The Merchant Vintner

The Merchant Vintner

The small, leafy backyard patio in the Upper Beach Gerrard/Coxwell home of wine importer Tony Hirons, The Merchant Vintner, bristled with sunlit wine bottles. The Italians over there, the French under the umbrella mixed with the Australians, the Iberians on that table. There were just a few tasters and all kinds of time to rummage through a portfolio of consignment and future Vintages releases from small family producers around the world. What made this all the more interesting was Hirons’ personal stories about each producer. Now passing the family business into the hands of son Nick after 25 years, The Merchant Vintner is a true artisan importer, and an outspoken advocate for family, fairness and fun in the wine business. This is a man—and there are others in Toronto like him—who deserves the chance to be a real wine merchant, in his own store and in his own neighbourhood, passing on wines and stories to friends and strangers who walk through his door every day. Instead he must hold near-clandestine tastings for a few wine writers in the hope they can get the word out about wines that can only be ordered by the case, or which will be coming out six months from now. (Hopefully the writers won’t forget). But that’s the way selling fine wine works in our world class city.

So, to do my bit, here are some under-$20 highlights from Hirons’ portfolio. Of more immediately available wines don’t miss Adegas Gran Vinum 2005 Essensia Divina Rias Baixas **** ($16.95, Vintages), the Ontario debut for a new small family winery in the green northwestern Spanish province of Galicia. Sudden global interest in a white grape grown there, called albarino, is sparking a local renaissance. Albarino, like viognier, has the ability to be aromatically exotic and charming, while providing heft and structure. Lovely spice, pine, apple, grapefruit and mineral aromatics.

Coming this Saturday is classic regional red called Tenuta di Portale 2003 Aglianico del Vulture **** (Vintages Sept 16, $17.95)—from the slopes of Mt. Vulture in Basilicata on the instep of the Italian peninsula. Filena Ruppi, the wife of Donato D’Angelo, the most famous producer in this DOC, makes this at her husband’s winery from a separately owned vineyard. It offers great under-$20 value, with a woodsy, smoky, hashish and cherry nose. Medium weight with fine, firm acidity and tannin; edging towards tartness yet nicely fruity as well. If you like Barbera and Barolo you should also enjoy Agliancio. Best 2008 to 2012.

Already on shelf from Spain is Baron de Ley 2001 Rioja Reserva ***1/2 ($18.95, Vintages), an authentic, tradtional maturing Rioja. Some Riojas taste of nothing but wood and earthern cellars, but this one shows ripe dates and sun-dried tomato amid saddle leather, wood smoke, capers, tobacco. Slender, supple and smooth with considerable dry tannin and earthy truffle-like flavours lurking on the finish. Should be great with lamb.

And you may want to jot down some other top quality releases coming before Christmas. Don’t miss Dr Unger 2005 Gruner Veltliner Oberfeld Classic ****1/2 ($16, Vintages, November), Domaine Mathieu 2004 Chateauneuf-du-Pape **** ($31.45, Vintages, November), and Collelungo 2001 Campo Cerchi Chianti Classico Riserva **** ($50, Holiday Classics Catalogue).