How to Read a Wine List, Vertical Tastings and Sommelier Sips

Ryan Campbell, formerly sommelier at Toronto’s Crush Wine Bar, now works with the wine lists at the parent company, Vintage Hotels in Niagara. Wine is such a big part of your restaurant, how do you ensure that your staff, who aren’t sommeliers, are still knowledgeable? We hold an informal “wine school” once a month for about 15 staff members.  For the last class, we focused on chardonnay with a vertical tasting. Vertical tastings mean one type of wine, like chardonnay, from different producers, but all from the same vintage. A horizontal tasting would be, say chardonnays, all from one producer, […]

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Vertigo Flights of Wine: CN Tower Restaurant Wine List Dazzling (and Dizzying)

James Muir, is the sommelier and maitre d’ at the 360 The Restaurant at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto. James manages the world’s highest wine cellar and has served many celebrities from Michelle Obama to John Travolta. What was your first wine experience? It was likely some low-end import wine from the depanneur, the corner convenience store where I lived in Montreal. I also tried Baby Duck at some point back then. However, more interesting wines were those from British Columbia in the 1980s. At that time, I experimented with pricier, imported bottles when I went out […]

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Sommelier Secrets on Weird Wine and Food Pairings, and Dream Cellar

In our latest sommelier profile, Jay Whiteley, who has been the sommelier and wine director at several of Canada’s best restaurants, most recently, The Chase in Toronto, shares his favourite and weirdest food and wine pairings, as well as tips on choosing from a restaurant wine list. What was your first wine experience? Learning how to say the word Gewürztraminer. Why did you move from BC, where you were working at one of the top restaurants in Vancouver, to join The Chase in Toronto? I moved for some personal reasons, but also to learn about the LCBO distribution system. Toronto […]

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Sommelier Loves Pairing Wine with PEI Shellfish and Seafood

Lesley Quinn, Sommelier, Sim’s Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar in Charlottetown, PEI Was wine a part of your family’s meals when you were young? I grew up in a small farming community on Prince Edward Island, with two older brothers. Wine wasn’t a part of our meals at home. However, my mother worked in the tourism industry, and she was host to journalists from around the world. She’d take me with her to meals with them, and it was during one of those dinners, that I had my first sip of wine. Apparently, I described it as tasting like sour grape juice. What […]

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Toronto Sommelier at Four Seasons Pours a Glass for Chef Thomas Keller

Drew Walker, wine director at Café Boulud & D Bar in Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Where did you grow up? I grew up in Niagara, in Port Dalhousie, with my parents Bruce and Nancy, and my older sister Kate. Tell us about a time when your life was different? When I was 19 years old, I lived in the Caribbean and worked long hours as a bartender in a great little bistro in the Cayman Islands. It was my first experience in the food and beverage industry, and it shaped me quite a lot.  I learned so much from the […]

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Hot Child in the City: Beckta Restaurants Ignite Ottawa Dining

Note: I’m finally posting this story online: it was originally published in Ottawa Magazine, the sister publication of Toronto Life, back in 2003 when Steve Beckta opened his first restaurant on Nepean Street. Why now? Two reasons. First, the story still gives you an insider peak backstage at a top-notch restaurant and what’s like to be in a small, hot, high-performance kitchen. Second, Steve is about to move from his original location on Nepean to Grant House at 150 Elgin Street, which was built in 1875 and is undergoing a $3.5 million renovation (pictured above) for a November 19 opening. […]

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The Passion of Steve Beckta: Hospitality and Service

Continued from Part 1: Steve Beckta Restaurant Eight months later, the capital has become bricks and mortar. This morning, the restaurant is dark, cool and silent like a stage set. Even in shadow, the Mediterranean tones are soothing: the azure sky splashed on the walls, the amber setting sun on the suede chairs and the field-flower dappled yellow of the maple floors. The glassware on the tables glints like sun catching on the sea. Paul Quinn, the general manager, comes out from the back to the bar and offers me a cup of tar-black coffee, then, with a shaky hand […]

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Backstage at the Hottest Dining Ticket in Ottawa

Continued from Part 2: Steve Beckta Restaurant Pastry chef Rebecca Macmurdo isn’t listening to the banter; she looks as though she’s trying to defuse a bomb hidden under the caramelized bananas. She works with small, deft hand movements, her face is inches from the plate. She’s responsible for both desserts and canapés, she is the first and last person to touch every diner’s meal. “I like prep,” she says cheerfully as she sets up her line of ingredients—golden beets, baby heirloom tomatoes, micro greens, beet and sugar jellies and caramel crunch. Later in the afternoon, I venture downstairs to another […]

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How do You Define Restaurant Hospitality? Take it with a Grain of Sea Salt

Continued from Part 3: Steve Beckta Restaurant At 5:30 p.m. Beckta greets the first guests, chats amiably for a few minutes, and then hostess Anique Montambault escorts them to their seats. Soon, the early guests are floating through their conversations on their first glass of wine. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the first wave of canapé and appetizer orders hits Macmurdo. The servers buzz around her “pass,” the eye-level counter where she puts up the amuse bouche canapés and salads as they’re ready. It’s the narrowest point in this river of activity where the pace either flows or chokes. Ripples of […]

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Why Do Restaurant Reviews Dismiss Wine?

Continued from Part 4: Steve Beckta Restaurant Tonight, though, there are no kids in the place; and the adults have moved beyond their starters to the main courses. In the kitchen, the first ripple hits the entrée station. Vardy, now standing between Fraser and cook J.P. Filion, tapes his wristwatch to the beam of his station. “How long you looking at Ross?” Vardy asks. “Five minutes,” Fraser replies. He’s searing foie gras, which will be topped with a caramelized blini made by Filion and then Vardy will finish them both with apple butter. In minutes Fraser and Filion contribute their […]

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