From Canada’s first -- and by far most accomplished -- Master Sommelier, you might expect arrogance, or at the very least, impatience with people new to the vast world of wine. But you couldn't be more wrong: John Szabo has unbounded enthusiasm for what he does, and is willing and eager to share his knowledge with anyone curious about wine. He is unquestionably an asset to both the Canadian and global wine world.
Szabo first became involved in the industry through an interest in food. As a man who enjoys eating well, he decided to learn more about cooking; His curiosity eventually led him to France, where he spent a summer in a kitchen perfecting his culinary prowess. After his exposure to great wine, back in Canada he found that the wines he was seeking were often not available. This led him to become a distributor in order to gain access to the quality wines he had become accustomed to -- and thus began his road to becoming a Master Sommelier, which he completed in 2004. From there, he branched out into the world of teaching, writing, judging, and consulting, ultimately becoming a Renaissance man of the wine world.
Szabo has since become instrumental in advancing the knowledge of those in the trade through his work with many organizations such as the Wine Council of Ontario, the Italian Trade Commission, and Wines of Chile. He is also a regular instructor for both the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) and the Court of Master Sommeliers. His First In Line Report is a staple for wine enthusiasts everywhere, as are the many magazines he either edits or contributes to (i.e. Wine Access, City Bites, Wine and Spirits Magazine).
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In 2001, John furthered his impact on the wine world by opening a winery in Hungary. He chose Hungary for numerous reasons: Land prices were good at the time; Hungary was about to join the EU and thus prices would be firm; there was good topography and old vines; and he loved the type and style of the wine. He grows exclusively Kekfrankos. He chose this grape because it is an indigenous variety with high potential for quality, site permitting. This choice was also reflective of John, himself, and the wonderful way in which he sees wine. He doesn’t believe that Bordeaux varieties should be as widely planted as they are because this “homogenizes the diversity of wine and the beauty of what wine is,” As such, his decision to keep an indigenous grape at the potential peril of his winery’s commercial success is not surprising. That said, if your love of wine is even a fraction of John’s, you should seek out his complex and elegant J&J Kekfrankos.
While carrying on his crusade for better wine, Szabo is also launching new software he developed for restaurant management, and given his undeniable charisma, it is no surprise that he is also branching out into radio and television. He recently shot a pilot for a show which focuses on his career. The concept behind the show is to allow the viewer to live vicariously through someone with a dream job. He hopes to remove the mysticism behind wine without dumbing it down, and reinforce the idea that, at the end of the day, all wine is simply fermented grape juice. Given the integrity, commitment and pride with which John Szabo approaches everything, this show is certain to have his distinctive imprint on it. And that makes it a sure bet that the show will be both entertaining and informative.
Naomi Laurie is a wine writer and sommelier living in Toronto.