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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 23 (February 21, 2005)

Monday, February 14: Valentine's Day. Spent the day writing a commentary for Tidings magazine on the Sideways Effect – how the movie has spurred sales of Pinot Noir in the States and had a dampening effect on Merlot sales (after Miles' disparaging remark: "If anyone orders Merlot I'm leaving.") It was rather like the French Paradox segment on 60 Minutes fourteen years ago and how it jump-started the sales of red wine... Deborah has requested champagne for dinner by the fire with the tourtière she made over Christmas. Champagne goes with everything – except when I went to the cellar I found we only had sparkling. So I opened a bottle of Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta, which was smashing.

Tuesday, February 15: This morning the Wine Council of Ontario is holding a tasting of 49 wines that are in line for the annual Cuvee awards on Saturday March 5th. The event was held in the demonstration kitchen at the LCBO's Summerhill store. These stand-up tastings are hard on the back. Writing notes is difficult and just getting to the tables through the other guests is a pain. The whites were at room temperature, which didn't help, but some of the wines shone through in spite of it all. I was mightily impressed by Ridgepoint Riesling 2003, Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2003, Coyote's Run Reserve Chardonnay 2003, Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Grand Reserve Meritage 2002 and Peninsula Ridge Cabernet 2002. The only sweet wine I tasted was Flat Rock Vidal Icewine 2003. I was curious about it because it's the first Icewine I've seen that is bottled under screwcap. It tasted just fine. Good on them for having the courage. Kathy Guidi, the cheese lady, was there serving five Canadian cheeses – Mi-Carême, Grande Délice, Saint-Damase and Le Cru du Clocher Cheddar Reserve from Quebec and São Miguel, a Portuguese-style cheese made in Ontario. Kathy has set up the Cheese Education Guild, the first certified cheese product knowledge program in Canada. (For course details, see Kathy is also instrumental in setting up the Ontario Cheese Society (, which I'm going to join for $40. Love cheese... Back home to work on the atlas, trying to pull the BC section together. For dinner with lamb chops and a lovely bottle of Boekenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2003 from South Africa. And if you can say that after half a bottle you deserve a medal.

Wednesday, February 16: Worked out at the gym. They're remodelling and switched the men's and the women's dressing rooms. There were signs posted but at 7 am I don't read anything. I walked into the women's dressing room. A startled woman, full dressed) stood looking at me. "You're in the wrong room," I said. "No, you are!" she replied – and I was. When I finished showering two women walked into the men's so I felt better. Down to Rogers 680 News to record the first series of wine spots, which will start on Friday... Doug Towers and David Lawrason are coming at 2 pm for another tasting of Ontario wines for Twenty-four in all and then I have to high-tail it down to the new women's club Verity on Queen East to conduct a tasting of varietal wines for their members.

We tasted:

  • Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2003
  • Chateau de Sancerre 2003 (Sauvignon Blanc – my sample was corked)
  • McMannis Chardonnay 2003 (Sonoma)
  • Penley Cabernet "Phoenix" 2003
  • Jeanneret Shiraz Clare Valley 2002
  • Maison Mallard Gaulin Cote de Nuits-Villages 1998

Then Barbara Barde, a member of the wine committee, took me to dinner in the club's restaurant George. Great food (little dishes) and a very competent sommelier, Kim.

Thursday, February 17: A busy wine day. Lunch at Frisco with the director of Red Wines for Gallo, Tony Vleck, a Canadian who used to work for Andres in BC. He led the group through a series of Gallo's 2003 Sierra Valley wines, priced at $8.95 (White Zinfandel at $7.95). Very good quality for the price – best of which were the Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. The wines were served with a series of two-bite morsels – onion tart, smoked salmon on a puff pastry tart, grilled vegetables, sautéed tiger shrimp, roasted chicken breast with pomegranate glaze, roasted scallops with caper-raisin sauce; followed by Roquefort and walnut crostinis, mini beef filets with roasted mushrooms, double-baked potatoes with prosciutto and parmesan, black peppercorn-coriander crusted Ahi tuna. This seems to be the trend in Toronto restaurants these days – small but many. No doubt reflecting the city's ethnic mix... Then to George (again!) for a tasting of the 2003 vintage of Bouchard Père & Fils white and red Burgundies and William Fèvre Chablis. 2003 was a crazy vintage in France. The heat wave meant harvest was the earliest in recorded memory (mid-August). Since the entire French population goes on holiday in August this caused consternation. Luc Bouchard told me that they had trouble getting pickers. There is a real quality gap between the basic village wines and the Premier and Grand Crus. The fruit is really concentrated in these wines but the tannins are gripping. Best of the whites for me were Meursault Genevières 2003 and Corton-Charlemagne 2003. In the reds – Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots 2003 and Nuits Saint Georges Les Cailles 2003. Of the Chablis I liked the Fourchaume Vignoble de Vaulorent 2003 best. That evening a bunch of the wine writers and their partners were invited to a performance of the Soweto Gospel Choir at the Hummingbird. Before the show Laurel Keenan had arranged a tasting of South African wines Fairview Viognier 2003 (a little lacklustre and overoaked), Delheim Sperling & Sperling Pinotage Rosé 2004 (this is a co-production of Ann Sperling , Malivoire's winemaker and the Sperling family in South Africa: sweetish raspberry flavour with lively acidity – good but not as good as Ann Sperling's Malivoire Ladybug Rosé), Kumala Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2003, Goats Do Roam Red 2003, Goats Do Roam in Villages Red 2003, Goat Roti 2002 (and it's begun to get the goat of the French who are not amused with these jeux de mots), Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (very good and coming here in September). La Motte Shiraz 2002, Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2002 (also very good and coming March/April) and finally Boekenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2003. I had bought a case of this wine at $12.95. The agent informed me that the LCBO made a pricing mistake and it should have been $2 more. Excellent. The Soweto choir was fabulous.

Friday, February 18: Spent the day on the atlas. Finally got Eric von Krosigk to send me the information on Adora Estate and Summerland Cellars, two of the wineries he's involved with. I've only been bugging him every few weeks for the last five months. Winemakers! It's like herding cats. Tonight is the annual Ontario Imported Wine Spirits and Beer Association's annual dinner at the National Club. This year the featured region to supply the wines is California. I have to present my blind tasting award to Scott Montgomery of Churchill Cellars. In my introduction I said that blind tasting is the second-hardest thing you'll ever do in the wine trade. The hardest thing is to get your wine on LCBO shelves. The dinner was absolutely delicious, with multiple wines with each course as is the tradition. We all mill about before the meal and chat over hors d'oeuvres and wine (Mumm Napa Valley Prestige Brut, Wente Chardonnay 2002, Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – which I thought was Merlot before I saw the printed menu. So much for my blind tasting abilities.) With the smoked tomato consommé they served Gallo Northern Sonoma Estate Chardonnay 1999 (now if that was $8.95 a bottle I'd take a few cases!) and the hefty Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2000. Seared scallop and Grilled Black Tiger Shrimp (must be a lot of that around) with Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (very crisp and clean) and Fetzer Echo Ridge Fume Blanc 2003. The main course was Bison Tenderloin with Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Gallo Northern Sonoma Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 and Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999. Mondavi starred here. Dessert – a filed berry terrine with citrus lace curl, fig and strawberry compote (no wine); finally the cheese – American Asiago, Mapledale Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Oka with Ironstone Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2002 and Monterra Vineyards Syrah 2001 (not to be confused with Bonterra). Deborah won the floral centrepiece at our table but I think in her heart of hearts she would have preferred to win the draw for a trip for two to Sonoma.




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