Best Bars: Toronto’s top six places to cozy up with a glass of wine
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JUMP TO: BEST ANTI-LCBO LIST | BEST IBERIAN TAPAS AND WINE | MOST INTRIGUING WINES BY THE GLASS | BEST SMALL-BATCH WINES | BEST FOR A WINE-DRENCHED GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT | BEST GRAPPA MENU
BEST ANTI-LCBO LIST
Niagara Street Café
169 Niagara St., 416-703-4222
Although it’s known for fine dining, Niagara Street Café is a great place to sit at the bar with a glass of wine. When Anton Potvin, the owner and sommelier, sidles up, hearts flutter. He creates the most playful wine lists in the city, with many of his bottles sourced from mom-and-pop importers—like Pierre Hallett, who also owns Rotate This, the indie record shop. You’ll find sublime, rare Zweigelts and auxerrois never seen on an LCBO shelf.
BEST IBERIAN TAPAS AND WINE »
BEST IBERIAN TAPAS AND WINE
225 Ossington Ave., 416-533-7258
Portuguese wine remains the poor cousin of Spanish and Italian vintages, but it’s tasty, cheap and full of surprisingly good blends, many of which can be found at this inviting Ossington tapas bar. The long, narrow space is often filled with artistic types sipping vinho verdes. Our favourite is a pleasantly peppery 2008 Esporão, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, aragonez, trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet ($14). Remove the crowd-pleasing California chards from the list and Salt would fit right in on the Algarve.
MOST INTRIGUING WINES BY THE GLASS »
MOST INTRIGUING WINES BY THE GLASS
1288 Dundas St. W., 416-534-1200
Enoteca, the Roman restaurant in an only slightly upgraded former Portuguese sports bar, aspires to the comfort of an Italian grandmother’s kitchen—if Nonna was Monica Vitti. That blend of sophistication and hominess extends to a wine list that fuses the familiar and the foreign. An Enomatic system—which prevents oxidization—allows for experimentation with more expensive juice, like the rare 2006 sagrantino di Montefalco from Umbria—a sturdy, chocolate-scented red.
BEST SMALL-BATCH WINES »
BEST SMALL-BATCH WINES
676 Queen St. W., 416-214-9429
In May 2011, Liz Choi (a Wall Street trader) and Joanne Park (a lawyer) ditched their jobs and opened up a quiet wine bar in the Queen West space that used to be a Korean restaurant. Their list focuses on small-production wines you can’t get at the LCBO. To help tipplers navigate the unfamiliar, it includes subcategories for things like “rich reds with great tannic backbones.” And, if you have no idea about tannic backbones, servers will unpretentiously recommend their favourites—a glass of biodynamic syrah from Oregon called Cowhorn ($17), say, or an Italian Villa Rubini pignolo that tastes like a rich Amarone ($15). Forgo the standard charcuterie and indulge in the brown-sugar doughnut holes with homemade vanilla ice cream—a hedonistic pairing with dessert wine.
BEST FOR A WINE-DRENCHED GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT »
BEST FOR A WINE-DRENCHED GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT
Swirl Wine Bar
946 1/2 Queen St. E., 647-351-5453
It’s fitting that the name of Queen East’s best wine bar rhymes with girl—the second-floor nook is done up in black and pink damask and beloved by groups of women spending a night away from husbands and babies and chatting about same. The wines are affordable (most bottles are in the $30 range) and fun, like one sexy syrah described as “George Clooney and Salma Hayek in a glass.” Rich snacks, like the duck and pork rillettes in petite Mason jars, are justifiably popular.
BEST GRAPPA MENU »
BEST GRAPPA MENU
25 York St., 416-363-2742
Twinkling orb chandeliers dangle from the ceiling at Aria, the new, upscale Italian restaurant classing up the scene around the Air Canada Centre. The awesome wine list includes 40 scrupulously sourced grappas ($10 and up) from France and Italy. During his teen years, co-owner Guido Saldini would have a shot of grappa with his morning espresso before school. At Aria, he recommends it as a solo digestif—perhaps a spritzy, floral gewurztraminer-based version, or a headier cabernet franc aged in port barrels—after a sumptuous dinner.