Sommelier Secrets

Wine Access, April 2005

For those of us who get through a lot of wine in a month, it can't all be Pétrus. In fact, let's face it: it can't even all be $25 "finds" from New Zealand or California. Most connoisseurs have a few favourites priced in the teens, and I do too. But there are days when I want a bottle of wine and change from a ten-dollar bill. On days like that, I reach for KWV Chenin Blanc from South Africa - just $7.45 at the LCBO. I like its slightly floral nose and then I enjoy its dry, ever-smoother, melon-citrus tang on the palate. It's medium-bodied and not bad on the finish. But I've never talked about it before.

I wondered whether some of Canada's leading oenophiles - people who regularly drink and recommend very nice, very pricey wines - had similar cheap secrets. So I asked. With prices ranging up to $21.49, "cheap" is clearly in the eye of the beholder. But here are some great recommendations from people who know great wine.

Name: Stephen Beckta
Running his eponymous restaurant in Ottawa, Beckta is highly focused on wine. He has worked as a sommelier in Manhattan and even blends his own house wines at Niagara's Cave Springs.
Secret: Seaview Brut, Australia. $11.45 (LCBO) It's a great inexpensive sparkler. It has many of the same flavours of a high end champagne, but much cheaper. They use the classic grape varieties (chardonnay and pinot noir) grown in a cooler climate. It's been a classic of mine for a long time.

Name: Steven Ranger
Steven Ranger is president of Ritchies and he takes bids at Canada's only commercial fine wine auction. His favourite style is Rhone, "but I only raid my cellar on the weekend," he said. Ranger had two "dirty little secrets," including the same Seaview Brut chosen by Stephen Beckta. Here's Ranger's other pick:
Secret: Chateau Gourgazaud, Minervois, France. $11.65 (LCBO) It's a syrah-grenache blend and it's on LCBO's general list. It's consistently good year after year. It's like a Rhone, only cheaper. It's one of my major day-to-day favourites.

Name: Igor Ryjenkov
Igor may well know more about wine than anyone else in this country: he's a Master of Wine. Fellow holders of the International Wine Education Guild's highest accreditation include Jancis Robinson. Igor works at Canada's largest liquor store, the LCBO at Summerhill in Toronto. Igor also sniffed out the cheapest recommendation.
Secret: Casal Thaulero Sangiovese, Abruzzo, Italy. $6.60 (LCBO) It's a decent wine that doesn't need any excuses. It's my fail-safe wine for day-to-day drinking. It's medium-bodied, not really heavy in alcohol or extract, it's complementary to a wide range of foods, and it has character.

Name: Christopher Sprague
Christopher is the sommelier at Winnipeg's 529 Wellington. He's been there over three years. Before that he was a wine steward, and before that, well, he said he's "been in the restaurant business since I washed my first dish at fifteen."
Secret: Jeanjean Syrah Rosé, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France. $9.69 (MLC) It comes in a really cheesy, bent bottle and it's very pink. I like it because it's spicy, it's got plenty of fruit to it, yet it's dry. It's been a staple of mine for years.

Name: Dewey Von Noordhof
Dewey is sommelier at Calgary's Brava Bistro on trendy 17th Avenue, and he's all about making a lot of good value wines available. "About half our customers order by the glass, and regulars like to come in a try whatever's new - Portuguese reds, Austrian whites. We sorta like to get a little crazy." To keep it fresh, Brava's wine list changes weekly.
Peter Lehmann 2001 Semillon, Barossa Valley, Australia. $14.99 + GST (Kensington Wine Market) It sort of sits in the middle: not as dry and crisp as a sauvignon, not as full as a chardonnay. It's got melon and grassy characteristics and is very food friendly. It's very approachable and a lot of people like it.

Name: Jayce Tomyn
Jayce is the sommelier at Carver's, a steak house in Saskatoon offering quality steaks in addition to "inspirational local cuisine like Saskatchewan bison and boar," he said. "We use Riedel stemware and most of our wines are special ordered."
Secret: Amano Primitivo, Puglia, Italy. $21.49 (SLGA) It's got lots of traditional old world dark cherry fruit flavours with liquorice on the finish, and it's a great value wine. It taste like it costs more.

Name: John Szabo
John earned his Master Sommelier stripes in London, England in 2004 and is the first Canadian to do so. He is active in the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and he runs the Centre for Vine Affairs, which conducts tastings and events. He also runs a consulting service maintaining wine lists for restaurateurs.
Secret: Vila Regia 2002, Sogrape, Douro, Portugal. $7.75 (LCBO) Very ripe, full, juicy, fruity and spicy. Even though it's red, I like it chilled with cold, roasted chicken en plein air - picnic style. Very drinkable.

Name: Mark Taylor
Mark is owner and manager of Cru, one of Vancouver's top picks for fine wine and food. He was BC's Sommelier of the Year last year and his wine list is on everyone's radar screen. He and his wife Dana Reinhardt maintain a well-chosen list, complete with helpful adjectives to guide diners.
Secret: Hecula, 2001, Bodegas Castaño, Yecla, Spain. $15.95 (BCLB) It's made from monastrel - mourvedre in France - and it's a great little wine. I like its earthiness. It's both rustic and complex. It's not a huge, deep "bomb", but that's not what I want to drink after a busy night. It's got depth and it's nice and dry.

Name: Edwin Sutherland-Ives
Edwin has worked at Calgary's Teatro for ten years and has been sommelier for the last six. Edwin says he maintains "a dynamic list. We don't have a lot of museum pieces here. We've got an incredible amount of 2000 Bordeaux that we're slowly putting onto the list."
Secret: Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Madiran, France. $19 + GST (Metrovino, Calgary) It's a really nice round white wine with good mouthfeel. Good acidity - there's almost a sauvignon blanc crispness to it. Some really nice floral notes too. You get a little bit of everything with it.

Name: Michael Laceby
Laceby is sommelier at the Blomindon Inn in Wolfville, N.S. He and his family have run it for 17 years "and we've been Wine Spectator recommended since 1999," he said. Laceby graduated from a sommelier course in 2001 and manages a 7,000-bottle cellar.
Secret: J.F. Lerton Pinot Gris, Mendoza, Argentina. $9.82 + HST (NSLC) It's a nice change from chardonnay. It's full-bodied and very aromatic - the nose is quite pretty. It's round and soft and finishes with an almost spicy tinge. It's quite nice.

Name: Gilberto Bojaca Gilberto is director of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. He has worked in the restaurant industry for many years, both in California and Toronto.
Secret: Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo, Chile. $11.45 (LCBO) The price to quality ratio is excellent. It's got a sense of place and is a good example of the varietal. Soft tannins, elegant, with a hint of rusticity, and a warm, long finish. Either for drinking or with "comfort food".

Name: Patrick St-Vincent
Patrick is sommelier and co-owner at Bu on St. Laurent Boulevard in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood. Given its name ("bu" means "drank"), the focus is very much on wine. Bu opened in 2003 and its wine list changes every week - "it used to be daily," said Patrick, "but that was too much."
Secret : Domain La Montagnette, Les Vignerons d'Estezargues, Rhone, France. $14.95 (LCBO; consignment in Quebec) It's just what we are looking for in the Rhone valley. A blend of syrah and grenache and has animal aromas, earthiness - you really feel the terroir - and there is nothing technical or modern about it, just down-to-earth, well-made, organic wine.

Name: April Kilpatrick
Ontario's Sommelier of the Year, April will be competing in the Canada-wide competition in 2006. She manages a 300-label list at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Toronto. "There's a lot of big reds," she said, and then offered quite the opposite as her favourite budget tipple.
Secret : Vineland Estates Riesling Semi-Dry VQA, Niagara, Ontario. $10.95 (LCBO) It's just very clean and refreshing. It's got very good acidity, but it's balanced nicely by a little bit of sweetness. It's considered a dry wine, but it's a 2 on the LCBO sugar code.

Name: Jay Jones
Jay is sommelier at West, which he joined when it opened in 2000. Located in Vancouver's South Granville area, it's got a strong local clientele. His 900-label list is focused on French, but he says "pretty much every growing region on earth is represented".
Secret : Freixenet, Brut de Noirs, Cava, Penedès, Spain. $12.95 (BCL) I'm a big fan of rosé champagne and the yeasty character it has, but sometimes you just want something that's quaffable on a hungover Sunday morning. This rosé cava is not too complicated. The bubbles are invigorating and it's got nice cranberry and strawberry notes. It's good.

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