Welcome to the Knowledge Project, I'm your host shampooer curator behind Farnam Street, which is an online intellectual hub of interest and is covering topics like human misjudgment, decision making strategy and philosophy. But today we're going to be talking about why one of my favorite subjects, the Knowledge Project, allows me to interview amazing people from around the world to deconstruct why they're good at what they do. More conversation than prescription. On this episode, I have Veronica Reven, one of the most respected Solmonese in the world.
She's been working in restaurants since she was 16. She's entirely self-taught and has an amazing passion for wine. After placing twice in the top 12 in 2007 and 2010, she became the first woman to make the podium by taking second place at the World's Best Sommelier competition in Tokyo in March 2013.
She's the owner of Swaffer and Hall, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite wine bars. We explore the fascinating world of wine, how to taste, including an on air tasting tips and tricks for serving wine and so much more. I'll apologize in advance for the audio. We had a goof with the recorder. This is definitely worth listening to. With that said, I hope you enjoy the conversation.
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Welcome. Thanks for coming on. I've never interviewed a sommelier before and you're one of the world's best. So this is incredibly exciting for me, Tony. How you get started with your love of wine for how many hours it's. I never had a real. It's not as if I woke up one day and I decided I wanted to become Mr. McGee. It's really something that happens through different DOMS experiences, trips, people I met. Um, I actually started working in the restaurant industry at about 16 years old as a student, and my studies have been completely non wine related.
I did a B.A. in modern literature and languages, studying languages and then an MBA in international trade. But all that time I was working in restaurants, I ended up going to France for a year, study turned into a seven year stay and looking for a job there. I found a job with a winemaker. Sounds cool, you know, and I had been in restaurants for a while, which I basically fell in love with the restaurant industry, which was the service industry, the restaurant industry as a whole, and was wine and food.
But every time I say that, I wouldn't write so. So it's really just all these, you know, a combination of jobs. I have all those people I met and all of a sudden I kind of realize, OK, this could actually become a real job. I wasn't very glorious in my family when I wanted to be a waitress as well. So you kind of have to give up. But it's not so. So there's no elimination and it's kind of what's happened.
OK, and what was it like living in France for seven years in terms of culture between here and there and the differences? And is that what really started your passion or you know, it really started in a way.
I guess I always thought I was a citizen of the world. My mom's German, my father's French Canadian. We've always traveled a lot as kids. It's something my parents instilled in all of us. My brothers are still great travellers. And as I thought, I had no particular attachment to Canada. But and, you know, it takes that you have to live elsewhere to realize how good you have it at home. Right. And it did that time I spent.
And so there was always this opening onto onto the world and European culture in particular. So it's not as if it was something new. It's all kind of natural. And in Quebec, there is the strong you know, the strong links, cultural links to France. So it wasn't like a big a big shock or anything, but I really, really appreciated the food and wine culture and being in Alsace, that's where I was for seven years and one of the best places to eat and drink.
It was I really felt in my element. I just loved being around the wine makers. When I was working at this winery, I was constantly, you know, I had my nose into the winemakers asking everybody questions down the cellar. You know, I'm really, really curious and excited to have the winery had some of the winery you were going to the actual vineyards, spending time that the winemakers. Exactly. What would be the when did you start your process of becoming media in France or did you do that when you came back?
That's a good question. Again, there's such a kind of a seamless flow to everything I did that there's no there's no real defining moment. I think it all kind of stalls together. But when I can after those seven years in France, when I came back to Canada, I was seriously the obvious choice was a restaurant job. Because, again, there's the good thing about is that there's always work when you work in the restaurant industry. Right.
So so it was an easy thing to fall back onto, but I was starting to think, OK, maybe I could become a wine buyer for the secure the studio. I didn't know how things were back then. It's not as simple as that. But so I started thinking of wine as more of a possible career. And when I came back, I was working in restaurants in France, I came back here, I went directly to restaurants, I was kind of my comfort zone and just kept evolving in restaurants.
I I think that that's it's an industry I really liked and that I felt comfortable in and I felt good in. So and it's the first time I didn't even know it is something the competition was. I didn't give myself the title of some a year. And I am I mean, even though I took every class I could during my whole life, I saw every class I could unwind. But at the base, I'm self-taught again, as I said, curiosity, something that really defines me.
And so I would read everything like when I was at the winemaker in France is always asking questions about everything I would read, everything I could get my hands on. And and so when I came back from France, that was in ninety four, I went back to the restaurant industry and got a job also at the SBA, started working and quickly became a product consultant. And I saw a go by for some of the competition and I thought I had just been back six months and in the country and I thought, what better way to find out who's who, who's doing what?
You know, what's going on. I had been away for so long and I had heard great things about in the restaurant and the smoking scene in Quebec, but was disconnected from it all. And so I signed up for that competition. I thought, you know, I'm going to go. I might as well do it right. And there was 60 people doing the semifinals and six finalists. And I was expecting to watch the final now, but I was called one of the finalists.
So two questions. I mean, what is involved in the path to becoming an official sommelier? And then what is what happens at a sommelier competition, how to be questions. So how the path is evolved. I mean, they're still in France, in Europe in general. They've had I mean, it's a known trait and they've had so many schools. There's a similar program in every hotel, restaurant, school throughout Europe. So it's something it was actually difficult when I first went to France and thought, oh, I'll find a job as a student.
Those aren't student jobs. People trained to become servers, to occupy every position in the restaurant industry. But it's much more recent that we have officials. I mean, we're training in schools in North America. We see it now more and more. I think we tried it again in Quebec for a certain time because of our our our links with France, because of in many ways we have more resemblances. But so it's it's slowly starting. I'd say in the last ten or twenty years, we've seen more of social programs for training seminars in North America.
But there's also a lot still to be while I was going see like every other train. Now, I hope there's not a lot of surgeons that learn, you know, that ourselves. But for some professions where you don't want surgeons. But but in this industry, I think there's probably still a lot and more so in North America because we're not as you know, it's not as all compartmented into, you know, an academic program. When you go to a competition, you have all these varying backgrounds competing.
What's involved in the competition that's we can talk to hours about just that. But I love talking about it because there's so many people, so many competitions are strictly tasting contests the number of times. And I hate that. But I'm in public events and I have people walk up to me and stick a glass under my nose and say, what's that? So now we say, I'm not a circus animal. You know, it's not. So I guess it's where people remember the most because it's the most impressive.
People are always very impressed by somebody who, you know, does a blind tasting and says, OK, this is a people from Burgundy, from such village from that. I remember watching SOM and they were trying to do that. You seem to be trying to do that. Yeah. And it just in my mind that you were even capable of doing something like that. So so I think that's why people remember that, because there is something impressive about it.
But what's really important to things, it's there is it's not just the guessing game. There's really, really serious knowledge needed to back up a tasting like that. Oh, of course. The first of all, in the tasting as such, it's not you're not going to get that many points from guessing what it is. It's kind of fun. We all love to do it in class. Exactly right.
But the most talented people in this business also learn humility very quickly. And we're the first to recognize that. No, it's not easy. No, we don't get it right every time people going around. You know, I always. There you go. So the guessing what it is part is fine, but it's not the finality, I'd say the that and analytical taste. It's analyzing the level of acidity, of sugar, of alcohol, of tannins, being able to qualify, the tendency to be ripe, unripe.
Does it come from a hot year, from a moderate year, from a cool year? What kind of soil type might it comes from? Has it been OK or stainless steel or clay amphoras? If it's been an oak, was it new? OK. So these are all things that take years and years of tasting, training and basically blind tasting is deductive reasoning. OK, so you just toss a whole bunch of stuff and the tasting. So, so that's how complex IT tasting can be.
And the tasting is still just one part of the competition. I say competitions are always three fold. There's the tasting, there's obviously service because we are service people, even though the world, the word society has become very, very trendy like the chefs, there's always kind of like almost rock star certain you would be one of those people.
I hate that kind of the the sandwiches are servers first and foremost.
So somebody who calls themselves as somebody who has never worked in the restaurant business in their life is not really a somebody who's a server at wine specialized server. I always tell when I'm training young people that are starting, I say if you find serving the slightest bit degrading, change business right away. I think this is what you should thrive on, on serving people. That's that's the basic basic thing to start. So service is part of the competition. It can be anything from how do you serve a no bottle of Bordeaux?
How do you open a double magnum of champagne and serve it to how do you deal with difficult guests? So it's a lot of tact and diplomacy, wine, it's all matching. It's a huge part of our work. So being familiar with not only French cuisine, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Mexican meal, knowing the great cuisines of this world and being able to to do wine and beverages matches, because not only wines, somebody should be familiar with every every beverage, alcohol, spirits, Sackets as much in terms of wine tasting as production elaboration, different styles and sharing.
And then the biggest part, the third part other than tasting and service is series. We're basically supposed to know everything and the theory is just so vast and continuously expanding. I mean, we're way past the days where there was France and Italy as wine producers. China is the sixth or seventh world's largest producer of wine. Today, Brazil makes wine, Thailand makes wine. So knowing everything about grape growing geology, climate questions I winemaking, which is essentially chemistry, all the grape varieties of the world, all the wine appellations of the world.
So it varies immensely vast. Nobody will ever know anything, but they can ask us anything. It sounds like the only job better than mine walking around tasting wine all day. Speaking of which, they dropped off two glasses. You can you walk me through a tasting and what I find for me. Yes, I'll tell you a story like this. So I don't even know. I sit down in a restaurant. People wine swirl in this. But how do I actually.
You're supposed to enjoy. That's the most important thing. And that's what anybody serving you should worry about the most. Right? That's it. We're there to make sure people have a good time. So enjoying it is is the basic thing. Then you can completely geek out about it. And we love to do that. Right. And people are more and more into wine. And so and I truly believe that that pleasure increases with knowledge. And the more we know about wine, about the people who make it, the region it comes from, and it really adds to to the pleasure of tasting.
Can you walk me through how you would taste this tasting? So first of all, we're looking at three things eyes, nose and balance. And the visual examination of a wine is something a lot of people overlook, but it's full of clues to what the wine could possibly be. So we have, obviously, versus the cup. So we have a slightly pinkish wine. So it's a rosy wine and certain wines will be variations of color. When wines age, their color changes.
OK, aging can impart color to wine. If it's the same grape from from a super cool or a super hot climate, it's not going to have the same day, different color. It'll be a different color. So very, very slight differences in views of the wine that can tell you a lot about what. What. What the line is or where it comes from. Of course, you're never going to jump to a conclusion from just one clue, right?
Again, deductive reasoning. So we're combining all these close together to come to the logical conclusion. The other thing that's obvious about this one is it's bubbly. It's mildly silly to produce.
So it's got bubbles. Bubbles can also be it's not necessarily sparkling wines from the amount of bubbles here. And there's not a continuous. But still it's more than if it was wine with just a little bit of CO2 trapped in it. That could also be the case, I think, of certain wines. But wines that are bottle very young or can be bottle with little CO2 in them sometime on voluntarily to give them a bit more of that freshness about spirits to it.
But this looks like it is a fully sparkling wine. And we can look at the you know, when people saw their glass around and we talk about legs. Yes. On a wine. So the tears that come down. So when you swirled around and you see the wine coming down on the inside of the glass can tell you about viscosity as a wine. So a combination of sugar, of alcohol, of body, usually the thicker the tears, the slower they are to form and to come down, the more full body the wine will be.
It could be an alcohol, can be sugar, can be a combination thereof. I wish that people did that to carry the wine that we swirling around. Definitely eat it. But as the wine is coming down, you will watch the tears. It's something I didn't pay attention to for many years because you need glass in the perfect state to be any residues. So there shouldn't be. So it's it's not the most trustable source of information, but it's something you can look at then, of course.
So we know it's rosé. We know it's sparkling. That's about all we know for now. I mean, it's a very light you some roses tend to be much darker. So it could be different grape varieties, could be different styles of winemaking. So then we're going to smell it. And ideally, you want to smell it once before swirling it around. OK, just the first thing you're going to look at is, is the wine clean looking for salts?
Are there any wine cork? Does it oxidize? Is there something wrong with it? How do you tell a cork one by smelling a lot of Corktown. OK, and the wine bar I have every time we stumble or wherever I am, if I'm doing an event and there's lots of people have if I have a bottle of wine, I always keep it and make people smell it. OK, so many people don't know what wine smells like. Some people confuse cork and OK, so it's a very distinctive smell and you just need to smell it, you know, a few times memories that smell and then you'll instantly pick it up when it happens because it can be very just a cork.
Wine can vary tremendously and the the intensity of of its faults. Some wines are so badly caught, you open the bottle and people 10 feet away will smell it. They don't mind on the others. We're going to be there's going to be three of us pouring over the glass like this. It's not something something's wrong, but it's not so that the intensity of the course now, OK, can vary. So always the same. So sometimes. And so we have a sparkling wine.
A lot of people I don't know. I think sparkling wine cannot be caught. Oh, OK. I don't know why anyone can be caught or can be caught. Sparkling wine can be caught. But there's this every time I have a court. Sparkling wine people so often. Oh I didn't know sparkling wine could because of course anyone and anything that's closed with a cork, an actual court closure can be quite so. The wine is clean. It doesn't have any faults.
And then we're looking at intensity, the intensity of the aromatics, because some grapes are much more dramatic than others. And there's some highly aromatic grapes. Maelstrom, extraordinary Muscardini. So we have a very intensely aromatic wine already. You've eliminated a whole bunch of others. You know, it's going to be nice and sparkling wines. There's usually a limited number of groups that are used to make sparkling wines worldwide. There's there's probably lots and there's always somebody somewhere doing something weird with an unheard of great variety.
But a lot of sparkling wines are either made with the champagne grapes, Pinot Noir mostly. Then you have the wine the same as the canvas, which have their own great varieties for a second. And so so there's these pockets of of a few sparkling wine specialty sparkling wines made in certain countries that have their own grapes. And then they're the ones that are made according to the champagne model which are made. And champagne, but all over the world, in Canada and the United States and Germany everywhere.
So at least we're not dealing with two thousand grape varieties. Usually when we're dealing with sparkling wine, Jane, right now we're taking it down somewhere. So so something we're going to look at when we're doing a sparkling wine is from the aromas and the taste and the quality of the bubbles. Trying to define is it's a wine that's been made in the champagne tradition or is it something else? So when we're smelling it, you'll get the intensity. Sparkling wines are usually, unless it's made with an aromatic variety, are usually more discreet.
They're not super big on the nose. Right. They don't jump out of the glass at you. There's always a certain finesse in the sparkling wine. The smells amazing.
I get it.
And, you know, the other thing is people are so afraid to say when you ask them, what are you smelling? Everybody is. So there's been so much intimidation throughout the years with wine that people feel incompetent when you and I always say, if I give you a plate of food, I give you a dish. And most people will say if they like it or if they don't, and if you ask them wine, they'll probably be able to say why they like it or they don't give them a glass of wine and ask them their opinion.
They're totally skewed. The vocabulary around it seems so impenetrable. And yet it's it's not that different from Soad. Right. We're dealing with taste. So there's obviously a lot of subjective personal preferences, but it's just OK, do you like it or not? Why do you like it? OK, yes. The vocabulary is not there. But like for you know, not everybody has a chef's vocabulary for food either. Right. And you develop that as you go, but you have to start to start to jump in to say what you think.
It's by expressing your thoughts and tasting with others that can help you kind of, you know, put the right words on what you're thinking. Right, that you'll get there. But there's unfortunately been over the years so many people that have positioned themselves, you know, be winemakers or wine writers or so-called experts. I mean, he's right. I mean, this old image of the arrogant French somebody so many people have positioned themselves as having the ultimate truth, truth.
And we're going to you know, we're going to teach you poor, ignorant consumer what good wine is. Right. Everybody's equipped to decide if they like. All right. I just a oh, this is amazing. I love this. So this is this is.
I know what it is. Right. So it's a it's a carb. I like it. It's not a carb, but it's from that region in Spain. We're going to have is a big, big, big industry. I love Kevin. So a lot of really good, affordable, sparkling wines are made under that VAT denomination and they work with local grape varieties. Hello, I'm a comedian. Talula streamy white grapes. There's a few others also, but those are the three main great use for kava.
So it's not champagne like it. They're not it's not a champagne look alike, but using different grapes. It is made though in the traditional method. We're not supposed to say champagne method anymore, but so in the same way as champagne is made, which is considered the best production methods for giving a better quality sparkling wines. But carb is a huge appellations, millions and millions of bottles made. And this produces a producer I like a lot called upon to belong, and they've been working really hard to try and get the standards for CARB higher higher because they thought it was too much low quality water, really cheap supermarket wines and anybody can just label it.
Calver Well, you have a certain type. You dish out a certain protocol to follow in terms of elaboration or allowed to use. You have to make it into the consumer and the whole elaboration is all. But still, it wasn't sufficient to ensure the level of quality they wanted for the product. And there's a lot of really low quality carb produced. So so the standards of the appellation are not sufficient to distinguish between exactly the more ordinary. And and so they actually pulled out these guys.
They don't call their wines Canela. That's why it's so it's made in Catalonians in the days in the region. They're actually in the heart of the kava production region with caviar, grapes, but they pulled out of the appellation. They don't call the wines anymore because they don't want to be associated with a brand that also has a lot of really low quality products. Right. So that's the long story on these guys. I mean, so they've now called their wines Contractility Duniya, which is actually a geographical designation, OK, it's the land where they are, where they grow their grapes to make the wines.
We finally get to taste good taste on the nose with taste while it's on the nose. We're looking for aromatics, we're looking for OK influence. We're looking for a morality in the aromatics. What kinds of more fruits is floral? Is it spicy? Is there a lot of non-approved aromas or is it just a big fruit bomb? So this is your ability to distinguish those different smells, come from smelling them and then smelling wine. And just over time, again, kind of like the cork from our noses, like a muscle.
It's one of our most it's an amazing sense we have. And it's almost it's when we use the least, we're so dependent on our eyes that we completely underuse our nose. We think we all know we can smell. We think we're good at. Oh yeah, I know the coffee smells like I and basil smells like. But try smelling those things wine, not knowing what it is and you'll be surprised at how very common smells every day smells.
People won't recognize once you're blindfolded because we're not used to developing our smell memories and that's anybody can do it. It's just an excuse. I have been doing it my whole life and I still do it. I'm smart. Funny. How do you do that? You smell everything here in your kitchen. They're always laughing at me because I always put my nose in everything I smelled. I trained my nose. I smell, I smell when I'm gardening.
I smell when I'm walking. I smell when I'm in traffic. Good smells and bad. It's just a question of training your nose and yes, trying to. Sometimes I'll do it on purpose. Right. Put out certain herbs and vegetables, whatever, when I'm grocery shopping. And but the difficult part is again, with your eyes closed, you are blindfolded to be able to remember the smells. So those kind of instant recognition of aromas, those exercises are hugely important and they help in developing your ear and your memory of sound.
And then we finally get to the taking off the smell. Yeah. And so what what do you do when you and this is going to sound maybe ridiculous, but when you put it in your mouth, you swirls around, you swallow it. Gargling noise we make. Yeah, it's exactly the same thing you were talking about how we're swirling it in the glass. I said, smell it a first time before swirling it and then swirling around because it's basically oxygenated wine to help release your aromatics.
Some wine still won't make much difference between not swirling it and swirling it. Some wines you'll smell much more once you swirl it around. Some wines are a little bit shiny. Need to kind of need to be coaxed out. What we're doing in the mouth is exactly the same as you're taking all that wine in your mouth and you let some air in and you control the air through the wine. So once again, it's oxygenating it. Just smell it better, because that's another important thing.
We talked about the palate, but in the mouse we're talking about taste and smell. When you say a wine taste of strawberries or chocolate or vanilla, it actually smells of those things. There's only four or five or six basic taste. Oh, that's interesting to sweetness. Sourness. I always thought it was crazy when people are like it taste like chocolate. It doesn't taste like, yes, that's why you don't taste anything when you're you have a cold because you can smell when so so tastes are basically those same acidity.
Saghir bitterness and salt. Those are those basic you can throw in Miami. We won't go into that because people can look it up. It's a fascinating subject and fact is also starting to be considered as a taste. But so so that's taste. And you can still taste when your nose is blocked. You can still taste when you have a cold, you'll you'll taste sweetness and saltiness, but you won't smell. And so our palate and our nose are linked through the back of the throat, retro nasal passages.
And so that's it. When you you have something in your mouth and you say, oh, it tastes of strawberries, it actually smells. So you're smelling it from inside. That's exactly. So that's why that putting the air through the wine and your palate, how to taste or smell it better to the back passages. OK, and then you swallow and then are you looking for I mean, I want to I want to keep it on this.
Going to be looking for this wine that we have here. I feel it on the front of my tongue, OK, more so than anywhere else. But that could be because I just it it's like what. And that can be personal, too. There's there's this other kind of slightly ridiculous notion out there that was ridiculous for four years of a tongue mouth, whereas we taste the sweetness in the front of the tongue acidity on the side. That was a mistake from the start.
It's hard to believe that it's been the the sorry better word for last for so long. Because it was an error from the beginning, I mean, it was no such thing exists as a tunnel that we are all very, very individual. Once again, as Taster's, we don't see things the same way that scientists say that there's actually not two people on the planet that will perceive the same suit or the same beverage. Exactly in the same way.
So that's not surprising. But but but it also makes it difficult. That's why we establish this kind of protocol. So we have to talk to common language to say I love acidity alignment. Super high in acidity will be just fine for me. For somebody who doesn't like acidity, that wine will be way too sour. So that person will say that's super high acidity. And I'll say, no, it's just right. Right. So we have to kind of calibrate ourselves.
And that's also something you learn as you're tasting a lot. So what would be the acidity in this? That that's in very technical jargon. We quantify everything precisely. We plus we'll go from high to medium, plus the medium to medium, minus to low. OK, it's delicious. I'm glad you like it or not. Vocab drinker. It's quite a different style of wine, but so on the palate when when we talked about the aromas and the taste because acidity helps to define the level of acidity in the wine.
We're looking at aromas, taste, but also structure, you know, kind of the mouth feel on top of letting the air through and kind of gargling with the wine. You're you're carrying it through your mouth. Right. And to get a feel of the wine of the way, how it coats your mouth. Right. Some wines go down like water. Others have almost a creamy feel to them. Right. So there's strong qualities that are different that can also tell you about a great variety, about a climate, about winemaking methods.
So it's all these things combine that that helps you come to a decision, I guess, based on really elimination and exactly what isn't. And how do you know it's just from you know, I always tell people how you become a teacher, what you just drink too much. So you taste a lot. But that's it just comes through years and years of training, of tasting and rigorous tasting, not sitting alone in front of the TV and checking out bottles.
Right. There has to be a method, almost like a tool of discipline. Exactly. And and the necessity of doing it together. One foremost, because wine to me is is is about bringing people together. That's the basis of most important things. You have to enjoy it and hopefully you're not enjoying it alone. It brings people together. That's the right. But for learning about wine also, the exchange is necessary. There's just so much you can learn from books.
At one point you have to confront your ideas with somebody else's. I was talking about calibrating my high acidity. What is it for you and where do we meet? What what's what's considered medium acidity and high acidity by the community at large? Right. We kind of have to agree. So the importance of tasting with others to make sure you're on the right track and calibrating and what books would you say recommend or not only the beginner, but the person who wants to get into not necessarily becoming a professional sommelier, an educated consumer.
To me, there's two Bibles and they're trying to pretty much everybody to wine list from Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, which is wonderful because it covers the winemaking world. It's got great maps. It's got a general presentation of each country, each region. So it's really a solid, solid basis for wine knowledge. And again, understanding about the region, about the topography, about all of that helps you better understand the wines. And it's all links, of course, our wines today that are completely cut off from where they come from.
There are industrial wines that you can have an Australian wine or wine from the long dock in a wine from Chile that taste exactly the same. And those are fabricated wines. And and there's nothing wrong with them. I mean, they're not they're not going to kill you. What do you mean by design? Because you can very much so. You can come in and, you know, you can hire a consultant winemaker today and say, OK, I've got this vineyard wherever it is, I want my wine to be this colour to taste of chocolate and blackberries and be a little bit sweet and super round and creamy and not aggressive and easy to sell at around that price point.
And he'll make it to work. Technology allows that both in the vineyards and especially in the winery, through the process, through the processes both. There's many, many allowed additives and many allowed processes that allow you to manipulate a wine to make it what you want. There's still this very real. And diagnosis out there in the consumer world, that wine is fermented grape juice and of course, the industry just loves that and of course, totally exploits it.
And you read all these nice back labels that tell you about the vineyard and moving your home when colleagues image of wine, whereas a lot of wines out there actually resemble more Coca-Cola, you know, a soft drink or processed cheese in terms of how they're made. Is that because so disconnected from nature, it's very fragmented that there's becoming to be a few large players who are striving for like almost like McDonald's, like there's a big fat, you know, and some consumers actually want that.
Also, they want the reassurance of having the same product year in, year out. No matter where they go, they know they're going to do the same thing. Molds, you know, to wine lovers, formost most wine lovers, the the variance from one year to another, from one region to another, the fact that the same group winegrower grows same grapes on two different plots with different soils and different slopes are different. That's fascinating to us. That's what we love.
I always say what really turns me on in French we say good about legal means to a wine that has character and a wine that tastes like a taste because it comes from a specific place and it wouldn't taste the same if it came from another place. That that's what really turns wine lovers on. But again, there are people who drink wine. They like a glass of wine and they don't really care about the story and they don't. They prefer something.
They grew up on soft drinks and sweet foods and they like something sweet and soft and simple. And that's fine right there. They're there. And so there's a lot of the industry that caters to that, you know, to the mass market can make wine as a real consumer prices with all the marketing gimmicks and everything that goes with it. That's coming back to the service aspect of being a social media. Would you wish more people knew when they came into a restaurant and talked to so many?
Oh, it's very simple. I mean, the first thing I wish people had was more confidence and less and be less intimidating. Just, you know, so many people out there that are just waiting to talk wine with you. Right. You want to share their passion. And if anybody gives you attitude, if anybody is arrogant and if anybody tries to recommend some wine, be it in a store or in a restaurant, without asking you a single question, first steer clear away from them.
This is what I like exactly what they love and without caring about what you like. Right. So but yeah, just be confident. Don't be afraid to ask questions and say those in the business that are judgmental that will look down on you. They're not the good ones anyhow. You shouldn't care about them. We couldn't care less if they like you or not. Right. And real professionals in real wine lovers will just be more than happy to take you on at any level you are and try to guide you through discovery and pleasure.
So that probably leads to suboptimal outcomes, right? Hiding or being intimidated by speaking about what you like and your preferences. What would be other mistakes that people make are easily correctable or it would offer a better experience from a consuming point of view.
There's very simple things, you know, like just surface temperature. We still, you know, drink a lot of wine is way too cold and a lot of other wines way to warm. There's not a red wine that's good about 17, 18 degrees right now. The whole notion of a room temperature, I don't know that goes back to the Middle Ages. But when the houses are heated at twenty two, twenty three, there's not one wine that's good at that temperature.
The white wine straight or Rosie hates summer coming around roses season. So many people drink the roses ice cold and some use the wine. The better roses. A lot of the better. Roses are much better, like 10, 12 degrees. The fridge is at four or five. So when they warm up, they really roses are not usually very aromatic. Ones are more textural ones. But you kind of chilled that texture when you serve it ice cold and it really comes into its own when when you let it warm up a little bit.
So, yeah, temperatures and others. So do you recommend people touch the bottle? Like if I ordered a bottle of red at a restaurant when it comes in? Well, you try it and if it's too warm for a friend, which so often happens, don't hesitate to ask for an ice bucket and put the red bottle of wine in the ice bucket for. Ten minutes, if it excuse me, it still happens. Look at you as if you're from Mars, right?
But if it's anybody who knows anything, they'll totally understand. First of all, this sensitivity to warming, is that an indication of how serious the restaurant here in Texas? Totally. If anybody serves you a red wine that tastes lukewarm, they're really not serious about their wine service. That's good to know. And so flipping it around a bit from the consumer perspective, how do I tell the difference between a good or bad so many people you establish with them right from the start?
Their ease of approach, their willingness to really try to understand you and what you want. And you'll see if their main goal is for you to have a good time or if it's for them to sign right. Or if they couldn't care less because they have another important table next to you, whatever. But those things, I think it's a regular of service. Yeah. So you're in the business of wine now. You operate this amazing restaurant we're in right now.
We Wine Bar, which is gorgeous, by the way. Tell me about what it was like to start a business in wine in an industry that is the choice for a high failure rate? Well, I think like most people spend a lot of their time working in the industry, we all kind of play with the dream of having your own place one day, although I remember for years I said I will never have a restaurant. I don't want to be a slave, I want to have a life.
But young people in this industry, it is a difficult industry financially and it's almost impossible to get finance right. Because there's such a high failure rate. It's really hard to get banks and other institutions on board. It is stupid, crazy hours for not a lot of pay. You know, once again, this whole celebrities, I think it's really great what's happening with chefs and some of these, because it's bringing it's bringing light to the profession, making it known better appreciated.
But the downside effect is that it's giving young people starting the business are really not necessarily the right image. You know, I see kids coming out of cooking school and they want to be, you know, have their third TV show. Celebrity chefs are cooking Bulc. And I'm like, no, no, you're going to sweat for years behind another before we even call you recess. Right. So it's a really hard and those that really succeed, I think, are people that are truly, truly passionate.
Yeah, I worked like crazy, were crazy hours, but I don't care. I'm having fun as long as I'm having fun. So does it seem like work. Exactly. But what is so the behind the scenes. So you're constantly traveling and trying to find new bottles that you can bring to people what's involved in the behind the scenes that people wouldn't necessarily think about for so many years? When you get to and from well, from from an owner is like I think one of the reasons why the industry has such a bad rap is because too many people go into the restaurant industry because they're great cooks.
You only have friends are you should open up a restaurant. You need a manager to open up a restaurant because the profit margins are so, so, so tiny. If you're not constantly checking your numbers constantly, constantly, constantly, you can make loads of money and well, revenues and and closed down because it's going bankrupt. So. So you need solid management experience I think is the first thing before even having a right and then from a city perspective.
And what people see is that the service people on the floor serving people. But then like you say, there's all, you know, building up a wine program. So ordering the wines, buying wines, managing inventories are going to have a the glass program. What's going to be your pricing? So so there's and then constantly working with the kitchen or wine and magic. Right. So, you know, it's good. So for us it's different in Canada.
I know importing wine can be a bit tricky. You can't just go over and import a case, can you? What's the process for the.
Well, you have to work in your province of operations. So this wine bar is in Quebec. So I can only deal with this issue. I cannot deal with the cost of the oil, even though we're right across the river from Ottawa. I cannot buy directly from Ontario wine producers, which is ridiculous. I've always said, oh, my, my, my, my ultimate fate once I'm retired, whenever that happens, I will get on that case and lobby very, very hard to make our wine line.
The lot's changed across the country. A lot of people are already working on it. And but there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. I mean, all of our liquor laws are based on, you know, early 20th century, either from the prohibition era. So it seems to me. As a consumer of wine, I'm limited to the placebo selection, what they've chosen for me and then getting it anything outside of that becomes difficult.
And then it's almost like books like what they're choosing for me is high volume crowd pleasers, not necessarily a variety of flavors or small. Well, there's one thing consumers should know and people into wine is that we're actually in pretty great markets in terms of what's on offer, because there's a whole beyond the alcohol and the skew in the state monopolies, there's ways to get wine.
Also, it's not illegal. It's completely it goes through an entirely called consignment and we call it. And it's basically the same thing. Most wineries here are represented by an agent who does the importation, who does all the paperwork, but it's sold through the ringer. But they have an agent. So there's agencies in every province that represent the different wineries present on market that work here, that they're the ones who will bring me samples or invite me to a tasting or send me information on that product.
They're the ones making sure it's where they want it to be, on the shelves and the stores and so on. And so those agents also have wines that are not distributed through some Monopoly stores. And frankly, one of the reason why in the region here, I wanted to be on the correct side and not on the Ontario side was because I wanted to work on the wines, which are the ones we have on offer in Quebec. I have nothing to envy from cities like New York or London.
I can basically get anything I want in this market through private importation. And private import is not only for restaurant owners, it's for everybody. And it's just going to ask because for years it was thought it was reserved to restaurants and unfortunately, actually some unscrupulous agents did that. They didn't make the prices known to the public so that the researchers could make juristic margins on those wines right out of the ten dollar bottle of wine for sixty dollars because the price was not known from the public.
But now, as consumers are more and more into wine, consumption is increasing just and the whole wine scene is is is just very dynamic right now. There's more individuals that don't have restaurants that fine wines through these channels. The only inconvenience is because it doesn't transmit through the stores. It goes directly from the monopoly warehouses to the consumer. It's it's quite the case to open the cases. You have to buy a case of six or what I normally say, that's not really a problem.
Right. Get yourself some friends, like you said, wines for people. Exactly. You touched on something I want to talk about just briefly. People associate price and value. Is that true in line? To what extent? Like everything else, you get what you pay for up to a certain extent, just like watches, like clothing, like cars. At one point you get into the luxury market, right. There's no single bottle of wine in the world that costs more than about thirty or forty dollars to produce.
So why are there bottles selling for 1500 a bottle or 20, though? You know, you get into that luxury segment where you're starting to pay for charity, for refugees and for all the marketing that goes around it. Right. There's there's Wondolowski that at the moment supply and demand, you know, and wine, just like anything else. We do pay in in our markets, in Canada in general, what we don't get is the cheap wine is the ones you pay like two, three, four euros in a supermarket in France or much in the US that we don't get.
But frankly, not usually the best wines anyhow. Right. And from, you know, 20 to 50 dollars, I think our pricing can actually be quite competitive regularly. I see wines that I can buy here for cheaper than what I see them, you know, at the producer in Italy or in France where when we're in that especially that kind of 30 to 60 dollar range. And then, yeah, of course, there's wines that are two thousand dollars a bottle or more.
But but that's that's again, we've we've crossed over to the luxury goods department. It's not wine as a suit anymore. It's wine as a collector's item. Have you ever tasted something that changed you, changed you as a person and like the world didn't look the same after having it? I've tasted a lot of things that made me feel really good for you. Taste, you know, even, you know, without going into that factor of of of the effects of alcohol.
But there's just wines that, yeah, they they just move you. And that's, I think, what I look for the most in wines I used to. And it was all part of the learning process, right? So many people say, oh, yeah, you were the one taking that I filled up. I don't know how many notebooks during my life taking notes and every single one. I would go to the wine cellar. But I was writing, writing, writing, writing.
Now, my, my, my, my tasting techniques. Sometimes it's that precise. It has to be when I'm training for competitions or things like that. But training purposes or for simply more simple evaluation purposes, I just taste the wine and pay attention to how it makes me feel. I look for for four liveliness and wine, for something I often say of a wine when once I really started. It's not speaking to me. It's not. And that's often very manipulating wine.
Again, there's nothing wrong with them. Technically, they're perfectly sound, but they don't have a soul. They don't move, they don't speak to you. And a lot of wine, I mean, the consumption would also be a bit of romance, I would imagine might be the winemaker and the craftsmanship that goes into it. And when you start thinking about the mechanics of mass produced wine that is manufactured to taste a certain way, you lose. Yeah, exactly.
And we could go on for hours and hours about the values or not of blind tasting. Right. Because knowing the story behind changes, yes. It can influence you. Right. Just like, you know, when you're tasting an expensive wine, you might read at higher because it's expensive and prestigious. We try really, really hard not to do that. So blind tasting in those cases is good. But sometimes I've I've, you know, evaluated certain wines quite poorly tasting them blind because they were kind of out of context and not in the right place.
And had I known what they were, what the winemaker was trying to do, I would have had a better understanding. Right. It's so much of our understanding comes from context. Exactly right. And again, that that's what I think is great about wine. It's all those, you know, and I love imperfections. I always say perfection is boring, right? When something is is so is almost deceptive. Is that a right word, something that's so clean that it's soulless.
It's it's too technically perfect. Right. I think. And wine and people beauty lies in the sauce. I said I have to be careful. I'm not I don't I don't want to say this imperfection better. Wine is is good because it's faulty. No, no. I want to not be salty. Should be good. You should have care. Exactly right. And that's one of the ways that you get care. Yeah. By not having this perfectly technical aspect, scepticism size that all the processes you use have basically stripped all the character in the legs.
So how do you look at a wine menu when you go into a restaurant that's not a wine bar. It's not known for their wine, but you want to have a bottle? Look, as you're there with your friends now, how do you go about evaluating not from you know, it's not going to be served chilled. You know, it's what I scroll through the list and right away you see somebody who's from the Trayvon knows right away. You look at the you go through it and you look at the producers.
And is it all only industrial being, you know, producers or is there some interesting stuff in there? And nobody knows everything there is you can be a specialist of a certain region. There's so many producers. You know, even if you're a specialists or kiante specialists, you never know everybody that's making wine in that area. It's just so that's fascinating. That's great. Right? We're never done discovering. And so you try something new. Do you go with what you know, like is there any Hock's for the consumer or something?
I don't know if I see it's mainly industrial, right? If I see a few interesting producers, well, then I'll start talking first thing there. They know, right? That's one way to for the consumer to make good use of the stuff you ever asked them if the wine is good or do you ask them different questions, different questions? I mean, asking if the wine is good. I always thought that was a bit weird and almost insulting when consumers go in restaurants.
So, you know, they know. But who will honestly tell, you know. Exactly. Oh, that's horrible. I know. I just recommended it.
Yeah, no, but again, you know, it's all industrial producers. I know it's not really worth talking to anyone because nobody has put any heart into making this wine list because it's probably been made by the rep of one of those big producers or so. And sometimes. So I should say that because sometimes there is there's staff working in restaurants that, OK, that that's the place they. Madame, they don't necessarily agree with the wine list, but, you know, that's where they're working, and so just chat with them and find out, you know, find out quickly from their attitude if they're because there can be no gems in the making.
And in terms of staff and in terms of wine, so it's always funny if I'm at home and I don't have a wine fridge, I think I just want to make sure I understand this. You would recommend taking a red and putting it in almost like an ice bath for five or 10 minutes. And it's just super simple rule, a 20 minute rule. What is the 20 minute rule? Take your whites out of the fridge 20 minutes before serving them and put your hands in the fridge 20 minutes before 7:00 in case of doubt.
Do that. That's an awesome that's a very basic thing. And it will work for most. Right. And in the summertime, when it's super hot, 30 degrees outside, you always better to have the lines a bit more chilled to cold and to warm up. Exactly the heat up. And then they'll take a degree four minutes once during the glass. So they heat up pretty quickly if the winds to warm, you know, rather than putting ice cubes into it, which isn't great.
There's not much you can do. I'm cognizant of your time. I just want to circle back to the wine outlets again. Do you recommend going through that and learning about the regions by then going to the CBO or the liquor store and then getting bottles from, again, like more than reading a book on a certain wine region and sitting with a glass of wine? When I read about a certain wine or region, it actually makes me want to try it.
Reading in wine. So you're reading on Burgundy, go grab a bottle of Burgundy and write and will you grab the same producer in different years and taste it at the same time, like in 2012, 2013? Yeah, I mean those, those kind of cases are super educational, right. But it's not always easy to do because usually there's one vintage out on the market. So that's something you can do when you visit produce. But so take your book, pick your reason.
Whatever reason, antiques, go buy a burgundy, but then organize juicing with friends. Right. Again, it's all about coming together. And it's it's going to be fun when you're sitting there with your book and geeking out all alone and it'll be even more fun when you can. OK, let's get your group together. People are just making up tasting groups and you don't need to have any great knowledge. I'm going to learn together, but I'll pick a region and ask everybody to bring a wine from that region.
And OK, that day you're going to read up on it and give us like a ten fifteen minute. I love that overrun of what the region is. And let's take these one. How do I become a member at all of this? Last question. Is there anything that I can do if I do start a wine tasting group that would make a big difference? It probably would take a while to figure out what's different about how you approach it in terms of stay away from certain things.
Yeah, well, see if you really want to learn again. I can't stress enough the importance of having rigour and the methodology and a certain discipline. Right. Because, of course, alcohol comes into play.
And at one point, you know, the learning goes that everybody is just too happy to make any sense, which is also a good outcome. Yeah, exactly. Spitting is not a bad thing. I think that's one of the first things we learn how to do that wine. It allows you to taste 50 wines. I just think I just can't do that. I have this aversion you have it's important to stress is that the learning process is different.
Everything exactly the same out of the wine except for the effect of the alcohol. Right. Your appreciation of it, the evaluation of the body, of the structure of the acidity, the tannins, everything, the aromas, the taste, spit it out or swallow it. Same thing, except for the effects of the alcohol. Right. So when you're doing your special tasting with your friends, it doesn't have to be don't make it. Okay. Next, I'm having a dinner party.
Thank you. I'll start half an hour earlier. Everybody brings a bottle. Let's make it seem like this. Just two pinot noir. Let's just do Burgundy, let's just do Argentino, whatever. Everybody wins the wine. And so we're tasting, we're learning. We're trying to and again, get get some help from you'll find somebody, you'll find one consultants and stores that are super talented and more than happy to share and give you a few pointers on.
OK, here's what you should do. You need a tasting. Great. OK, here's a good one. OK, something to go by. But that's super easy to find to do a little bit of research and have it validated by somebody who knows what they're talking about, because like everything else, there's a lot of information out there. And so that's it. Well, thank you so much. This has been absolutely fascinating. Thank you.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast. That's fair. And am s t r e t blog, dot com slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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