Post City Magazines' 2009 Wine Awards (May 15, 2009)
In these bleak economic times wine lovers can take solace in those watering holes that offer the best wine experiences in the city, whether they are wine bars, restaurants or your dining room table. Even the LCBO, which, up until this year, has been posting record profits for the last decade, has had to pull in its horns and sell off classy wines at discount prices because consumers are spending less per bottle. The current economic climate spawned the Fuzion Phenomenon – an Argentinean blend of two flavour-of-the-month grape varieties, Malbec and Shiraz. Selling for $7.45 a bottle, this fruit bomb exploded on the market and customers were hauling it away by the case. Expect to see more wines under $15 at the LCBO in the coming months.
But if the stock market is getting you down, wine might be the remedy – not by ingesting but by investing. A joint analysis by Information Resources Inc. and Wine Industry Insight, examining data for the past four years, showed that wine is recession-resistant. The study
determined that wine sales, as measured by the monthly change in dollar sales, outperform the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Best Wine Book of the Year: The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace. Starting from the auction sale of the iconic 1787 Château Lafite that was bottled for Thomas Jefferson and sold for US$156,000, Wallace investigates the rarified world of mega-tastings of rare wines and the wealthy men who collect them. The book reads like a mystery novel ("The bottler did it!"). Read it with a glass of wine at your elbow. Published by Crown at $27.95.
Best Bedside Reading for the Wine Lover in Your Life: 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die, selected and reviewed by leading international wine critics and edited by Neil Beckett. A feast of wines from all over the world, including a couple of Canadian candidates: Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2003 and Mission Hill Riesling SLC Icewine 2004 from BC. Wouldn't have been my choices to represent Canada, but a fascinating selection of the world's best wines notwithstanding. Published by Random House at $39.95.
Best New Wine Initiative: WineCamp. Not boot camp but bottle camp. WineCamp is an opportunity for "techies" to combine drinking wine, learning about all things wine, and networking. WineCamp's main goal is to educate people about wine with open participatory workshop events. WineCamp is the brain child of Sandy Ward, who created www.bringmywine.ca, the site that tells you which restaurants in Ontario permit you to bring your own bottle and how much corkage they charge. WineCamp is a spin off from BarCamp, an international network of user-generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants. The first BarCamps focused on early-stage web applications, and related open source technologies, social protocols, and open data formats. The format has also been used for a variety of other topics, including public transit, health care, and political organizing.
The participants of Camp events, including WineCamp, tend to be early adopters of new technology. The first WineCamp in Toronto was organized in about 8 hours and included 3 speakers. The event, only advertised on Twitter, sold out in less than 30 minutes. For more information on the next WineCamp, check out www.winecamp.ca. WineCamp is held in the tasting room at The Fine Wine Reserve at 439 King Street West.
Best Wine Bar Downtown: Crush. You can sit at the bar and have flights of wine from their extensive list and dine in comfort at the back. They hold themed stand-up tastings at 6.30 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Check their website for dates. www.crushwinebar.com. 455 King Street West, Toronto, ON, 416-977-1234.
Bargain White Wine of the Year: Cono Sur Viognier 2007 (Chile). $9.95 (LCBO #64287).
A steal at the price. Medium straw colour; an intriguing bouquet of honey, honeysuckle and peaches with a flavour of ripe peaches; full on the palate with lively acidity and a touch of residual sweetness. Chill it and match it with pineapple chicken or light curried dishes.
Bargain Red Wine of the Year: De Loach Cabernet Sauvignon California Series 2006. $14.95 (LCBO #89250). The wine is deep ruby in colour with an intriguing bouquet of cedar, blackcurrants and vanilla oak. The flavour is rich with well extracted fruit. It's powerful but elegant, well balanced with a firm finish and supple tannins. I tasted this wine at 9 o'clock in the morning to make my notes and had it with lamb chops for dinner. Absolutely delicious.
Where to drink VQA in Unionville: Bluestone Bistro, 4261 Hwy. #7 E Unit A-18 Unionville, ON L3R 1L5, 905-475-6999. Certified Angus steaks, wood-fired gourmet pizza, fresh seafood and a delicious selection of appetizers featuring house-made Thai shrimp spring rolls. Guests are also offered a program in which any unfinished bottles off the wine list can be sealed, tagged and enjoyed at leisure on your next visit within the following three weeks. Three two-ounce portions of showcased wine flights are also promoted. Every Monday night corkage fees are waived, and all select wines are price capped at $15. The restaurant has won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for four years running and the VQA Award of Excellence (for 100% Ontario wines) for three years running. So they're serious about the fermented grape.
Going Italian In Thornhill: Ferrovia,7355 Bayview Avenue, Thornhill, 905-695-0110.
Intimate and tidy and not easy to find in a shopping mall but well worth the effort. Great food matched with wines at affordable prices.
Best Place to Have Oysters and Champagne North of Opus One: Terra Restaurant, t8199 Yonge Street, Thornhill, 905-731-6161. Sit back in the Oyster and Tapas Bar-Lounge and order a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut if you're alone. If you have a partner, make it a full bottle and double up on the oysters. They also have an incredible wine list.
Where To Drink Organic Ontario Wine in Richmond Hill: Marlowe Restaurant & Wine Bar. 155 York Blvd. Richmond Hill, 647-724-1657. Try the Frogpond Cabernet Franc. The restaurant with its Eurasian menu has a well chosen wine list heavy into New World offerings.
Going Greek in Thornhill: Santorini Grill, 288 John St., Thornhill, 416-800-1402. Kudos to this restaurant for listing some very tasty Greek wines (Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Lazaridi Merlot, Chateau Porto Carras among the ten offerings) along with a substantial list of New World wines at very fair prices.
Best wine bar in Thornhill: Brix Napa Valley Grille and Wine Bar, 230 Commerce Valley Drive East. These guys made the list last year and they're back again. In spite of its name this restaurant, with a large open-air patio, has an extensive international wine list and 35 wines are poured by the glass in 6 oz measures. Pricing is wallet-friendly and there's live entertainment on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Ontario's busiest Winemaker: Arthur Harder. The name may not be on everybody's lips but his wines are on a lot of consumers' palates. Grimsby-born Arthur Harder backpacked through Europe in 1978 and became enchanted with Champagne. After graduating from Ryerson with a degree in chemistry he studied oenology and viticulture at the famed Geisenheim Institute in Germany. In the two decades that followed he has worked with (the late) Barnes Wines, Inniskillin, and Hillebrand Estates Winery, and the Institute for Grape Breeding and Grafting (Geisenheim), Asbach-Kretschmar (Rüdesheim), and the Klostermuehle Winery (Odernheim/Nahe) in Germany. Now a "flying winemaker" in Ontario, he consults with boutique wineries such as Calamus Estate, Cattail Creek Estate, Maleta Estate and Ridgepoint Wines.
Best Malt Whisky Experience: Edradour 10 Year Old. Nosed (and consumed) at a Robbie Burns Night dinner, this "Straight from the Cask" is one of the finest Highland single malts I have tasted. It is produced in Scotland's smallest distillery, near Pitlochry in Perthshire and, according to its website, it's "possibly the smallest legal distillery of any kind in the world." Only 12 casks of whisky are produced a week, so it's devilishly hard to find – but you can order by phoning the Distillery on 01796 472095.
Best Brewpub: The Granite Brewery and Restaurant, 245 Eglinton Avenue East (at Mount Pleasant). A fine selection of 8 beers to choose from. I'm partial to the Best Bitter Special (dry hopped) because it reminds me of Real Ale in London pubs. And it's within walking distance from my new condo.
The LCBO Enters The 21st Century: Vintages begins selling fine wines on line at www.Vintagesshoponline.com. They post new products that are only available on line every two weeks.
International Winery of the Year: D'Arenberg. This mid-sized winery in Australia's McLaren Vale has a large portfolio of wines ranging in price from $15 (The Olive Grove Chardonnay) to $55 (The Dead Arm Shiraz). At each level the wines are impeccably made for the price. Some crazy names, too. Like The Love Grass, The Feral Fox and The Noble Mud Pie.
Canadian Winery of the Year: Road 13. This BC winery used to be called Golden Mile Cellars. Their Jackpot series of Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Syrah are delicious and the sooner Vintages brings them to Ontario the better.
Best Wine Education: The Independent Wine Education Guild, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing excellence in wine and spirit education to professionals in the trade as well as to private individuals. You can start at entry-level courses and graduate to higher levels that ultimately can lead to the Master of Wine degree. Courses are taught by wine professionals. When you pass the exams you get the internationally recognized professional Certificate or Diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in England. For details visit www.iweg.org.
Best Nose: Sommelier Taylor Thompson of reds captured the privileged Grand Award at this year's Wine Tasting Challenge. The Challenge was held at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel in November 2008, and its results were recently announced. Capturing the Wine Tasting Challenge title is a major wine profession coup. Competitors must correctly identify the grape varietal, country, region of origin and vintage from a diverse range of world wines. Professionals attempt to identify seven wines and supplementary rounds, which feature three VQA wines and three spirits. reds is located at 77 Adelaide Street West
Best Organic/Biodynamic Wine List: Four is Toronto's first healthy, upscale restaurant to offer top-quality, chef-driven dishes, without all the calories normally associated with high end cuisine. The menu was designed with a focus on the core principle of balance in dining, with each dish at 650 calories or less. The wines of Four reflect this notion as well. The international list of organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines has been designed to provide high-quality wine options with minimum impact to the environment. The healthy hotspot also serves up Niagara's Stratus, known leaders in sustainable energy and environmental design (Gewürztraminer 2006). In the spirit of Four's mantra of balance, these new and exciting wines are listed alongside products from winemakers who have been practicing environmentally conscious techniques for generations, including Domaine Weinbach (Riesling Cuvee St. Catherine 2005; Gewurztraminer Cuvee Theo 2005) and Pierre Morey (Domaine Pierre Morey Monthelie
2003). Worthy New World list highlights include Peju Province Zinfandel 2004 (Napa Valley) and Frog's Leap Chardonnay 2005 (Napa). Four is located at 187 Bay Street, in Commerce Court South.