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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

World's Lurchest Wine Writer - The Gangsta of the Grape - The Sultan of Shiraz - The Buccaneer of Burgundy - The Prince of Pinot Noir - Yellow Tail's Bane - Locus of the Ladies' Focus - Wielder of the trousered Hammer of Thor - I have arrived to rescue the wine world from overly-serious, rigid, deconstructionist, rooster juice peckerwoods who'd never dream of gettin' a tattoo or crackin' a smile. I am without a doubt, the smartest, funniest and toughest sumbitch in the entire wine industry. And I aint goin' away. All disputes will be settled bare-knuckled in the Octagon. You heard me. Oh, and by the way...Bite me crank!

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Deacon Interviews Uber-Lurch John Szabo!

Yo Wassup Homeys and Crackers?

Your humble Deacon just arrived back at Fresh Manor after a fascinating visit with Uber-lurch Master Sommelier, John "The Hitman" Szabo.
It was 4:30 on the nose when your Deacon of the Grape climbed the stairs of Crush Wine Bar on King Street, just west of Spadina Avenue, for my meeting with one half of "The Hungarian Wine Mafia" (the other half being his business partner, Zoltan Szabo the subject of a previous article). I had beaten John to Crush by about 20 seconds and he greeted me with the same handshake I gave him: not Masonic, but the grip had Martial Arts written all over it...Let it be said from the start that John Szabo is one of the coolest, most lurch dudes the Deacon's met to date! He's taller in person than he seems in his photgraphs, and he smiles with ready humour during the course of our interview.
We sidled up to the bar like two gunslingers and John ordered us each a glass of some Portuguese red wine that I'd never heard of. We were only 5 minutes into the conversation, when your humble Deacon began to feel like he was the Champion of the Scarlem Chess Club who'd been dropped into a tournament against Garry Kasparov. John Szabo has forgotten more about wine than most people will ever know, and he comes by his knowledge honestly too. In the words of Peninsula Ridge's Jonathon Kuhling: "John Szabo is a freakin' encyclopedia!" I axed him how he got where he was in the wine-world, and John began a tale as bizarre and captivating as any novel...
When he escaped from York Mills Collegiate (coincidentally, the very place the Deacon and the Deaconess met) he went right into the restaurant industry. I won't give you all the details, but suffice to say there was a German involved, an axe, a barn, some ducks, and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue; a song that will never remain the same for me now. Having duly dispatched the ducks that were meant for dinner, John took a wrong way home and passed three enormous and vicious dogs that were attracted by the avian blood on his glove. Surviving this hideous attack, John fled to Vineland Estates, under the aegis of winemaker, Kelowna's Brian Schmidt. John continued to absorb the fine details of the restaurant industry and was a veritable sponge when it came to wine information.
Then he wound-up in Paris for 6 months, living in the 5th Arrondissement, where he attended wine-tastings; sometimes up to five a day. Here he studied with the CIDD. (CIDD stands for "Centre d'Information , de Documentation et de Degustation" and was founded by A. Segelle in 1982). Somehow his girlfriend arrived in Languedoc in the south, and John left Paris at the conclusion of his studies and arrived in Languedoc by train with about a dozen cases from his "personal wine cellar" in his luggage. They got a job together, working for a chef who'd lost his sense of smell by severing the nerve in his nose running to the gustatory centre of his brain. The chef had somehow managed to learn to fake it and was still cooking reasonable foods, even though he couldn't taste them at all. After absorbing more culinary knowledge, John and his homegirl loaded a small barge with wine and headed along the Canal du Midi, running between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Onroute, they visited beautiful rustic French villages and phoned ahead to restaurants seeking work. One chef had a weekend wedding and hired them both, putting them up in a flat across the road. This is where John got to do such exotic pursuits as de-veining 40 lbs of foie gras every day, and shelling lobsters in record time, which is great for the calluses. (Your Deacon never deveined nothin'! I never like food that resembles the original animal, which is why I ate so many Big Macs in my youth...) Back in Canada, John earned the title: "Master Sommelier" from the internationally recognized Court of Sommeliers. He worked for 4 years with a friend as a wine merchant, a postition which included "lots of trips to France". He must have felt he'd accomplished D.A. at that time though, because he began studying with the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust, based in London England, and in 2 years graduated with honours on his first attempt. He's currently working on his Master of Wine certification. When he passes, he'll be one of only about 4 people in the world with both Master Sommelier and Master of Wine designations.
We got on to more esoteric matters...John's a black belt in Goju Ryu karate, which greatly interested your neck-crankin' Deacon. We discussed my recent and brilliant victory in the Octagon by triangle-choke over Robert Parker. I asked John who he'd fight if he could fight anyone at all. I expected one of the typical answers: Bono, Bill Shatner or Mother Theresa. Instead he surprised me. "Winewriter Jancis Robinson" he said. "I think I could beat her." We went on to talk about Chuck Waggon and the winery he's opened in Kirkland Lake. "Chuck's a great guy" said John. "We expect interesting things from Kirkland Lake in the next 40 to 50 years..."
John ordered us each a second glass; this time something French and unpronouncable. It was amazing, of course. I questioned him on his choice of a desert island wine. "I know Champagne's taken, so I won't choose that..." he reflected. "I'd have to say Barolo. I'm in love with the Nebbiolo grape."
The conversation continued, touching upon the world's most difficult language (Hungarian), martial arts, food, and business partner Zoltan Szabo's brilliant ability to make connexions and total inability to cook. We ended the meeting with a promise to meet for dinner sometime soon, along with John's wife and the Deaconess. John said he'd like to drop in on my Jiu Jitsu classes, and I told him he's welcome any Wednesday night.
As I walked back to my car a light rain began to fall, and my mind turned to the friendly and fascinating people I've had the privilege of meeting and hangin' out with in the last few months...Billy Munnelly and Kato... Jonathon Kuhling...Daniel Speck...Doug Beatty...John Maxwell...Tony Aspler...Peter Boyd...Sadie Darby...Zoltan and John Szabo...Is it something about the wine industry, or is it Canada itself that produces people of such quality? I really don't know.
But I do know that our wine industry is in the best possible hands.
Here's the URL for Crush Wine Bar:
It's a very cool place.
Here's John and Zoltan Szabo's website:
Check them out too...
You heard me.
Deacon Dr. Fresh
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