31 - Our Favourite Article from 2001
All the Best for the Holiday Season ~ December 15, 2001
First of all, let me wish all my readers and subscribers the very best
for holiday season. It’s been an extremely prolific, albeit challenging year.
On the positive side, I have had the window to visit more wine
regions and taste more wines than ever before.
Heart felt thanks to all the individuals and wineries that kindly
opened up their doors allowing me to taste their wares.
Survivor’s Guide for Vinous Gifting ~ December 8, 2001
Last year’s best buy guide appeared on December 16th perhaps
just a tad late for some shoppers. So this year I’m coming out earlier
with my oenophile gift-shopping guide.
From Sparklers to Reds
-The Scoop on Today's Vintages Release ~ December 1, 2001
Spirits & Best Buy Whites From the December 1, 2001 Vintages Release
~ November 24, 2001
Nouveau, Primeur or Novello? ~ November 15, 2001
So here it is the release day and I am at the LCBO Queens Quay ready to
attack the nine new wines hitting the shelves.
To check on my own consistency and/or possible label bias, I repeat
the tasting blind - nine unmarked glasses a few hours later in the day.
Fortunately, the results are quite similar giving me the confidence
to go “public”. Having said
that, only one of the wines was what I would call unacceptable.
The balance could be quaffed and enjoyed without problem. And if they are well chilled, then the differences become minimal.
Will that be Nouveau, Primeur or Novello?
~ November 12, 2001
The following nine “Nouveau” wines will be available at more than 400
LCBO stores across Ontario at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, November 15, 2001.
Up D’Oc? - Great drinking value from cheap & cheerful to new heights
of quality November 3, 2001
The Vin de Pays d'Oc fair arrives in Toronto on November
6th. Few realize
the immense size of this region ~ there are over 736,000 acres (298,000
ha) in this 190 km strip that hovers along the Mediterranean coast.
It’s the largest wine-producing region on earth and accounts for
about one in three bottles of French wine!
With Danny - Solo ~ October 27, 2001
It's Saturday night and I am batching it! Rosie, my wife is in Montreal
and I am confronted with reality of having to fend for myself. I have
been invited to a special Saturday night winemaker’s dinner
and am tempted to go. But the taste of bad fish from the last visit
still lingers on the palate.
all Greek to Me –Bargain Wines!
• A Plethora of Upcoming Events
Beringer’s Best Buys in Today’s Vintages Release
Diary ~ October 20, 2001
It seems that fewer and fewer professional bona fide wine and spirits
writers still appear in the mainstream press. Part of the problem is revenue,
or the lack of it. Our friends at the LCBO seem determined to suck up
advertising like a huge vacuum cleaner. This month’s Food
& Drink Magazine, for instance, contains almost three-quarters
of a million in advertising revenue. That’s scary when you see what’s
happening to most newspapers and magazines.
For A Wee Nip Of The Smoky One! ~ October 13, 2001
This is the time of year when the cool autumn air nips at you shoulder.
While thoughts may leap to those full-bodied fleshy reds, this week I
discovered that a wee nip of the smoky one is all one needs to make the
world go round.
Up for The Classics
~ October 6, 2001
One of the key questions on the minds of readers is whether
the National Post will continue to bring readers notes from this wine
& spirits columnist. In
fact, the National
Post Toronto section was scheduled to die today.
But low and behold, the Toronto section has been ressurected and
my weekly column is scheduled to continue next Saturday
The big bird cometh!
~ Discovering an inexpensive gem from Chile
- September 29, 2001
The big bird cometh!
~ Discovering an inexpensive
gem from Chile - September 29, 2001
It’s hard to believe that a week Monday will be Thanksgiving.
When it comes to my feathered friends, I lean towards fleshy, fruity wines
– especially new world Syrah and Zinfandel. To my taste, drier reds be
it Beaujolais or Bordeaux don’t work as well!
Expanding one’s vinous horizons
~ From winemaker's Dinners to LCBO
Tastings - September 22, 2001
It’s one thing to rely on your local wine writer to give guidance as to
what’s best and quite another to get out there and taste for yourself.
For Ontario wine fans, the 2001 Niagara Grape &Wine Festival (September
21 to 30) is a fairly good window to explore the hundred events taking
place throughout the Niagara Peninsula and taste. As a certain amount
of driving is involved, I strongly suggest you spit and keep on spitting.
Now that may not sound too polite, but trust me, it’s essential for survival.
South African Horizons - September 15, 2001
This article was to focus on the upcoming world tour by 33 South African
winemakers who were to make their debut in Toronto next Thursday. Unfortunately,
the scheduled kickoff in NYC could not take place and it has now been
rescheduled for the end of October.
wine lover's guide to the celluloid classis ~ Time to sip great wines
in theatres all year round! - September 8, 2001
I am sipping a very decent, reasonably priced red in the cinema lobby
wondering why this can’t happen every day. It’s Film Festival time and
1998 Proprietor’s Reserve Meritage is the festival’s official wine
(available on the LCBO General List at $10.95). It’s a very decent buy
– a still firm, somewhat cedary, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet
Franc and Merlot. It’s flowing freely (as were their, less expensive,
non-VQA reds) and I can’t help wondering why can’t it be like this all
From Film to Organic! - September 1, 2001
Come Thursday, they’ll be popping the corks at this year’s Toronto
International Film Festival opening night premier of Last
Wedding. One of my personal favourites, Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne is this year’s “official” Festival
sparkler of choice. It will be giving birth to a new 200 ml rendition
called Baby Piper, which is
perfect for the bar bound fans. It comes complete with a two stars and
will go for approximately $25 a pop at certain licensees (i.e. Rosewater
Supper Club and Courthouse).
Unfortunately, the retail pack of four ($44.95) won’t surface at the LCBO
until next year.
newest summery whites of Ontario
Blanc est arrivée
- August 25, 2001
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m dining al fresco overlooking the vineyards
surrounded by the soothing sounds of jazz on the patio of Hillebrand’s
Vineyard Café just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake. My glass of sparkling
Trius Brut, a genuine VQA blend
of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes (available on the LCBO General List
at $19.95) is the quintessential summer thirst quencher; it even cuts
the mustard with a shared foie gras appetizer.
Striking Gold in the Pacific Northwest
Wine Judge’s Take on the Best - August 18, 2001
“There must be gold in them thar hills,” I heard someone mutter after
hearing that Toronto-based wine conglomerate Vincor had just purchased
Washington State Hogue Cellars for $36.4 million. This foray along with
the recent N.Y.-based Canandaigua acquisitions of Columbia, Covey Run
and Paul Thomas wineries has sparked a new interest in Washington wines.
that be Ribs or Steak? New Vintage Reds for the BBQ ~ Whites that go both
ways - August 11, 2001
Every summer I’m inundated with requests for the best barbeque reds. Answering
these questions isn’t easy because ultimately it comes down to personal
taste. Nevertheless, I want to reiterate my observation that when serving
meats slathered in sweetish red sauces – dry, austere reds generally do
not work. Nothing kills the thrill of a great Barolo or the finesse of
a Bordeaux quicker than a heaping plate of sweet, succulent, finger-licking-tasty
Tracking down the LCBO’s best from cottage country - August 4, 2001
I was listening to the lament of one summer cottage
dweller who was going on and on about the “ratty” selection of products
at his local countrified LCBO outlet. It immediately became obvious that
this unhappy camper hadn’t been paying attention to some of the excellent
services our local monopoly is willing to provide
Pink ~ When Rosé Ruled the Roost ~ July 28, 2001
At one time rosé ruled the world. Local credit goes to one Pierce G. Thornley,
a Toronto based hardware manufacturers agent, who was approached by the
Portuguese trade commission in the late 1950’s to look at importing their
wines. The special shape of one caught his eye. The wine was Mateus rosé
and rest is history! It wasn’t long before you couldn’t find a Toronto
restaurant, which didn’t feature this new wonder drink. By the 1960’s
it had become the world’s largest selling brand.
to Cruise Beaujolais Crus
Duboeuf’s 1999 Sampler Pack - July 21, 2001
Those yearning to explore the totality of flavours
a region can offer need not wait any longer. This month’s Vintages release
offers the perfect opportunity for the budding oenophile. It’s a mixed
12-pack of Beaujolais. And it’s not just any Beaujolais, but a special
selection from every region selected by the king himself Georges Duboeuf.
Indeed, every wine (with the exception of one) comes from an individual
Château or Domaine!
splashy summer white from New Zealand - July 14, 2001
You’ll have no sweat trying to find a decent white worth digging into
while sitting around the pool this summer. This month’s Vintages release
features a number of well-priced items, which are perfect palate cleansers
for those hot sultry days.
- Ontario’s own
Monthly wine Olympics - July 7, 2001
So here we are on the edge of discovering who will host the 2008 Olympics.
And you can bet your shirt; it’s going to have a big impact on the type
of wines that are going to be consumed. If Paris wins, you’ll be lucky
to find anything but French sur
le table. As for Beijing, anything goes. Hopefully, we might rediscover
some decent Chinese Huadong Tsingtao
Chardonnay, which once graced our own LCBO shelves. As for good old
Toronto, I’m sure that our local vintners will have us up to our elbows
in celebratory Ontario releases.
est arrivée ~ Ontario reds Lift-off for your Canada Day celebrations -
June 30, 2001
With Canada Day just around the corner, I am ready, willing and able to
jump aboard the Canadian wine bandwagon and sing praises to the efforts
of our local winemakers. In particular, I was looking forward to tasting
two 1998 Pinot Noirs from British Columbia which were part of this month’s
Vintages “Salute to 1998 VQA Reds. Unfortunately, neither could be recommended.
Ditto for an appalling half bottle of 1997 Ontario Cabernet/Merlot, which
was closer to vinaigrette than wine! While 1997 was an admitted challenge,
one might ponder how some of these reds got through the VQA tasting board.
General List Price Book cometh
~ The LCBO’s continuing saga
of hiding the best - June 23, 2001
Well get on the phone and call Ripley’s, the
LCBO’s General List Price Book Summer 2001 edition has finally arrived.
Of course, don’t expect the contents or prices to be absolutely correct.
The first page warns us that this snapshot was taken on April 17th
after the LCBO’s purge of 400 products from the General List (see
my web site for details)! Ironically, the once well-hidden Errazuriz Late
Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is still listed as a “Dessert Wine” even though
it’s long gone! This Price Book is a lot leaner than in the past.
your dad in good spirit - June 16, 2001
Getting the right gift for your dad isn’t always easy. Indeed, as Father’s
Day rolls in tomorrow, I had hoped that we might have been blessed with
an updated version of Tom Stevenson’s New
Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia at $75. It’s not that this excellent 1997
opus is out-of-date, but it is hard to find. And while there are lots
of newer books on the market, unfortunately some of the best are out-of-print.
Red Wine With Fish - The New Art
of Matching Wine with Food by David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson,
for instance, is well worth tracking down (ISBN 0-671-66208-2).
buys in today’s Vintages release - June 9, 2001
So here it is, another Vintages release day with 160 products hitting
the shelves. And we have some dandy, well priced surprises. Those of you,
who missed last month’s sold out tasting of New Zealand wines, need not
lament. Miraculously Vintages has managed to acquire two of the best wines
featured at the event. The first is from the white grape that put New
Zealand on the wine map – Fairhall
Downs 2000 Sauvignon Blanc at $14.50. Fortunately, there’s not a drop
of cat’s pee to be found in this fragrant and yet crisp effort. The very
dry, zesty, lemony-Anjou pear flavours have a refreshingly tart, lingering,
gooseberry finish making perfect for seafood and spicy cuisine.
is the variety of life - June 2, 2001
I am always surprised how many wine fans fail
to venture forth and try something different. Perhaps it’s a matter of
having been there, done that and ultimately being disappointed. Of course,
this isn’t too surprising considering the marketing hyperbole that surrounds
many wines today. Nevertheless, there are a tremendous number of truly
delicious wines waiting out there to be discovered.
new cloak of Vintages secrecy - May 26, 2001
I just don’t
get it. After years of complaining, the director of Vintages took a step
in the right direction and decided to stop hiding some of the new wines
coming into the system. These products were known as “soft” releases –
small quantities of usually good wines which were slipped into selected
Vintages stores without the public’s knowledge.
Victoria Day & Absinthe ~ Fireworks for your mind - May 19, 2001
Day at hand complete with all the spectacular pyrotechnics, I pondered
on the spirits which ignite. At one time, not so long ago, the best ways
of lighting a fire in your companion’s eyes would be to sip a flaming
Sambuca after a romantic meal. I remember crunching into the bitter
espresso coffee bean, which innocently floated on its fiery surface.
Something new from California ~ Rhone Ranger wines charge ahead -May 12,
California wine fair presents a great opportunity to take stock of what’s
happening. As we all know, prices are through the roof - the strong US
dollar being principally to blame. Nevertheless some great drinking value
Springtime Vintage gifts for your mom - May 5, 2001
finally in the air, today’s Vintages release has some special finds for
Mother’s Day. Of 13 Chardonnays released, let me kick off with the best
- Malivoire 1999 Chardonnay.
undiscovered gem from Portugal ~ A trilogy of fine whites upcoming at
Vintages - April 28, 2001
I have always
been a fan of Portuguese table wine, not just because they were inexpensive
but also because they could be extremely delicious. For my palate, they
offer a wonderful alternative in terms of flavour and style to most mainstream
internationally styled supermarket wines.
forgotten Classis ~ National Post wine critic lends Vintages a hand
sad but true but the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” certainly
applies to the LCBO’s attempts to put some sizzle into their Classics
Catalogue selections. A basic rule in marketing 101 is that location is
everything. And when Vintages locks its best wines away in a warehouse
far from the buyer’s eyes, they’re forgotten.
Wines to keep your Easter bunny at bay- April
the time of year to smell the daffodils. Well, at least we’re getting
close. This and the impending arrival of the great Easter bunny replete
with colourful eggs is what I joyfully remember about this time of year.
Somehow the socio-religious recollections of church services have been
erased. For me, it’s a time to rejoice, repair and share.
many faces of Riesling ~ A bevy of styles in today's Vintages release
- April 7, 2001
top of the world thirty years ago, where you couldn’t dine out without
finding a little Blue Nun, German wines have taken a pounding. Certainly
part of the reason is the rise of reds, which are hardly abundant in these
northern climes. Add to this the swing to varietal labeling combined with
the multitude of unpronounceable German place names most have never heard
Saturday’s Vintage gems
~ Syrahs to make you hum with happiness
- March 31, 2001
There’s no point beating around the bush, with the
exception of an unsightly Romanian Pinot Noir, next Saturday’s Vintages
release has a number of treasures that shouldn’t be missed. And it’s got
everything to do with a terrific grape that’s bound to bring a song to
your lips – Syrah.
listing system not working well? ~ 400 wines delisted - March 24, 2001
You may be wondering about this month’s massive sell-off that is currently
underway at the LCBO. There’s no hoopla; there are no ads. It appears
that this annual General List purge of its 1700 products is, in my opinion,
the result of a system, which isn’t working properly. And it’s becoming
an ever -more serious problem as the number of delistings has exploded
from 250 last year to now over 400 products.
Gems of the Competition
at Canada’s most popular food &
- March 17, 2001
It makes them green with envy
and it hasn’t got anything to do with St. Patrick’s Day! It’s my life as a professional taster. Sure, it’s
a tough job but somebody has to do it.
And when I complain to my friends, they shed crocodile tears. While casual
tasting is most certainly a joy, wine judging isn’t always a cakewalk.
Over the past three weeks I have waded through some 953 wines – over 40
a day! Multiply this by some three sips per glass and you have a tongue-numbing
120 spits a day. Indeed, the total expectorated (the polite word for spit)
of this three-week period far exceeds the average person’s wine consumption
over a whole year!
undiscovered splendour of New Zealand reds - March 10, 2001
In addition to last week’s recommendations for today’s Vintages release
features a handful of extra-special reds. My top buy comes from the emerald
isles that are now producing an amazing diversity of fine wines. No it’s
not Ireland, it’s that tiny appendage to Australia called New Zealand,
which is often thought of as simply the world’s best producer Sauvignon
to lift your spirits
- March 3, 2001
It’s almost Spring and for my taste there’s nothing better than a precocious
glass of bubbly to get the juices flowing. Next Saturday’s Vintages release
of 130 products features three sparklers worthy of a detour.
out time at the LCBO - February 24, 2001
Every month a few hundred cases of discounted (mostly 25% with some 50%
off) wines and spirits mysteriously appear at various LCBO stores. There’s
no hoopla or trumpet blowing. They usually end up sitting on the store
floor in a happenstance pile waiting to be gobbled up by bargain hunters.
From Napa classics to General List best buys - February
For those of you (meaning almost everyone) unable to attend last Tuesday’s
Napa Valley Vintners tasting, here’s the scoop. First of all, the show
sold out almost immediately - so if you were disappointed, you’re not
alone. Secondly, my notes from last month’s preview blind tastings (55
wines in 6 flights) were not totally encouraging. Several of the wines
(i.e. 1997 Cabernet Sauvignons from Stag’s Leap Faye Vineyard and Far
Niente) were decidedly out of sorts! Obviously, there’s always a danger
when you rely on a single sample.
your Valentine Saint Amour a sheep in wolf’s clothing? - February 10,
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I have chosen a red that
should warm the chilliest of hearts. This 1999
Cuvée St. Valentin Saint-Amour from the king of Beajolais himself
Georges Dubœuf was released in Vintages last month and there is still
lots around (call the LCBO infoline for location/quantities). It has a
bright purple colour and beguiling, slightly peppery nose with fresh,
ripe plums and dried strawberry fruit. On the palate its attractively
crisp, fresh plum purée taste that makes it a natural with steak aux frites.
One of the best to date, it comes in two sizes, the regular at $18.95
and halves at $9.95.
wines to blow your mind at today’s Vintages release - February 3, 2001
I may not go wild for desserts, but I adore rich old dessert wines. And
if forced to confess, I must be a Madeira junkie. Just put me near an
aged glass of this sweet delectable elixir and I start to salivate. And
so I am not embarrassed in the least to hail the arrival of the stunning
10-Year-Old Malmsey Reserve
Madeira at only $34.95. This amber coloured ambrosia has rich, sweet,
viscous but still well balanced, butterscotch and minced meat tart flavours.
You might think of it as crème brûlée in a glass. That it sports a distinctive,
ugly, old-fashioned label and I have never heard of the producer is irrelevant.
It’s what is in the bottle that counts. My advice? Run out and buy a few
today because with only 50 cases in the system, it won’t last long.
the coldest of spirits - January 27, 2001
The king of crystal was holding court in the ritzy rooftop of the Toronto’s
Park Hyatt Hotel A serious task was at hand – to choose the shape of the
ultimate glass for icewine. And who better than the dashing Georg Riedel
captain of a glass making dynasty that spans ten generations.
- January 20, 2001
This month sees two key upcoming wine events.
The first is the Women in Wine
tasting (the dinner is sold out) that takes place on Tuesday, January
30, 2001 at the AGO. Vintages and Lifford Agencies have teamed up to present
seven women winemakers and their wares. It costs $60 – call 1-800-266-4764.
Syrah! Best Vintages Reds - January 13, 2001
Next to Pinot Noir, Syrah is one of my favourite red grape varieties.
I can’t honestly say that it’s always been the case. When I first took
a sip of a great, albeit youthful, Crozes-Hermitage from the northern
Rhône, I had to get a glass of water to clear the palate. Fortunately,
this happened several decades ago and it didn’t take long to acclimatize
to this grape’s idiosyncratic earthy, smoky, meaty, mouthfilling flavours.
I say fortunately, because at the time these wines were extremely inexpensive,
cheaper than your everyday Bordeaux.
Whites of Winter ~ putting a little spice into your life! - January 6,
It’s always hard to condense what’s worth buying into a handful of items.
Today’s Vintages release, for instance, consists of 126 new items. And
no matter how much I try, it’s impossible to squeeze every wine worthy
of buying into a single column. Last week I previewed two highlights:
the Burgundian-inspired California classic Landmark 1999 Overlook Chardonnay at $39.95 and Burgundy’s delicious
Rion 1997 Côte des Nuits Villages
(not the 1998 in today’s Catalogue) at only $28.50 which is showing
you can play at the LCBO - December 30, 2000
Now with only two days
to go, acquiring your treasures at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario
will be no mean feat. Having just returned myself, I feel qualified to
audition for television’s Survivor.
taste the best in Champagne - December 23, 2000
tall ones, fat ones, short ones and lean ones. They come in various garbs
from très chic to vestment ordinaire.
They are all-powerful, because they alone possess knowledge and taste
to transform the ordinary to the extraordinary with simply a twist of
Yes, it’s the sommelier, that mystical tabernacle of wine wisdom who knows
the breadth of the restaurant’s cellar. Internationally-speaking no establishment
worthy of a second glance would be without one. Well almost anyway, because
here in Toronto our gastronomic roots were not imbedded in fine wine but
Survivor's Guide for Vinous Gifting - December 16, 2000
I feel just
like the white rabbit – I’m late. I had hoped to give you a 12-days-of-Christmas
“true love” shopping list. But the partridge has been cooked and, worse
yet, the pears picked from the tree for our holiday crumble.
So what’s left? Just 9 more shopping days. So here’s my 9-day oenophile
gift-shopping guide. First and foremost are bubbles, you know the kind
that comes naturally in the bottle. And what better a gift than my
best buy Champagne of the year, the sublime
Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne a steal at $39.90 available on the
General List at the LCBO in a seasonal gift box.
Chablis back on the Track - December 9, 2000
At one time, 30 years ago, Chablis was considered one of the
world’s finest wines. You couldn’t find a decent Toronto restaurant that
didn’t have it. Indeed, it was so popular that many North American wineries
usurped the name “Chablis” for their own low-cost knock-offs.
hunting - December 2, 2000
It’s V-Day; Vintages release day – time to track down that
vinous treasure. What most readers don’t know is that in addition to today’s
171 new listings, there are more than a thousand pre-existing items still
remaining on Vintages shelves.
out your crash helmets - November 25, 2000
It’s that time of year again. And it’s easy to pick out the
wine nuts. They’re the ones lined up early Saturday morning in the freezing
cold outside the Vintages stores ready to snap up their favourite tipple
before it all disappears. And disappear it does much to the chagrin of
those who come up empty handed. So rather than wait until next Saturday,
here’s the lowdown on the best reds of upcoming release.
election spirits - November 18, 2000
So here we are with elections on every front. Fortunately,
there’s a perfect spirit for every occasion. First and foremost, there
are the pre-election spirits - the things that get you up and running.
You know, things like peppery, throat wrenching grappas and potent whiskeys.
Thrills & Chills ~ getting the wine out of the
warehouse and into the stores - November 11, 2000
Every month I unearth great new buys appearing at Vintages.
There’s no question that consumers are the winners in the LCBO’s effort
to scour the world for the best. In fact, in terms of quality and price,
these wines are often superior to what most agents sell privately.
Beaune for all seasons - November 4, 2000
With the holiday season just around the corner, the LCBO is working
hard to start pumping up sales. Today’s fancy full colour Vintages catalogue
contains 147 new listings along with a brochure featuring an additional
43 holiday gifts.
From the Pacific Northwest - October 28, 2000
Last July I toured a number of vineyards in Oregon and Washington
prior to attending the World Vinifera conference in Seattle. It was an
eye opening experience, especially as a long time had passed since my
Ado About Something - October 21, 2000
Last week it was Gallo, this week it’s Mondavi. Without question
Robert Mondavi has been a key force in focusing world attention on the
wines of California. Today’s Vintages release of 16 wines from Mondavi
and their world affiliates is a tribute to their accomplishments.
releases a titan - October 14, 2000
There’s no time to beat about the bush. Today’s LCBO Vintages release
sees the emergence of one of the best Cabernet Sauvignons to come out
of California. No, I am not talking about Napa’s treasures – not 1996
Dominus ($264 per magnum from the Classics), nor the elegant Robert
Mondavi 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (being re-released next Saturday
at $149.75) or the fine, bright, cedary Caymus
1996 Cabernet Sauvignon (in today’s release at $109.95).
~ The Great After-Dinner Gem - October 7, 2000
It’s the eve of Thanksgiving and time to break out the sweeties.
Last week I loyally dwelt on the possibility of sipping a good Canadian
maple liqueur or great dessert fruit wine after your dinner.
Marriage made in Poultry Heaven - September 30, 2000
The harvest has rolled in and visions of next weekend’s Thanksgiving
Day turkey is at hand. Pangs of guilt of this annual decimation are balanced
by my desire to serve a special libation providing the appropriate homage
to this noble bird.
of the year' shows off his wares - September 23, 2000
The flood of fall trade tastings can be challenging because of
the enormous number of wines being presented often under crowded conditions.
A nice change of pace takes place tomorrow – Southbrook’s “Sunday afternoon
in the country” complete with complementary barbecue. Air Ontario’s “Winemaker
of the Year” Derek Barnett has an interesting portfolio of some very decent
varietals. To my taste, however, their best products are their sumptuous
dessert wines, especially the stunningly delicious Framboise
$14.95 for a 375 ml bottle (the General List CSPC 341024) - certainly
worthy of Toronto’s top wine lists. Open to bona fide sommeliers and restaurateurs,
you can RSVP today by calling 905-832-2548.
Today at Vintages: Potential Oscar-Winning Reds! - September 9, 2000
So I’m sitting here debating the merits of one of the juicier Festival
films with a Los Angeles producer and he stops mid-sentence and says,
“so you’re a wine guy, who’s the best in Canada?”
“Survivors” now on sale - August 26, 2000
There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for these Vintages “survivors.”
Getting rid of stock that doesn’t move is what this semi-annual
Bin-End Sale is all about. It began last Monday and features118 products
which have been shunned by consumers and have been sitting listlessly
on the shelves since last year.
Buys on Today's Vintages - August 12, 2000
Well here it is again - Vintages release day. So what’s it going to be
- cheap and cheerful for everyday drinking, or some greats for that special
moment? Let’s deal with the latter first. During four massive tastings
sessions, I evaluated two sample bottles of each 138 new wines. That adds
up to 552 sips and spits, the latter being extremely important to maintain
one’s ability to walk. Not that I needed to taste more, but the LCBO failed
to present 22 new products for evaluation. So here are the blockbusters
- three big reds and one white that are definitely worth the money.
potpourri - July 29, 2000
I am scrounging around trying to come up with inexpensive good
summer whites to titillate the palate and not break the pocketbook Riesling
makes one heck of thirst quencher, especially when slightly chilled. Here
at home we have several reliable Ontario producers that consistently come
up with the goods - i.e. Cave Spring Cellars 1999 Off Dry Riesling
($10.95) to name just one.
neat rum drink from Ray’s nephew - July 22, 2000
There is something about the summer that puts me in the mood for rum.
Perhaps it was my first sojourn to Europe many decades ago. I fondly remember
being able to buy a bottle of “Spanish” rum at a bar in the heart of Sitges
for less than what a bottle of Coke would cost – a dollar!
case of the disappearing reds - July 15, 2000
Reader feedback on Vintages "Selected Distribution"
("SD") system discussed last Saturday was not enthusiastic.
The LCBO boldly states that these wines are only available at 21 "larger
faster turnover" stores across the province. Unfortunately and in
much smaller type it reveals that ‘some stores may not carry all these
Excellent Vintages' Bounty of Fine Summery Whites - July 8, 2000
Today’s Vintages release features 140 products of which 18 were not tasted.
Of the untasted, 16 are "Selected Distribution" items (marked
in the LCBO Catalogue with an asterisk). Theyare only available at 21
stores across the province. No inter-store transfers are allowed until
one week after the release.
Day - Ontario Wines in he Pink - July 1, 2000
It’s Canada Day. And it’s hard to believe that it was only 25 years ago
that I packed my bags and traveled to London, England to try and convince
the world’s wine authorities that Canadian (i.e. Ontario) wines were worth
- France's Last Wine Frontier - June 24, 2000
Today’s LCBO “Midi Reflections” release highlights 21 new Vintages products. For
a long time the wines of the Midi were virtually unknown. Midi refers
to the large expanse of land in southern France bordering the Mediterranean
and forms an arc running from the mouth of the Rhone in the east to the
Pyrénées Orientales along the Spanish border in the west.
Day gifts for brows of all heights" - June 17, 2000
They come in all shapes and sizes – short ones, tall ones, round ones
and thin ones. Some never seem to leave the office; others live to golf
and some just dote in their gardens. And they’re dads, each and every
one of them and tomorrow’s their day.
red wine so amazingly good, he's recommending it twice - June 10, 2000
Release day at Vintages once again, and how often do I get asked, “if
you had one wine to choose from, which one would it be?”
Knockout cider, and some summery whites - June 3, 2000
I will never forget my first serious brush with cider, well at least one
of its cheap cousins. It was in a “pub” in the Cheddar Gorge near Bristol
more years ago than I care to think about. At that time, for a dollar
you could get a gallon of scrumpy
a rough unsweetened quaffer based on apple remnants used to make cider.
I remember that it came in a big white plastic container. If you
sealed it up you would take your life into your hands because the container
would quickly start to bulge with carbon dioxide from the still fermenting
juice. That meant we had to drink quickly. And we did. Unfortunately,
we soon discovered that scrumpy is a most dangerous thing.
Signature Tackles the LCBO Classics!
- May 27, 2000
It’s Classics Catalogue time, time to seriously scrutinize the just
released 88-page big glossy Spring/Summer Catalogue which now appears
three times a year. While the cut-off time when the LCBO starts processing
orders was last Tuesday, don’t worry that you might have missed the boat.
I am confident that most of my recommendations below will still be available
by the time you read this. Fax in your orders today without fear!
whites of New Zealand - May 20, 2000
It’s another big week for wine lovers with the
some 30 New Zealand wineries checking into town for their annual big tasting
gig at Alice Fazooli’s this Tuesday night.
Africa takes a stand ~ gaining confidence - May 13, 2000
It was a big week for Canadian wine lovers as South Africa’s largest
wine producer KWV launched its $100 red at a chi-chi multi course luncheon
at the Jamie Kennedy ROM ensuring that the country’s most expensive red
ever made gets the lime-light it deserves.
top latest Vintages release - May 6, 2000
There are 128 new products in today’s Vintages release.
While the whites didn’t knock my socks off, there are some terrific reds
which are well worth a detour. Let’s begin looking for fresh fruity whites
that would be perfect for sunny Spring day.
of life, and other necessities - April 29, 2000
They drift and they drift out. No I am not talking
about the eager trout fishermen at today’s opening; I’m referring to the
handful of new spirits that appear in the Vintages Catalogue every month.
There’s usually no hoopla, no line-ups at the LCBO stores with folks anxiously
hoping to scoop up a few prized bottles.
Sweet Liquidity - April 22, 2000
No this isn’t an investor’s incantation on this week’s turmoil in the
stock market. It’s Easter and I fondly remember playing hide-and-seek
for all those wonderfully decorated candied eggs that my Viennese grandmother
used to make. It seems that the sweet-of-tooth have emerged en masse from
their collective winter closets to devour the legion of chocolate bunnies
that are ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. Given this seasonal preoccupation
sweetness, today’s revelations are geared to shed a little light into
realm of one of the LCBO’s best liquid assets.
Riesling Ruled the World - April 15, 2000
It’s hard to imagine that as a teenager in Toronto, German whites
ruled uber alles! Yes that little
Blue Nun was everywhere. It made sense, for here was a flavourful white
which was inexpensive, refreshing and yet just slightly sweet with fruity
hints of grapefruit and honey that went with anything. Better yet it was
low in alcohol so no fear of a hangover! We irreverently called it live-frog’s-milk
(better known as Liebfraumilch)!
In those days Black Tower, Deinhard and Blue Nun reigned supreme.
Buying is Order of the Day in Today's Vintages Release - April 8,
Today’s Vintages release features 71 new
reds from $9.35 to $78.75. Unfortunately this is a very mixed release
with many, too many, selections not being worthy of a detour for the prices
the High Price of California Chardonnay - April 3, 2000
It’s the battle of the palates. Come this Tuesday night, Toronto’s
tasters will be lining up to wet their whistles on the best of whites
from worlds apart: Germany vs California. By some strange twist of fate,
these two annual wine fairs have ended up in Toronto on the same day,
same time. Given the huge popularity of Chardonnay, one would think
that the masters of Riesling might have difficulty attracting the crowds
to their event.
the best out of Ontario fruit wines - March 25, 2000
When I recently mentioned my infatuation with a great Ontario fruit wine
to a serious Burgundy collector I got the strangest of looks. It’s as
if fruit wines were relegated to the closet, something you might pull
out for your kids when they come of age.
Toronto Wine Competition Reveals Some Stunning Best Buys! - March
was my submitted article headline. Unfortunately, the National Post (without
knowledge) used "Beware of dilettante wine reviewers"
which may possibly and inadvertently offend some my colleagues and/or
readers. This certainly is not the intent of this feature. My articles
are intended to inform - not offend. I try to put an educational positive
spin on wines permitting the reader to decide which wine best suits his
or her palate. This is the original text.
Don't Let Paltry 'Speculator' Points Fool You - Some 1997 Winners
- March 11, 2000
Today Vintages’ mini release features twenty new products. While I have
not had the opportunity to assess the portfolio from which they were chosen,
the LCBO has snagged some very good buys. Ah yes, the art of cherry picking
- separating the best from the rest!
fast if you want to try this zippy Zinny - March 4, 2000
Before tackling the big, bold, lip-sticking reds in today's Vintages
I would like to toast readers with a fine preprandial
- the single vineyard
Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada ($15.90). Now that isn't a name you will
find in many privatized wine shops.
need to beware the whites of March, or the reds - February 26, 2000
Next Saturday the monthly
madness starts once again. For some, if you happen to live outside the
greater Toronto or Ottawa region, it’s this Wednesday at 11 am This is
the cutoff time for orders for stores not within these metropolitan areas.
What happens is that the LCBO allocates a percentage of its stock for
customers who do not have regular access to the Vintages stores and boutiques.
For this reason I am going you the advance lowdown on some of next weeks
gem hidden amid LCBO chaos - February 19, 2000
Every week or so
I receive updates on new wines appearing on the LCBO General List. At
least once a month I venture forth to pretaste some of these items. And
so it was with some surprise that I recently discovered that 1997
Foris Pinot Gris a wine, which usually would bless the monthly Vintages
selections, had made it into the General List.
Inside The 'Classics' - February 12, 2000
to get great wines isn’t easy. The LCBO through its Classics Catalogue
purports to present the best wine money can buy. An admirable objective
that unfortunately often seems off the mark. Coming out three times a
year, wine lovers are now chomping at the bit to dig into some 150 new
upcoming selections appearing in the new glossy 76-page oversized Winter
Supplement. To have a real chance of securing the wine of your life, you
must mail or fax your order to the LCBO by 5 p.m. on February 16th
- processing commences on the following
at Vintages: Pricey & Uneven 1995 Barolo - February 5, 2000
There are lots of very fine reds in today’s Vintages release, perhaps
with one exception - 1995 Barolo. Barolo is to Nebbiolo, what Burgundy
is to Pinot Noir! It’s the
King. With either, excellence is hard to find and when you do, it’s very
pricey. Thus, the sales pitch in today’s Vintages Catalogue that 1995
was an “excellent” vintage has to be taken with some grains of risotto.
1995 was not “excellent.” Even the somewhat unreliable Wine Spectator
admits that it “was a difficult vintage... had problems with proper ripening”
producing wines of “uneven quality.” Far from being big dense keepers,
even the very best are “not densely concentrated nor the sort of Barolo’s
that will need a decade or so to come around.”
smuggling and pinot envy - January 29, 2000
Of all wines, those based on pinot noir are the worlds most highly
regarded. After all, what’96 red, other than Romanée Conti, would dare
sell for $1,620 a bottle? At $62.88 an ounce, is anyone surprised that
winemakers around the world are trying to replicate this Burgundian classic.
The Joys of Scotch
- January 22, 2000
Attempting to describe and rate different brands of scotch is both
a hazardous and difficult proposition. Hazardous
because each person has his or her own taste preferences and what appeals
to one person's palate may not be equally attractive to someone else.
The secret, of course, is to find the malt that appeals to your
d, right and true - January 15, 2000
Today's release offers a fine crop of tasty reds.
My release highlight, an Amarone, is perhaps Italy’s most eccentric
red. It's made by drying out freshly harvested grapes prior to fermentation.
This greatly increases flavours and sugar (thus 15% alcohol).
Don't miss the deliciously supple
1993 Tedeschi Amarone Capitel Monte Olmi ($38.90). A stunning bouquet
- gently smoky, wild strawberries, cedar, jasmine and oolong tea.
It’s not big or heavy, just perfectly proportioned and ready to
drink (only 120 cases available).
When the ‘experts’ are wrong
So here it comes, the first Vintages release of the millennium.
The ultimate question: what's worth buying? Each month the LCBO
Vintages release catalogue provides us with tasting notes and scores (primarily
from US sources) for various newly-listed wines.
These can have a profound impact on sales and it's important that
they are accurate. Coming
up next Saturday, for instance, is a white Burgundy 1997
Chateau de Chamirey which received a stunning score of 94 points in
the Wine Spectator (one of the wine buyer's bibles - the other being Robert
Parker). At $27.75, people will be lining up for this wine. In fact,
some LCBO consultants have already received calls from customers begging
them to put bottles aside.
Party's over, time for some bargains - January 1, 2000
Forget about Y2K, an even worse scenario is the prospect of your
midnight Champagne not popping or tasting strange.
Yes, you may have bought a bad bottle of bubbly. In fact, odds
are almost 1 in 20 that you will be toasting the millennium with something
that has been tainted by a poor cork!
Fortunately, most revelers are not likely to notice the difference.
But if you’re blessed with a sensitive palate, then do yourself a favour
- buy a second bottle. Keep
the LCBO bill because you can return either the off-first-bottle or unopened
reserve to the LCBO for full refund in the new year.
Bondage - December 24, 1999
Winston Churchill said of champagne, "In victory we deserve
it, in defeat
we need it." Victorious athletes shower
in it, '30s movie stars bathed in it, newships
with it and almost everyone tells you to toast the new
with it. Why, exactly, are
we so hung up on champagne? Why is a tiny region of France that is located
so far north that it can only make mediocre wine, the
home of the world's most expensive and sought-after drink.....
Great Hits from the Bookshop to the Library
- December 18, 1999
Synopsis: Each year a slew of new wine books hit the shelves.
As an avid reader for more than three decades, it’s always a struggle
to try and figure out what’s worth buying.
After all, I have invested a lot in my library and new acquisitions
are not inexpensive. While
reference books of yesteryear are outdated, they may well do the job for
the casual reader. What you
should buy depends on your level of knowledge and interest.
Here then is my gift-giving
survivor’s guide to what’s new on the shelves, complete with a * for recommended items. While
I am tackling this year’s crop of new books, I would be remiss without
mentioning some classics of yesteryear from the library shelves.
on Last Minute Christmas Gifts - December 11, 1999
So here it is, the night before Christmas – well almost.
By now my “best buy” December Vintages items have been swept from
the shelves. There are, of
course, a huge number of specially packaged gift items to choose from.
Many of these are pictured in one of three different glossy
LCBO gift catalogues. In addition, the free 232 page advertorially-driven
Food & Drink Magazine is loaded with goodies of every description.
In fact, the LCBO has done
a great job in building up its inventory of special products, starting
last September with the 24-page Millennium Collection guide. Unfortunately,
many of these products are not presented for evaluation making it somewhat
dangerous to suggest that one plunge ahead and buy blindly.
Wine Buys in Today’s LCBO Vintages Release
- Decenber 4, 1999
So here it is, Vintages last release of the millennium.
Of 16 sparklers presented, let me recommend the well priced, full
flavoured 1990 Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru ($46.75) from the 1200 grower
co-op of De Saint Gall. Its
bright, lemon peel, buttered toast flavours and lingering, hazelnut finish
make it best with white meats and poultry (although the mature “gout Anglais”
taste isn’t for everyone). More
elegant, but also much pricier, is Bollinger’s
‘Grand Année’ Brut at $84.90.
Lowdown on Spirits for next Saturday's Release -
November 27, 1999
Next week Saturday is the
last Vintages release of the millennium. It consists of whopping 158 items.
Within its ranks are some exceptional wine buys. The problem of revealing
them today is that restaurateurs (who are able to order in advance next
Friday) will strip the warehouse bear. So to put everyone on an equal
footing, you will have to wait until next Saturday for the full scoop!
on today's Vintages 1998 Icewine Release - November 20, 1999
It’s always risky to pontificate
on what’s best, especially since some of these
wines may not be showing well because they have just been bottled. But
as today is Ontario’s official launch for 28 new icewines at Vintages,
I will give it my best shot.
the Spirits & Nouveau - November 13, 1999
Here are some newly released
best-bet Vintages spirits. The first is Bowmore 17 Year
Old Islay Single Malt which has a gently peaty, rounded, baked plum
taste with a lingering finish. While Islay is
famous for it's strong, smoky, medicinal, flavours,
this Bowmore is refined and user friendly. It's the oldest distillery
on the island (1779), malts its own barley and uses
Sherry barrels in the aging process. The 600
gift packs at $89.95 (with glasses and CD) will fly off the shelves.
of Vintages - November 6, 1999
LCBO rolls out its monthly Vintages releases today 133 products in
all. As always, trying to find the best buys
isn't easy. LCBO
Catalogue descriptions are occasionally
quotations out of date. Moreover, fans line
up at key Vintages
outlets early to snap up the new wines