BEFORE SOCIETY WENT SIDEWAYS, Bryant Mao was singularly focused on finding the world’s finest wines and presenting them to his customers at Hawksworth. Not show-offy trophy wines for the uber-rich—that’s not his thing. Rather, those hidden gems that fly under the radar of most sommeliers. For Mao is not like most sommeliers. With Holmesian determination, he puts in the long hours and the hard work, collecting evidence, a tip, a lead, an overheard conversation, that might lead him to his next producer. Then he goes deeper. A little Google Earth work, say, or a few hours scouring the blogs of the world’s geekiest wine writers, until he finds what he’s after. And what is that, exactly? “I’m studying all the time,” he says. “Not for academic reasons. Not for Master of Wine designation. No, I’m studying to find a winery that’s doing things differently. Planting new plots, taking over the business from partners… I’m looking for things that are changing. Maybe a new négociant is buying grapes and trying something new. I look for the producers that are coming up the ranks and are new to the scene.”
For Hawksworth diners—and those at sister restaurant Nightingale—the rewards of Mao’s work are enjoyed nightly. Precious, rare, unique bottles that don’t break the bank, because they aren’t world famous—yet. These wines join their brethren, about 8,000 bottles, with 700 on the list, and another 700 or so waiting for their time to come. Patience—and hard work—will be rewarded. Meantime, with time on his hands, Mao is working even harder, ferreting out the world’s best unknown wines for us all to enjoy. And for that, we are grateful. Or, we will be when we get to taste again, under the guidance of this year’s recipient of our award for Canada’s Best Sommelier.