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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.

New Year 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
I 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 now.

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.

Southern French Accents - September 29, 2007
Today's "Southern 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 -30.

Reel Wines for Real Film Lovers ~ Can't snuggle? Here's what to smuggle! ~ Plus Ontario Recommendations - September 8, 2007
It's 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 mark.

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
With 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
We 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
It 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
Today's 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
They 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.

Victims of Vintages - April 14, 2007
It's 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
I 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 incredibly delicious.

Racy Rieslings ~ Perfect Springtime Sippers - March 31, 2007
It's 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
A 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 fart."

For the love of the Irish ~ A Greek wine for St. Patrick's Day - March 17, 2007
Today's 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
It 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 appeal.

Canada's greatest pinot noir? ~ If you can’t find the best, try LCJ’s less expensive bargains - March 3, 2007
A 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
It's 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 participating wineries.

Pinot Noir Madness III ~ New Zealand takes another step forward - February 17, 2007
Admittedly, 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
Just 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
Progress 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
It 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
It's 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
I 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 ones here.

Off-the Beaten-Path Wines ~ Hard to Find in Today's Vintages Release - January 6, 2007
It's "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.

Copyright Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada 2007
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