I’ve noticed lately that many of us in the blogging world are on vacation. The last couple weeks I’ve been sort of off the grid too, either touring with the Hot Club of Detroit, or relaxing with my family on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. But the latter has resulted in some cool research on Canadian wines, and people in the Canadian wine world. Check out my article on Ontario wines, and the Canadian sommelier Ted McIntosh, which will appear soon at wineandjazz.com. The full interview with Ted — a must read for any young sommelier — appears below here at It’s About That Time.
Paul Brady: How did you become interested in food and wine?
Ted McIntosh: I always bar tended at night. And standing in front of all the alcoholic beverages I thought, I’d better learn something about this. If you want to be a salesman, you better know your product. So then I started out with the wine appreciation course I in Toronto at Sheraton College. Then I came out of that with even more questions so I moved on to course number II. Then that led me to the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) sequence, and I did a couple levels of that. And then in 1995 I decided to take the Sommelier program at George Brown. And I always worked full time too; I was a letter carrier for 27 years and I tended bar at night. Then wine sort of evolved into single malts; I had my own single malt importing business. And my wife Kathleen has been a food writer for 25 years. She does a lot of writing for Wine Access, and she’s done a cookbook, “The Wine Lover Cooks,” which is wine driven instead of food driven, with Tony Aspler, the wine writer in Toronto.
Brady: I just began reading Kathleen’s book “A Year In Niagara,” which I really like.
McIntosh: She’s a great writer. For an Australian travel magazine we did a piece on where to drink in New York City. That was a fun article and a pretty intense three days! We wrote about different cheese shops, some of the best wine-by-the-glass places, and the unbelievable wine stores. That was in the summer of 2001. It was phenomenal. New York has got to be one of the best places to shop for wine and drink wines by the glass. Not a bad gig.
Brady: Why did you move to Niagara?
McIntosh: We wanted out of Toronto. My wine career began as sort of, you know, accessing wines, which kind of bored me, to then working in the vineyards. We sold our place in Toronto and actually I was working for Niagara Brewing Company first, and then I hooked up with the winery Henry of Pelham. That’s when it all came together for me. I realized that it’s all about agriculture. I was working in sales so I was on the road a lot, but I also got to work in the vineyards, which I love. To be close to the vines and ask, why is that Merlot so close to the ground? Well because the ground is warm and Merlot needs more sun, heat, and things like that. Being hands on helps on the sales and service end too.
Brady: Can you talk about the Baco Noir grape?
McIntosh: Oh sure. It’s a French hybrid I believe originally from the south of France. It’s great for Ontario because it can stand the winters. It’s big, jammy, it’s got tough skin so it’s not susceptible to rot, and it oozes color. It’s what put Henry of Pelham on the map. The guys from Henry of Pehlam took their Baco Noir to a wine show in France and poured it for some French wine makers, and of course they scoffed at it at first and said “we ripped those vines out 20 years ago.” But then they were blown away by the quality of it. It’s a true Canadian wine now, that’s for sure. It’s a “go with everything” type of wine, but it’s especially a great barbecue wine, you know, sausages, burgers.
Brady: At some point did you work as a sommelier at a restaurant in Toronto?
McIntosh: I did an apprenticeship at Trattoria Giancarlo in Little Italy. It was a great experience. They had a wine list to die for. Actually, there is no list. You go in there and tell the sommelier what you’re looking for, or what you’re eating, what your budget is, and they’ll find something for you from $20 up to $200.
Brady: What would your advice be for a young sommelier?
McIntosh: My teacher in Toronto, Jaques Marie, said to me to go into a restaurant, look at their wine cellar and tell them how you would turn it around to make them a profit in six months. I think that sort of good cellar management is essential for a sommelier at a restaurant. Know the product and know how to sell it. Wine is all about feel and mood.
Then when I retired from the Post Office we came to Bayfield and opened this place (The Black Dog Village Pub And Bistro). We came here when we were writing a book on Ontario’s finest inns, so we stayed at the Little Inn and Ben Miller here. We were going to buy a B & B, but I changed my mind! Kathleen has written nine books now and I’ve done all the wine pairings for them. We bought the Black Dog in 2005 and the wine list is always a work in progress. We’re still very young in Ontario as far as a wine region. We have a lot to learn, but I think we can start talking about house style when it comes to the best Niagara wineries. For three years here I served only Niagara wines. I could not believe it when farmers would come in here and not want to drink Ontario wines. I thought, you’re selling corn, or white beans, how can you not want to re-fuel the Canadian agricultural economy? How is wine any different? But now there is more of an eat local, drink local attitude. Then about three years ago I decided I better serve, you know, a Pinot Grigio from Veneto, or an Australian Shiraz. But I’m still bout 75% Ontario.
Brady: I’d like to pick your brain on beer for a moment, since you redesigning the bar at the Black Dog to offer 20 draft beers. Do you have a particular favorite style of beer?
McIntosh: Well just like wine, beer is all about mood. Nothing beats a cold lager or cold pilsner on a hot day. I tend to drink more ales and stouts in the fall. Fruit and wheat beers are popular here in the summer.
Brady: I love that you serve all your beers in the proper glass and with the corresponding coaster too.
McIntosh: Well yeah, it’s a detail that can make your beer drinking experience better. And true beer drinkers really appreciate it.
Brady: So what are we drinking?
McIntosh: This is the Henry of Pelham Sibling Rivalry Pink, Rosé. Tell me what you get on that?
Brady: I get a mineral and a floral component right away.
McIntosh: Sure, definitely minerals and rose petals. A nice citrus flavor too. And strawberry yogurt, almost candied. We get very good acidity in our wines from Ontario, especially in the whites, obviously. And they’re taking a very good look at Pinot Noir. There are two or three collaborations going on with producers in Burgundy, and they’re analyzing the soil from Niagara in Burgundy and realizing that Pinot Noir can be done in Ontario.
Brady: What are the Ontario wines we should look out for?
McIntosh: I like the crispness and the acidity from what we call the “Bench” wineries which are at a slightly higher elevation from the wineries at Niagara On The Lake proper; some of those would include the Henry of Pelham and Cave Spring wines. I also have an outstanding Chardonnay that I like from a new winery called Revine. Of course Inniskillin started it all back in the ‘70s. Derek Barnett makes an impressive Pinot Noir at Lailey. Also Flatrock, Tawse; it seems a new one opens up every year.
Thanks to Ted McIntosh for his time!