Toronto’s d’Amato among young, female sommeliers
Chris Atchison/Metro Toronto
Sommelier Sara d’Amato of Truffles restaurant, at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.
Forget the millions spent each year marketing this country’s finest vintages, Sara d’Amato may alone be one of Canada’s greatest wine ambassadors.
The 28-year-old sommelier for Truffles restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto has spent most of her young viticultural career promoting the wonders of Canadian wine on trips overseas, but not without forgetting to indulge her first love, the vintages of France.
It was during pre-teen summers spent playing amid the vineyards of Avignon in France’s Provence region — her father, a university professor, would take the family to the region during sabbaticals — which sparked the University Of Toronto alumnus’ interest in matters of the vine.
After graduating with a degree in world literature and establishing herself in a director’s position at a market research firm in Toronto, d’Amato took what she now refers to as "a big risk" and packed it all in for another educational tenure, this time at Niagara College.
She would graduate two and a half years later, having completed the winery and viticulture program in 2005, but not before an exchange semester in Bordeaux returned d’Amato to her beloved France and allowed her to expound the virtues of Canadian grapes to her French counterparts.
"I really wanted to show (Canadian wine) off," she recalls, "so every time I’d be invited to a wine-maker or producer’s house, I’d always bring something Canadian and they were always shocked" in a positive way.
D’Amato admits that the French rarely look to the New World for innovative new labels.
Nor have most people historically looked to a young woman for wine advice. The sommelier business has traditionally been the domain of men, but that, too, is changing.
D’Amato was surprised that her program at Niagara College was about half female, but forecasts that as more women emerge in sommelier roles around the city following in the footsteps of herself, Jennifer Huether at the Air Canada Centre and Doris Miculan of the CN Tower’s 360 restaurant, the gender floodgates will open further in the industry.
D’Amato has dealt with her fair share of prickly wine connoisseurs who have questioned her ability based on her youthful vintage alone, even whether she’s old enough to drink the product she serves.
"You work with them and speak a little bit, find out what they like and give them a few pieces of information they didn’t know and they slowly get to trust you."
Santa sommelier gives her holiday gift picks
- Peninsula Ridge "Inox" Reserve Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, 2005, $19.95, Vintages No. 7328. "Winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, formerly from Chablis, is a master of Chardonnay here in Niagara. This style is done entirely in stainless steel, "inox" in French, and has a pure, clean richness with a lovely, persistent finish."
- Santo Assyrtico, Santorini, Greece, 2005, $15.95, Vintages No. 627760. "Assyrtico is an indigenous Greek grape variety producing outstanding white wine that is fresh, dry, floral with great viscosity."
- Chateau de Tiregand, Pecharmant, Bergerac, France, 2003, $17.95, Vintages No. 986141. "From a region that has often been overlooked due to its position in the shadow of Bordeaux. Pecharmant is the most prestigious of the Bergerac appellations and is an exceptional value. Medium-bodied with well-balance acidity."
- Iris Hill Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA, 2004, Vintages No. 661447, $25.95. "A new winery on the Oregon Pinot scene that is producing some wonderfully seductive and sultry Pinot Noirs without being over-extracted and heavy."
Gift of wine requires asking, experimenting and listening
Sommelier Sara d’Amato of Truffles restaurant has a few suggestions for picking up a gift-worthy bottle of wine for a employer or colleague.
- Ask the experts: "There are some great wine geeks that work for the LCBO that are really helpful and know their stuff," she says. "I would highly recommend speaking to them."
- Don’t discredit smaller wine-producing regions: "There are some fantastic Greek wines out there right now ... whites and reds and wines from Santorini ... There are also some great Ontario wines, and some great B.C. reds."
- Listen when your boss or colleague speaks: "If you know your boss (or colleague) has travelled, it’s always nice to surprise them with a wine from the region where they’ve travelled."