Launched over a decade ago, Michael Vaughan's weekly Sommelier Selects updates focus on special selections for licensees. Under the expert guidance of Gliberto Bojaca, Canadian sommeliers & professionals highlights as to what's worth buying at the LCBO & from licensees.
An Introduction to the Associate Editor of Sommelier Selects
Outstanding Mature Classic Rhone from Vintages January 20 Release
Top White Value from Vintages August 19 Release
187 King Street South, Waterloo
Robert Miller's Background
I would like to introduce Sommelier Selects readers to our newest guest sommelier Robert Miller. With over 20 years in the beverage industry, Robert has seen most sides of the trade. Starting as a busboy in high school and spending most of his 20s in 'waiting mode', Robert wanted to learn more about the wine side of the business, seeing this as integral to making a career of his job path.
In the fall of '99, he enrolled in and completed the George Brown Continuing Education "Wine 101" course which helped spark an interest in the subject. This helped him with his decision to leave the restaurant business and work for the LCBO, starting in 2001, and spending 6 years as a Product Consultant for the Board.
During his time with the LCBO, he was able to develop his palate by routinely tasting upwards of 300 products on a monthly basis. This was afforded to him through bi-weekly VINTAGES release tastings, as well as the time he spent as a member of the VQA Grading Panel.
During his time with the Board, Robert completed his Higher Certificate with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust in the UK, as well as his Sommelier Diploma with the International Sommelier Guild. A Certificate in Oenology and Viticulture was also completed through the University of Guelph. He spent as much time as possible sharing his knowledge through the Tutored Tastings offered by the LCBO at various locations and events.
Eventually, the private sector called and Robert returned to the restaurant trade, plying his wares at the prestigious London Club in London, Ontario before moving to his current job, working with the Charcoal Group in Kitchener-Waterloo. Robert currently oversees the beverage program at The Bauer Kitchen - Waterloo's only true wine destination.
During his free time, Robert teaches wine classes at Conestoga College and continues to work on developing his own knowledge. He has written the first two exams with the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently mid-way through his Diploma with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
Robert Miller’s Philosophy
The biggest challenge for a sommelier, or anyone charged with crafting a restaurants wine list, is balancing personal preferences with commercial opportunities. Finding that in-between zone, a balance of wines that are familiar to both connoisseurs and neophytes alike, and augmenting that selection with more unique and interesting juice, is where the real work lies.
I'm a huge proponent of VQA Ontario wines and although we've seen huge leaps in terms of quality in the past decade, the public can still be resistant to trying locally product. We recently received the VQA Award of Excellence for our list at the TBK, and I'd love to see our selections increase ever more in the next 12 months.
We've worked really hard at making our list at TBK easy to digest, going so far as suggesting pairings for each food item with our wines by the glass selections. It helps that we currently offer 38 wines by the glass, both in 6 oz and 3 oz portions. We have the Enomatic wine preservation system behind our bar - a machine that uses a food grade gas to keep an open bottle of wine fresh for up to 6 to 8 weeks. This has given us the opportunity to offer wines that would otherwise be tough to see a quick sell through without a loss in quality.
We've been able to give our guests the opportunity to try Ornellaia, Mas la Plana, Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon and Masi's Campolongo di Torbe Amarone (to name just a few) in our by the glass sizes. The machine is also set to provide 1 oz pours in case one wishes just a sample size. When purchasing new wines, my main goal is that no matter what the price point, there is value reflected in the product. No matter if it's a $12 Australian Shiraz or a $200 Californian Cab, it's imperative that our guests feel they've received tremendous quality for what they've been charged.
We've come up with more whimsical and fun tasting descriptors for our wines by the glass, which has been well received by our client base. Instead of the standard 'Grapefruit, fresh cut grass and gooseberry notes' to describe a Sauvignon Blanc, we use 'More acid and grass than a Pink Floyd reunion'. Descriptive of what's in the glass, but much less stuffy.
We see a big opportunity in developing the wine knowledge of anyone that comes through our doors. We started the TBK Wine School in the beginning of the summer and it's been a great success for us and very well received in the community. Classes range from 'How To Taste Like A Professional' and 'Wine and Food Pairing Secrets' to more specific region and/or country focused nights like 'The Wines of Napa Valley' or 'The Wines of Spain'.
After working as a trained chef for 8 years, Ian left the kitchen to pursue a growing passion for the world of wine. He first worked as a wine steward at the Fairmont Royal York’s 5 diamond restaurant Epic. After graduating in the top 2% of his class with the International Sommelier Guild, Ian spent the next four years as a sommelier for renowned Chef Jamie Kennedy at the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar. The role was a turning point. Jamie Kennedy had multiple venues one of the most diverse and yet compelling wine programs in the country.
After the sale of the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar in the fall of 2009, Ian accepted the role of sommelier for George Restaurant and Verity (a private women’s club of over 800 members from coast to coast). With a fantastic team and devoted clientele, Ian focuses on wines with character and typicity and always retaining his passion for local wine. The 500+ label list is fluid and varied with rare Austrian Zeirfandlers and Margaux rubbing shoulders. The tasting menus prepared by Chef Lorenzo Loseto are wildly creative yet rooted deeply with classical technique and therefore the perfect playground for Ian’s skilful pairings.
Yes, I’ll pair serious Austrian St. Laurent but other also other gems like rare old vines Carignan from Chile, real quality grower’s champagne, the best hand crafted local wines and fantastic lesser represented wine regions like Jura, Alto Adige, Bierzo and Santorini. Every dish needs a different wine and, for example, with two guests each having a five course tasting menu I’m pairing over ten different wines per table. Some people think we’re crazy but I think as long as there is balance and chef Losetos dishes are respected and enhanced by the wine I choose, then most guests come back and are eager to try us again.
With some 400 wines on our regular wine list, I break them up stylistically into “Lighter Bodied & Aromatic” – then “Medium Bodied” and finally “Full Bodied”. I think that this helps guests match the wine with their food. Olus we have another 100 items that may be found on our port/fortified list or on our special reserve list of Big Bottles. Salud!
Everyone knows that I am a huge fan of Austrian wine and food fan. I have sent days exploring the vagarities of their famous "Wiener Schnitzel" at numerous restaurants in Vienna. I discover that there were “Schnitzel” police and that dish actually happens to originate from the Italian “Costoletta Milanese” – a breaded and fried veal escalope.
Who better a chef than George’s Lorenzo Loseto to take this to a totally new level of deliciousness? His simply named Cornish Hen, Mint Yoghurt, Potato Perogies which served as a “third” at lunch for $19 and is something that should not be missed. The very lightly breaded, ultra tender, flavourful Cornish hen and perfectly prepared perogies might be mistaken as pedestrian cuisine. Under his hand he has taken it to new gastronomical heights.
The perfect wine pairing comes from their special Austrian wine list. Let me highly recommend their 2007 St. Laurent, Gernot Heinrich, Burgenland ($11~3oz / $22~6oz / $80~btl), which is Jimson’s favourite (the restaurant’s General Manager). It is on one hand quite bright and crisp. When married with the right cuisine, however, it becomes surprisingly velvety with its black cherry core and notes of roasted herbs. St. Laurent is a close relative to Pinot Noir and this one from the ripe 2007 vintage is one of the most food friendly wines on their list.
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Don't miss t his Licensee Best Buy comes from California from 25 Brix, Ontario's newest small premium California estate wine importer. I had the pleasure of tasting through the portfolio of these wines with the owner and this was the best buy of the group. Visit the 25 Brix website to see the list of wines curently available for licensees.
*** (out of three stars) - 91 Points
Returning the bottle is probably one of the most dreaded moments for the Sommelier. I have had my share and they were rather frustrating, however I managed to turn these experiences into rewarding opportunities. At the outset, it is important to develop a response policy within your establishment and ensure that you and your co-workers are empowered to execute a solution on the spot.
What to do:
Offer the wine list immediately with a possible alternative.
Deliver the wine promptly, professionally and graciously.
After the customer is taken care of:
See if the wine is sound or faulty
If sound, you could sell it by the glass, use it for staff training or cooking.
In the end, you are still the winner because, bottom line, you will likely have this customer (and their guests!) for a long time to come.
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It’s August and, at last here at Canoe, I can take a bit of a break and work on catching up on my ever-growing “to do” list. Our clientele is not a tourist-related, which means that many of our regular guests and suppliers are on holiday. In fact, as write this I am enjoying a cold beer on a lake in the Muskokas. Luckily I can rest easy having updated and reprinted the wine list at both Canoe and Jump restaurant last week, adding 10 new wines to Jump’s list and 36 new wines to Canoe. Here is the list of new wine additions at Canoe.
Reprinting Canoe’s list is a process - the sum of meeting with suppliers, purchasing, receiving, invoicing, binning (storing and organizing in your cellar), recording, formatting, programming, etc. Having a collection of new wine on your desk without having them listed is a source of stress, the bottles seemly staring at you, reminding that they are sitting dormant.
There are multiple avenues to sourcing and purchasing wine for a list, depending on your restaurant’s philosophy, purchasing arrangements and thematic. To that end there are multiple dynamics that exist when purchasing wine. Below are the various avenues in which I usually source the wine for my lists. I’ve weighed the pros & cons to each venue as I see them, which should give you my perspective on purchasing. My main goal is to keep our wine lists recognized and interesting.
LCBO / Vintages – The largest supplier in Ontario, ranging in quality and availability. It’s very hard to ignore. I try to avoid dealing directly with the LCBO for a few reasons. Sommelier’s, restaurateurs, chefs, all exist in a service culture & environment. Fundamentally we provide services in exchange for money. Those with the best services (food, wine, etc.) usually stay alive, while those that that do a poor job often go out of business. The LCBO lacks this perspective, due to its size and monopoly on all wine brought in. There is no shortage of quality wine available; although getting it to the restaurant has many roadblocks in place. What should be a very easy process seems to be eternally complicated. This means that about 2%-3% of Canoe’s list is available at times through the LCBO, as it is unavoidable. Naturally it’s very easy to take a stab at something as draconian as the LCBO, although from the perspective of this sommelier, the current system does not make it easy or interesting.
Consignment Wine Agencies – The most traveled avenue for the savvy sommelier. These wines are not usually available in retail stores, though occasionally pop up on the retail shelves. Agents arrange appointments with the sommelier, show wine from their portfolio and usually deliver what is ordered within 48 hours. It’s a much more reliable and service-oriented way of doing business. In addition, you have a go-to if there are issues. Keep in mind that availability is sporadic. That is the nature of the system and a good agent will tell you the quantities available and how long it’ll be around. The consignment system allows the agent to store the wine at the LCBO for a short period of time, so you may have the opportunity to stagger you purchases.
The cache is their lack of availability, as the wines offered are often interesting & somewhat exclusive. We deal with about 30 different consignment agents - a third of those agents provide the wine core to our wine list. I have a lot of respect for wine agents. You’re constantly huffing wine from place to place, battling traffic and parking, arranging your schedule around the hours most purchasers keep. Between 2-430 pm is when I arrange to see agents, no more than three agents in an afternoon. Just like the wines shown, there are a range of personalities that sell wine, from the consummate professionals to shady, unreliable agents (who’s first meeting is often their last).
There is a dynamic that exists between supplier & purchaser - the wine agent must work with the personalities and business ethics of the purchaser and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other – a point that is often forgotten by some sommeliers / purchasers. Keep in mind that we are all in the service industry. Suppliers and sommeliers should be treated with respect. If you provide exceptional service - deliver on time and prompty payment of bills, then you’ll succeed in business (at least with me).
– This avenue is used to find the most unique wines. It can take a few months or even more to arrive, although if you know the system and have a few connections, you can bring in almost anything. There may well be certain wines that you might want that are not available through the aforementioned avenues. In this instance, you can arrange to bring in these wines yourself directly through the LCBO and/or have a wine agent bring them in on your behalf. I choose to use wine agencies for this option because they usually have the know-how and relationships in place.
Unfortunately, I’ve had many orders placed by myself through the LCBO’s private ordering systems become lost and/or arrive over 8 months from the original order date. As a result, I’d rather work with an agent to bring them in. Often I’ll be fortunate to taste something truly unique – a small production item that I know will be a great benefit to the list. In such instances, if you’re patient, a private order will pay off when you receive it a few months later and discover that you are the only one to list them.
Here are few highlights that have made it to Canoe’s list on this last reprint. They are all from the private order system and I am very excited to see them on our list:
Afros 2009 Loureiro Vinho Verde (white)
Zahel Nussberg (white)
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August 7, 2010 Update
I've had the pleasure and challenge of managing one of the country's more dynamic wine lists for nearly 3 years. Pleasurable, as working with 450-550 labels ranging from the casual quaffer to the iconic blockbuster, liaising with a variety of wine agents & guests, training & maintaining a culture that demands as much from itself as the public's perception will keep you pretty sharp. Working with seasonal cuisine & an inspired kitchen offers wonderful opportunities for exploring the pleasures of food & wine pairing, ensuring we are popping corks all the time to ensure we're on the right track.
A challenge though, as Canoe's wine list & culture is known within the restaurant & wine community as a beast to be tamed. To say that Canoe is a consistently busy restaurant is an understatement. Our staff is passionate & well-trained and our guests savvy & knowledgeable. And everyone is thirsty. The cellar is legendarily small for the volume of wine we annually open in the restaurant. The reason is that real estate on the 54th floor of the Toronto Dominion tower comes at a premium and is best used for seats than storage. Keeping with the Canadiana thematic, approximately 25% of our list is quality Canadian content, the remaining 75% artisan & esoteric international selections brought into the province through consignment programs usually in small lots. Combine a small cellar, high demand, & tiny parcel purchases of small production wine…. you get the point.
Having a regular turn over of wine presents some wonderful opportunities though. The list is dynamic and always changing. If you time it right, you can mimic the seasonal changes in not only the cuisine presented, but also the preference of the guest. We reprint the wine list every 3 to 4 weeks to accommodate 20-50 wines that have run through the list and about the same number of wines coming in. A lot of work no doubt, but what amazing opportunities to evolve with the list.
Take August - the dog days of summer. We've long since slowed the purchasing the big, hedonistic wines enjoyed during the colder, daylight-lacking days of winter. Refreshing Riesling & Sauvignon Blanc, elegant Pinot Noir, with the occasional dry Rose is what our guests are currently enjoying and I suspect will continue to drink for the remainder of August.
Keeping an eye on the future though, I'm starting to sit with our wine agents to discuss fuller body styles for our glass & bottle selection for the fall. Downtown Toronto after Labour Day, the restaurant landscape changes from the casual khaki's & Hawaiian shirts to pressed suits & a sense of urgency. Summer is over, it's time to get down to business, & our guests are looking for wine that is equally as serious.
We see the crisp whites decline, rose vanish & the big bottles start to come out. Cult California Cabernets start to make a more regular appearance, the corks of alluring Italian; Piemontese & Tuscan estates are now frequently being pulled. Wines of this pedigree are not brought in quantity to the province & are often spoken for before they hit any consignment warehouse. Maybe 2% of our list is available at the LCBO; it's much more fun to present wine to our guests that is difficult to find. So you've got to be the early bird. I'm meeting with a number of reliable suppliers of fine wine for the remainder of the month, plotting my fall wine selection. Tune in to the next issue for a recap of these meetings.
At present we have 21 wines by the glass, including the silver medal winning JoieFarm 2009 Rose from the Okanagan Valley, which sells for $14 for a 6 oz glass and $70 a bottle. It rated 90-92 points by BC wine writer – April 28, 2010. Here is what he had to say: In this vintage, the winery released 2,378 cases of rosé, a remarkably large production considering that rosé has only come back into fashion a few years ago. In 2004, the winery released just 140 cases of rosé. JoieFarm has been so successful with this wine that it is now its second largest label. This is a blend of Pinot Noir (42%), Gamay (33%), Pinot Meunier (15%) and Pinot Gris (10%). The wine begins with a vibrant rose hue (pomegranate, according to the winery) and an aroma of strawberries and raspberries. On the palate, there are more flavours of strawberries and raspberries, as well as a touch of grapefruit and nectarine. The finish is crisp and refreshing.
Famous on the West Coast, JoieFarm is unheard of Ontario. Owners Michael & Heidi Noble have a fantastic story to tell. Michael, a well established sommelier in Vancouver & his wife Heidi, a Stratford Chef School grad on a whim purchase a 5 hectare plot in the Okanagan's Naramata Bench - the exact spot that forever changed my perspective on BC & it's wine. They've worked hard for nearly a decade in creating one of BC's most exciting, innovative, & unpretentious wineries. The passion, intelligence, & integrity they brought to their former careers clearly translates to the wine they produce; which is almost entirely consumed by a thirsty local market.
A focus on clean & vibrant whites, a Loire-inspired rose, & a one red - a humble & tasty
As long as Joie Farm continues to produce wine of this calibre (& hopefully supply Ontario) this sommelier will proudly pour them.
To see the Canoe wine list click here
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