Just Ask: Rib’N Reef Steakhouse Head Sommelier’s Guide to Pairings

SHARP & Mark Anthony Wines

When faced with a world-class wine list such as the award-winning one at Montreal’s Rib ‘N Reef Steakhouse, choosing the perfect wine to go with dinner can seem like a Herculean task. Patrik Schmidt, head sommelier and manager of this Mont-Royal institution, famous for its 9,000-plus bottle cellar, doesn’t want guests to feel like they need to take on this heavy responsibility. The whole point of a steakhouse, he argues, is to enjoy being served by professional waiters and sommeliers, deferring to them while you simply relax with your friends and have a great time. So let the somm do all the heavy lifting. All you have to do is ask.

SHARP recently had a chance to sit down with Schmidt to ask for tips on talking to your somm. 

A big wine list is a selling point in a great steakhouse, but it can be a source of anxiety for some guests. Why is that? 

Some people are afraid that a wine list is too big and too expensive, but that’s where I come in. I guide them through the list so they get a wine which is affordable for them and will taste amazing with their meal.

So, it’s important to start a conversation with your sommelier?

Very much so. A good sommelier has to listen to his customers. The more they listen to a customer about the wines they’re usually drinking, the better the somm can focus on the bottle which will be right for that dinner.  

Do you have any advice for people who feel like tasting the wine is a lot of pressure?  

People can always ask for help. We can open the bottle and we can taste it. And then if it’s good, we pour it. If the bottle is no good, we replace it.

wine pairing

It’s a time-honored steakhouse tradition to start the night off with a martini. But if a guest wants to switch it up for something a little lighter, what would you recommend?

I would suggest anyone looking for something different to start with a bottle like M de Minuty, a French Rosé from Provence which is fresh and crisp and a nice change from a cocktail.

Sounds like it would also be an excuse to order some oysters. What about when you move on to other seafood starters?

One of our most popular appetizers is the cold seafood tower, which is lobster, a crab leg, oysters, and shrimp — for that, I would highly recommend an Alois Lageder Gaun Chardonnay. It’s produced at a winery in northern Italy’s Alto Aldige region where they make an amazing Chardonnay that pairs perfectly with seafood.

Are there any hard and fast rules for pairings that you can always count on?

A big red wine like Madiran Montus by Alain Brumont is always a winner for steaks. I would recommend it with the Tomahawk, which is a USDA prime rib steak for two people, because of the amazing blend, which is 80 percent Tannat grape and 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, making a good balance of fruit and structure to go with the rich meat.

Any pairings you often recommend that guests are surprised about?

A lot of people do not know that tuna is a perfect fish to have a very good glass of red wine with.

What’s the definition of a perfect guest experience from your point of view?

For me, a happy customer walks out of the Rib already thinking about when he or she wants to come back. Mission accomplished.