Not everybody knows everything about every wine. This probably includes you (but not your brother-in-law, right?). It certainly includes me, and it likely includes the people whose names and places of work are explored below. But they know more than most, certainly in this town, and that’s why they are all sommeliers, wine stewards, and just plain wine fans who happen to make a living at the business whom I happily and frequently trust with wine-matching suggestions when I eat in the restaurants where they ply their craft.
Downtown at Le Gavroche (1616 Alberni Street), Manuel Ferreira has the keys to the cellar, a cellar that is legendary for its depth, breadth, and sheer awesomeness. It’s predominantly French and totally mind-boggling: 125 whites, including a Chí¢teau Haut-Brion Graves 1928 (all right, it is $2,275, but it’s the only one on the West Coast); 400 reds, including a ’24 Mouton-Rothschild (you don’t want to know); and 38 dessert wines, including “older Yquems available, please inquire” (I wouldn’t dare!). But the real deal here is Ferreira’s sure-handed skill in sourcing those fabulous petits chí¢teaux: wines a few miles down the road from the big guns that cost a fraction as much as the heavies and often offer just as much palate pleasure, and sometimes even more.
At Raincity Grill (1193 Denman Street) overlooking English Bay, Brent Hayman presides over the best selection of wines by the glass, focusing on B.C. and the Pacific Northwest. The house-wine philosophy keeps it close to home—no Australians, no Europeans, great though they all are; B.C., Washington, Oregon, California, end of story. More than 100 “regular” wines are offered by the glass; a pretty heady “reserve” list augments the samplers. Hayman’s knowledge of B.C. wines is encyclopedic, and he works wonders with the house 100 Mile Tasting Menus.
Sebastien Le Goff at the fairly new Uva Wine Bar (900 Seymour Street) is another one of those walking wine references; seems he’s tasted everything. What’s more, he can recall his mental tasting notes in a flash. At Cibo Trattoria, the restaurant right next door, he has assembled an amazing list, and there’s always the pleasure of cheap proseccos—five bucks a hit, all night long, every Sunday for the foreseeable future.
The Kumamotos—or the Kusshis or the West Coast Malpeques (bet you didn’t know there was such a thing; I didn’t)—are on the bar top at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (777 Thurlow Street), where mono-monikered Frenchy greets the guests (most of them by name) and guides them to their tables or booths or the rooftop, or—sometimes best, especially if you’re on your own—the bar. Champagne or other bubble, a steely Chablis, a meaty Okanagan Pinot Gris, even something dry and pink, your call—or he’ll make the call for you.
Yeah, okay, these experts are all men. Well, whose fault is it that Barbara Philip, the first western Canadian to achieve the Master of Wine designation and still the only female MW in Canada, has departed the Fish House in Stanley Park, where her thoughtful wine suggestions matched chef Karen Barnaby’s hale and hearty cooking perfectly? Now she’s imparting her knowledge and tasting skills to others, training sommeliers on behalf of the International Sommelier Guild twice a week—one day in Vancouver, one day in Seattle. She speaks frequently at wine events, and if there’s one coming up near you, go and enjoy. Along with her husband, Iain, Philip has also set up a wine-consulting enterprise.
And then you could always ask me. I may not know much about wine, but, as the saying goes, I know what I like.