2 min

Toasting personal taste

Don't be afraid to stand alone in the world of wine

Credit: Capital Xtra files

Sommelier MarioLarochelle is the first to toss his training aside and make a toast to individual taste. Drink what you want to drink, he says, and to hell with stuffy preconceptions about wine.

“The biggest challenge with wines is to express ourselves,” reveals the 2003 Mr Leather runner-up from the backroom of the Montreal Road LCBO where he’s a product specialist. “People are afraid to stand alone. The wine world is very complex and people don’t like to disagree with people.”

But for beginners, Larochelle offers a few pointers that can make selecting your wine a little smoother. The big three of wine selection are colour, dryness and personal taste, but Larochelle’s simplest advice is, “Your wine should match your dish.”

“Select the most present taste on the plate,” he says, adding that spices, sauces and herbs can overpower chicken, for example, as the dominant taste. A chicken breast slathered in a cream sauce could be enjoyed with an oaky chardonnay, but that will likely put you to sleep. Larochelle suggests a sauvignon blanc, a drier crisper wine, to help keep you – and your taste buds – awake.

Generally, white wine complements white meat and red goes with red, but he cautions that the rule doesn’t always apply. He encourages his customers to try something different and adds that champagne goes very nicely with French fries.

Larochelle is armed with two sommelier certificates and is working on his Masters of Wine in the United States but meets common ground with laymen who fear the red wine hangover. For him, the solution is simple – pick Beaujolais.

“It’s an easier wine, it’s not too harsh,” he suggests for red wine amateurs. “It’s like candy. It’s raspberry, fruity.”

White, red or rosé, Larochelle warns that people accidentally drink wine like tequila, if they don’t pay attention to what they’re eating. “Salt and vinegar are no-nos,” he says adding that salads with vinaigrette can zap the taste from your wine the way a salt lick and lemon wedge numb a harsh tequila shot. “It can make your wine taste like water.”

Once you’ve picked a colour, look for the number on the tag below the wine at your local LCBO, advises Larochelle. “The lower a number is, the drier the wine is,” he explains, warning that sweeter stuff causes more severe headaches the morning after. “Ninety-five per cent of wines are dry, so when people are looking for a dry red wine, it’s easy. But one of the biggest misconceptions is that people expect a wine that is fruity… will be sweet.”

But the most important factor in wine selection is personal taste, he stresses. “You have to go with what you like,” says Larochelle, a confessed Veognier and Cirah fan. “People should always remember that they’re paying for the wine.”

The LCBO hosts courses for wine lovers who want to broaden their knowledge. “It’s fun and it’s not very expensive,” he says adding that more information is available at individual LCBO locations. “For the quality of the wine you’re getting it’s a great deal.”