Cheers to Santé

Cheers to Santé

The 10th annual Santé: Toronto International Wine Festival kicks off Monday, May 5, with a week-long tasting menu of winemaker dinners, special events and seminars in venues throughout Yorkville. California and Australia are this year’s headliners. Here is the roster of major events, complete with some of the wines and wineries worth investigating. For more details and tickets, check out the festival’s Web site,

Landmark AustraliaThe best event comes first, and tickets may be scarce. Master of wine Michael Hill Smith is eloquent and entertaining, and known as a fountain of wine knowledge. He’s presenting a range of high-end, regionally diverse top drops. The most exciting are the brilliant Jacob’s Creek 2006 Steingarten Riesling, the elegant Shaw & Smith 2006 M3 Chardonnay, the profound Grant Burge 2002 Meshach Shiraz, Eileen Hardy 2002 Shiraz and Yalumba 2001 Octavius Shiraz. When: Monday, May 5.How much: $90.

Ultimate Winemakers DinnerNew York Four Seasons chef Lynn Crawford has taken Manhattan and is now coming home to join top Yorkville chefs Mark McEwan and Massimo Capra in preparing a five-course extravaganza. The accompanying wines were chosen in a blind competition. It’s great to see California’s legendary Chalone winning two berths for their 2006 chardonnay and 2005 estate pinot noir. Australia’s DogRidge Shiraz wins for the third year in a row, and California’s Thomas Fogarty Gewürztraminer promises to be the most interesting new wine. Tickets available only by calling 416-928-3553, ext. 27.When: Tuesday, May 6.How much: $200.

International Wine TastingWith representatives from 74 wineries assembling at The Carlu, it will be impossible to taste all the offerings in three hours. I’d like to see a more exciting, newsworthy selection here—why serve so many mundane general listings to wine lovers spending $65? That said, Paul Dolan’s organic wines from California’s Parducci winery are most topical and very good indeed, but don’t overlook the organics from Chile’s Viñedos Organicos Emiliana. Some of the best wines are likely to be found at Taittinger from Champagne, Domaine Machard de Gramont from Burgundy, Grant Burge and Brokenwood from Australia, and Cono Sur’s Visión series varietals from Chile. If you are looking for an unusual exploration, there are several Greek wineries in the lineup.When: Wednesday, May 7.How much: $65.

California Cruisin’ Surf’s up at the ROM in this food and wine graze-fest featuring three young Toronto chefs and a selection of over 100 wines. Most bottles are from the big names often seen at the LCBO, with more rare appearances from such Napa icons as Cakebread, Robert Craig and Heitz (tip: the 2002 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine most likely to disappear first). Such small Central Coast wineries as Thomas Fogarty and Nichols promise some of the most idiosyncratic bottlings, and I’m looking forward to updating myself on the Hess Collection.When: Thursday, May 8.How much: $75.

Santé Down Under On Friday, the scene shifts to the University of Toronto’s Hart House for a nibble-and-sip event that features new culinary trends from Australia. Eighteen wineries are pouring, and although some of the most well known are present—Jacob’s Creek, Yellow Tail, Hardys—this is the night to explore some smaller outfits trying to establish themselves. Nugan has been a huge success on the competition circuit. I’ll be checking out festival first-timers Tidswell, Tiers Wine Company, Salena (organic), Gemtree and Ardent Estate. Be sure to say hello to DogRidge’s amiable Fred Howard.When: Friday, May 9.How much: $50.

Seminar SeriesChoose from several seminars on Saturday afternoon (tip: the most topical, and perhaps most popular, is “Red and White Goes Green”). There are regional seminars on Australia and California, cheese and wine, chocolate and wine, and of course, for first-timers, a chance to learn the basics of wine tasting. When: Saturday, May 10.How much: Varies.

Finale Celebration If you can do only one Santé event, make it this one. The best of the festival will be available for tasting throughout the evening. All hands will be on deck for another celebrity chef event at Hazelton Lanes, but each presenter is limited to showing two or three wines. Most pour their best at moments such as this, and may have unannounced wines under the table. I’d start with Taittinger Prestige Rose, proceed through Torres 2003 Mas la Plana, Ascheri 2003 Barolo Vigna dei Pola, Nichols 2001 Edna Ranch Pinot Noir, Paul Dolan 2005 Deep Red, and finish the night with Château des Charmes 2006 Vidal Icewine and Nugan 2006 Botrytis Semillon.When: Saturday, May 10.How much: $85.