Mark Moffatt, wine director at Bosk restaurant in Toronto’s Shangri-La Hotel.
What was your most memorable wine experience?
While I was working as a sommelier at The Fairmont Palliser Hotel, we created a display of an entire vertical of Château Mouton Rothschild from 1945 to 1994. Learning about each of these bottles, and the stories behind them, motivated me to learn more about wine.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a sommelier?
I would be an Extreme Sports athlete in winter skiing. I have always loved skiing, and I haven’t yet met a jump, cliff or ledge that I have not wanted to jump off. You can always find me in the terrain park, the area dedicated to jumps and obstacles for skis or snowboards, at whatever mountain I’m visiting. I’d love to ski down the Andes in Argentina, followed by wine tours in the Mendoza region.
Describe your wine list.
We have 4,300 bottles in inventory, with 709 different labels on our restaurant wine list, and serve between fifty and sixty wines by the glass, depending on the time of year. I have a passion for Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Canadian wines, and have 35 on the list now, but I’m looking for more.
Some of our rare wines include a vertical of Henschke’s Hill of Grace and magnums of Clarendon Hills Astralis, both from Australia, as well as the Cuvée Elizabeth Champagne from Billecarte-Salmon. Our most expensive bottle is a 1982 magnum of Dom Perignon Oenotheque for $14,000.
How does chef Damon Campbell’s menu and style mesh with yours?
I’m fortunate to work with a great chef who brings a worldly vision to his food. We agree on using local and seasonal ingredients. His spice and sauce use, along with his cooking techniques, make his cuisine unique in our city.
We always consult on flavours and wine matches to ensure that our diners have a memorable food and wine experience. You must be aware of the various spices used in a dish and look beyond the usual standby wines to find great pairings.
I love Alsatian and German riesling and gewurztraminer, as well as frizzante Moscato d’Asti-style which are very friendly with spicy dishes.
Describe some of your most memorable pairings.
The Tokaj Renaissance dinner I had the pleasure of hosting for the Consul General of the Republic of Hungary featured a pan-fried Berkshire pork rillette (paté) with chanterelle, bacon and gnocchi ragout, parsnip and lemon purée.
I paired this with two Hungarian Tokay wines from the 2001 vintage: The first was the Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 4 Puttonyos and the second, the Hetszolo Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos. I wanted the savoury flavours in the dish and hints of citrus to play off the sweetness in the wines, but not to mask their beauty.
We also served a warm salad of crisp sweetbreads and scallop ceviche with cashews, frissée and caper brown butter sauce. I continued the all-Hungarian wine pairings with the 2005 Oremus Mandolas Dry Furmint and the 2004 Disznoku Tokaji Furmint Late Harvest.
These wines have high levels of acidity, along with notes of smoke, pears and lime that were a great balance with both the crisp, smoky sweetbreads, and the wines’ lime notes helped to highlight the scallop ceviche.
At another dinner featuring John Shafe, winemaker for the prestigious Shafer Vineyards in California, we paired his 2004 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay with roasted halibut with a British Columbia prawn bisque and cloudberry.
The softness and richness of the chardonnay played delightfully with the bisque. It was also refined enough to add further texture to the halibut, allowing an explosion of ripe fruit and acidity on the palate, followed by the rich flavours of the halibut, creating a butter-like sensation. This pairing made it into the Shafer book at the winery as one of his most memorable wine pairings.
Do you agree with Michael Pollen in his new book Cooked when he says, “the smaller the delivery truck out back, the better the food inside”?
While I don’t subscribe to using large food companies to develop my menu or pairings, I can’t say that a smaller truck means anything other than the truck is smaller.
I believe it is best to know where the food came from, what is its story, who was the farmer, where was the product grown or raised, etc. A small truck can also be carrying food from anywhere. We need to hold ourselves more accountable to demanding the best from our suppliers, big or small.
What are your top three tips to choose wines for a wedding reception?
Don’t focus on full-bodied wines; it’s a long night, so consider wines that are medium-bodied, easy-drinking and appeal to many palates.
Choose a wine that means something to you.
Avoid white zinfandel.
One evening, a party of five people arrived at the door, but we had no reservation for them. We were completely booked, and to make it worse, we overheard that they were celebrating a birthday.
To help settle their nerves while they waited, I served them some complimentary champagne as a way of apologizing for “our” reservation mix-up. Fortunately, a table opened up and we were able to seat them.
Near the end of their meal, I served them a 1976 Château Gillette Sauterne, the birth year of the guest being honoured. They had no idea that had we overheard it was a birthday, let alone the year, and were amazed we would do something so special to recognize it.
What’s been your most memorable moment, wine-wise, in the restaurant?
That would be attempting to break the world record for the number of champagne bottles I could open by sheering off their glass tops and cork with a sabre in one minute.
My friend and sommelier colleague, Andre St. Jaques at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, British Columbia, held the record with twenty-three bottles. I came close, sabering twenty-two bottles in a minute.
Who’s the most famous person who’s dined in your restaurant?
The most famous would be the actor, Laurence Fishbourne. He ordered the Lailey Syrah from Niagara. He was a gentleman!
What’s the most expensive bottle of wine you’ve served?
The most expensive I’ve served is the 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild FOR $13,500 while I was working in Calgary. Some oil executives who were celebrating a major merger ordered it.
What’s the strangest wine and food pairing you’ve tried?
Recently, I tried an albarino with grilled beef tenderloin, asparagus and beurre blanc. I was intrigued that a restaurant would combine such diverse flavours in one dish with a very good wine. Alas, it did not work. The beurre blanc worked, but the albarino was overwhelmed by the tenderloin.
What is your favourite food?
Lobster full stop. It can be cooked any way. I grew up in the Maritimes, and nothing tastes better than a fresh lobster caught that day. I’d pair it with a Latour Batard Montrachet 2002, I love Burgundian chardonnay and lobster: the flavours are magical together.
Do you have a guilty pleasure drink?
My guilty wine pleasure is grappa, the distilled Italian brandy made with grape pomace (grape skins, seeds, pulp, stems). I discovered an appreciation for it a few years ago, and now I have a glass a few times a week after work when I get home. I find it settles me.
Who would you like to be stuck on an elevator with?
I’d love to be stuck on an elevator with my daughter in the future. I’d ask her if I did alright with her as a father. I’d crack open a bottle of 2010 Gosset Excellence Champagne, her birth year, and toast her for how proud I would surely be of her as an adult.
Where is your favorite place to drink a glass of wine?
Canoe restaurant in Toronto. I don’t get there nearly enough, but sommelier Will Predhomme has a great list, and the view and service are unmatched.
If there was one wine you wish you had made what would it be?
I wish I had made the 1995 Nicolas Joly Chenin Blanc Coulée de Serrant, Loire Valley, France. That wine is haunting to me, and I would have loved to have had a hand in crafting it.
What is the best gift someone could give a sommelier?
Believe it or not, it would be wine. I always like to see what people are drinking, and to encourage them to be passionate and proud of their choices.
So many people say, “ I can’t bring wine to your house.” Of course you can. I don’t judge; I’m here to help develop your passions and palate.
What are you up to in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now?
In 10 minutes, studying and reading about wine, in 10 months, working on a new version of my wine list, and in 10 years, sitting in my own wine bar, I hope, serving my local clientele.
If I had a million dollars I would….?
188 Univeristy Avenue