Allison Vidug, sommelier at the Shore Club in Toronto, shares her tips on pairing wine with fresh seafood and shellfish, as well as great cuts of juicy steak.
Tell us about the wine list at The Shore Club.
Since I took over the wine program, my focus has been on creating a classic list with wines that suit the menu. The Shore Club’s menu is all about simplicity and quality of ingredients used in steak and seafood dishes.
The wine list will include classics from the Old World, New World and, great Canadian wines — which I am most excited about — that are perfectly food friendly to pair with our selection of Canadian oysters, beef and in-season produce.
I have tasted the majority of the wines on our list. I’m starting regular wine tastings with the staff so that they can be confident and proud of the wines being served at The Shore Club. I strongly believe in tasting as often as possible.
Can you pair red wine with fish or should one stick to white?
Yes, you can. There are essential elements to consider such as oil, fat and the delicacy of the fish, as well as tannin, structure and pronounced flavours of the wines.
Generally, softer, dry red wines, such as Pinot Noir, work with fish. Tightly structured wines, such as Bordeaux, overpower the delicate nature of fish and can clash on the palate leaving a metallic taste.
We often serve meaty fish, such as swordfish or grouper, with a Mediterranean relish or roasted olive and tomato tapenade.
The tissue structure of the fish is muscular, similar to the body of the wines. As well, this type of fish is often grilled, which imparts hints of smoke and char that match the oak flavours in barrel-aged red wines.
The only fish to avoid with red wine are shellfish, delicate textured and flavoured fish, such as sole; and oily fish, such as mackerel.
If the Riedel family had their way we’d all own many more wine glasses. How many do we really need?
At home, I use just two styles of stemware: a good flute for sparkling wines, and the Riedel Overture Magnum for still red and white wines.
The Overture is a great glass; it suits most wines from aromatic whites to big reds without comprising the aromas or taste.
At The Shore Club, we use five styles of stemware: flutes, standard tulip-shaped glasses for white wines, Riedel Burgundy and Bordeaux, and dessert wine glasses.
Do you consider wine scores or other ratings when you purchase wine for the restaurant?
I do understand that points are an important consideration for many wine drinkers, but points don’t influence my wine purchasing. Each reviewer has preferences that may or may not suit my palate.
I do take notice of some of my favourite writers’ interests, but ultimately I choose wines based on those that best suit the palates of The Shore Club guests and the concept of the restaurant.
What are you passionate about aside from wine?
Aside from wine, I enjoy hosting dinner parties, canning seasonable fruits and vegetables, growing herbs and visiting farmers’ markets. All of these activities eventually lead back to the enjoyment of wine. I am hooked on wine.
I grew up in a household where wine was served with dinner on weekends and at family gatherings, but it was never in the spotlight.
I discovered wine through the development of my hospitality career. I remember the moment when wine became special and I knew there was no turning back.
If you didn’t live in Toronto where would you call home?
I have called many different places home in my travels. Most recently, I spent two years in the Okanagan Valley, which I miss dearly.
I have a current fascination with Prince Edward County. There’s something special happening there. If I were not living somewhere in Canada, perhaps I’d live in a villa in Tuscany or a cottage in the south of France.
How do your long hours affect family life?
I am single and satisfied. Outside of work my other responsibility is my dog, Teddy. The late and long hours can be tiring, but they are also surprisingly flexible.
I love what I do and I work with a great team making my career enjoyable, yet manageable.
What is your favourite wine-related character?
Babette in the movie Babette’s Feast. The first three quarters of the movie are dry, yet comical. It’s worth the wait though.
In the final quarter of the movie, Babette hosts a grand feast and with appropriate wine pairings. She certainly knows how to throw a dinner party!
What did you want to be when you grew up and how did the idea of becoming a sommelier occur to you?
I wanted to be an art historian or curator. Once I became enthralled with wine, I knew I was on a new path.
The idea of becoming a sommelier is rather new. Although my career began in hospitality, I spent some years in wine production.
With that experience behind me, I have a deep appreciation for the efforts and trying times in a vineyard and winery necessary to produce wines of excellence.
Which countries produce the best wines, in your opinion, and what about celebrity wineries?
My wine preferences lie with Old World wines, especially French wines. I am also extremely proud of Canadian wines.
Every year there are leaps in the quality and definition of what can be done here.
I also have an affinity with small producers doing great things in areas such as Washington state, South Africa and Portugal. Celebrity wines can be good. They generally don’t interest me.
What’s your most recommended red or white at The Shore Club?
Some of the most frequently served reds are Caymus Zinfandel and Stag Leap’s Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon. They are great big bold red wines that suit The Shore Club’s steaks.
Popular whites include Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio and Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay. All of these wines have a comfort factor that matches the simplicity of the menu.
Is there a difference between wines that men drink and wines that women drink?
There is a slight difference. I find a lot of women are partial to Pinot Grigio and Prosseco.
Men tend to order big reds, though I have served some savvy business women some stellar red wines. I prefer not to stereotype which gender drinks which wines. Every guest is an individual.
I would be happy anywhere sharing a great bottle of wine on a summer night overlooking the vineyard where it was grown. There is something so visceral and magical about an experience like that.
Are there any unusual or unique wines that have earned your respect recently?
I have been enjoying Aglianico from Basilica and Assyrtico from Santorini lately. There is a distinctive character to wines made from grapes grown on volcanic soils that I am enjoying exploring.
How does a wine earn a place on your wine list and how does it get dropped from the list?
A wine earns a place on my list when it has distinction and authenticity. A good story and a sense of place are great qualities too.
I also like to provide good value for guests. Whether a bottle is sold for $50 or $500, the guest should feel that the experience had worth. Wines are dropped when they become difficult to sell or carry, or sometimes it is just time for a change.
Where’s off the beaten path and worth pursuing if you’re looking for a vineyard to visit?
Last fall, I spent some time at Lighthall Vineyards in Prince Edward County helping my friend Glenn Symons, proprietor and winemaker, with the harvest.
Lighthall is off the beaten path for The County, located in Milford, close to Sandbanks Provincial Park.
It is worth the trip if you are interested in the intimacy of wine production. The tasting bar is located in the cellar, right in front of a 5000-litre open-top concrete fermenter that Glenn had imported from Beaune, France. Lighthall Chardonnay is one of my favourite PEC wines.
THE SHORE CLUB | SEAFOOD STEAK COCKTAILS
155 Wellington Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 3H1
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