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Zoltan Szabo: Raising the Glass in Toronto
By Jim Clarke

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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 the U.S.

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 restaurants.

JC: What are your priorities when designing a wine list?

ZS: Consumer trends, compatibility with menu items, the profile, category, and clientele of restaurant, demographic, etc.

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 consulting?

ZS: This way I’m able to share my experiences with restaurant staff & aficionados alike.

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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