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Fine Wine Buys ~ Event Highlights for the New Year - December 30, 2006
There 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.

Getting the Bull from Santa - December 23, 2006
So 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?"

Birds of a feather may flock together - December 16, 2006
With 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.

Champagne Dreams & Caviar Wishes - December 9, 2006
It's 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.

Sitting Pretty ~ Great Wines for the Holidays - December 2, 2006
Walk 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.

Getting Into the Holiday Spirits - November 25, 2006
The 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 Classics Catalogue.

Come to the MasqueRave ~ A Cornucopia of Events - November 18, 2006
Who 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.

A Pinot Noir Pilgrim ~ From Burgundy to New Zealand - November 11, 2006
It More 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!

A Class Act ~ Surviving Wine-Savvy Dinner Guests - November 4, 2006
A 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.

Today's Vintages Double-Header - October 28, 2006
Today's 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.

Fan Feedback - October 21, 2006
It's 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?

Malt Mania - October 14, 2006
Scotch 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

Two Companions for Thanksgiving - October 7, 2006
For 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.

Bordeaux ~ A Consuming Passion - September 30, 2006
Today's 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.

An Australian Avalanche - September 23, 2006
It's 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!

Spotlight on Ontario - September 16, 2006
Today's 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 program.

A Wine Lover's Guide to TIFF - September 9, 2006
With 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 anything!"

Take out a Tuscan for the long weekend - September 2, 2006
I 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.

Don't change wine, change the glass! - August 26, 2006
Beware, 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.

Let's hear it for Pink & Yellow - August 19, 2006
This 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.

Taste of the Danforth is not all Greek to me! - August 12, 2006
With 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 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?

Today's Vintages Highlight ~ A Terrific Greek Chardonnay - August 5, 2006
Today's 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.

Celebrating their 10th Anniversary ~ Lurton's Winery in Argentina's Sky - July 29, 2006
Today, 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.

Today’s Vintages Pinot Noir Release - July 22, 2006
Of 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.

Ontario Winery Destinations - July 15, 2006
With 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.

Discovering Alsace ~ Challenges in Buying the Best - July 8, 2006
I 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 better wines.

Canada Day's Top Ten, Eh - The Endless Search - July 1, 2006
It's 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?

The Top Ten Canadian Wineries - July 1, 2006
From 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.

Best New Releases for Discerning Palates - June 24, 2006
Today's 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 effervescence.

The World Cup of Sauvignon Blanc - June 17, 2006
Dubbed 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 our task was to rate the wines out of 100-points.

Buy it in Alberta & Bring it home to Daddy! - June 10, 2006
Today's 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 recommendations.

Thinking Pink - A Rosé for Every Taste - June 3, 2006
With 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.

Vintage Plays Havoc with Classic Contenders - May 27, 2006
Call 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.

New Zealand's Explosion of Flavours - May 20, 2006
It's 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 Zealand.

Ra! Ra! Riesling! ~ Good ones, bad ones, fat ones, lean ones - May 13, 2006
I 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!

When it comes to wine lists ~ Bigger isn't necessarily better - May 6, 2006
I 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 rarely bargains.

The Joyous Harbinger of Spring - April 29, 2006 The Top Shelf
With 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.

A Hole-in-One Twice for Greg Norman - April 29, 2006
Today 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.

Gambling on Wine Dinners ~ Three recent positive outings - April 22, 2006
It 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.

Canada's Ultimate Wine Weekend - April 15, 2006 The Top Shelf
Tired 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.

Putting a little "hop" into your Easter brunch - April 15, 2006
It's 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.

A Survivor's Guide to the 2006 California Wine Fair - April 8, 2006
I 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 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.

German Wine and Jazz April 4th - April 1, 2006 The Top Shelf
Speaking 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. 

Waking Up & Smelling the Flowers ~ A Bouquet of Springtime - April 1, 2006
It's 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. 

Sicily never tasted as good - March 25, 2006 The Top Shelf
Attention 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.

Tracking Down Vintages Best Buys - March 25, 2006
It 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.

In Homage to Cabernet Sauvignon ~ Great Cabernet Sauvignon can last for decades - March 18, 2006
Today's 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 Bordeaux.

Mar. 11 - Ireland: The cradle of Whiskey - March 11, 2006
It 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.

The Best of Today's Vintages Release ~ South Africa's Answer to Tequila - March 4, 2006
Today's 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

Mining for Gold in South Africa ~ Great Pinotage & Shiraz - February 25, 2006
Every 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 tastings.

Going for Gold at Vintages - February 18, 2006
It 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.

Beware of great wine reviews that don't deliver ~ Is it me, the critic or the bottle? - February 11, 2006
It's 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 the bottle?

Spanish Wines Take Flight - February 4, 2006
I 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.

D-Day at Vintages 724 ~ Vintages items go on sale today! - January 28, 2006
It's 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.

Today at Vintages ~ A Fine Trio of Accessible French Whites ~ The Many Faces of Syrah/Shiraz - January 21, 2006
Today's 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.

Ontario's Icewines Shine ~ The Icewine Oscars for the Best 2004 - January 14, 2006
This 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.

A Quality Vintages Kick-off to the New Year Easy Quaffing Southern Hemisphere Shiraz - January 7, 2006
In 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.

Copyright Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada 2006
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