Toronto-based sommelier Beverly Crandon is on a mission.
For the past ten years, she’s been looking for a wine to suit every cuisine in the city – from Trinbagonian to Thai – and argues that the existing rules for pairing food and wine do not reflect the people who eat, drink and cooking in a city like Toronto.
To prove her point, Crandon Spring hosts Into Spice, an open-air food and drink festival on May 28 at the Stackt Market that pairs winemakers with dishes from around the world.
Over plates of curry crab dumplings, lobster tacos, and fried spiced chicken tacos at Chandon Beni (936 Queen St. W.), Crandon walks us through pairing suggestions and talks about her pairing process, redefining flavors, and why it’s good to meet different sommeliers. to have for the bottom line.
What was it like getting started with wine?
I came from a (marketing) job where I had to sell things and solve problems. When you start a new career and space, you need to sell yourself and tell others that you deserve to be here. I had those skills, but I can’t hide my skin color or the big hair, so there are things in space that you still have to fight against. And the space is still run by mostly white people.
In five to 10 years that will change and we will have more people of color around the table, but trying to break through in this area is quite difficult.
What made you interested in exploring these combinations to start with?
When I fell in love with the art of pairing wine with food, I never thought I could take this home and mix it with Caribbean food. In my head I felt the two didn’t go together, but we know it’s because of years of conditioning and what you see on TV.
If you’re new to wine, just go back to your food memories. When I used words from my upbringing and it wasn’t accepted, I knew something was wrong. You and I have different backgrounds and experiences. What smells like quince to you, smells like Guyana monkey apple to me. That’s fine.
Have you seen improvements in diversity in the wine industry?
I volunteer with a group called Vinequity and it’s about giving people mentorship or money to go to wine school. I think you’ll see more of that in five, seven, maybe 10 years.
Teachers will say they see a lot of people of color in their classes, but there’s something stopping them from going to the next level, or when they have the credentials to get a job, there’s something stopping them. That’s another therapy session because it’s like entering a world where you’ll never see (someone like) yourself. That’s scary. Who will be my ally?
A major reason I’m doing this is that if someone doesn’t try to combine the beauty of wine with all of these foods, or “ethnic” foods, even though I don’t like using the term, what happens to the industry and the market share?
Of course I want people to enjoy wine and I think my combinations work, but there is also an economic aspect.
That’s a lot of lost wine sales when you say it’s hard to pair it with whole ranges of cuisines, especially in a place like Toronto.
All the way.
So let’s talk about couples. We got us a plate of fried lobster tacos. What does this mean?
(Crandon opens a bottle of Folklore 2020, a sparkling wine from Niagara’s Nyarai Cellars, run by Steve Byfield.)
I want to pair it with Steve’s wine. He is the only black winemaker we have in Canada. I grew up in Kitchener, and so did he. He knew that my older brother and our mothers worked together and were really good friends. We work together a lot and it’s great to talk about the same things without feeling weird, like how to combine ackee and salted fish.
I call Steve the master blender. This vintage has a bit more sauvignon blanc (grapes) and is known as a delicious wine with dinner. What do you think?
It’s sweet, so it offsets the heat from the spicy mayo in the tacos. The high acidity cuts through the lobster, like squeezing a lemon on something deep-fried.
Precisely. Sparkling helps lighten the weight of baking, and contains 11 grams of residual sugar. All sparkling wines generally have a high residual sugar content because it is naturally very acidic and most white table wines contain two or three ounces. The acidity cleanses the palate and the bubbles help balance the frying.
Speaking of heat, you wrote on your site that spice is often confused with heat, causing a hesitation in pairing wine with foods that use a lot of spices, although nutmeg, cloves, and allspice are words used to describe wine.
I spent some time with a man who teaches the art of wine and food pairing at Durham College and we talked about why certain taste buds can tolerate spices and how it is from years of conditioning. The people who make the rules about wine pairing make assumptions about how your food tastes. If you use black pepper and they are not used to it in cooking, they paint spices and heat as the same thing.
When I googled that spice is synonymous with heat, there were millions of results. We need to change that – it’s making an assumption about something you don’t know. Your food is okay with wine, but mine isn’t, and wine is associated with being elite and prestigious, so what does that make me?
Okay, let’s do a spicy dish, the fried spicy chicken tacos.
(Crandon opens a bottle of Cozzarolo Sauvignon Blanc from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy.)
It is a very cool climate in Friuli and the grapes are on the slopes, so you will have great acidity there. These guys do a lot of aging on the lees, which is where the grapes sit on dead yeast, so you get a creamy, velvety texture. This also goes well with peppery notes as it covers the tongue. Depending on where it grows on the mound and how ripe it gets, it sometimes picks up tropical fruit flavors, so I thought I’d try this with the acorn.
Riesling is also a safe bet. I try to be general if someone wants a wine they can find at the LCBO unless someone wants to get nerd and get very specific.
I like the sparkling more, but I think if you have these tacos with the pickled onions on the side, the Sauvignon Blanc would be better because the onions are very sour and it will be too much with the bubbles.
Look at you nerds!
Now for the curry crab dumplings. I want to try it with the red one. I poured this Pinotage (a 2019 variety from South African winemaker Spioenkop) ahead of time because the tannins can be quite large and I don’t want that to lead the show. It also contains beautiful red, black and blue fruits. The pinotage has been in oak for 11 months so there should be a congruent feeling when you eat the curry.
The wine has a very deep oak flavour, which holds up well against the strong curry flavour.
There is also coconut in the curry. I once paired a Cabernet Sauvignon with the curry goat. That wine had oak, along with vanilla. So it made a delicious vanilla-coconut combination.
So what’s keeping you going, even if the industry still has some way to go?
What fuels me is when people contact me. They used to be not wine drinkers, but they ask what to drink with oxtail. It might be that one person, but having those conversations really moves me and encourages me to do the next event. The conversations about why we think wine only works with these foods and changing opinions – that’s what fuels me to keep doing this.
This interview has been edited and abbreviated for clarity.