For as much as Montreal is a restaurant town, it’s also a wine town. Of the many pleasures and vices of dining and imbibing, we do it all with a certain panache.
But wine is something different—it’s a point of pride and a sort of cultural birthright. Though this city has always been a place where connoisseurs come in search of coveted cuvées, what makes Montreal a wine town isn’t just that there is great wine to be found here, it’s that there’s great wine to be found just about everywhere.
That’s partly because Montreal is one of the few remaining North American strongholds for bon vivants and a place where good taste flourishes. But more accurately, the reason our wine lists are so revered, our cavistes so well-stocked, and even our crown-controlled liquor stores are supplied with Sicilian curiosities and Grower Champagne, is because of the many world-class sommeliers are working to ensure our city remains a destination for the wine-obsessed.
Below are five sommeliers who direct the wine programs, oversee the beverage service, and manage the cellars of some of the city’s finest restaurants. Each list is unique, taking inspiration from the restaurant concept, the sommelier's personal taste, the taste of their clientele and their vision of hospitality.
In all cases, the lists are thoughtful, plentiful and run the gamut from quaffable and quenching to brooding and intellectual—in other words, something for everyone.
JON CERCONE | TAVERNE SUR LE SQUARE
Jon has served as the sommelier at the Westmount institution Taverne Sur Le Square for over 10 years and, six years ago, became a partner in the restaurant he’s worked at since he began his career with bussing tables at 19.
Known to some as the Brommelier and for evangelizing the carafing of Champagne, Jon maintains one of the most elegant and well-balanced wine lists in town.
The list in brief: A focus on France and Italy with a healthy dose of New World and a preference for low-intervention wines, but not an insistence on them.
Number of references: Taverne Sur Le Square features two lists, one for the everyday patron and one for the aficionado; the cocktail list of 80, and The Bible, Jon’s life work that features over 300 additional references.
Jon’s education in wine was started more or less organically. “I started hanging out with the right people, I had great mentors and started immersing myself in the wine culture,” he reflects.
Through these relationships, combined with the unique access he had to wines through the restaurant, he started to build his palate.
“I was very privileged to be in these circles that get all the best wines and go to the best tastings,” he explains.
A self-described picky drinker who doesn’t like to drink the same wine twice, Jon’s taste oscillates between the eclectic and the classic. His personal preferences, however, are for low-intervention Burgundian wines and the great, though lesser-known, wines of Abruzzo where his family originates from.
As a classic restaurant with a long-established clientele, Taverne’s list is focused on good hospitality above all. Translation: It’s less about his taste and ego and more about finding wines that suit each client’s tastes. Want red wine and oysters? He’ll find you something that works, and with a prolific cellar developed over the course of 10 years, he has wines that will delight even the more discerning of clients.
But for Jon, a good wine list isn’t about the labels, it’s about the person behind it—it should be well rounded, non-dogmatic and reflective of the sommelier’s values.
“If you’re going to have a farm-to-table restaurant, then you should be serving wines that are vine-to-glass. The natural wine movement is a direct correlation to sourcing and at a restaurant like ours, you can’t have Caymus on the wine list.”
What Jon would drink: 2021 Dessus de Montchenevoy, from Chanterêves.
“It's the best bridge between traditional and natural wine. Everyone agrees on it. It’s perfectly age-worthy but also approachable and ready to drink.”
JAMES MCDONOUGH | ELENA
Originally from Toronto before settling in Montreal, James has worked under Ryan Gray (Elena, Gia, Nora Gray) along with Lawrence Fiset (Gia) and Elisabeth Racine (Pacina) while also cultivating a robust wine knowledge with some of the city's most notorious wine personalities.
Having observed every wine that has made the list over the past 6 years, James was recently appointed Elena’s Beverage Director and now oversees the cocktail program and cellar which features one of the country’s most celebrated collections of natural wines.
The list in brief: Vibrant and wild wines bursting with personality and energy. The list leans Italian with plenty of regional references but there are also loads of fantastic bottles from mindful producers all over the world. Exclusively natural, James’ list favours the smallest of producers making thoughtful and thought-provoking wines with the least possible intervention.
Number of references: Roughly 80, however over the last 5 years wines have been put aside in an effort to build a robust reserve list. Don’t see what you’re looking for on the list? Ask for it—it might be down there.
“I like natural wine, I like really wild fucked-up wine — I like when I see people take risks,” says James, reflecting on his own tastes in wine.
For him, great wines should be expressive, evocative and representative of a particular place and producer. In his work as a sommelier, he tries as much as possible to care for the wines and to honour the work and commitment to quality, sourcing, origin, and values behind each producer's wines.
Part of that process is travelling to Italy to meet producers, getting to know the regions intimately, and participating in harvests and the creation of the wines he’ll eventually serve at Elena.
Known for their naturally leavened wood-fired pizzas, James considers the restaurant’s menu a blessing. “Pizza is an amazing pairing for wine — especially naturally leavened dough,” he says.
The vibrant acidity and characteristics of fermentation that exists in both the food and the wines, combined with Elena’s approach to seasonal ingredients, makes matching wild wines a pleasure for James.
Elena is the place to go for a discovery and it’s where you want to be when an allocation of rare wines comes into Quebec.
What James would drink: 2022 Note di Biancho from Alessandro Viola.
KEATON RICHIE | LAWRENCE
Keaton Richie is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to fall in love with wine: A graduate of the Myriad coffee program, he already possessed a background in tastings, understanding nuanced agricultural practices and finding small-scale producers making exceptional products. The evolution to wine was only natural.
In 2010, Keaton was exposed to natural wines as a client at the newly opened Lawrence. Soon after, he’d join the team and learn about wine from then-sommelier Etheliya Hananova and later sommelier-turned-winemaker Lainie Taillefer.
By 2018, Keaton would become the wine director for both Lawrence and its sister restaurant Larry’s, where he continues to oversee both wine programs while running Flor, a wine importation agency.
The list in brief: Broad with plenty of room for new classics. Organized by colour and taste profile, the list is highly approachable and allows for new discoveries.
Number of references: Just over 200.
“The way that I think about the wine list is like an ongoing tension between two impulses,” says Keaton, expanding on his philosophy regarding building the Lawrence list.
“I love a wine list that has a perspective and point of view and says something about the restaurant or the person making the place. A list should meet people where they are and offer a range of options at different price points while also leaving room for discovery.”
What makes the list at Lawrence particularly unique is that it's completely unbound by region. While there are ample choices of Old World staples (France, Italy, Spain), there are plenty of New World wines as well. Take a look at any section of the list and you’re likely to see wines from Japan, Portugal, Chile and Austrialia woven in.
For Keaton, it’s about sourcing great wines: "I’ve always had this instinctive approach to buying wines where I ask myself, is this wine yummy? Would I drink a bottle of this wine with a few friends if I was sitting down for dinner? That’s the fundamental question that I ask about every wine and the benchmark that every wines needs to pass to make it on the list.”
The resulting list is dynamic and innovative—it’s a list that allows for fascinating pairings (something that Keaton takes quite seriously) and is adaptable for Lawrence and Larry's chef Marc Cohen’s menus which frequently change in accordance to the season. It’s one of the city’s most unique lists and unquestionably one of the best as well.
What Keaton would drink: 2021 Uno from Mission in Galicia Spain.
“He’s an American guy making wine in an old-school low-tech style. It’s savory and meaty with a lot of dark ripe fruits, but it’s very low alcohol and joyfully silky in texture. It reminds me of Beaujolais in a soft, juicy way. It’s really good and I would drink that tonight.”
VÉRONIQUE DALLE | FOXY
Recently named the country’s top Sommelier by Canada’s 100 Best, Véronique Dalle is without a doubt one of the most respected and revered wine minds in town.
Born into a family of restaurateurs and hoteliers, she worked in hospitality from an early age. Having earned a master’s in wine and working with exceptional winemakers throughout Europe, she returned to Montreal where she oversaw the wine programs at Le Petit Alep for six years, Pullman for fifteen years after that and, for the last four years, at Foxy. Aside from her work as the beverage director at Foxy, she is also a wine educator at the ITHQ where she has trained (and continues to train) a new generation of young somms.
The list in brief: Foxy’s list is a sophisticated assortment of elegant classics and undiscovered gems selected for their exceptional quality and the principles of the winemaker. Like Foxy’s menu, the list is slightly eclectic and doesn’t adhere to any specific region. Leave yourself in Véronique’s hands and you’ll be well rewarded.
Number of references: Between 300 and 400.
“When you’re a sommelier, you need to anticipate. Your job is to serve wines as they’re meant to be served.”
It goes without saying that Véronique knowns how to pick a bottle. As the wine buyer for Pullman, the city’s first true wine bar, she oversaw a wine list with more than a thousand references—in other words, her wine knowledge is encyclopedic.
For her, the making of a good wine list is about balance. “I went to eat with Theo Diamantis (of Oenopole) at a restaurant in Greece and I was in awe of the somm there. It was not an Instagram list, it was thoughtful and hand-selected—a blend of classics both natural and conventional from the Greek wine world and gems that I had never heard of. It’s not the length of the list that matters, it’s the care and reflection that goes into the process.”
For Véronique, that process by which a bottle appears on the list and subsequently in the glass is about so much more than just great knowledge—it’s about the many intangible parts of service.
“It’s important that I don’t just open a wine to open a wine; I want the guest to experience the knowledge and skill behind the wine.”
With a menu like Foxy’s, which is structured around open-fire cooking, Véronique’s own knowledge and skills get put on display in how she chooses to pair wines.
“Pairing is hard. It’s something that is very intuitive. When I approach pairing, I consider everything: The temperature, the texture, the number of bites, the composition. For me, I taste a dish and then I go back to the wine.”
What Véronique would drink: 1999 Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, Domaine Gérard Schueller.
“It’s my last bottle and if I go to Foxy tonight, that’s what I’d like to drink.”
ROSALIE FORCHERIO | PALOMA
As a third generation restaurateur, hospitality and good taste are second nature to Rosalie Forcherio. Having worked at Geranium in Copenhagen (named the world’s best restaurant in 2022 according to the World’s 50 Best) followed by a stint at Paris’ legendary wine bar Saturne, she returned home to Montreal and worked serving wines at Pullman and Montreal Plaza.
Since 2019, Rosalie has run her own restaurant, Paloma, with her father Armand. Named for a beach just outside Nice, the restaurant is known for Armand’s deceptively simple yet excellent cooking and Rosalie’s beautifully composed wine list.
The list in brief: A meticulously researched and painstakingly curated collection of exceptional wines unrestricted by provenance. While the Old World is firmly represented, here you’re likely to discover a new wine and have it served with Rosalie’s signature brand of deft professionalism.
Number of references: 115, with a good selection of Champagne.
“Wine came later for me—first came cooking, then the dining room, then wine,” recalls Rosalie, reflecting on her relationship with food and the many aspects of restauration she grew up around.
“I’ve always loved wine and it’s always been a part of life for me—my dad used to dip a piece of baguette in red wine to have me taste it at a young age.”
While wine was omnipresent in her life, the palate leaned classic. Her personal tastes began to form after traveling to Ardèche to work a harvest with celebrated winemaker Gerald Oustric of Le Mazel, “I needed to see what it was to make wine, I needed to feel it.”
At Paloma, Rosalie built the wine list from the ground up: “The fact that Paloma is so small is a luxury for me. I can have just one red and one white by the glass and then open up the right wine for the right person at the right moment.”
Over the last four years, as she’s build the trust of her clientele, the list has grown and evolved. What stared as a French- and Italian-dominant list is now much broader. “I have the luxury of putting wines on the list that I like. I like classical things but I also like new discoveries. I can’t say this about every project but for Paloma’s wine line—everything on there I would drink. It’s a personal list.”
But for her, any good wine list begins with bubbles. “A bubbles section will tell you a lot about what’s to come.”
Like many good somms however, she’d rather do away with the list altogether and let the person behind the list do the picking. “I like the surprise still, that moment when you open a bottle and you’re like, ‘oh my god, this is amazing!’”
What Rosalie would drink: 2021 Rouge Gorge, Domaine de Bellivière.
“It’s classic, but when you drink a bottle of Rouge Gorge, which is 100% Pineau d’Aunis, you can tell it’s the winemaker’s favourite grape.”