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How to Be A Wine Connoisseur

Expert Sommelier Christopher Sealy says it’s easier than you think. It just takes a little time, patience and a sense of adventure.

By: Chris MetlerDate: 2023-03-06

Currently serving as wine director for Toronto’s Michelin-starred Alo Food Group, Christopher Sealy was awarded Michelin Guide Sommelier of the Year in 2022. And it’s not surprising. He’s spent 15-plus years expanding his global understanding of the world of wine, and travelling to wine regions worldwide to explore and study wine culture. In the process, he’s developed insight into the people and factors that make each unique. Thinking about your next Friday night festivity or Saturday evening soiree? If anyone can help you decide the wine for the weekend’s hosting duties, it’s him.

Picking the Right Wine for the Right Occasion

Because of the mysticism and fear around wine and wine flavours, Sealy believes the choice too often leads to over-thinking and anxiety. “Wine is a selection and a curation,” he says. “It can be somewhat daunting. It’s like the DJ only has one song or one hour to drop it and it has to be the best. It’s never going to be the best.”

You need to get to know the wines. According to Sealy, not all food or dinner wines reveal themselves right away, but there are general approaches. For a birthday party, for example, you’ll probably want an immediate fruit and flavour impact, whether it’s sparkling or something zesty. When it comes to dinner party wines, on the other hand, you can use wine as an ingredient or accessory, or to highlight what’s happening with the food’s flavours.

How About Date Night?

“Date nights can be different things,” Sealy says. “Is it a date night where it’s straight fire? There’s a bit more passion and less courting?” Or it more of a courtship? In that case, he recommends choosing a wine that’s more subtle. “Just think about the energy you’re looking to convey and find wines that reflect that.”

You will find more adventure in play from other wines of the world, such as Australia, Greece and Portugal and beyond. The variety of options is astounding and sure to engage your date night in more ways than your house Cabernet or Amarone. If that’s the vibe, then that’s the vibe – but adventure has its rewards.

Pairing the Wine with Food

Sealy doubts he’s spilling trade secrets when he stresses the difference grilling or charring makes. “If you char, that’s going to change the energy,” he explains. “It’s going to change the complexion of the protein.” Whether using the barbecue or pan-searing something at high heat, he encourages you to keep smokier flavours in mind.

And if you are braising or broiling in the oven or cooking with cast iron? “Reflect mainly on the intensity of what you’re trying to produce, then choose a wine accordingly. There are no set rules.”

Sealy suggests picking the wine first if you can. “It’s kind of crazy, but choose the wine first and then cook around it. You have a palate. You have a sense of flavours from wherever you’re coming from. You’ll find those in wines. It’s just like jumping in and listening to new music, or getting into books. You need to find your way. And the way is always going to be pleasurable, because it’s wine.”

Forget Faux Pas

Sealy prefers not to categorize most common wine-pairing missteps as mistakes. He finds wine too diverse and fascinating – too personal, too objective and subjective at the same time. “You can’t possibly know what someone’s going to like. You just need to start tasting and listening,” he says. “You can learn from everything.”

But if Sealy were to call out one thing that routinely rankles him, it would be the lack of humility around wine. “I should have this ‘cause I’m making ‘X’ money,” he notes. “I should drink this because I’m in this income bracket. No. You can’t go into an art gallery just because you have a lot of money and understand art.”

There is a process he feels that you need to engage in. “It’s like taste is in the mouth of the beholder. You only know as much as you can taste. You only experience as much as you see.”

As a final note: Sealy points out that wine is “greater than just Italy and France.”

“There are great wines at any price point in any corner of the world.” The more you open up your mind to other spaces and places – by going to bottle shops to buy wine, by being a bit more adventurous – the better chance your palate will have to tell you something versus what your mind (or ego) is trying to.

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