2005 A Miracle Vintage ~ Tumultuous Week of Highs and
Lows - January 26, 2008
It has been an incredibly tumultuous
week filled with highs and lows. On Monday, with markets crashing
everywhere, I wondered whether I would ever be able to afford another
bottle of great wine. Tuesday saw the markets come back. It also marked
the Toronto arrival of the prestigious Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
delegation for a comprehensive tasting of the 2005 vintage.
Looking for Value? ~ Wines from Argentina to the
Rescue - January 19, 2008
Today's Vintages release highlights
22 selections from Argentina, one of the world's hottest wine regions. It
seems that the new, high altitude wines from the Mendoza region have
captured the imagination of wine lovers everywhere. Having visited the
vineyards first hand in 2001 and again in 2006, I can attest to the
dramatic changes in just five years. From out of nowhere, Malbec has
become a highly sought-after grape. The wines are brighter, fresher and
fruitier than ever before and, better yet, the price-quality ratio is
usually extremely good.
Looking Back - Looking Ahead ~ Spanish Wines Looking
Up - January 12, 2008
It has been a tumultuous year in the wine
world. Trying to gage what's hot, what's not is tricky. Early in the
decade, consumers jumped on the Yellow Tail bandwagon making Australia the
world's hottest wine destination. Soft, sweetish and juicy, these wines
were blessed with easy drinkability - perfect for neophytes.
Bargains - January 5, 2008
Of the 84 items in today's Vintages
release, 27 are in the "What's new" theme focusing on
"fresh faces from surprising sources." Unfortunately, real
surprises are few and far between and, in terms of quality-price ratios,
some are ho-hum.
Having a Sparkling New Year's
Eve - December 29, 2007
There's something about Champagne.
Victorious athletes shower in it, '30s movie stars bathed in it, new ships
are christened with it, and almost everyone tells you to toast the New
Year with it. One thing is certain; Champagne seems to set the tone.
Sumptuous Sippers ~ For days with
Slippers - December 22, 2007
So here it is, almost the night
before Christmas, and I am into the spirits - sitting before the fire
sipping a seductive rum. And it isn't just any rum. Fifteen years ago,
Yesu Persaud, chairman of DDL (Demerara Distillers Limited) switched from
being one of the world's largest bulk exporters into producing fine,
premium-aged, Demerara rums in Guyana. Ever since the launch of his El
Dorado, there's been no looking back.
Wine Awards Canada - Charting 339 of Ontario's Best ~ Toasting
Ontario's Best Sparklers from Brut to Gently Sweet - December 15, 2007
recently received letters from readers searching for a guide to Ontario's
top wines. As a critic, I am inundated with lists, award announcements,
various buying guides, you name it. Unfortunately, there is no single
source revealing all of Ontario's award winning wines - at least until
A Sparkling Vintages Release ~ But buy
carefully - December 8, 2007
It's the biggest and last Vintages
release of the year with 137 items plus another 30 in-store discoveries.
Vintages says that the highlighted 55 selections are "Our
Finest" because "we've saved the best for last." It seems
to include all the higher priced items, which are given major exposure in
the front of the catalogue. Included are high scores along with succulent
tasting notes designed to elicit sales. Like fish in the pond, one wonders
whether consumers will go for the bait. My advice: let the buyer beware.
Holiday Gifting ~ The twin pack is the way to
go - December 1, 2007
The challenge: what to buy. My head is
still spinning after wading through the LCBO's advertising-laden, 340-page
Holiday 2007 Food & Drink magazine. I see some big glossy ads for
wines that will hopefully never touch my lips, hideous cocktail mixes and
gadgets that nobody needs.
Eight Buys from Today's Vintages
Release - November 24, 2007
Today's Vintages release focuses on
red wines. The fact that only two of the 92 items listed are under $15.95
is enough to make many customers see red. Vintages is doing everything it
can to force customers into spending more so they can increase their
profitability. For a monopoly to achieve this by not making available
worthy lower priced wines is bad karma.
Introducing the Signature
Selection - November 17, 2007
There is an explosion of
celebrity wines. They are named after famous golfers, movie stars,
producers, comedians, singers and rock stars (both alive and deceased).
There's even an Italian porn star with her own brand. Unfortunately,
what's in the bottle is haphazard. Being rich and famous doesn't
necessarily mean great taste.
2005 Burgundy ~ The wine gurus like
it! - November 10, 2007
Some believe that nothing in life is
better than being a wine taster. All one has to do is taste and say
whether it's good or bad. I often see well-know tasters speeding their way
through a hundred wines in just over an hour. Was it only that easy. In
fact, laudatory evaluations based on just a few seconds on the palate can
be erroneous. It is impossible to be consistently right on a single try.
Magic in Montreal ~ Le Marché an Inspiration for Local
Wineries - November 3, 2007
When it comes to Montreal, I feel
like a moth hypnotized by bright lights. . I attended last weekend's
annual Passion Vin fundraising, which has now raised more than $2 million
for the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Foundation. It featured eight major
wine icons from around the world: Pommery Champagne, Joseph Drouhin,
Château Gazin, Château Pontet-Canet, Château Margaux, Mas de Daumas
Gassac, as well as Tenuta San Guido, producer of Sassicaia, and Torres
from Spain. Meals were designed by the chefs from Leméac, Latini and Club
Chasse & Pêche. Tickets went for $1,750 and all 400 disappeared
instantaneously after being released.
Scary Times at Vintages ~ From Tricks to
Treats - October 27, 2007
It's almost "trick or
treat" time. For me, there's nothing scarier than a disappointing
bottle of wine. With today's Vintages release has some of both.
Best of the
West - October 20, 2007
I have just finished judging BC's
annual 2007 Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. The judging took place over three
days with two panels of three tasters. The only time we all tasted
together was for the final for the final gold medal taste off.
Today at Vintages ~ Bordeaux and Much
More - October 13, 2007
Today's Vintages release features two
thematics: Bordeaux (24) and Scotch (15) along with 71 other selections.
Starting with the former, the single Bordeaux white on offer gets a
thumb's up. From Pessac-Léognan (the prestigious region of Graves) comes
André Lurton's excellent 2004 Château de Cruzeau Blanc (966010) at
$22.95. Pretty much at its peak of drinkability, the slightly spicy,
medium bodied, ripe lemon-melon-pear flavours would go well with seafood,
poultry and white meats.
Wine Auction Fever ~ Confessions of a Wine Auction Junkie ~ Forget
Screaming Eagle and pass the Rum - October 6, 2007
I have to
confess - I am a wine auction junkie. I have been hooked ever since Dalton
Robertson, former editor of the Financial Post, commissioned me to produce
the first in-depth wine auction report to appear in the Canadian press. It
was the fifth Heublein National Auction of Rare Wines in Atlanta.
Accents - September 29, 2007
Accents" Vintages release focuses on the wines from Provence (1),
Midi (4) and the Rhône (17). Given the abundance of great values coming
from this region, I was distraught that I didn't find any fantastic buys.
Sadly, the Vintages buying team has excluded many best buys by insisting
on higher entry prices.
Perfect for an Autumn day ~ Is that a bottle of spicy wine under your
kilt? - September 22, 2007
To celebrate the first day of autumn
I was thumbing through the Vintages catalogues looking for something
different. Suddenly, there it was staring me the face. In last Saturday's
release I uncovered the pride of Scotland. No it's not Scotch, but an
elixir made by steeping whole ginger in wine for an extended period
extracting every ounce of flavour. Chilies and spices are then added to
give this unique wine its heat.
A Celebration of the Ontario's harvest ~ Faces behind great
wines - September 15, 2007
Today Vintages launches their
Ontario wine focus "faces behind the wine" - homage to our own
local wines. The timing is perfect as the grape harvest is now underway
and Niagara Grape & Wine festivities will be running from September 21
Reel Wines for Real Film Lovers ~ Can't snuggle? Here's what to
smuggle! ~ Plus Ontario Recommendations - September 8, 2007
film madness time and I'm trying to figure out the best wines for fans. I
had hoped that Ontario's Liberals might do the right thing to help wine
loving filmgoers, but no such luck. We still can't snuggle into our seats
with a frosty glass of Chard. Of course, you can always try to smuggle
that wine into the theatre. This is something I featured in my TIFF Tetra
Pak survival guide column a year ago.
Dust off your Lederhosen ~ Austrian Wines Finally Unleashed in
Vintages - September 1, 2007
It's depressing, the way Vintages
works. All summer I have been thirsting for some refreshing Austrian
whites; but only one has appeared in the past three months. Stadt Krems
2006 Grüner Veltliner Sandgrube (687913) made its Vintages debut on July
21st at $14.95. It's dry and fairly light bodied with spicy, lemony, melon
flavours and a lively unoaked finish. This easy drinking summery quaffer
works best with seafood.
Summer Twilight Selections ~ Spanish
Synergy - August 25, 2007
I am sitting in the garden watching
shafts of sunlight dance through my perfect glass of pink. There is
something magic about the summer's twilight that makes rosé taste fresher
and more sumptuous than ever. Good news - I have tracked down a tremendous
buy on the LCBO general list.
The Wines of Chile ~ Soaring to the peaks of the
Andes - August 18, 2007
I was looking forward to today's
Chilean release at Vintages. I hoped that there would be some showstoppers
from this spectacular narrow strip of land, which stretches 4,630 km from
the northern dessert to the southern ice sheets. Nestled in between are a
host of individually designated, microclimates, each planted with
vineyards producing their own unique style. While there are some definite
destination wines among today's 24 listings, I wish there were more
Andes-inspired peaks in quality.
Discovering Greece - a wine odyssey ~ Splendid Assyrtiko from
Santorini - August 11, 2007
It's a miracle. I am referring to
the phenomenal whites now being made on the island of Santorini. I
recently visited this Greek gem and was astounded by the whites made from
Assyrtiko - a variety most people have never heard of. This amazing grape
can ripen perfectly in the most challenging of conditions - searing heat,
dessert like rainfall and extremely infertile soils. And yet, not only is
the resulting wine refined and flavourful, but it also has an abundance of
fresh, natural acidity.
Spain - From the Classics to the Cutting Edge ~ Revving up for
Rioja - August 4, 2007
With today's Vintages Spanish thematic
featuring 32 items, Rioja is on my mind. Winemaker Maria Martinez is a
perfectionist. She has been making classics at Bodegas Montecillo for more
than three decades. She treats the wines as if they are her children:
loves them all, but is quick to point out their individual peccadilloes.
Days of Wine & Roses no more! ~ Under $10 wines a rare
breed - July 28, 2007
The days of wine and roses are over, at
least for Ontario consumers. Indeed, if the LCBO has its way, there won't
be a penny left for the flowers. Unless, of course, LCBO stores start
selling floral arrangements. Despite Vintages assurances that they are not
pushing the price envelope, agents are telling me exactly the opposite.
The message is loud and clear: raise prices or else.
Que Sera, Syrah ~ Big, Smoky and
Beautiful - July 21, 2007
ho knew how successful the lyrics
"que sera, sera" would be when they first passed Doris Day's
lips in Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 wonderful film, The Man Who Knew Too Much?
While the grape Syrah is best known in France as the essence of the Rhone,
many erroneously believe the song to be French. In fact, "que sera,
sera" is a Spanish translation of the Italian "che sera,
sera" from the film The Barefoot Contessa. Which I guess is no worse
than the new world's use of Shiraz.
Finding the best wine matches ~ Sizzling Seafood at
Scaramouche - July 14, 2007
It's a sommelier's worse nightmare,
trying to come up with exactly the right wine to match each dish. Wide
variations in personal preferences can make this task almost impossible.
"It isn't something you learn overnight," say's Peter Boyd one
of Canada's leading sommeliers and long time professional who oversees the
wine list at Scaramouche, one of Toronto's top three restaurants.
Sizzling Sauvignon Blanc ~ Vintages Best Buy
Whites - July 7, 2007
It's hot, hot, hot and I am in the world
capital of Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand. My guide is Jim
Robertson, Pernod Ricard's emissary for New Zealand's mega Montana-Brancott
winery, which happens to be Marborough's first winery. PR also owns a slew
of other premium properties including Framingham (famous for its
Riesling/Gewurztraminer), Stoneleigh and Church Road in Hawkes Bay.
In search of the Ontario Idol ~ Tracking down the best for Canada
Day - June 30, 2007
Celebrity-cum-wine-monger Dan Aykroyd's
recently released Ontario wines have generated an unprecedented amount of
hype, which is basically a good thing for the Ontario wine industry. While
I didn't have time to attend the posh Toronto launch, I finally got to
taste them in the LCBO tasting room. Given the ecstatic reviews, I was
quite frankly disappointed. While the 2006 Chardonnay is innocuous enough,
Dan Aykroyd 2005 Cabernet Merlot (53827), unlike the man himself, is thin,
green, tart and unentertaining. Rather poor value at $16.95. For the
consumer's sake, let's hope that future releases will be closer to the
Vintages Price Hikes ~ Hitting the customer where it
hurts - June 23, 2007
Every two weeks a flock of new Vintages
releases hit the shelves. Tasting them on two separate occasions enables
me to provide readers with solid recommendations. Connecting with the
right selections that will not disappoint results in higher sales and
record Vintages profits.
Life After Yellow
Tail - June 16, 2007
I received an e-mail from an exasperated
reader whose father drank only Yellow Tail because nothing else would do.
With Father's Day around the corner, she wanted to know if there might be
something, indeed anything, that would please Daddy's palate. The good
news is there is and Dad might actually prefer it.
Rosé Rules ~ From serious to casual, unearthing that ambidextrous
rosé - June 9, 2007
Today's Vintages release highlights Rosé.
Who knows why Vintages tried to break these 25 wines into full, medium and
light bodied. Few ever think of these wines as having significant
structure or body. A better idea would have been to rate them in terms of
sweetness and juiciness -an everyday fun rosé having more of each, while
a serious rosé having less.
The ones that didn't get away! ~ Unearthing recent best buys - all
under $20 - June 2, 2007
With so many wines appearing every two
weeks in each Vintages release, it is easy to miss some exceptional buys.
In May, for instance, there were 239 items hit the shelves. As each
release has at least one thematic, wine reviewers tend to get trapped into
focusing on those highlights. Today, I unearth all those May best buys -
all under $20, which almost got away.
New Zealand’s Natural Gems ~ The best of
whites - May 26, 2007
Today's Vintages spotlight shines on New
Zealand, featuring 20 items and six in-store-discoveries (a.k.a. ISDs).
Thanks to Robert Ketchin, the Canadian rep for New Zealand Winegrowers, I
was able to preview the wines being released today, including the ISDs.
Alsatian with that
Crustacean? - May 19, 2007
the Victoria weekend fireworks in the air, it's time to kick start your
taste buds with a cool Alsatian. No, I am not talking about that lovable
dog's wet nose, but those delightful aromatic wines originating in this
tiny outpost of northeastern France. It was almost a year ago that I
provided National Post readers with an update of best buys. "What a
difference a year makes" echoes in my years as I taste many of the
vastly superior 2005s, which are now hitting the LCBO shelves.
Paradoxical Portugal ~ Old World Grapes with New World
Appeal - May 12, 2007
are living in a world of stylistic convergence; where wine individuality
is banished and flavours are designed to suit the current whims of
consumers. This flavour-of-the-month approach translates into an avalanche
of similar tasting critter wines from Australia. Thanks to multinational
wine conglomerates, who can produce knock-offs virtually anywhere, wine
me-too-ism is spreading everywhere.
Toronto's First Private Import Wine Fair ~ Private Imports Picking up
Steam Despite LCBO Bullying - May 5, 2007
seems that the sale of wines that you can't buy at the LCBO (aka private
imports) is reaching new heights. Many importing agents and upscale
Toronto restaurants claim that what's available at the LCBO probably isn't
very good. While there are lots of crappy wines on LCBO shelves and it is
true that Vintages ignores many great wines, I am sad to report that some
unscrupulous restaurants and agents to sell even worse private imports at
higher mark-ups. The lesson: let the buyer beware.
Toasting Mom with France’s
Finest - April 28, 2007
Vintages release focus is called France - The Home of Wine. While many
Greeks might question this, it is the biggest special release on record
with some 50 items fleshing out the first 39 pages of the catalogue.
Thankfully there is something for everyone, including that special mom for
Mother's Day, which is only two weeks away. Plus you'll find bargains to
appeal to the most discerning of palates.
Prime Time for
California - April 21, 2007
came, they tasted, but did they buy? Last Monday's annual California wine
fair was a huge success, featuring some 500 wines. In a short 2 1/2 hours,
Toronto trade buyers had a chance to try the vast array on show. Of
course, anyone really serious about wine could only scrape the surface. I
wish these tastings could somehow be extended, enabling enthusiasts to
taste at a more leisurely pace.
Vintages - April 14, 2007
that time of year when the cup - or at least wine glass - runneth over.
Not only are 108 Vintages products hitting the shelves today, but also
another 20 ISDs (in store discoveries) have to be accounted for. Of
course, getting the scoop on the latter is challenging because tasting
notes are few and far between. The cause? Vintages forbids wine writers
from assessing freshly-opened bottles sitting within licking distance in
the LCBO lab.
Delicious Ciders that won't break the Easter
bank - April 7, 2007
am going through my piles of tasting notes trying to dig up some Easter
taste treats that won't break the bank. Of course, what you drink depends
on what you intend to eat. I have had a long love affair with smoked ham.
It all began many, many, years ago, before anyone was conscious of global
warming, when I would enjoy Spring skiing in the Laurentians. The best
part of the trip was stopping at a favourite restaurant, Au Petit Poucet,
which originally opened in 1945. When I visited, it was still housed in a
log cabin on the highway near Val-David just north of Montreal. Their
melt-in the-mouth, maple-cured, smoked ham accompanied by stunning
homemade beans served in a rich elixir of molasses and maple syrup were
Racy Rieslings ~ Perfect Springtime
Sippers - March 31, 2007
a Vintages miracle. On the eve of next Monday's annual German wine fair,
two wonderfully delicious Rieslings are featured in today's release. For
those who don't know, Germany's Rieslings reign supreme. They are one of
the world's best wine buys. Lay down the stunning 1993 vintage Rheingau
below today and you will thank me.
Quest for the Best of Portable Potables ~ The Battle of the
Boxes - March 24, 2007
friend took me aside recently after I suggested that he try a recently
released white that came in a tetra pack. He looked dismayed and slowly
said: "any wine that comes in a box is about as romantic as a
For the love of the Irish ~ A Greek wine for St. Patrick's
Day - March 17, 2007
Vintages release focus features 22 Merlots, which St. Patrick's Day fans
will find extremely hard to dye green. Better stick to green beer -
although changing the colour of Guinness must be challenging. While new
brews sporadically appear at the LCBO, the decision by Vintages to kick
beer off its hallowed shelves a few years ago has made it harder than ever
to get customers to look at new brews seriously.
VDN to the rescue ~ Sublime sweet bargains from southwestern
France - March 10
was a challenging week. First, I got stuck in an ugly Lakeshore traffic
jam hoping to avoid any chunks of ice tumbling down from the CN Tower.
What took five minutes became an hour. This combined with the icy cold
temperature and soaring gas prices, brought me to a new level of
grumpiness. Walking in the door, exhausted with still a column to write, I
looked for a pick-me-up. I searched through my "to taste box"
looking for something to sooth my frayed nerves but nothing seemed to
Canada's greatest pinot noir? ~ If you can’t find the best, try LCJ’s
less expensive bargains - March 3, 2007
friend was wondering about the hullabaloo relating to this weekend's Le
Clos Jordanne (aka LCJ) release at Vintages. He said wryly, "I like a
good bottle of Burgundy, and in a pinch, even a Pinot Noir will do."
Refusing to be baited, I remained silent. The then asked how I felt about
the five new 2004 reds from the Boisset-Vincor joint-venture.
"Impressed - very impressed" I replied. Of course, as a
professional pinot-noirist I have a passion for the stuff. No matter where
it comes from - it's what is in the glass that counts.
Cuvée 2007 ~ Ontario winemakers whoop it
up - February 24, 2007
the winemaker's chance to get even. While wine judgings are usually
peppered with experts, next Saturday's Cuvée Gala event is a celebration
of Ontario wines as determined by the winemakers themselves. Eschewing
trial by wine authority, some 41 participating winemakers were broken up
into four panels, which tasted approximately 167 wines from some 48
Pinot Noir Madness III ~ New Zealand takes another step
forward - February 17, 2007
New Zealand is a hell of a long way to go for a glass of wine - or even
many glasses of wine. But considering that Air New Zealand has reduced its
Toronto-Auckland return airfare to $1,652 (prior to taxes by February 28),
it's well worth considering (to see details click here). I am still
sky-high after last week's Pinot Noir 2007 conference in Wellington, which
is held only every three years. When it started in 2001, only180 true
believers were in attendance. Today, more than 500 winemakers and
professionals hunkered down for four days of seminars and tastings.
Burgundy Comes to Town ~ Despite Limited Vintages Buys ~ The Good
News is Virtual Buying - February 10, 2007
the mention of next Saturday's Vintages Burgundy release brings fans to
their feet with glasses held high. Of all wines, it is perhaps the least
understood and most fickle. The great ones are almost impossible to buy
and are always on allocation. They are sold to the most discerning
retailers. Buyers from around the world are constantly scouring the
countryside, visiting cellars and tasting the most recent batches from
barrel. The best is always put aside for regular customers. Good Burgundy
evaporates, especially once the word gets out. It means that anyone
looking for something inexpensive should probably stop reading here.
Great Values South of the Equator ~ Both in Vintages & on the
General List - February 3, 2007
means having a wider selection, it is an essential part of the equation
that supposedly leads to greater contentment. Or does it? Sometimes having
more to choose from leads to confusion and dissatisfaction. The
frustration of not knowing what to buy, compounded by trying things we
don't like, can make us unhappy. With so many products about, each one
making claims to be better or improved, expectations often go unrealized.
Napa a go-go ~ Wine Parties vs.
Tastings - January 27, 2007
was the best of times, it was the worst of times… I am standing in front
a wall of people and the noise is deafening. No this isn't the French
revolution, but the visiting California winemakers must have surely felt
under siege. I am attending the special afternoon Napa Valley Vintners
trade tasting. I had planned to assess up to 65 wines from some 23 Napa
Valley producers. In fact, today's article was to give National Post
readers an update on what's happening.
Winemaker Niel Groenewald ~ Pushing the South African
Envelope - January 20, 2007
always exciting to meet winemakers in the flesh and taste their wares,
especially when they're great. Nothing is worse than trying to weasel you
way out of commenting on something you don't like using the proverbial
"interesting" descriptive. This is even more the case when the
winemaker in question is a giant of a man - six-foot-seven and could
pulverize you at any moment.
Montreal Passion Vin ~ Delivering Excellence on Every
Level - January 13, 2007
don't know what it is, but I jump every time I get a chance to visit
Quebec. Not only is it home to some of Canada's best chefs, but also
what's coming out of the farms is simply sublime - from an amazing
assortment of terrific cheeses (more than 365 on register) and foie gras
to maple syrup and iced cider. Not to give my fellow Torontians an
inferiority complex, but Montreal's markets still run circles around the
Off-the Beaten-Path Wines ~ Hard to Find in Today's Vintages
Release - January 6, 2007
"Off the Beaten Path" for today's first Vintages release of
2007. Focusing on the wines of Europe, only four countries and 31 items
are being presented. Sadly, Vintages buyers didn't venture very far off
the beaten path. Why not uncover some of the hard-to-find treasurers from
the UK or Luxemburg? Fact is, most of the wines being featured have
appeared in Vintages before. There isn't much new, and to make matters
worse, many of the selections aren't all that tasty.