Christopher Sealy is the wine director at One Star Alo and One Star Alobar Yorkville, where his impressively curated wine list enhances the excellent cuisine. Sealy is the 2022 Toronto Sommelier Award winner. In addition to his sommelier work for Alo, Sealy is a mentor with Vinequity, which works to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ members of the Canadian wine community. As part of the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Toronto launch, we chatted with Sealy about coffee to start and tea to end the day, cooking at home with Afro-Caribbean ingredients, and how a wine makes the cut.
What are you drinking these days?
When I'm home on my two or three days off, I actually rarely drink. One bottle might last a dinner and the next day's lunch. With that in mind, I choose wines that have the energy to evolve over time; I tend to find this energy most often in biodynamic or naturally farmed wines. Vibrant and energetic white wines such as Gruner Veltliner from Austria, Assrytiko from Santorini, and wines of the Loire, both red and white.
What's your favorite nonalcoholic drink?
I consume my daily, morning-only single-origin coffee using pour-over technique, or cortado if I am out doing errands. I finish my days off (Sunday, Monday, and sometimes Tuesday) with herbal teas— thyme, lemon balm, verbena or rosemary. I think the morning coffee is the most important drink; the practice of making the pour-over is a slow, mellow move into the day. The grinding of coffee, the boiling of water, letting it cool down just a bit, and the 2-3 minute brew to be enjoyed in any one of the English-made coffee cups I’ve had for years.
What's your ideal meal and pairing?
The ideal meal is based on thoughtfully sourced produce/protein paired with dynamic tasting wines. When I cook at home, I tend to purchase select cuts of meat —what I might have if I went to fancy restaurants. I have two children; I prefer to cook slow and simple at home, incorporating Afro-Caribbean ingredients (okra, yams, cassava). I seek out proteins like duck, heritage poultry, etc. and ethically sourced seafood (Canadian fish and sea bream or sea bass, shrimp, scallops, oysters, halibut cheeks, etc.)
My ideal meal is to have a balance of protein and vegetables (mushrooms! and greens) prepared with little fuss, yet using herbs and aromatics. As for pairing wine, I always look for shared energy/dynamics between the wine and elements of the meal, like what works well with mushrooms or the grilled greens or herbs used in the fish. I am not fussy about exactness, or with drinking aged or marquee wines. What I want is an experience with wine in my mouth wherever I can find it.
What's the biggest misconception about being a sommelier, or wine in general, that you'd like to dispel?
Not all sommeliers are trying to be a Master Sommelier, like in the movie Somm. It is problematic to always think it is this way. Another big misconception is that we are all acolytes to Bordeaux and Burgundy. The best of us remain students, examining and looking at wines for what they are, not what value they hold. Of course, part of our work is to find and deliver pleasure. Yes, scream from the highest mountain about what you like or what it is you need to list, but be sure to put it into context.
What’s your criteria for adding a new wine to your list?
Drinkability in the immediate. The Perception of "young/recent vintage wines" as not being serious or good is over! In the modern era of winemaking we have more wines available that deliver pleasure and adventure as soon as you pull the cork. On the list [at Alo], there are very few wines, almost none, that are "closed/tight" and need cellaring. Indeed there are some Barolo or Burgundy "sleeping" that will release more energy with time in cellar, but if it ain’t happy now, it won’t be that happy down the line.
Not all the wines I list are wines I like. But I like/appreciate what is listed. I do like to champion wines with an origin story, whether rooted in healthy farming or ultra tech conventional. I would rather know the full story of the winery/wine before making a purchase. Wine remains a business of various philosophies, either for culture or for profit, biodynamic or large-scale production.
Some clients just want the transaction of getting juice in their glass. Then there are the many that are looking for a story. With the story, I believe I continue to translate these by listing wineries and regions I have visited and spent time with.
Hero image: Alo and Alobar Yorkville wine director, Christopher Sealy
© Nikki Leigh McKean