Szabo: Raising the Glass in Toronto
By Jim Clarke
Zoltan came to
Canada ten years ago, bringing with him a love of wine rooted in
his experiences growing up in the Carpathian Mountains, where his
parents made wine. He continued his study of wine while working
in restaurants, eventually earning a certification from the International
Sommeliers Guild and accolades from several Canadian newspapers
and Wine Spectator. The wine list he created and oversees for Il
Mulino has been singled out repeatedly for its variety; while it
centers on Italian wines to match the restaurant’s fare, it
also includes a large, varied, and well-chosen selection of Canadian
wines, and other picks from New and Old World alike. Some selections
from Hungary touch on his roots and early taste for wine.
Savour, Zoltan’s newest project, gives
him great latitude in his work. Its focus is on catering small events
– two to 20 people – with wine selection, consultation,
and even tastings as part of the package. In-home cooking classes
and wine tutorials are also part of their portfolio, as are corporate
events. Within the restaurant industry they also help develop menus
and winelists; staff training, cellar management, and controlling
costs – the behind-the-scenes aspect of sommeliering –
are not left out. And when Zoltan wants to get away for a bit, he
leads wine tours through Eastern Europe, the Niagara region, and
Zoltan hasn’t stopped developing his
skills and knowledge. In November he was a finalist in the Best
in Ontario Sommelier Championship, and he has set 2005 as the year
to begin the Independent Wine Education Guild’s Diploma Program.
His eye is fixed on eventually adding the prestigious initials “MS”
after his name. As if he weren’t busy enough already.
An Interview with Zoltan
Szabo of Savour, Toronto, Canada
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke: How did you
first develop an interest in wine?
Zoltan Szabo: Just by watching
my parents as a child, making wine, tasting the must and smiling
at each other.
JC: What drew you to
wine service specifically, as opposed to winemaking or importing?
ZS: People – the way
I was able to recommend a wine to a client face-to-face, the interaction
and the satisfaction of people appreciating the suggested wine.
JC: What brought you
to Canada, and how did you first get involved with the restaurant
scene in Canada?
ZS: Opportunity and curiosity.
I just continued my passion towards wine and ended up working in
JC: What are your priorities
when designing a wine list?
ZS: Consumer trends, compatibility
with menu items, the profile, category, and clientele of restaurant,
JC: What wines do you
like to include on a list for versatility, so that a table with
a number of diverse dishes can find a single bottle of wine that
does justice to their food?
ZS: Fairly soft and round
wines, if white not high in acid, perhaps with a little residual
sugar: indigenous Italian, New World Sauvignon Blanc, Niagara Riesling,
Argentinean Torrontés, Romanian Tamaioasa.
If red, not too acidic nor tannic, older
vintage, not too heavy, neither serious, Merlot, Shiraz, lighter
Cabernets, New World Pinot Noir, Gamay, Southern Italian reds, Zweigelt,
Baco Noir, Marechal Foch from Niagara.
JC: Why did you move
out of restaurants and into private dining and wine education and
ZS: This way I’m able
to share my experiences with restaurant staff & aficionados
JC: You recently competed
in the Best in Ontario Sommelier Championship; what do you think
is the value of sommelier competitions?
ZS: The competition was
an awesome learning experience and it helped to raise the bar when
it comes to service expertise. It is also a great way to showcase
and give exposure to passionate sommeliers, allowing them to more
easily spread the word about the wonderful world of wine.
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