In this segment of Tasting Notes, I chat with Lorie O’Sullivan, sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton’s TOCA restaurant in Toronto about wines for barbecued meats and veggies. She also shares tips on choosing great bottles from a restaurant wine list. This interview was originally published in the luxury lifestyle magazine Homefront.
Where did you study to become a sommelier?
In 2006, I took the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers course at Niagara College. The course was held on Sundays, which was great because at the time I had another full time job in another profession. Two years later, I went to the U.S. to become certified as sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Where is the best place for a barbecue?
Anywhere that you can grill, whether it’s the cottage or your own backyard (even if it’s a condo balcony).
What’s different about the wines for lunch vs. dinner barbecue?
Many of us have a tendency to drink more white wines with a barbecue lunch because the food tends to be lighter, whereas at dinner, reds tend to be more preferred because the food tends be heavier and meatier.
What’s the difference between the wines we drink with barbecue fare and other dishes?
The main difference is that big, bolder wines pair nicely with BBQ fare because the flavours tend to be big and bold as well. With something roasted for example, you would want to go with something lighter and not as heavy and for example, try a pinot noir instead of a Chilean cabernet.
What are your favourite wines for grilled meats?
For meats on the grill, I choose a red wine that has a great tannin structure such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah, tempranillo and malbec. A good rule of thumb is that rare meats pair well with young, tannic reds. A red wine that has a low tannin structure and is fruity isn’t going to work because the wine can taste very thin and watery when paired against rare meats.
What are your favourite wines for grilled seafood?
I love Italian white wines and here I would match a nice Falanghina from the Campagnia region in Southern Italy. This wine has great acidity, a medium plus body and a nice saltiness that would be an excellent pair with grilled seafood. Otherwise, a lighter style pinot noir from Oregon or Ontario would match nicely. What you want to do is compliment the subtle flavours of the seafood and not allow the wine to overpower them. A big, bold red like an Australian shiraz or Argentinian malbec would just clobber seafood from the grill.
What are your favourite wines for grilled veggies and Portabello mushrooms?
I like a dry rosé from Tavel in Southern Rhone which is a blend of grenache and syrah. The grilled flavours from the food would really bring out the rhubarb and strawberry flavours of the rosé. Definitely avoid tannic and heavy reds for this type of pairing.
What’s the most unusual wine and barbecue fare pairing you’ve tried?
Just recently, I paired a 2007 Moulin-a-Vent (Gamay grape) from Beaujolais and a grilled beef burger with a spicy chipoltle-lime mayo. The spicy sauce really brought out the fruit flavours in the wine, but at the same time it toned down the spice from the chipotle peppers. The thing to keep in mind when serving barbecue foods that are spicy is that the lower the alcohol in the wine, the more food-friendly it is. A red wine that is 14% in alcohol or higher will make the food taste even more spicy, so much that you might have a fire going on in your mouth!
Who would you invite to a barbecue?
Frank Lloyd Wright, the great American architect. His sense of design was very simple and not overly complicated. In person, Wright was a larger than life character and quite controversial, as well, so to spice up the evening, my menu would include a barbecue beef brisket in a tangy sauce paired with a California zinfandel.
If you weren’t serving wine, what summer cocktail would you serve?
What’s your best tip to diners in a restaurant when they’re choosing wine?
Ask the sommelier! I’m always tasting the dishes in my restaurant and speaking to the chef about the ingredients he uses, so I’m very intimate with the menu, and this way, I can make great wine recommendations for our guests. If there is no sommelier or your server can’t help, go with what you know. You’ll always find one or two wines you recognize and perhaps tasted.
Ritz Carlton Hotel
TOCA by Tom Brodi Restaurant
181 Wellington Street West, Toronto
You might also enjoy these interviews with more top-notch sommeliers who also share their tips on enjoying wine:
Canoe Restaurant sommelier Will Predhomme
Fairmont Royal York sommelier Jimson Bienstock
Want to suggest a sommelier whom I should interview? Email me at email@example.com.