Taboo Sommelier Talks: Ontario Wines + Restaurant Wine Lists

Markus CarlMarkus Carl is the wine director and sommelier at Taboo Resort, Golf and Spa in Gravenhurst, Ontario, about 90 minutes north of Toronto. Carl shares a range of tips, from which wines to take to the cottage to which ones to drink when listening to Johann Sebastian Bach.

While you were growing up, was wine a part of your family’s life?

There was certainly wine around as my father had an extensive collection of Bordeaux from the late 1970s and early 1980s, including some Sauternes, that rich dessert wine from the region, which at that age struck me as particularly delicious.

As well, my family owned a restaurant for about 25 years in Haliburton, Ontario, so I grew up in that environment and gravitated toward the profession. If I were to do something else, it would probably be teaching high school history.

Describe your wine list.

We have about 300 labels on the list, and in the summer, offer 18 wines by the glass. Some of our oldest and most prized wines include the 1998 Domaine Romanée-Conti Richebourg and 2000 La Tache, on our list for $925 and $1050, respectively, as well as the 1989 Château Margaux ($1,229), the 1998 Quintarelli Amarone ($650) and the 1983 Dows Port ($260).

We also offer a strong range of premium Ontario wines, such as Tawse, Hidden Bench, Lailey and Cave Springs.

Everybody loves the idea of supporting small, local businesses, but can small Niagara wineries really compete with the large wine conglomerates anymore?

They can compete if they make delicious, food-friendly, unique wines that express our cool climate viticulture, and from vines which do well in such an area.

They also need to be priced according to quality. I believe that the most successful vintners in Niagara do price their wines according to what they are worth, but there are others who seem to operate in a vacuum. For example, why make a cabernet sauvignon that sells for $25 when the grapes for that wine have trouble ripening two years out of five?

What’s the biggest trend among Ontario wines in the last 2-3 years?

There has been a great evolution and increase in the finesse of sparkling wines from producers such as Huff Estates, Hinterland, Cave Springs and Henry of Pelham. I am also generally impressed with the increased sophistication of the use of oak at a number of Niagara wineries, especially for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

What advice would you give a young sommelier starting out?

Taste, read, travel—and keep notes if you don’t have a good memory. Bounce ideas off people with more wine knowledge than you have. Get into some tasting groups to practise.

What can professionals in different fields learn from sommeliers in order to be successful?

I believe that even as a wine professional you have to be part of the team. If a table needs clearing and you have time to help, do so. Multi-tasking is also certainly part of the big picture, as are time-management skills.

For example, when I manage our fine dining restaurant, Elements, I plan the server shifts, guest seating, table settings and everything else related to the seamless operation of a restaurant, not simply the wine list. Also sometimes I lead corporate wine tastings for our conference services department, while still maintaining a presence in the dining room, so organization and time management is crucial.

Name your 3 favourite wines for a long weekend at the cottage during the summer.

I’d start with an off-dry Mosel Riesling for sipping with Asian-inspired appetizers such as spicy vegetable spring rolls, panko-crusted Thai shrimp, roasted chicken salad with carrot, celery and mango, sprinkled with a little sriracha (Thai hot sauce). The wine’s low alcohol, precise fruit and cleansing acidity would make a perfect pairing.

I’d also try a cru Beaujolais, slightly chilled. This light red wine made from the gamay grape is very expressive of its terroir and versatile with a variety of dishes, such as grilled pork, chicken or even salmon.

Finally, I’d enjoy a Douro Valley red wine from Portugal if I wanted a big red for the grill. These wines are made from native northern Portuguese grape varieties, and display terrific spice notes and vigor, as well as attractive dark fruit aromas.

What tips do you have for selecting and serving wines at the cottage?

Keep it simple: chill the reds a touch, and don’t serve the whites too cold. A refreshing sparkling wine from Spain or Italy, such as Cava or Prosecco, respectively, would be a nice touch. I’d also choose  the wines to suit the occasion, that is,  if you’re not planning a formal sit-down dinner, then I’d bring out wines of a more modest scale that would complement more robust outdoor entertaining.

If there was one wine you wish you had made what would it be?

I am a huge fan of red Burgundy, so if I could choose just one domaine, it would be Georges Roumier in Chambolle Musigny. The pinot noirs are a magical combination of fruit and texture; nothing overdone, maybe even a bit old-fashioned in style, without the sheen of a lot of new oak. Any of the wines that Roumier makes would qualify, but the Grand Cru Musigny would be the pinnacle of the range.

Where is your favorite place to drink a glass of wine?

At home, after work … to reflect on the day.

Who is your favourite musician and which wine goes best with his music?

Johann Sebastian Bach, especially his cello suites, which after about 300 years, still capture the attention of the listener. Not all today’s musical acts will still be listened to three centuries from now. Bach supposedly really enjoyed his beer, so that is what I would have while listening to his cello suites, perhaps a German Lager from roughly the same area where Bach worked and lived, like Wernesgrüner.

If wine were required then it would have to be something captivating and intriguing, a wine of the same theme, but it too is constantly changing. Perhaps it would be a pinot noir from Burgundy, Oregon, or California’s Sonoma Coast or Anderson Valley. All would have to be from good producers with a bit of bottle age.

What is your favourite food and which wine would you drink with it?

Potato pancakes with apple sauce are pure middle-European comfort food. I’d match them with dry to off-dry riesling.

What kind of traveller are you?

Very organized, I should really be more spontaneous.

What are you doing in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now?

In 10 minutes …on the restaurant floor
In 10 months … traveling in Europe
In 10 years … running my own restaurant and wine bar

If I had a million dollars I would…

Buy a small vineyard and make a little wine.

What’s your favourite season and why?

Fall with its cool nights, warm days, the vibrant colours of the changing leaves in Muskoka.

What would qualify as the afternoon of your dreams?

Visiting a fantastic vineyard, having a long lunch with the winemaker afterwards and then booking into a nice small hotel nearby. After that, a nap and then a little jog through the countryside.

What are you passionate about aside from wine?

Music, history, cuisine, being active.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Finishing three marathons, the fastest in 3 hours and 4 minutes.

What’s your best tip to diners in a restaurant when they’re choosing wine?

Talk to the person who is responsible for the list; do not be afraid to give that person some information regarding your budget, what wines you like to drink and how important the food match is to you. Most of all be adventurous.

 Taboo ResortTaboo Resort
1209 Muskoka Beach Rd
Gravenhurst, Ontario  P1P 1R1
Phone 705-687-2233
Reservations 800-461-0236

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