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Archive (pre-2002)

Dec. 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.  

A 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

The Lowdown: 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.

What’s 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!  

Dinner 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.

It’s all Greek to Me –Bargain Wines! • A Plethora of Upcoming Events •
Beringer’s Best Buys in Today’s Vintages Release - Tasters 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.  

Time 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.  

Gearing 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. 

New 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.  

A 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 thankfully Jackson-Triggs 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 year?

Festivals: 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.

The newest summery whites of Ontario ~ Sauvignon 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 ~ A 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.  

Will 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 ribs.  

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

Seeing 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.  

Time to Cruise Beaujolais Crus ~ Georges 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!  

A 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.  

Vintages - 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.  

Baco 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.  

The 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.  

Keeping 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).  

Great 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.

Discovering the undiscovered ~ Spice 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.  

A 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
With Victoria 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, 2001
Next Monday’s 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 still exists.  

Springtime Vintage gifts for your mom - May 5, 2001
With Spring 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. 

An 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.  

The forgotten Classis ~ National Post wine critic lends Vintages a hand - April. 21, 2001
It’s 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 14, 2001
It’s Easter, 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.  

The many faces of Riesling ~ A bevy of styles in today's Vintages release - April 7, 2001
From the 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 of. 

Next 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.  

LCBO 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. 

The Gems of the Competition at Canada’s most popular food & wine show - 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!  

The 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 Blanc.  

Bubblies 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.  

Blow 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 17, 2001
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.  

Is your Valentine Saint Amour a sheep in wolf’s clothing? - February 10, 2001
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.  

Dessert 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.  

Raising 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.  

Upcoming January winetastings! - 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.  

Que 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.  

The Whites of Winter ~ putting a little spice into your life! - January 6, 2001
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 so beautifully.  

Games 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.  

Sommeliers taste the best in Champagne - December 23, 2000
There are 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 the wrist.
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 rather whiskey.  

A 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.  

Getting 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.

Happy 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.  

Get 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.  

Winning 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.  

Classics 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.  

A 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.  

Discoveries 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 last visit.  

Much 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.  

Gallo 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).  

Madeira ~ 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.  

A 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.

'Winemaker 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.  

Premiering 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?”  

Vintages’ “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.  

Great 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.  

Summer 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.

A 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!  

A 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 items.’  

An 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. 

Canada 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 taking seriously. 

Midi - 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.  

"Father's 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.  

A 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?” 

A 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.  

SAQ 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!

The 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. 

South 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.

Reds 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.  

Water 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.  

Liquidity, 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.

When 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.  

Selective Buying is Order of the Day in Today's Vintages Release - April 8, 2000
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
being charged. 

Beating 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. 

Getting 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.  

Coming Toronto Wine Competition Reveals Some Stunning Best Buys! - March 18, 2000
The above was my submitted article headline. Unfortunately, the National Post (without my 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! 

Move fast if you want to try this zippy Zinny - March 4, 2000
Before tackling the big, bold, lip-sticking reds in today's Vintages release I would like to toast readers with a fine preprandial - the single vineyard Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada ($15.90). Now that isn't a name you will find in many privatized wine shops.  

No 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 best buys.  

A 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.  

Getting Inside The 'Classics' - February 12, 2000
Trying 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 day.   

Today 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.”

Clones, 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 own taste.  

Red, 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 - January 8, 2000
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.  

Champagne 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 are christened with it and almost everyone tells you to toast the new millennium 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 exclusive home of the world's most expensive and sought-after drink..... 

Great Hits from the Bookshop to the Library Shelf - 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.  

Reflections 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.  

Great 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.  

The 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!

The 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.

In 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.

Best of Vintages - November 6, 1999
The 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 inappropriate, and quotations out of date. Moreover, fans line up at key Vintages outlets early to snap up the new wines and spirits.

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