Good food and good wine go hand in hand.
As a chef, I naturally tend to think first about the food when I am planning a menu, but the wine is never just an afterthought. In fact, due to the importance of making good wine choices to help a great meal shine, I decided early on in my career that I would take sommelier training. Initially taking the course out of personal interest, it soon became clear to me that it would be a valuable tool in my kit as my career developed. After taking the first year of Sommelier courses at Algonquin College, I became even more fascinated with wine and its many facets, which inspired me to return for the advanced courses and certification. Having an in-depth knowledge of the world of wine has been extremely valuable to me both professionally and personally. I would highly recommend taking the course at Algonquin College if you are passionate about wine.
Contrary to what you might expect, we don't have a vast wine cellar at the Shaw Centre. We prefer instead to order in wines specific to an event's requirements. We have a comprehensive wine list which clients can choose from, additionally we order unique labels to meet the custom requirements of an event. That being said, we can have large quantities of wine on hand, but only specific to what our clients have asked us to order. We can easily have several thousand bottles in our cellar one day and then zero the next.
In terms of the list we maintain at the Centre, we put special emphasis on Canadian wines, specifically those from Niagara and Prince Edward County. I am consistently impressed with all Canadian wine producing regions, be it Niagara, Lake Erie, Prince Edward County, or the Okanagan; all produce a wide variety of wines, some of exceptional quality. I prefer to focus more on Ontario for our list to emphasize our commitment to using local product and our efforts to reduce the environmental impact caused by the shipping distance.
When thinking about pairings for food I am making or eating, I typically go with what is appropriate for the dish. Whites with white meats and reds with red meats, in my opinion, is a thing of the past. That being said, some wines simply do not react well with certain ingredients. While I do generally have a casual attitude towards pairing, I try to use wine which complements the food. For example, chocolate will overpower a good dry red wine. Why waste the wine? Either don't serve chocolate with red wine or choose a different wine more appropriate for the intense flavour of chocolate. If the food you are pairing is not overly complicated, then drink what you love. In my experience you will be happy with the pairing the majority of the time. If a particular pairing didn't work, you will have learned something and make an alternative choice next time. I like to try different wines all the time. While I am often drawn to my favourites at the store or a restaurant, I will always try to pick a few bottles of something I haven't had when I'm buying wine at the store.
I like to have both red and white wine available for most home entertaining, as each can complement my food in different ways. For whites, I usually choose a unique Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Viognier; my reds are typically Pinot Noir, Syrah or Zinfandel. I like to expose my guests to varietals or styles with which they may not be familiar, so all aspects of the meal are fun and flavourful.
I am often asked how home cooks can improve their pairings. My best advice is to ask the employees at the LCBO about wines you are interested in - they are such a valuable resource, especially those who work in the Vintages area of the store. These employees will have often tried the wines and will be able to make informed comments or alternate suggestions based on your taste. You should also read the tags on the shelves, take a look at and read the label on the back of the bottle, or look up the wine online. Most importantly, experiment and taste, taste, taste! One person's opinion may not be similar to yours therefore the only way to truly understand a wine is to try it. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.