somm spotlight

Explore our world-class wine program through the eyes of our talented team of experts


Posted by Canoe
on March 9, 2023

In the final instalment of our three-part ‘Somm Spotlight’ series, we continue to uncover the people behind our expertly-curated and ever-changing wine list, detailing what it takes to deliver a world-class wine program 54 floors above the city.

In parts one and two, you met veteran Senior Sommelier Billy Woon as well as the newest member of Canoe’s wine team, Sommelier James Cranfield. In our concluding Q&A, we profile Sommelier Michael Kovalev, whose industry experience spans both front and back of house. The third puzzle piece to our talented trio, his collaborative spirit and extensive wine knowledge helps ensure we are always ahead of the curve. Read on to hear more about Michael’s story.

How did you find your way to Canoe?

I started my hospitality career working in the back-of-house, cooking in kitchens for about seven or eight years after culinary school. I attended George Brown College for culinary management and there was a wine course as part of the program. It really sparked my interest. After my time in kitchens, I was eager to make the transition to front-of-house and started taking wine courses through George Brown College, CAPS Professional Sommelier Certification Program and WSET. I spent another six to seven years working as a server and wine assistant. I had of course heard amazing things about Canoe and was thankfully able to join the team just over a year ago in January 2022.

Canoe Thanksgiving wine kit

What do you feel distinguishes Canoe’s wine program from others? 

The selection of Canadian wine. It’s one of the best in the city. We’re always trying to keep building on it as well. In addition, sparkling wine is a big focus. Beyond that, we offer the incredible opportunity to taste multiple wines by the glass as part of our wine pairings. We’ve also recently introduced premium wine pairings, which is another differentiator and unique offering. There’s an incredible amount of work that goes into selecting each one as well, which only adds to the value of the experience.

What kind of tasks are sommeliers taking on to ensure things run smoothly during service?

We’re constantly restocking the cellar and ensuring everything’s visible, organized, properly inputted, kept at the right temperature and correctly labelled. We sell a lot of wine, so it’s always moving! We have a streamlined process in place, and for a restaurant operation of this scale, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into keeping it that way. One unique thing about Canoe is that the cellar is on the same level as the restaurant, so wines are close by. It’s a small detail, but it allows us to find what diners are looking for and quickly get it to their table. It all comes down to the little steps that together ensure a seamless service experience.

How do you ensure you have something on the wine list for everyone? 

You have to keep different palettes in mind. It’s quite a collaborative process with our team. We use our connections in the wine world to get exclusive product early so that we remain ahead of the curve. It’s also about having a variety of both classic and New World wines. We’re constantly sourcing so that we constantly have stock ready to hit the list when others are sold. We’re always thinking ahead.

Any favourites you can recommend?

I’m a big fan of Italian wines, especially wines from lesser-known regions of Italy. There are so many to discover if you’re open to exploring a bit. Spanish wines are always good value as well. You can uncover some unbelievable bottles when you keep an open mind! When it comes to sparkling wine, I like the 2016 Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc de Blancs ‘Carte Blanche’ from Henry of Pelham. They have quite a few affordable bottles that drink quite well for the price.

Sommelier Michael Kovalev stands in front of Canoe's whisky display


A big thank you to our talented sommeliers for sharing their stories and giving us a glimpse of what it takes build and maintain a wine program as unique as ours. The next time you visit, be sure to say hello and tap our experts for a recommendation or two. Cheers!