Nothing takes a good meal to the next level than a carefully chosen wine. At least, that’s what we think here at Kóz bistro.
We have a well-stocked cellar of bottles from around the world that includes white, red, rosé, orange, natural, and sparkling. Our wine list is carefully curated—you’ll even find some rare and privately imported selections—making it well worth the visit.
Here are some highlights from our interview with the man in charge of the wine list: Sommelier Michael Otaka, whose passion for winemaking is matched only by his expertise.
How did you become a sommelier?
I have a background in hospitality. I took a sommelier course as part of my training, but I wasn’t very interested. In the late 1990s, I was working as a room manager at a high-end inn in the United States. One night I was asked to help out the banquet team. I didn’t feel I could refuse, so I said yes. They asked me to serve the wine, and after that I took sommelier courses and tasted many different wines to gain a better understanding of the fascinating world of winemaking. That was in 1997. In 2004, I left the U.S. to return to Quebec, my wife’s home province, to be a sommelier.
How do you put together a wine list for a restaurant?
There are many ways to approach a wine list. Of course, you need the classics, and the wines that pair well with the dishes on the menu. Quebecers like French, Italian, American, Portuguese and Spanish wines. In the summer, they enjoy thirst-quenching reds, refreshing whites and fruity rosés. In winter, the preference is for bold, tannic reds. I also like to defy convention by offering remarkable wines from Syria, Armenia, Israel, Georgia and Greece, among others. Mediterranean cuisine is meaty, spicy and comforting. Naturally, Mediterranean wines make for the optimal pairing!
My goal is to create a menu that stands out. Wine allows you to travel through your taste buds, taking you to other places and times. Quebecers (and Magogians!) love to travel, and wine takes them back to their most enjoyable European holidays.
What about Quebec wines?
I love Quebec wines and they are an important part of my list, both for Quebecers and tourists who want to get a taste of some of our finest products. We have solid know-how and modern processes. I particularly like Quebec sparkling wines, such as those from Cep d’Argent and Léon Courville, whose bubbles are produced through the traditional method. They are wonderful!
What’s special about the Mediterranean wines on the Kóz bistro menu?
There is a strong French influence on these wines. For example, the Lebanese wines are mostly reds that resemble wine from the South of France, the Rhône or the Pays d’Oc. The Israeli wines are strongly influenced by the Bordeaux vineyards. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Carignan and Grenache are prominently featured.
The Greek and Armenian wines feature indigenous grape varieties, such as Assyrtiko and Malagouzia. The taste of the Greek islands’ volcanic soil shines through in these wines.
What would you suggest to customers keen to make new discoveries?
I would suggest our discovery menu, which will take you on a “tour” of the Mediterranean. It’s a chef’s choice menu that changes with the seasons, accompanied by a selection of wine tasting options. This is where I have the most fun! I usually suggest a well-chilled glass of white for fattoush salad and anything with shrimp or grape leaves, and a supple, flavourful red for beef stew, salmon and kebabs.
I also change the wine by the glass every month. Regular customers get to discover new wines on a regular basis. And so do the employees! I firmly believe that the more wine you taste, the better you understand it. You also learn what you like and are better able to advise customers.
Did this interview make you thirsty? Come and get a taste of Michael Otaka’s wine stewardship at Kóz bistro!
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