A Special Guest Comes To The Cellar

Issue #24 March 2021

This issue of Jim’s Affordable Cellar marks two years of us getting together for a wine session every month. Apparently the traditional second year anniversary is celebrated with, wait for it………..cotton. Seriously? “Happy anniversary honey, here are some socks made of 100% cotton!” 

I think we can do better than that.

Also, because we are anything but traditional, we’re going to give ourselves the anniversary gift of welcoming to the cellar, a special individual who knows wine like I know my way to the cellar; my old friend, sommelier and Assistant General Manager at the beautiful Toronto Hunt Club, Marcel Bregstein. 

We’ll be talking to Marcel about his sommelier-ness, good value wine regions of the world, his favourite wine, three wine recommendations and more. 

I can’t wait!

Welcome back to the cellar.

Marcel Bregstein at The Toronto Hunt Club

Marcel Bregstein started in the culinary business at 18 as a busboy at a restaurant in Oshawa. For a time, he was the dining room manager on a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship. He studied business. He worked at The Royal York Hotel and for many years now, he’s been treating members and guests at The Toronto Hunt Club to his culinary expertise and his outgoing personality. 

After a gruelling 16-hour exam that included a written portion and a blind tasting, Marcel earned his sommelier certification in 2003. And he is one of five Canadians to be inducted into the L’Ordre De Coteaux de Champagne, a Champagne fraternity that began in 1650. He was given the title of, Chevalier.

Marcel’s days are pretty full so I’m thrilled he found time to join us for a visit here in the cellar.

Jim: Welcome to the cellar, Marcel. What is the most special/memorable wine you have ever opened?

Marcel: Thank you James. I’ve had the opportunity to open some great Bordeaux, some great wines from all over the world, but one of the most memorable was a bottle of 1863 Port valued at $20,000. It was incredible to taste something that old. And it still tasted like wine.

$20,000 is slightly out of our price range. But Marcel showed me the special iron Port tongs used to open the bottle. Apparently, they are heated until red hot, then clamped around the neck of the bottle. Then a feather dipped in ice water is drawn around the heated neck and voila, the top pops off. Crazy. 

If they had shown us stuff like that in chemistry class, I might have stuck with it. 

Port tongs

J: What wine producing countries or regions are the best places to look for great wine at a great price?

M: Well, there are so many great regions in the world that are producing great value wine. First comes to mind, for sure the south of France, the Lanquedoc-Rousillon. If you like big, bold wines. Where you can get the same varietals as the Cote du Rhone (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah) but at a better price.

Portugal too has so many great varietals. And they are making exceptional wines. Also, South America, very underpriced wines. I’ve tasted wines from Argentina that are just as good as some of the great Bordeauxs.

J: What wine region of the world is your personal favourite?                                 

M: I love the Loire. I love Sancerre specifically. So I’m a big fan of  Sauvignon Blanc. However, I’m a big fan too of Burgundy and Pinot Noir. It goes with so much. I tell people and my students when I teach, when in doubt, get a burgundy. It’ll work with chicken, salmon and steak.

J: Let’s talk about Champagne. In particular, a spectacular way of opening it. You’re a bit of an expert in Sabrage, I gather.

Btw, Sabrage (Sa-braw-ge) is the art of opening champagne bottles with a sabre! This involves quickly sliding the saber up the neck of the bottle to break top of the neck away, leaving the bottle open and ready to pour.

Champagne sabering.

M: Well I’ve been sabering Champagne for a long time. So I was asked to challenge the Guinness record, for charity.  At the time, I think the record was 35 bottles in a minute. That was my first attempt and I did 42 bottles in one minute. However we then found out that someone had set a new record of 47 bottles. Now the record is 66 bottles in a minute. 

Hopefully at the end of this year we’ll challenge the record again.  

If you want to see a little sabrage in action, have a look at this clip of Marcel wielding his sabre for charity.


J: Can you give us a few good and affordable wine recommendations?

M: Absolutely. Right away, the Ser Lapo 2017 Chianti Classico Riserva. I’m a big fan of Francesco Mazzei. He’s been here at The Hunt Club a few times. I’ve been to their property. This chianti classico riserva is a marvelous one. Chewy tannins, it’s refined with earthy tones. But it’s also got a great balance.

Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2017
Tuscany, Italy
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#: 288530

J:    Anything other wines we should know about?

M:  I have another pick but unfortunately, it’s a bit pricey, it’s Montes Purple Angel, I think is one of the best wines from Chile. 

Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon
Colchagua Valley, Chile
750 mL bottle   |   VINTAGES#:  322586

In case you’re interested, the Montes Purple Angle is $69.95. Won’t be getting that one.

J:  And Marcel, considering this is an anniversary issue, could you recommend a Champagne-style sparkling wine?

M: Absolutely. In terms of sparkling wines, I’m a big fan of Spanish sparkling wines; Cava, but let’s go to the north of Italy. Villa Sandi has some really good Proseccos. I’m a big fan of those too. 

 Villa Sandi Prosecco Il Fresco DOC Treviso
Veneto, Italy
375 mL bottle   |   LCBO#: 194191

J: This has been fantastic Marcel. It’s wonderful to talk with you about wine but more than anything it does my heart good to see you again.

M: I appreciate it. It’s been really nice. Thank you.

And off he went on his day which he tells me, includes talks with producers about hosting a show on The Food Network. What a guy.

So he’s a sommelier, a knighted ‘Chevalier’ in an ancient Champagne fraternity, a serious Guinness record challenger in sabrage, and now perhaps, his greatest achievement.  Congratulations Marcel Bregstein. You are now an official Jim’s Affordable Cellar Dweller. 

Seriously, thank you very much to Marcel for joining us.

Well folks, I’d say we have some wine to find.

We’ll see you in April. Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer. 


Thanks to all of you for signing up to this web page where you’ll automatically receive and email notice each month when our new issue is ready to be enjoyed.

If you’re enjoying my wine meanderings, I’m really glad. And please let me know your thoughts or tell me about any great wine you’ve discovered. Simply add your comments below!

6 thoughts on “A Special Guest Comes To The Cellar

  1. Hello Jim: I really enjoyed your interview with Marcel. It has inspired me to try some new wines and even a $10.00 Prosecco to share with friends. Cheers, Karen


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s