A Canadian Grape Great

By Zoltan Szabo

Some of Aspler’s career highlights include convincing the late Bruce Crozier to introduce a private members bill to enact Ontario Wine Week; organizing a petition for the Post Office to celebrate Canadian wine with a stamp; and last but not least, his Order of Canada for contributions to the Canadian wine industry. I met Tony Aspler 10 years ago while working at Il Mulino as a wine steward. He came in for dinner, we chatted and sampled a couple of glasses of Barbaresco. He told me about his detective novel, The Beast of Barbaresco and autographed a copy of it for me. Since then, Aspler has become a mentor and a friend. I feel privileged having been invited to judge at the Ontario Wine Awards this year, which he founded in 1995, and to work with him and review wines on an occasional basis.

Aspler keeps busy writing and tasting, and is looking forward in the near future to creating the wine cellar for Jamie Kennedy’s new restaurant venture, Jamie Kennedy on the Falls.

His truly impressive career is only matched by his mentoring skills to younger wine enthusiasts and his ground-breaking zeal in the promotion of all things viniferous and Canadian wine in particular. I was able to catch up with Aspler and ask him a couple of questions.

Why did you become a wine scribe? 

Wine has been a hobby for years. My first article was for Saturday Night magazine on Champagne in 1975. In 1981 I left the CBC, where I was a radio producer, to chase the grape around the world. That was the second best decision I ever made. The best was marrying my wife Deborah.

What do you look for when raising a glass of wine to your nose?

I look for balance and authenticity, something that excites my senses. I consider myself an evangelist for wine, not a critic. I want to turn people on to my passion rather than turning them away with negative reviews. It’s harder to write amusingly in praise of a wine than in condemning it.

What are your most unusual food and wine pairings, something off the charts, yet surprisingly great matches? 

Champagne with kippers for breakfast. A chilled Pinot Noir with grilled salmon.

What are your favourite regions and grapes? 

My license plate is CLARET but my greatest wine experiences have been with red Burgundy. And my worst.

Tell me a funny story or something interesting that happened to you throughout your travels and career. 

On my first visit to France in 1966, I was driving with my friend in an old Jaguar. It broke down in Provence and the only way we could get it to a certified Jaguar dealer was for me to sit in the open trunk and hit the gas pump with a rubber mallet. When we arrived at the toll booth the driver said, ‘the guy in the back will pay.’ I stuck an arm out with the cash and told the startled toll booth operator that I always travel this way, I get car sick.

Name a few favourite hang-outs, in Canada and the world. 

I like to hang out at Grano in Toronto, because every time I go in there is something new to see – and the Italian wine list is great. My favourite wine bar in the world is Bottega del Vino in Verona.

How important do you find the role of the sommelier in restaurants, and why? 

A sommelier is crucial to a restaurant’s success – not only for shaping the wine list to suit the menu but to communicate with the diner the possibilities of choice that maybe hadn’t occurred to them.


 

About the author:

Sommelier Zoltan Szabo is a hospitality consultant offering wine sourcing and staff training services to restaurants. He is also the sommelier at the Trump International Hotel & Tower. Check out his website www.zszabo.com or follow him on Twitter @zoltanszabo. If you’d like to find out more about the wines mentioned above, email Zoltan at zoltan@zszabo.com.

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