Two for one

City Bites, April 2005

Okay, so they're both named Szabo, and both sommeliers… but that's pretty much where the similarity ends. And they're not related. "Szabo in Hungary is like Smith here," says John Szabo. The other one, Zoltan, is Transylvanian, which sounds scarier than it is. Unassuming their surnames may be (if you're from Eastern Europe), but these two young sommeliers recently paired up to form a consulting service aimed at boosting the quality of wine lists and wine service in Toronto.

And talk about bringing out the big guns: John is Canada's first Master Sommelier and Zoltan is going after his Diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, a path that will eventually lead to the Master designation. Both are experts on food/wine pairings. Zoltan favours organic or "biodynamic" wine, including unfiltered wines. "I want the winemaker to add as little as possible to my wine. Some winemakers prefer filtered for its clearer, brighter colours, but in doing that you are losing some flavours, some extract and some concentration." As for John - the founder of the Centre for Vine Affairs (CVA) in 2002 has brought a new level of wine appreciation, events and education to the city. If nothing else, these guys will knock the image of wine geeks sideways.

Zoltan - who is effusively enthusiastic about, well, everything - also promotes the Slow Food movement. (Slow Food doesn't mean digging out mom's orange crock pot and boiling up cheap cuts of meat for 12 hours, it means, says Zoltan, "slowing down your life, taking the time to use fresh foods… I promote market fresh cuisine and avoiding processed foods. I encourage everyone to move towards healthy eating and drinking habits.") For restaurants, the Szabo & Szabo alliance is a win-win situation. These sommeliers even come with a money-back guarantee. "If you don't sell more wine after working with us, we will give you your money back," says Zoltan. Sounds like an offer that can't be refused.

Jackson-Triggs reigns at Cuvée

City Bites, April 2005

There are lots of Canadian wine awards, but only one calls itself the industry's "Oscars." That's because the 200 entries at the Cuvée Wine Awards are judged by a panel of peers - the winemakers themselves - in a series of tastings that narrow the field. Winners for 2005 were announced in March at a sold-out gala in Niagara. Tom Seaver of Jackson-Trigges walked away with the most hardware, snagging awards for best red and best sparkling.

Seaver's winning Meritage - a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc - came from the sellar 2002 vintage. Remember how hot that summer was? Good for red grapes. Jackson-Triggs' sparkling wine justifies the amount of care and money spent on their stunning ultramodern winery just outside of very traditional Niagara on the Lake: "All the grapes for that sparkling wine came from right around the winery."

Perennial winner Sue Ann Staff of Pilliteri picked up the top honours in the crowded field of icewine entries. "I've been fortunate enough to win almost every year here at Cuvée," said a beaming Sue Ann, "but each one is more exciting because I never know in advance and each year the competition gets stiffer."

Niagara College Winery's chardonnay took best white; however their wines are currently available only in their small boutique and in a few select restaurants.

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