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Archive (2003)

Canadian Wine Highlights ~ Unearthing some of the best from Ontario - December 27, 2003
It’s amazing that so many publications are able to magically pop out of their hat lists of the year’s best wines and wineries. This column was initially dedicated revealing the best in Canada. Having personally tasted almost one thousand Canadian wines, as well as judged in two of the largest competitions in the past year, I felt well qualified.  

Holiday Highlights for Santa - December 20, 2003
So here it is, just a few more days before the big guy shows up. While some are still in a shopping frenzy, what I most enjoy doing is digging into that mass of still unread papers and magazines with an invigorating glass of red.

December's Vintages Release ~ White Holiday Highlights - December 13, 2003
This month’s Vintages release catalogue has whopping 180 items with lots fine buys to put a special spin on the holidays. Starting with Chardonnay, the world’s most popular grape, there are 17 selections in this month’s release and they vary from mediocre to outstanding, from bargains to simply bad value.

Champagne ~ 'Tis the Season to Sparkle - December 6, 2003
I haven’t seen as many bubblies pop up in a Vintages release since just prior to the Millennium. Unfortunately, it almost took two years for the LCBO rid itself of the celebratory glut. Sales have been flat and pundits are now hoping for a turn around. Certainly we can use a little pick-up after the annus horribilus we have suffered here in Toronto.

Getting the best of what’s not available at the LCBO ~ Consignment Discoveries from New Zealand - November 29, 2003
There is no question that the LCBO carries a lot of imported wine, more than any mere mortal can taste. Nevertheless, there’s always a host of very fine products that, for whatever reason, do not end up on LCBO shelves. If you are interested in tracking down the host available but unlisted wines, you have to check with those agents carring “consignment” wines, which can only be stored in a LCBO bonded warehouse.

Arizona Wineries Reaching for the Stars - November 22, 2003
The migration has begun. Flocks of snowbirds are headed south to escape from our nasty wintry weather. I thought of all this on an end of October trip to Tucson , Arizona where I visited not one, but two observatories. The clarity of the blue skies was breathtaking. Nearly as stunning was the fact that while Toronto was toying with zero, we were hitting parched 35-degree days.

Spirits to Lift the Spirits ~ From Irish Whiskey to 2003 Nouveau - November 15, 2003
I have to confess that I haven’t been the world biggest fan of Irish whiskey. While some may have a sweet tooth, it seems that I have a developed a “peat tooth” meaning that I like the smoky notes lurking in certain Scotch whiskeys. At least that was until today’s Vintages release, where I discovered Connemara Pure Pot Still Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey (475921) at $66.95.

Screwcaps ~ Making Corks a Thing of the Past? - November 8, 2003
At one time, almost all Ontario wines came with screwcaps. The advent of bottles with corks along with varietal labels was a cause celeb. Once established, no self-respecting Ontario wine would be caught with a twist and shout cap. Indeed, only hapless economy class airline passengers were served nameless screwcap stuff.

Cool Weather Winners ~ Today’s Vintages Release Sweeties - November 1, 2003
Today’s Vintages release has 97 new items and some are just in time for the cooler weather. Kicking things off is a wonderful Spanish brandy Gonzalez Byass Soberano 5-Year Solera Reserva (903484) at bargain at $32.95 (700 ml). Weighing in with only 36% alcohol, it has a deep yellowing amber colour and spicy, caramel cone nose with vanilla notes. On the palate, its creamy, slightly peppery, plummy, caramel-marzipan flavours go on and on. In fact, everything about this brandy, which spent 5 years in American oak, is great - except perhaps for the plastic pour top. Only 120 cases of six are available, so you will have to rush.

Canada's newest Master of Wine ~ Torontonian Igor Ryjenkov - October 25, 2003
It is the height of wine expertise. Love them or fear them, the Masters of Wine (or MWs as they are called) are a force to be reckoned with. There are only some 260 in the world and, when it comes to wine, they set the standards that separate the wheat from the chaff.

Best Buy winning reds in today’s Vintages release - October 18, 2003
Today sees some 72 items being featured in the second part of October’s Vintages release. In some areas, it is pretty slim pickings. Of the 15 whites, for instance, I didn’t have a single recommendation. My best buy would be from the French Midi Domaine de La Baume 2002 Viognier (723916) at $14.85. It has a very pleasant, honeyed, faintly sweet, ripe lemon-tangerine citrus nose. On the palate it is rounded and yet still lively with medium-light bodied, stewed pear and ripe red apple flavours followed up by a faintly cedary finish. I think this is the first premium French white I have come across with a screw cap. Bravo!

Calvados - a perfect way to get your apple a day! - October 11, 2003
By Thanksgiving most apples have reached their pinnacle and patiently waiting to be devoured. Of course, there is more than one way to get your apple a day. I am sitting with world ambassador Vincent Boulard whose family founded Calvados Boulard five generations ago in the north-west French region of Normandy. He insists that I try his Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge Grand Solage (LCBO general list 296228 at $42.55) on crushed ice.

Time to tame the turkey ~ A survivor’s guide to next weekend’s libations - October 4, 2003
The turkeys are on the verge of their last gasp and will soon be heading to market for next weekend’s Thanksgiving festivities. And so, with the October Vintages release upon us, I have decided to seek out those best buys, which would be a perfect match for the big bird.

"Ontario, yours to discover" ~ Eves dilutes Ontario Wine Content Act! - September 27, 2003
I am ecstatic at the continuing success of Ontario wines. Last night, for instance, winemaker Derek Barnett picked up the best Cabernet Franc trophy for his Lailey Vineyard 2001 Cabernet Franc ($29 winery only) at the 2003 Canadian Wine Awards dinner at the Metropolitan Hotel.

Not just any Port in a storm: New release fortified wines - September 20, 2003
Tomorrow marks the fall equinox and cooler weather is on its way. Fortunately, September’s Vintages release offers lots of opportunities to warm things up. Let me start off with that perfect sweetie for sipping in front of a roaring fireplace.

Vinous Visitations ~ The wine glass runneth over! - September 13, 2003
Move over Film Festival, the fall wine tasting madness is upon us. Much like the celebration of celluloid, the next two months sees a constant stream of events and visiting personalities. First off the mark was Prevedello & Mathews International who kicked off this year’s wine rush with a portfolio tasting Cantine Ascheri Giacomo Piedmonte wines.

Unusual grapes highlight today’s Vintages release - September 6, 2003
Today’s Vintages release of 109 items is massive. As I staggered away from the 4-1/2 hour tasting, I wished that it could have been be split more evenly - only 57 items are coming out on September 20th. Fortunately a number of good buys made it all worthwhile, especially with grapes varieties you don’t see every day.

Long Weekend Finds ~ Move over Black Tower, there’s a “Bend in the River” - August 30, 2003
I need a lift, something to recharge the batteries that were worn down during our 40+ hour power outage. Thankfully the refrigerator is back in order, so I grab a bottle of my best buy Spanish bubbly Codorniu Brut Clasico (503490). At a modest $10.75, this dry, crisp, refresher represents unsurpassable value. This bone fide méthode Champenoise was the only sparkler to win a gold medal at the 2003 Canadian International Wine Challenge (CIWC). It is widely available on the LCBO general list and is a perfect Champagne substitute for your Kir Royale.

Finger Lickin’ Good Finger Lake Wines ~ From What to Drink to What’s Available - August 23, 2003
I am sitting under an enormous tent on a high plateau overlooking Lake with Fox Run winemaker Peter Bell. It is their annual garlic festival dinner and the new releases are flowing freely. The view of the lake is as gorgeous as their whites. The aperitif Fox Run 2001 Gewurztraminer is loaded with honeyed, spicy, lychee flavours and yet maintains its freshness with just the right amount of acidity. It’s a great pre-prandial and stands up well to the assault of garlic-laden appetizers. Only 150 cases were produced and it retails for $14.99.

All Quite on the Vintages Front! The French Best Buys are still on the shelves - August 16, 2003
There is no question that the rush to buy wines at Vintages seems to be over. Gone are queues of frantic buyers trying to nail down that one great buy at the opening bell on release days. Sales are apparently moving at a snail’s pace and LCBO staffing has been cut back.  

The Berry Essence ~ From blackcurrant to cherry - August 9, 2003
In a universe before the advent of synthetic flavour enhancing chemicals, one of the great treasures was the purity of fruit that could be attained through macerating perfectly ripe cassis or blackcurrants in alcohol to which sugar was added.

Raising Cane ~ A Little Rum with your Reggae? - August 2, 2003
“The demon rum made me do it!” Now I don’t know if these were his exact words, but with shades of “yo-ho-ho” in the background, I was impressed to discover that one enterprising Stones fan actually tried to bury his booty of booze in the concert area prior to last Wednesday’s show. I can see it now – a man armed with a case of his favourite, flashlight and shovel. Unfortunately, his midnight foray was in vain - he was intercepted by security forces. This property, after all, was under the stewardship of National Defense and how would it look if a booze burier incursion went undetected? 

Well-Priced German Whites ~ Highlight today’s Vintages Release - July 26, 2003
Of all countries featured in today’s 72-item Vintages release, Germany comes out on top with three, all-under $14 best buys! What is even more surprising is the fact that they all come from different vintages - 1999 to 2001.

From the LCBO’s Twilight Zone to its Black Holes - July 19, 2003
There are times that I feel like a magician, making the invisible visible. I naturally have to credit the LCBO, whose policies often hide great items from public scrutiny. Without them, my act of pulling unheard of wines from a seemingly empty hat wouldn’t be possible.

Great Wines at Bargain Basement Prices ~ All in today’s Vintages Release! • All under $15! - July 12, 2003
I am looking for that perfect summer refresher, you know the one that isn’t going to cost you a fortune. Yes, today’s mission is to focus on stress-free wines that cost less than $15. Time to eschew those high-priced 90+ pointers that make you genuflect out of respect.

Sizzling Summer in the City ~ Best Bets for Cyclists - July 5, 2003
Spending summer in the city has lots of pluses – there’s a world to discover. While all the wine clubs and fancy winemaker dinners have temporarily shut down, there are still many great ways of enjoying fine wines, brews and even spirits at various Toronto venues. The cheapest and most cheerful suggestion may not exactly conform to the letter of the law, but if the hour-plus wait I endured trying to get out of the Ontario Place parking lot last Saturday after the fireworks is any indication, I will now use my bike.

General List Hop-Scotch ~ Some recommended wines to salute Canada Day! - June 28, 2003
If wines could talk, I am sure that wine critics would get an earful. I can imagine that shy Pinot Gris suddenly yelling at me for giving it such a low score. No, thankfully the only scorn we face is from disgruntled producers and/or wine salesmen, and perhaps the occasional reader. In a universe of different styles and preferences, it isn’t easy being the arbiter of taste. Nevertheless, as a critic my first duty is to say it like it is.

A sparkling treat for the longest day of the year - June 21, 2003
I am searching through today’s Vintages release of 73 items in search of the perfect item to toast today – the longest day of the year. What makes this scary is the numbing thought that starting tomorrow, the days are starting to get shorter. It’s enough to drive one to drink.

Christoffel Blond ~ A great Blond for your daddy! - June 14, 2003
It’s true; I am a very fussy drinker. Indeed, I have erroneously been called “snobbish” for rarely indulging in local brews. Certainly, you wouldn’t catch me guzzling most of the bland mouthwash that passes for beer south of the border. And well, to be honest, that includes a lot of the same lame Canadian stuff. Sure it’s a matter of taste, but lets face it, mediocre beer is like bad art – tasteless.

A Spirited Split Decision! ~ From Great Gin to Stunning Pastis - June 7, 2003
I would be deceitful if I suggested that there were lots of great buys in today’s Vintages release. Unfortunately, the bargains are hard to come by. In fact, the release seems chock of block full of wines, especially reds, which are only a notch above average, especially at the price.

The Numbers Game ~ Only the lot number reveals what you are buying! - May 31, 2003
It’s hush-hush, something you rarely read about. It has to do with all those often hard-to-read numbers that appear on different parts of a wine bottle. They may be appear anywhere: the back or front label, the capsule, the back of the front or back label, on the glass itself or even the top of the cork under the capsule. While one might be tempted to think who cares, these are the numbers revealing whether you are actually getting the wine you want.

Sourcing today’s Vintages Best Buys - May 24, 2003
Today’s Vintages release has its share of highs and lows. Last week I mentioned two best buy bubblies: Lanson ‘Black Label’ Brut Champagne ($39.95) and Italy’s first DOC devoted to “Metodo Classico” – the surprisingly well-structured Rotari Brut ($15.95). This hand-harvested Chard-Pinot Noir blend has been aged two years on the lees and gives lesser Champagnes a very good run. 

A Sparkling Salute for Victoria Day ~ From La Grande Dame to the Sekt of all Sekts! - May 17, 2003
While most Canadians will be celebrating this weekend behind their barbie, perhaps with an irreverent Aussi Shiraz, one might pause to salute the woman who made it all possible. Yes, Queen Victoria would be celebrating her 184th birthday next Saturday. Trying to find the appropriate salutatory tipple turned out to be a bit of a chore, although bubbly was high on my list.

A Gray Monk for your mom? ~ BC Pinot Gris cuts the mustard - May 10, 2003
With Mother’s Day tomorrow, a full moon Thursday and Victoria Day next weekend, I am thinking of bright and fruity. Checking out today’s Vintages release of 80 items, some fit the bill perfectly.  

Great Springtime Value ~ A new era of European bargains - May 3, 2003
I am looking for something that’s cheap and cheerful. You know, the kind of stuff you can serve your friends at a cookout without feeling overly guilty about its taste. At one time if one wanted value, you would usually head straight for the New World wine section because good and inexpensive rarely went together when it came to European wines.

A Hectic Tasting Week Ahead ~ Austrian Event features 185 wines - April 26, 2003
When it rains, it pours - a befitting description of the multitude of springtime wine events now upon us. The first event is an LCBO promotion featuring “young” winemakers. The Vintages hype reads if you can tell a Pinot from a pint, this event will thrill your senses… we kick the stuffiness out of wine tastings. Sip on a wide selection of wines, accompanied by tasty nibbles, chill-out tunes, and interactive games. Get your mates together and plan an evening tasting star wines with the young stars of the wine world.”  

Gifts from the Easter Bunny ~ Tedeschi's Outstanding Valpolicella Classico Superiore - April 19, 2003
Who said great wine buys are hard to find? I’m looking at today’s Vintages release and feel that there really is an Easter Bunny. Plus, I am happy to report that he (or is it she?) shown up early with goodies a full day ahead of time in today’s release. Thankfully I have had the opportunity of tasting them twice, meaning that I can dispense with “hot and cold” guessing games.  

Terrific wines to Discover ~ At this weekend’s Toronto Wine & Cheese Show - April 12, 2003
I am standing on the 29th floor of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel at a preview tasting of the 34 gold medal winners featured at this weekend’s Toronto Wine & Cheese Show. “How did you come up with this selection?” asks one invitee pointing to the under $13 reds. He adds that he prefers the slightly sweeter, fruitier Australian Shiraz to the dried, but better structured South African Shiraz. Ironically, the next person much prefers the latter.

Rediscovering Inniskillin's Pinot Noir ~ When the vintage makes the wine - April 5, 2003
It’s called the “heartbreak” grape and it’s no wonder. Without doubt, Pinot Noir is the greatest challenge confronting any winemaker. Unlike many other prized red grape varieties, this thin black skinned beauty with its white juice one will only excel under the most demanding of conditions. If it is too hot, it will ripen too early before the gorgeous fruit flavours evolve. If the fall is too cool or rainy, the taste will be focused on green apple as opposed to cherry.  

To lay-away or buy and drink now - March 29, 2003
I am watching Faking It on The Life Channel, in which a devoted beer drinker and wine know-nothing has to be transformed into a sommelier who can serve fine wines to sophisticated patrons. He has trouble understanding all the fuss about wine, especially the semantics and the prices. "How could something made from grapes smell like grass, lemons or peaches?" he wonders. And what about prices, could a single bottle of Bordeaux be worth ten cases of beer? Finally, is older better?  

The Whites of Spring ~ From Stellar Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Blanc in Today’s Vintages Release - March 22, 2003
Those who felt cheated by not being able to get their hands on the coveted Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (released earlier this month at $28.95) need not fret. Today’s Vintages release has a number of gems that, quite honestly, are just about as tasty and, better yet, much less expensive.  

Winemaker’s Dinners ~ A Survivor’s Guide - March 15, 2003
It starts next week, the rising tide of chi-chi Spring winemaker’s dinners. They sprout up like daffodils and certainly have their allure. Timing has a lot to do with travel schedules and the impetus is this month’s renowned Vancouver Playhouse where 100+ winemakers are going to be in attendance.  

Hardy’s Tintara Shiraz ~ A Breathe of Sunshine from Down Under - March 8, 2003
I am thumbing through the nine-pages of reds being featured in today’s Vintages release. It’s minus 24° and I find myself yearning for a heart-warming glass of South Australia’s Tintara 1999 Shiraz coming out today at $22.95. It seems like ages ago that I was exploring Australia’s fabled wine regions. In fact, it was only just over a month ago. And talk about contrasts – it was a meltdown 42° in Adelaide, not exactly heavy red whether.

New Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc a stunner! ~ As LCBO takes control of all sales - March 1, 2003
With 62 new Vintage releases hitting the shelves next Saturday, non-urban dwelling wine fans are anxious to get their advance orders into their local LCBO stores (11 am this Tuesday is the deadline). Unfortunately, an increasing number end up as disappointed, empty-handed buyers. They claim that some of best wines never leave the city. An example might be the Cloudy Bay 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (cspc 304469) at $28.95. It appears with the Ω symbol, which means, “limited availability” and thereby restricting its appearance to selected stores and boutiques.  

The Elder Statesmen of Wine Agents - February 22, 2003
There is no question that the thought of becoming a wine agent sounds great. All those great tasting trips abroad, free samples galore and endless write-offs. Unfortunately, there is one major stumbling block: the LCBO’s monopoly of retail sales, which for some, seems as impenetrable as the Berlin Wall. 

From bitter to sweet in Ontario ~ Avoiding the tainted wines - February 15, 2003
Perhaps it’s the icy cold weather, but I am looking at last Wednesday’s Toronto Star and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. A wine article appears in the food section that tries to minimize the 2001 Ontario ladybug taint issue. Unfortunately, the writer refuses to name the obviously flawed wines. Worse yet, same day Star commentary (page A2) suggests that “you may be better off not knowing” about this problem! The suggestion that “this problem is overblown by the media” is ludicrous. If 20% of the chicken sold at your local supermarket had faulty flavours, you can bet that there would be in-store riots.

New Summerhill beauty ~ a worthy destination - February 8, 2003
There is no doubt about it; the LCBO’s new midtown Toronto Summerhill store is a genuine knock out. I was at the crowded opening last Tuesday morning where Henry of Pelham’s fine bubbly 1999 Cuvée Catharine Brut ($24.95) was being poured to the assembled dignitaries and media guests.

Robust reds for hearty winter fare ~ Shiraz to the rescue - February 1, 2003
When it rains it pours. And so occasionally it is with Vintages releases. Come next Saturday, for instance, all 144 items hit the shelves at once. Hopefully today’s article will help you plan your purchases ahead of time, especially for those who live out-of-town and are able to place their Vintages orders in advance by 11 a.m. Tuesday, February 4th.

Vintage Expectations Dashed ~ When suppliers ship the wrong wine - January 25, 2003
Today’s release was filled with great expectations. When I first received the Vintages catalogue I saw, that despite its size (only 68 items) there were two serious standouts. Unfortunately this euphoria was short-lived. Imagine my disappointment upon entering the LCBO tasting lab just over a week ago to discover that neither was what it was supposed to be.

The reader asks ~ Why are the LCBO shelves empty? - January 18, 2003
Yes, you’ve got mail. The e-mailbag is often riddled with questions from avid readers. When I recently said that a wine’s colour should not be used in scoring its quality, I was asked “how come every book out there says colour counts?’

Déja Vu at Vintages ~ Introducing the “Hey, remember me?” list - January 11, 2003
I am working my way through the 73 items in today’s January 2003 Vintages release when I get this déja vu feeling. A little voice inside me says “hey, haven’t I seen you before?” Well, by George I have, although I can’t remember where or when. Unlike some experts who can purportedly remember the details of every wine they taste; I often just get a fuzzy feeling.  

Hitting the Vineyard Trail ~ New Shining Stars in 2003 - January 4, 2003
Past trends don’t always predict the future. Last year was eye opening because I had the opportunity to tour a number of exciting wine regions. As a result, I have uncovered some things, which don’t even qualify as “best kept secrets” because they’re still so obscure.

Copyright Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada 2005
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