gastro-pubs and wine bars, as they are not pretentious.
GFR: Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
TK: Yes I do. Love Octopus.
GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters recently?
TK: Not recently. But generally talking, I am taking my time to cook. This is why I didn’t do it as a profession.
GFR: Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Toronto?
TK: Yes, very good level.
GFR: Do you hang about with other Sommeliers?
TK: Yes, from Toronto I’ve been quite lucky to hang around with Julia Brandacher, Kate Johannson and Will Predhome. Great people.
GFR: How do you feel about London as a wine and cocktail city? Where do you go if you need to get your wine or cocktail on?
TK: London is a Mekka for wine. There is a great diversity and long-established wine merchants with a tremendous history. Cocktail bars are top of the World. Just to mention that No1 & No3 in the world are found here.
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not doing what you are doing today?
TK: Probably being an architect?
GFR: What are your thoughts on music in restaurants?
TK: I like Jazz music or chill-out music if there is music in restaurants. If live performance involved, even better.
GFR: I know that you have non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?
TK: They are excited and they think I drink a lot… That my job is fun, I think it makes them a bit jealous.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?
TK: Is a constant practise of testing your skills and the best way to evaluate a wine, beyond labels and names.
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
TK: Without hangover of course and after a cup of coffee…
GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?
GFR: In your mind, as an Sommelier, what is “hot” in the world of wine right now?
TK: Fresh, mineral, ‘off-piste’ wines.
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour?
TK: Big, oaky monsters.
GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated?
TK: Bordeaux and Napa
GFR: What is your favourite wine pairing right now, something nice and seasonal?
TK: Santorinean Assyrtiko and seafood from my hometown
GFR: Okay… three pairings with me on the spot?… this time with… famous Londoners.
What would you suggest to pair for them wine or beverage-wise… and why?
1: Winston Churchill
TK: Will give him to try the Champagne made by Pol-Roger released after his death.
2. Oscar Wilde
TK: Maybe a cocktail. A barrique aged old-Fashioned.
3. Ronnie Kray
TK: Diplomatico Reserva Especial and Don Alejandro Vegas Robaina.
GFR: Do you often drink beers or spirits?
TK: Beers yes, spirits not so much anymore.
GFR: What is your favourite part of your job as a Sommelier?
TK: Speaking to people about wine and of course travelling to wine regions.
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
TK: Murano is a very good every day one. But for old bottles, Durant is amazing.
GFR: And your thoughts on the Coravin system… has it changed the playing field?
TK: Being working at 67 Pall Mall with the biggest Coravin selection in the world, can definitely say that is has. Is a great device that can give you the chance to put a great wine list by the glass together.
GFR: Speaking of which, where do you stand on the screwcap vs. cork debate? And how do your customers feel about that?
TK: I can say that you are not feeling well when you come across a corked bottle of a fine wine. Still though, there is the image that bottles with screw-cups are of lower quality. Probably a bottle of Hill Of Grace will make them change their minds.
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?
TK: My limit depends on the mood I think and the people surrounding me. But never exceed it and always want that my drinking will stay within the limits of joy. Many times that I am off, I am having an alcohol free day. I see wine drinking as a social activity and sharing moment.
GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time?
TK: Not yet.
GFR: Speaking of which, do you have a good hangover cure?
TK: Water, water, water. And running.
GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week?
GFR: When tasting with agents do you choose to spit or swallow?
TK: Spit always.
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
TK: Rieslings, Assyrtikos, Red burgundies and Rhone.
GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?
TK: 1978 La Tache.
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy day at work?
TK: A glass of Nuits St.Georges or a beer.
GFR: And now the cheesy question Terry… If you were a grape varietal which would you be? and why?
TK: Probably Riesling. Precise and elegant, though playful and full of charm.
GFR: Thank you for taking the time Terry… and thanks for doing this… and serious congratulations on your amazing win!
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.