First Pour

First Pour

Welcome back to weekly coverage of the topic that never tires. A place where once again—since departing the weekly “On Wine” column in the Globe and Mail in 1999—I can provide real-time news, views and reviews. This blog will review new releases from Ontario wineries, the LCBO general list, Vintages and Consignment. It will tell stories about people and places, and guide you to seminars and events. It will be your bookmark for what’s happening in the dynamic wine scene in Toronto and surrounding wine regions.

Toronto is a great wine city—the level of knowledge and enthusiasm equal to anywhere, with a broad-mindedness and cool, sometimes aloof, objectivity that I like. In Toronto, it’s mostly about what’s in the glass not where it’s from or who made it. As it should be. If the rest of a wine’s provenance educates, fascinates and intrigues, then all the better.

Take the Rothschild 2002 Escudo Rojo ***1/2 (LCBO GL $16.95) from Chile that blends cab sauvignon (58%), carmenere (27%), with a dash of merlot and syrah aged 12 months in French oak. It’s very generous—with loads of black cherry, light toast, mocha and background herbal tobacco notes reminiscent of Bordeaux. But it is a bit hollow mid-palate and quite tannic—a worthy, if clumsy, attempt to etch Bordeaux restraint onto Chilean fruit exuberance. Sort of like working out the kinks in a marriage of partners from different cultures. Still, it should age through the decade; it may indeed harmonize; and it should certainly carry very well with lamb or other savoury meats.

Vintages’ increasingly dynamic portfolio will provide weekly gems as well, but this blog will not be a shopping list for release day. Other venues like Wine Access’s First in Line to which I also contribute, and Michael Vaughan’s Vintages Assessments bring you the complete goods before each twice monthly release, and the daily newspaper columnists have their picks as well.

So this space will point out any Vintages super values, wines that will be educational, unusual, and/or add to your quality of life. For example, do not miss Salitage 2005 Unwooded Chardonnay ****1/2 (Vintages April 15 $22.95) from Pemberton, West Australia, a complex five-clone blend from one of the finest cool climates of Oz. Made by John Horgan, who has experience at Robert Mondavi in California and Domaine de la Pousse d’Or in Burgundy, it delivers vibrant yet tender tropical fruit salad flavours and manages intensity and finesse.

Or the plucky yet fine Wild Rock 2004 Merlot **** (Vintages April 15, $18.95) from New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke’s Bay. Vintages’ catalogue reveals that it was fashioned for Canadian tastes by the folks at Craggy Range, and that Vintages bought the whole lot. If Canadian taste means appreciating ripe, supple fruit and new oak mocha, with some recognizable Bordeaux-like dryness and elegance then someone has got our taste pegged. I would love to insert this, plus the Escudo Rojo above, into a horizontal tasting of modern Bordeaux.

This space will also highlight wines from the LCBO Consignment Warehouse program. This huge undertaking, which supplies wine directly to restaurateurs and individuals by the case, is under duress. The LCBO doesn’t have the physical space and infrastructure to run it properly, and regulations do not allow agents to establish their own bonded warehouse. An oversimplification of the issue to be sure, but this is the root problem, and always has been. Solutions are always tougher to work out and take some intestinal fortitude by our regulators and “give” by those entrenched in doing things one way for so long.

This blog will also cover the restaurant/sommelier scene in Toronto and environs. The sommelier is becoming a position of merit within our dining community, and I want to highlight the men and women doing the best work. At Crush Wine Bar, Jamieson Kerr and Eric Gennaro unveiled a fine new by-the-glass “flight” program featuring four regional Spanish whites, four Spanish reds, or three sherries and a brandy, with each flight matched to $15 Spanish appetizer plate. It’s not a tutored tasting set up—just find a table or barstool, a companion or three, and dig in with some well-chosen, off-the-beaten-path wines that attempt to capture the incredible new diversity of Spain.

This space will also bring you notes and observations on food and wine matching. Best tandem in recent days was Leon Beyer 2000 Riesling Les Ecaillers, from a fine grand cru riesling site and riesling vintage in Alsace, matched to the asparagus appetizer at Bistro and Bakery Thuet, chef Marc Thuet’s newly scaled-down up-market enterprise on King West. On the menu, the dish is described as a “tian of green and white asparagus and Dungeness crab, young radishes, sea urchin essence, $15.” The wine is a maturing mosaic of petrol, honey, melon and citrus with all kinds of flavour intensity yet very fine structure (about $75 on Thuet’s list). It was served in a small, dainty classical European riesling goblet that looked smashing but hindered aromatic expression. On the palate, however, the wine kicked in, with the finesse and subtlety of the dish and wine lining up to make this match sing.

And, not always lastly, Ontario wine will be a major focus. Niagara, Prince Edward County, Erie North Shore and vineyards and orchards throughout southern Ontario are humming with new life. On Saturday night, some of the best local wines were unveiled at the Ontario Wine Awards gala hosted by Vintage Inns in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full results are revealed at

The big winner was Jean-Pierre Colas, winemaker at Peninsula Ridge, who was named Winemaker of the Year. Since coming from Domaine Laroche in Chablis, Burgundy a few years ago, he has added a great deal to the Niagara winemaking theatre in terms of technical and barrel selection expertise, and being outspoken about what Niagara does well and needs to do better. His best efforts are with Chardonnay (see Peninsula Ridge 2004 Chardonnay **** ($12.95)) a great buy in unoaked chardonnay reviewed in the current issue of Toronto Life, and his newly released Peninsula Ridge 2005 Beal Vineyard Rose **** ($14.95) a delicious cabernet-based pinkie with fragrant, very peppery, red currant/pomegranate fruit aromas and considerable finesse, available at or at the winery.

The same night in Belleville I co-hosted Artevino, a wine and art auction in benefit of the local Quinte Arts Council. I helped organize the county’s first wine competition as part of this event, and all the gold medal winners were featured at a gala dinner Saturday night at Capers Wine Bar and Brassiere. Remember the name Rosehall Run, a not-yet-officially open winery near Hillier that took top honours for Best 100% County Red with the Rosehall Run 2004 Pinot Noir ***1/2, (winery only, $25) and Best 100% County White for the Rosehall Run 2004 Chardonnay RRV **** (winery only, $25). Less than 100 cases of each were produced in these early days. For other rising stars of the county, see this month’s issue of Toronto Life.

Until the next pour…