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Sommelier Julie Garton has a Mad Crush on these wines

May 2, 2018

Julie Garton is the cupid of wine at Mad Crush. (Photo: Vince McMillen)

—BEHIND THE BAR__meet the people who get your drink on

By Emily Chadbourn

Toronto is overflowing with incredible restaurants and bars that offer truly elevated experiences when it comes to food and drink. But one of the newest ones on the scene — it opened last fall — has me and other wine lovers gushing. It’s called Mad Crush — the “unwine bar” — and it has one of the most exciting wine lists in Toronto. In the space formerly occupied by Little Italy’s iconic Bar Italia, a shiny new two-floor ode to the grape is helping to lead College Street down a new and welcome road. It’s the latest in a small group of eateries that includes The Oxley, The Queen and Beaver and The Wickson Social.

Mad Crush is a special place, whether to learn more about wine or just expand your palate while eating some heavenly food. You can allow one of their knowledgeable staff to craft a blind flight for you or go in for half-price Champagne and Magnums after 11pm from Sunday to Wednesday. But here’s the best thing for all you burgeoning wine explorers: you can order anything on their list by the glass, as long as you commit to two glasses.

The woman behind MC’s wine philosophy is just as crush-worthy. Director of wines Julie Garton — her friends call her Jules — is a sommelier and a recently accredited Italian wine ambassador. She has the ability to convert newcomers into wine lovers and make wine lovers fall in love all over again. Just back from a wine-soaked visit to Italy, Jules kindly shared some of her insights with us…

What are the best wines to drink this spring?

Rosé! I’m not quite sure why rosé is still viewed as a summer wine. It’s delicious year-round, but there is limited access to it through winter, as less is brought into the market. It has become increasingly popular over the last five-plus years. And each year we seem to get more coming onto the market and the quality gets higher.

What are your personal wine favourites? 

I love really dry, crisp white wines and lighter-bodied reds. I’m a big Austrian-wine fan. I love Grüner Veltliner and dry Rieslings produced there, and you can often find good examples that don’t break the bank, which is always a bonus. That said, there are some top quality wines produced as well, like reds from Blaufrankish and St. Laurent. I also enjoy whites from the Loire Valley and Alsace. And at no point am I ever going to turn down a glass of great Champagne or Burgundy, ever!

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing? 

You can never go wrong with the classics: Chablis and oysters, truffled popcorn and a glass of Crémant or Champagne. We offer a Cod & Caviar main course at Mad Crush, which is fantastic with white wine from Northwest Spain, like Albariño or Godello. Another favourite is our warm black mushroom salad with Pecorino Vinaccia, which goes great with an earthy red, like an Etna Rosso or the Puszta Libre!, which is an Austrian blend.

What are some trends that you and others in the industry might be aware of, that the public should keep their eyes peeled for? 

It seems to be all about trends these days, from orange and skin-contact wines, to Pét-Nats. Regions like the Loire Valley and Etna in Sicily, have exploded on the market. I’ve spent the last few months digging deep into Italian wines, and it’s been a great discovery of lesser-known varieties and regions.

There are some delicious, good-value wines being produced all over the country: whites from Fruliano in Friuli, Greco from Campania, Arneis and Timorrasso from Piedmont, Rosatos and Cerasuolos, red and rosé Chiaretto from Barolino, Pelevarga, also from Piedmont.… There are also some great wines coming from South Africa and Greece, where quality has been massively improving and there is still good value to be had.

How do you make wine approachable for those who are new to wine and those who’ve had a long-term love for it?

I think, at Mad Crush, this is something we do incredibly well. Our list is designed to take the pretense out of wine and make it more approachable for someone who is new to wine. There is nothing more nerve-racking than being handed a giant list of wines you’ve never heard of, with little to no context of what they will taste like.

That said, anyone who is a wine lover and knows wine will recognize the diversity and quality of the wines represented on our list. It covers a wide range of wines and styles, from classic to more innovative. We also offer a Wine Boot Camp with the aim to help people discover styles they enjoy, food and wine pairings, and how to navigate through a wine list confidently, while drinking wine and having some fun doing it!