Justin Madol’s career trajectory has been far from predictable

Photo of Justin Madol

At Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto, pandemic memories are melting away in the glow of a Michelin star. “As soon as we were open, there was a huge surge in people coming back,” recalls sommelier Justin Madol.

“We get people coming in with very high expectations. That’s what the Guide does – distinguishes you from other restaurants. When we opened the restaurant – and I was part of that opening team – that was always part of our plan: we want to be competitive with restaurants in New York and Paris and London,” he says.

Madol’s career trajectory has been far from predictable. Born in Conception Bay, N.L., he initially studied physics and geology, but detoured after taking an elective course in cultural anthropology. “As I started seeing the world through different lenses, I became interested in film and photography,” he says.

Media studies naturally led Madol towards acting, filmmaking and a move to Toronto, where he was hired as a food runner with Susur Lee. What started as a side job became his main focus; soon he was studying for the CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers) exams, and he has never looked back.

With regard to wine trends, Madol is noticing interest in “emerging or re-emerging regions” such as Eastern Europe. “Georgia, Greece, Bulgaria; there’s tremendous value there.” He also points to lesser-known parts of major regions, such as France’s Jura and Savoie.

Likewise, “South America is starting to blossom and find its own identity,” he says. Argentina’s malbec was once “heavily oaked in the style of California, but is now starting to find its own voice: lighter, peppery, very little use of oaks.”

From Italy, Madol names Alto Adige and the alpine reds of Piedmont, Valtellina and Friuli. In particular, he singles out G.B. Burlotto’s pelaverga – the grape from Verduno in Piedmont – as “spectacular, very low in tannin, with a beautiful fruit character and herbal flavour.”

Of Italian whites, he favours Friulian wines like Antonutti Ribolla Gialla, “a fresh beautiful wine that doesn’t lack complexity.”

He also holds Canadian wines in high esteem. “For me, right now, pinot noir and chardonnay from Prince Edward County, Ont. [are at the top of my list]. That’s where we’re doing Burgundian wine at a world-class quality,” says Madol. “Closson Chase: their South Close Chardonnay is really fantastic.”

For reds, he turns to the Okanagan Valley for “some really great pinot noir and Syrah. Quail’s Gate: their pinot noir is really light, really floral.”

By Sarah B. Hood

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