Wine Buys ~ Event Highlights for the New Year - December 30, 2006
is a point when one simply stops counting. I am referring, of course, to
the number of wines I taste during the course of a year. It's a bit
shocking to admit that since the temporary cessation of twice-weekly LCBO
tastings, where detailed notes would be made on up to 300+ items, I am
finally enjoying wine with my meals more than ever.
the Bull from Santa - December 23, 2006
here I am, just a few days before Christmas, trying to get my drinks order
thru to Santa. The wait on the line almost rivals Air Canada's. Mrs. Claus
picks up the phone. "Is Santa there?" I ask. "Yes, but he's
too busy to take the call" replies Mrs. Claus. "Look, its Mickey
the wine guy from the National Post; he told me to call if I wanted
something special" I blurt out. I get this odd chilly feeling that
the Santa bank account is running low as Mrs. Claus asks "does it
cost over $10?"
of a feather may flock together - December 16, 2006
dreams of that perfect holiday bird just over a week away, one has to
seriously consider what wine to buy. While wine pairing is always
influenced by personal preferences, there are good reasons why certain
wines don't go well with poultry. For instance, big reds loaded with dusty
tannins may be great with a rare steak or roast beef, but can be brutal
when married with the delicate flesh of a freshly roasted turkey. This
means that many Bordeaux and robust northern Italian reds fail to fly with
the big bird. Ditto for some heavily-oaked whites. The intense oaky-vanilla
flavours and possible bitter tannins imparted from long-term aging in
barrels that are sometimes found in block-buster Aussi and California
Chards can also be challenging with our feathered friends.
Dreams & Caviar Wishes - December 9, 2006
that time of year to think about putting a sparkling spin on the holiday
season. Today's Vintages' "Brilliant Bubbly" release features 19
Champagnes (including two hidden in-store discoveries) and 10 other
sparklers. For the casual observer, all the bubblies seem to look
terrific. And why not? As Winston Churchill said of Champagne, "In
victory we deserve it, in defeat we need it." Indeed, victorious
athletes shower in it, '30s movie stars bathed in it, new ships are
christened with it and almost everyone loves it.
Pretty ~ Great Wines for the Holidays - December 2, 2006
into your LCBO store and you will be swept away by a multitude of alluring
packages. As your designated taster, my job to give you the inside scoop
on what's really worth buying. Truth is, the glitzier the package, often
the worse the wine. After all, that elaborate packaging costs money, while
the bottle's contents always looks the same.
Into the Holiday Spirits - November 25, 2006
first half of today's Vintages Release Catalogue features "A Few of
our Finest" obviously aimed at well-heeled Christmas shoppers. It
features a $469.95 tequila, a $369.95 Scotch and a Cognac priced at
$2,099.00 (the latter being currently costing $1,486.94 in Nova Scotia).
Upon tasting, it soon became evident that many of the items, although
good, are not exquisite. No one can say that the Vintages claim "a
few of our finest" is an understatement. Fact is, it is too few
meaning one has to do some serious searching elsewhere, usually in the
to the MasqueRave ~ A Cornucopia of Events - November 18, 2006
says that wine tasting events are a bore? Last weekend, I attended
Canada's most exciting annual wine bash at BC's Whistler resort. It's much
more than your average walk-around tastings and sit-down seminars. Indeed,
Cornucopia, which is now in it 10th year, leaves our own Bloor-Yorkville
springtime wine festival (aka Santé) in the dust.
Pinot Noir Pilgrim ~ From Burgundy to New Zealand - November 11, 2006
than four decades ago, I got a two-month student rail pass and visited the
world of wine, which at the time meant Europe. While being seduced by
dozens of amazing wines that had never seen the light of day here in
Ontario, it was my first my first sip of a truly great Burgundy that
transformed me into a Pinot pilgrim. What a time to be alive, when the
very best of Burgundies were all priced under ten dollars!
Class Act ~ Surviving Wine-Savvy Dinner Guests - November 4, 2006
friend of mine called me up in a bit of flap. It seems that his
wine-savvy, parents-in-law are visiting and he doesn't know what to do.
Obviously a bottle of sweet, jammy, Yellow Tail isn't going to make the
cut. People forget that popularity and quality rarely go hand-in-hand.
Another key problem is that the in-laws love the big labels, which cost
loads of money. Sadly, my friend has limited means.
Vintages Double-Header - October 28, 2006
Vintages release weighs in with 123 items. That excludes the additional 22
"in-store discoveries" which Vintages recently claimed were
going to be phased out. Sadly, they are still here and hidden away in just
a few stores. To make matters worse, Vintages still refuses to let wine
writers taste the open bottles, which consequently hurts sales.
Feedback - October 21, 2006
always a pleasure to give readers a window to express their views.
Feedback from fans attending last Saturday's Whisky Live Toronto 2006
event was generally positive. There were complaints that even the closed
doors couldn't stop blaring "rock" music at the massive LCBO
stand from interfering with the paid-for seminars just steps away. Also,
one disappointed shopper wondered why was the Scotch selection in the
on-site LCBO store on display so paltry?
Mania - October 14, 2006
fans have been biting at the grip as Whisky Live Toronto 2006 swings into
action today at the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place (100 Princes
Blvd) from 4:00 to 9:00 pm - tickets at $75 per person, sampling $2 each.
There are a number of key seminars that are well worth attending. Sadly we
will miss the appearance of whisky expert Michael Jackson (author of the
Malt Whisky Companion) who cancelled due to illness. To check out today's
activities click here
Companions for Thanksgiving - October 7, 2006
me, Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, rejoicing in what we receive and
sharing what we have with others. This year I have two new companions. No
they don't have feathers, nor do they eat turkey. I am referring of course
to the two just-released "companions" from Oxford: The Oxford
Companion to Wine (third edition) edited by Jancis Robinson and The Oxford
Companion to Food (second edition) edited by Tom Jaine, who took over from
Alan Davidson who died in 2003.
~ A Consuming Passion - September 30, 2006
Vintages release features Bordeaux with 28 new listings. One of my
favourite quotes: "No, Agnes, a Bordeaux is not a house of
ill-repute" appears in George Bain's 1972 book Champagne is for
Breakfast. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but of the 254 pages of text
in this book, you don't get out of France until page 200. French wines
were the centre of the universe, led by Bordeaux.
Australian Avalanche - September 23, 2006
the first weekend of Fall and I am thinking about all those warming,
fleshy reds from Australia. We certainly get see a lot of them. Over the
past six years I have posted more than 1,300 searchable Australian reviews
to help National Post readers find the best. To see the list (complete
with evaluations and tasting notes) click here, available for free using
the npreader password!
on Ontario - September 16, 2006
Vintages release sees 106 items hit the shelves, excluding 14 in-store
discoveries (ISDs). The focus of this release is Ontario VQA wines. The
first 20 pages of the 44-page catalogue feature 34 Ontario wines, of which
over one third (13) are icewines. In fact, it's all a bit deceptive
because 14 of the 34 listings are actually Vintages Essentials, which are
permanently featured and can be bought at any time. That leaves a mere 20
new items plus one untasted white ISD. To gain access to the catalogue,
all wineries had to agree to buy into the LCBO 5 bonus AIR MILES rewards
Wine Lover's Guide to TIFF - September 9, 2006
this kick-off of Toronto's International Film Festival, I wanted to
uncover what's hot, what's not. I was able to button hole a server I know
at a preview. I ask: "so what's the scoop?" He gives me the eye,
as in, do you really want to know? I prod. 'It's all about free
drinks," my confidant says, "they drink just about
out a Tuscan for the long weekend - September 2, 2006
am scrutinizing today's Vintages release catalogue, looking for something
great for this last summer long weekend. Featuring 120 items, along with
14 in-store discoveries, National Post readers can now see the complete,
fully-linked, release on my website. Here are my picks.
change wine, change the glass! - August 26, 2006
the glass, which makes your Chardonnay terrific, can make you Sauvignon
Blanc taste like crap. It's a fact; the shape of the glass makes the wine.
This is the most important thing you will ever learn about wine
appreciation. This isn't wine snob propaganda; it is a reality that
affects everyone from neophyte to expert. It is shocking to think that
everything else - terroir, climate, type of oak, etc. can be destroyed by
using a glass that makes a wine taste bad.
hear it for Pink & Yellow - August 19, 2006
Vintages release features wines from the west, in particular, British
Colombia and Washington. With all the terrific well-priced wines coming
out of Okanagan today, it would appear that the pricier Washington state
wines seem a bit redundant.
of the Danforth is not all Greek to me! - August 12, 2006
all the weekend happenings in Toronto, I am trying to plan ahead and
figure out what to drink and where. First, there is Taste of the Danforth
(see www.tasteofthedanforth.com to check out this event). I touch base
with the event publicist; I am told that the Skyy Vodka Martini Lounge and
the Dandurande wine garden are this year's beverage sponsors. While I like
this American grain vodka, what does a vodka martini have to do with
dining on the Danforth? According to the website, Taste supposed to be
"a celebration of Hellenic cuisine and Hellenic culture". If
that's the case, then surely they should feature some of the great Greek
mixed drinks based on inexpensive Mataxa Brandy and/or the intense,
licorice-flavoured Ouzo 12?
Vintages Highlight ~ A Terrific Greek Chardonnay - August 5, 2006
Vintages release features 14 new organic wines. I am pleased to report
that LCBO has taken it upon itself to raise standards by lowering the bar
on permitted free sulphur levels in organic wines. While the international
guideline stands around 30 mg/l, Vintages has now set the maximum at 25
mg/l. That's fine, except that in the midst of the wines being featured,
Aurora Boira 2005 Pinot Grigio from Veneto doesn't make the organic cut
with its whopping 40 mg/l. Ditto for Martin Schaetzel 2004 Pinot Blanc
Cuvée Réserve at $15.95 from Alsace, which has 39 mg/l, which was to
appear in the organic section. It has been pulled and is now in the next
release sans organic heading.
their 10th Anniversary ~ Lurton's Winery in Argentina's Sky - July 29, 2006
I cast the spotlight on the unheralded appearance of some super buys from
Argentina that were released in Vintages last Saturday. From brothers
Jacques & Francois Lurton, we have two very fine wines that deserve
close attention. First, there is Bodega Lurton 2005 Chardonnay Reserva
(591743) at $12.95. Located in the Mendoza region on the eastern side of
the Andes, this harmonious, well structured, rather mouthfilling Chard
delivers lots of ripe lemon-melon-pear flavours followed up by a
lingering, brioche finish.
Vintages Pinot Noir Release - July 22, 2006
all wines, those based on Pinot Noir are the most challenging to make.
Referred to as the "heartbreak" grape, good ones are hard to
find, great ones very rare. Today's Vintages release highlights 28 Pinot
Noir, including an attractive sparkler from Spain.
Winery Destinations - July 15, 2006
over one hundred wineries in Ontario, winery hopping is a most civilized
pastime, especially if you have a designated driver. Of course, wine
doesn't have to be made from grapes; fruit and even vegetables will do the
trick. While some may think that fruit wines are for strictly for
neophytes, let me assure you that they can be just what the doctor
ordered. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then make mine a hardy
glass of chilled hard apple cider.
Alsace ~ Challenges in Buying the Best - July 8, 2006
feel exasperated by today's Vintages release, which only offers a half-nod
towards one of France's great wine regions. Although featuring a dozen
Alsatian whites, one red and a sparkler, the sad fact is that the Vintages
selection is far from being as stellar as it should be. Worse yet, for the
everyday buyer, the LCBO has just delisted one-third of its General List
offerings from Alsace. The solution is simply getting the LCBO to buy
Day's Top Ten, Eh - The Endless Search - July 1, 2006
almost impossible to name the top ten Canadian wines to celebrate Canada
Day. How does one choose? It is based in terms of value, what's available
at the LCBO or does it include everything still available at the wineries?
Should it include all of Canada or just Ontario?
Top Ten Canadian Wineries - July 1, 2006
a nation of founded on whiskey and beer, it is amazing to discover that
today homegrown Canadian wine has become one of our main staples. From
coast to coast, new wineries are springing up each one offering new taste
sensations. They are rapidly becoming part of our cultural fabric,
offering us everything from culinary treasures to repositories of art,
theatre and music.
New Releases for Discerning Palates - June 24, 2006
Vintages release featuring 102 items has some great choices for discerning
palates. Hot off the mark is a delicious rosé sparkler made in the
classic Champagne method. Taltarni 2003 Brut Taché (967398) at $21.95 is
produced from grapes grown in Australia's cooler Victoria Pyrenees and
Tasmania's Pipers River regions. Despite its slightly elevated alcohol
(13%), it is surprisingly refined and yet flavourful. The bouquet drips
with ripe plum and strawberry fruit. On the palate it is dry but not
austere with ripe plum flavours and excellent mouth-tingling
World Cup of Sauvignon Blanc - June 17, 2006
the World Cup of Sauvignon Blanc, some 53 wine journalists from 27
countries from around the world assembled in Vienna last Sunday during the
biannual VieVinum exposition to decide which of 49 specially chosen wines
from seven countries would emerge victorious. Organized by Jan-Erik
Paulson, a well-known German rare wine specialist (see www.rare-wine.com)
our task was to rate the wines out of 100-points.
it in Alberta & Bring it home to Daddy! - June 10, 2006
Vintages release has 101 items on the block. With Father's Day rapidly
approaching - next Sunday, June 18 - I decided to look at some of the new
spirits hitting the Vintages shelves. Of 17 new items, including five
untasted in-store discoveries, I have come up with three tasty
Pink - A Rosé for Every Taste - June 3, 2006
the onslaught of heat earlier this week, I found myself sitting outside
dining al fresco. We were having our salad appetizers: one a garlicky
Caesar, the other a tuna-laden salad Nicoise. I couldn't find a red on the
wine list that was going to work, or even for that matter a really
appropriate white. I then remembered rosé, that almost totally forgotten
colour which can offer great versatility and refreshment value. Happily,
the rosé worked perfectly throughout the meal.
Plays Havoc with Classic Contenders - May 27, 2006
it the battle of the Titans, but in today's Vintages release and the
upcoming one on June 10, feature two mega Italian reds, which might
normally be found in the Classics Catalogue. They have many things in
common. First, they both come from the cool, wet 2002 vintage, which has
been dismissed by many wine pundits. The second thing is that they both
come from Tuscany. Third, they are based on Bordeaux grapes and cost over
$100 a bottle.
Zealand's Explosion of Flavours - May 20, 2006
the first long weekend of the year when I can finally start tackling my
garden. I am thinking, what to drink? I suddenly see the light: let the
Victoria Day fireworks begin with an explosion of flavours from New
Ra! Riesling! ~ Good ones, bad ones, fat ones, lean ones - May 13, 2006
feel a bit like a cheerleader at a championship game that was put on rain
delay. The fans are quietly sitting there tenaciously waiting for the rain
to stop, at least those not staring at me. I am prancing about with some
other enthusiasts, like Jancis Robinson, trying to excite the crowd. Give
me an "R" - give me an "I" - give me an "E"
- give me an "S" - etc. Instead of a roar, we get a mouse-like
Riesling squeak. While hot in restaurants, Riesling still tends to be
neglected. When tasted blind in California tasting rooms, visitors
apparently prefer Riesling 2:1 to Chardonnay. And yet, ironically, it is
Chardonnay they buy!
it comes to wine lists ~ Bigger isn't necessarily better - May 6, 2006
admit it - I have a love-hate relationship with wine lists. First, I have
great admiration for those who assemble well-planned, in-depth cellars.
There is nothing like being able to discover a great, almost impossible to
find, treasure lurking on a wine list. As a great amount of time and money
is sunk in developing and maintaining great collections, such wines are
Joyous Harbinger of Spring - April 29, 2006 The Top Shelf
the Austrian trade wine fair in town Monday, May 1st, I was hoping to
taste the 2005 Sal'mon Groovey Grüner Veltliner, which is in today's
release at $12.95. Alas, it didn't show up at the LCBO's Vintages preview
tasting. Of course, the Grüner Veltliner grape is Austria's pride and
joy. It is the perfect harbinger of Spring - an excellent match for
seasonal fresh fish, soft shell crab and asparagus.
Hole-in-One Twice for Greg Norman - April 29, 2006
marks one of those rare months with three Vintages releases. The focus of
this release is Australia, which for some represents the center of the
wine universe featuring wines with an abundance of ripe, juicy, fruity
flavours. There is no question that the diversity of styles from its 60+
regions means that there is something for everyone.
on Wine Dinners ~ Three recent positive outings - April 22, 2006
seems that an ever-increasing number of wine dinners are blossoming forth
in Toronto and region. Readers have to choose which to attend with care as
they can range from great to downright disappointing. Why? Well, there are
several reasons. First, what are the wines being tasted? Were they well
chosen and how will they show? The latter, of course, depends on one's own
experience and preferences.
Ultimate Wine Weekend - April 15, 2006 The Top Shelf
of crowds and just a smidgen of fine wine? Check out Canada's premier wine
"weekend" which is set for June 1-4 at the exclusive Relais et
Châteaux Post Hotel & Spa in Lake Louise. It kicks off with an
unrivalled line-up of eight, award-winning, 100-point Wine
Spectator/Robert Parker wines, including 1986 Château Mouton Rothschild,
1990 Château Latour, 1999 Côte-Rôtie "La Turque" E. Guigal,
1997 Harlan Estate, etc.
a little "hop" into your Easter brunch - April 15, 2006
Easter and Spring is in the air. Here is your wine guide for those
planning an Easter brunch with family and friends. Kicking things off are
two recommended bubblies, which definitely will give you and your guests a
lift. The first is a recent Vintages release. The very well priced Conde
de Caralt Brut Cava (664623) at only $12.95 will please any discerning fan
of the classic, dry, Spanish "brut" style. Look for an
attractive, ripe lemon-apple nose followed up by lively, bright,
medium-light bodied, lemon-melon flavours with fine effervescence.
Survivor's Guide to the 2006 California Wine Fair - April 8, 2006
am looking at the 62-page California Wine Fair tasting book for Monday's
April 10 event at the Royal York Hotel (those wishing to attend should go
to www.calwine.ca). Some 388 items from 106 wineries will be up for grabs.
I wonder how attendees manage to taste all these wines. Given the often
rather crowded conditions, it would be impossible to taste everything in
the short 2-½ hour window provided. At $60 admission, one would like to
believe that would-be tasters would have some kind of tasting plan in
place. Amazingly enough, few if any are prepared for this oral onslaught.
Wine and Jazz April 4th - April 1, 2006 The Top Shelf
of springtime, I can't stop humming that infamous ditty from The
Producers. German wines are definitely on a roll and fans shouldn't miss
the annual upcoming 2006 German wine and jazz fair taking place on
Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at Roy Thomson Hall from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.
Up & Smelling the Flowers ~ A Bouquet of Springtime - April 1, 2006
Spring and the sap is running. No I am not talking about myself, but about
the impending appearance of blossoming trees and springtime flowers.
Today's focus is on springtime oak-free whites, which appear in a
helter-skelter manner in the just-released, bi-weekly, Vintages catalogue.
never tasted as good - March 25, 2006 The
all shoppers: This weekend is your last chance to stock up on a brand new
BEST BUY Italian red on the General List. Montalto 2003 Nero d'Avola
Cabernet Sauvignon (621151) is a bargain at $8.95 - the $1 LTO brings it
down to $7.95 and lasts until Sunday closing, March 26th. This hip new
blend combines the traditional Nero d'Avola with classy Cabernet Sauvignon
and comes in a convenient screwcap bottle.
Down Vintages Best Buys - March 25, 2006
is scary to think that for the past 16 years I have spent up to three
Fridays a month (and most Tuesdays) in the LBCO third floor lab tasting
tens of thousands of wines and spirits. It started when the Vintages
agreed to give winewriters access to preview their portfolio of monthly
releases. This win-win situation has resulted in a steady flow of weekly
articles highlighting their now bi-weekly best buys.
Homage to Cabernet Sauvignon ~ Great Cabernet Sauvignon can last for
decades - March 18, 2006
Vintages' "Born to be King" release is supposed to be a
celebration of Cabernet Sauvignon It features 29 reds, many of them
blends, from ten countries. Widely regarded as the world's greatest red
grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon's acknowledged home and claim to fame is
11 - Ireland: The cradle of Whiskey - March 11, 2006
is alleged that it was Saint Patrick who led a group of monks to Ireland
in 432 and brought Christianity to Ireland. In addition to spreading the
word of God, they brought with them the art of distillation and uisge
beatha - the Irish Gaelic word for water of life. These early spirits were
used for medicinal purposes and were often flavoured with honey and herbs.
Best of Today's Vintages Release ~ South Africa's Answer to Tequila -
March 4, 2006
Vintages release features 106 items along with 19 In Store Discoveries.
There are a number of fine new items being featured along with some old
favourites. Starting with Australia, all three whites are under $20, come
with a screwcap closure and are definitely worth drinking. They include a
creamy, juicy, ripe, pear-driven Goundrey 2003 Reserve Selection
Chardonnay (606889) at $19.95, which has a delightful vanilla custard
for Gold in South Africa ~ Great Pinotage & Shiraz - February 25, 2006
two years South Africa holds something called Cape Wine, an outstanding
trade show featuring over 4,000 wines from 350+ wineries. This year it
takes place April 4-6 at the new Cape Town Convention Centre and promises
to be a humdinger, jam-packed with numerous seminars and specialty
for Gold at Vintages - February 18, 2006
was great getting feedback from numerous readers who shared my
disappointment with some excessively high Parker ratings that are being
used to flog wine at the LCBO. There is nothing like being able to taste
the wines actually on offer. This is something that Vintages should be
keenly concerned about.
of great wine reviews that don't deliver ~ Is it me, the critic or the
bottle? - February 11, 2006
a bummer. Reading an expert's glowing review and being confronted by a
totally different wine on the table. You wonder - is it me, the critic or
Wines Take Flight - February 4, 2006
am standing in Lavinia (click here), Madrid's leading wine retail complex.
It is stunning. Not only are some 2,000 Spanish wines on display along
with a huge foreign contingent, but there is also a gourmet restaurant on
the mezzanine. I am here trying to track down one of the best Spanish reds
I have ever tasted.
at Vintages 724 ~ Vintages items go on sale today! - January 28, 2006
D-Day at Vintages as in D-E-L-I-S-T. Just walk into your local Vintages
outlet and you will find the fire engine red "SALE" sheet
listing 42 wines and one spirit. The LCBO flier says, "This is just a
sample of the hundreds of great wines and spirits on sale". But where
does one find out what all the other are? I check out the LCBO website but
only the same old 43 items are on display.
at Vintages ~ A Fine Trio of Accessible French Whites ~ The Many Faces of
Syrah/Shiraz - January 21, 2006
Vintages release of 90 items is totally bereft of any celebratory January
25th Robbie Burns Day libations for next Wednesday's praise to the haggis.
It is a shame that last October's LCBO massive flood of the market wasn't
better spread out.
Icewines Shine ~ The Icewine Oscars for the Best 2004 - January 14, 2006
weekend kicks off Ontario's annual weeklong annual Niagara icewine
extravaganza. It is hard to believe that it was only 23 years ago that
Ontario's first icewines were produced. Today our icewines are revered
around the world.
Quality Vintages Kick-off to the New Year Easy Quaffing Southern
Hemisphere Shiraz - January 7, 2006
the past, January Vintages releases have been pretty lackluster. Well
there was no moaning and groaning this time, it seems that the LCBO has
put the right foot forward with this first release of 2006 featuring 104
selections - many of them great buys.