Food and Wine

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December 10: “Between the Wars”, Billy Bragg

Posted by on 11 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

It’s a tough time to be a factory worker in an Ontario branch plant.


Wine from… Montenegro? China? Bosnia?

Posted by on 05 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine, Humour

Our latest Wine Tidings magazine has a long and highly entertaining piece on LCBO wines from less-expected locales, and has accompanied it with some highly entertaining reviews. The article is unfortunately not online, but here’s an excerpt:

86: Monte Cheval Vranac 2007
Montenegro, $8.35
This is an unapologetically rough red that puts the rust back in rustic. It has flavours of white pepper and orange and an undercurrent of funk. It is a big-boned fellow that will provide the perfect pairing for a rich stew or a barfight.

82: Clos du Pacha Red 2007
Morocco, $11.95
This Cabernet Sauvignon blend has a diluted nose with generic flavours of leather and raspberry. These unmemorable flavours re-echo on the palate. It’s amazing what you can do with water and food colouring.

70: Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
China, $13.95
I found little evidence of bottle maturity here, which makes me suspect that there’s been a miscommunication between this wine and its label. In any case, enjoy a horsey and aggressive aroma with notes of diesel, black liquorice and vegetables.

I can’t think of a collection of wine reviews I’ve enjoyed more. Here’s to a long tenure for the writer, Matthew Sullivan.

Timely wine advice

Posted by on 03 Oct 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

Usually we taste a wine, take notes, and then two months later, when there are no bottles left anywhere close to anyone, we post about it here on Mock. (Well, you get what you pay for…)

Here’s a wine that was released just yesterday, and should be readily available pretty much everywhere: Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2006, AOC Alsace, at $18.95 and 13% alc/vol. We bought it for dinner yesterday kind of on a whim, but with at least a foggy (and in the event, correct) recollection that someone at WineAlign liked it. It’s a classic Alsace Pinot Gris with a kind of pear-Royal Gala apple nose, nicely enhanced with hints of minerality and lanolin on the nose and a rich, but lively food-friendly palate. Pear and Royal Gala can easily go the wrong way with me — too much of a good thing — but the minerality and acidity prevent this from becoming cloying. Well worth $19, and a good match for a dish that needs a white with some oomph to balance it.

Good whites

Posted by on 05 Sep 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

We drink these wines, and then I wait for a random period before I post about them, so the reviews may not be very useful.

But a few white wine notes:

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2009. DOC Alto Aldige. 13.5%/$16.95. Generous nose with ripe bosc pear [not “bosc bear” as I originally typed], hint of minerality, classic wet stone, hint of yeast/biscuit/wet wood. Dry, with med+ acid and body, slightly bitter after-taste typical of PG. Richer than 2008, which we also liked. This has more character than the same producer’s Chardonnay from the same region, which may be more widely available.

Jean-Michel Sorbe Blanc, AOC Reuilly/ 12.5%/$17.95. Very attractive Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Yellow peach, floral, perfume, powdery, grassy, hint of wet stone; good follow-through to palate.

Domaines Schlumberger “Les Princes Abbées” Pinot Gris 2007 AOC Alsace. 13.5%/$19.95. Lovely fruit on nose – fresh pear, spice, lanolin, vanilla cream, durian (?), dried apricot, toast/oak. Fruit driven but has some complexity. Barely dry, med+ acid and body. Good balance.

Moltès Gaetzbrunner Riesling Terroir 2006 AOC Alsace. 13%/$19.95 on sale for $17.10. Yeast, honey, kumquat and apricots, tropical fruits. Yeast and “tropicality” in balance. Dry but not very dry. Med+ acid and body in balance.

Surani Pietrariccia Fiano 2008 IGT Salento. 13.5%/$16.95. Lemon, minerality, lees, subtle tropicality/spiciness. Dry, med+ acid and body. Richness balanced with freshness.

Drinking up Niagara, redux

Posted by on 05 Sep 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

We have been making our way through my Niagara wine purchases from two weeks’ ago with amazing efficiency.

Sort of. We haven’t uncorked any of the reds yet, but we’ve entirely finished our Niagara whites, including a 13th Street Riesling I bought from the LCBO here in Toronto.

I am still scratching my head wondering why I bought a bottle of the 2002 (!) white Equinox at Peninsula Ridge, even though it was marked down from $40 to $25. It tasted good in the glass at the winery is my excuse, but I should have known better. I’m sure it was a fine wine back earlier this decade, but now it is decidedly tired, with hints of rubber on the nose and gaps in the palate that really should not be there. It is (or was) an interesting blend of Chardonnay, Sauvingnon Blanc, and Viognier, still probably available in its 2007 incarnation on restaurant wine lists (though the 2007 has sold out at Vintages, except for a single bottle that theoretically exists at the Main Street LCBO in Hawkesbury, Ont.). It’s made only in really good vintages, and I would suggest looking out for the 2010 version, but the star winemaker at PR, Jean-Pierre Colas, has moved on to 13th Street. According to Gord Stimmell (in the Toronto Star) the new regime at Peninsula Ridge “has really shifted gears under new winemaker Jamie Evans, with a shift from luxury level into affordable wines.” Which I assume is to say they are moving downmarket, so I’m not sure what is going to happen to the Equinox. (Funnily enough, Colas is still described on the winery website as “the man behind the success of Peninsula Ridge”.)

The Peninsula Ridge 2008 Reserve Riesling is considerably better, though I suspect it too benefited to some extent from rose-coloured tasting glasses at the winery, being considerably more impressive on the nose than on the palate. The nose was a very honeyed with tropical fruit notes, with hints of limestone and lemon as well. After that you expect something more on the palate which wasn’t quite there.

I unfortunately passed on the opportunity to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Rusty Shed Chardonnay at Flat Rock, which has received very positive reviews from a number of sources. It’s a full-oak Chard, and correspondingly on the pricier end of moderately priced, and my slight (and J.’s quite pronounced) anti-oaked-white bias led me to go instead with the much less expensive 2008 unoaked “Unplugged” Chard. The latter is a pleasant, well-made wine, with maybe melon on the nose with a hint of floral and minerality as well, following through to a well-balanced palate with a good finish. Well made, just not very interesting on the front end.

Which leaves my most satisfying Niagara white purchase of recent weeks as the 2008 Thirteenth Street “June’s Vineyard” Riesling, which I purchased at the LCBO earlier in the summer after reading a positive review somewhere — maybe Crosariol in the Globe since it seems to have fallen through the cracks at WineAlign. 13th Street makes two Rieslings — one in a more German style with a Rheingau clone in the Funk Vineyard, and this one in a drier more Alsatian style from grapes grown in “June’s Vineyard”. (It’s been a while since I’ve tasted the Funk Vineyard Riesling — I remember it being slightly off-dry, but that may have changed.) We got petrol, limestone, citrus, a hint of honey, and peach or apricot on the nose, with a substantial palate that follows the nose and gives some interesting notes on the finish. It’s still available here and there, with reasonable quantities available at a number of Toronto-Central locations. It looks like the Funk Vineyard is only available at the winery, and it ain’t cheap (about $25). Based on past experience I would guess that’s probably $25 times several well spent, but as I say, I haven’t tasted it recently.

Too weird

Posted by on 13 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

I should have taken the hint from the description of the wine as a red wine that has a profile resembling “a deep purple version of gewürztraminer” (Szabo).

It’s an interesting curiosity, and well done as an example of what it is, but the bottle I bought of Giusti Piergiovanni Lacrima Di Morro D’alba 2008 has got to be classified as one of the weirdest wine experiences I’ve ever had. It’s an opaque deep purple, with a decidedly purplish rim, and a strongly floral nose of rose and Earl Grey tea. I have not a clue what one would eat it with. It’s one of those wines where one thinks, y’know, this would be really interesting as a component to give aromatic interest to something else.

A few good wines

Posted by on 03 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

It’s been a while since we’ve done any wine blogging.

Here are a few highlights from our wine notes. All Vintages, current availability unknown. (Not to harp on it or anything, but one of the nice features of WineAlign is that it automagically does an inventory search of stores near you for any wine in their system.)


Cennatoio Chianti Classico 2006. 13%, $24.95. A classic Chianti Classico with cherry, herbal, violet, earthy, and cedar/sandalwood notes. Dark ruby, darker than you’d expect from a non-riserva. Worth the extra $$.

Fumanelli Valpolicella 2008. 12.5%, $12.95. Straightforward fruity pizza wine, but not in a bubblegum way. Good $13 weekday wine.

Domaine Puig-Parahy “Georges” 2007. 13.5%, $13.95. Not a lot of bottles left the system but a few here and there. A great value southern French blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan — basically fruity (raspberry) with hints of spice, dried herbs, and sandalwood. Apparently it has seen no oak so I have no explanation for the spice and sandalwood.

Whites later, maybe.

Align your wines!

Posted by on 02 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

There is a thriving niche market in providing wine advice to the however many million Ontarians who are effectively captive to the Ontario LCBO wine monopoly.

Tony Aspler has been doing this for some years on his web site. I’ve been subscribing to his reviews for a few years, most recently renewing my subscription last January.

Since then, however, I’ve come across WineAlign, which collects reviews from a variety of sources but whose main reviewers are John Szabo and David Lawrason. Lawrason is well known as a wine critic — I think he used to be the Globe’s wine critic before they took it in-house, and he has been involved since in Wine Access magazine and now the Toronto Life wine column. Szabo is not as well known to me, but he is the wine consultant responsible for the wine lists at Terroni and Indian Rice Factory — I cannot say anything about the latter from personal experience but the diverse list of affordable Italian wines at Terroni is one of the features that makes Terroni more interesting than your average Toronto trattoria.

I got a trial subscription at Wine Align and I find both Szabo and Lawrason interesting and helpful. Szabo in particular is of the “I am allowed to have a point of view” school of wine reviewing which makes reading him genuinely helpful, especially since I happen to share his point of view on some things. In a sense, the whole idea is that since you get to see reviews from a variety of sources, you’ll have a better chance to figure out which critics’ views “align” with your tastes, and let them have more influence on your purchasing decisions. (The reality is that there probably isn’t much point in subscribing unless Szabo’s and Lawrason’s tastes “align” to some extent with yours — you can get the other reviews easily enough elsewhere.)

This excerpt from a recent blog post is a nice illustration of Szabo’s style and the “Wine Align” concept:

This will undoubtedly be a polarizing wine, with many swooning over its full-bodied ripeness and others, probably far fewer, wondering what just hit them over the head. You’ll see in the Vintages catalogue that Robert Parker rates this wine a 90-91, while I was considerably less enthusiastic at just 86. I found the fruit fully baked and raisined and the alcohol, at an exaggerated 15.5% (on the label), well, exaggerated. No balance, no finesse, no poetry, just sheer mass. Any long time First-in-Line or WineAlign readers will likely have already figured out which wines ‘align’ with my tastes so this won’t be surprising. I know Minervois is a hot region. I lived next door to it and traveled through it during the hot summer of 1998. I’ve visited Domaine des Aires Hautes and tasted 16-17+% alcohol barrel samples and found them excessive then too. I know that properly managed vineyards can produce fully ripe fruit at less vertiginous alcohol levels, as plenty of other producers in the area manage to do, so I’m left wondering why it’s necessary. I suppose it’s because lots of people including well-known and respected critics like the style. I can’t help thinking that if I wanted to drink amarone or fortified wine, then I would probably buy amarone or fortified wine. In any case, I encourage you to pick up a bottle and see for yourself – it will at least be warming on a cold winter’s night.

By contrast, Aspler can be a helpful reviewer, but it’s often difficult to figure out what he really thinks about a wine and why.

Wine Align charges about $40.00 a year for a subscription, with a free trial for about 60 days. Worth the cash, especially if you’re at all adventurous and want to make the most of the limited selection brought to us by Vintages and the LCBO.

The poignant, poignant pain of eating on $225 a month

Posted by on 09 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Current Events, Food and Wine

Apparently OSAP allows $7.50 a day, or roughly $225 a month, for a student food allowance. The Star is reporting on the extreme hardship this produces, and four intrepid students, risking starvation and perhaps even the odd foray into their own kitchens, are blogging their attempt to comply with this limit for three agonizing weeks.

One of these students felt the need to supplement this:

To cut costs, Crane will seek one of the $25 emergency grocery vouchers Brock’s student union offers cash-strapped students; this year it has upped the number of vouchers to 105 from 75 last year because of the recession.

so she now (lucky thing) has the slightly lesser horror of feeding herself on $250 a month instead of $225.

Right about now every single person living on welfare is rolling their eyes so hard they may be able to see out the backs of their heads.

I think back to fourth year, when K. and I each allocated $75 a month to groceries — $105.27 in current dollars — and we ate very well. Lots of seasonal fruit and veggies, yogurt, a little meat, lots of home-made muffins… and yes, pasta and rice but certainly not the “cheap carbo-loading” mentioned in the article as necessary. We often, as I recall, had money left over at the end of the month (with which we bought wine).

I might also look at our current grocery spending. On average I spend about $100 a week on groceries for the three of us, so that’s $400 for the month. Every two weeks a $55 box of organic milk, eggs and veggies is delivered; another $110. And we probably spend about another $100 on wine — Well, to be generous let’s call it $150 to cover off the odd bottle of fizzy and/or a decent LBV. $400 + $110 + $150 = $660 a month.

OSAP would allow $7.50 x 30 x 3 = $675.

To be clear, I’m not denying the challenges inherent in trying to live on the utterly inadequate amount OSAP provides if it’s your only source of income, and I won’t for a second defend a student loan system that saddles young graduates with absurdly large debts. But moaning about a $7.50-a-day food allowance isn’t going to garner much sympathy from me — or, I suspect, from the many students who are stuck feeding themselves on much, much less. ($1 a day: that’s hard.)

Come on kids: drop the entitlement and get cooking.


Posted by on 05 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

A few random notes on recent red experiences:

2006 Farina Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso “Le Pezze” ($14.95, 13.5%). This is currently available at Vintages though stocks in Toronto Central are starting to get low. A good value on a $15 red, with a very fruity red berry nose with a hint of sandalwood and spice. A hint of candiedness which seems to have put us off the first time we tasted it but not so much the second time. Barely dry, medium and med+ body, med- tannin, average balance and finish. A yummy everyday-ish wine.

Gabbiano 2008 Chianti (bottled by Beringer Blass Italia [!]) ($14.95, 12.5%). Another good value everyday-ish wine, with a classic cherry-sandalwood nose with a hint of spice. Not the most complex Chianti, but authentic. This is readily available on the LCBO general list.

Luigi Bosca 2006 Malbec Reserva, Vistalba Vineyard Mendoza (Argentina) ($16.95, 14%). This was widely available for a while at Vintages but seems now to be largely out of stock in Toronto Central. Strong dark fruit nose — plum, chocolate, blueberry/cassis, spicy dark fruit, tobacco, hint of something charred. A very rich nose and palate with very full body. Average balance and finish. We found it somewhat fragile with exposure to air, developing some rather odd notes towards the end of the bottle. Typical of our ambivalence toward Argentina Malbec — rich, yummy, not much sense of terroir, attractiveness on the nose and palate due in part to its heavy dose of alcohol.

Chateau le Barradis 2006 AOC Bergerac (south-west France) ($13.95, 11.5%). Organic. A slightly odd wine, completely the opposite of the previous wine. Shy nose, hard to place fruit (maybe strawberry), slight hint of green, meatiness, spice, sour cherry, develops secondary aromas with air. Medium acid and body, med- tannin, avg+ balance and average finish. A light red with some interest on the nose which carries through to the palate, goes well with food. A bit like a good light Ontario red (apparently made primarily with Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but very good value at $14 and good with food. Apparently not widely popular since still quite a lot left at Vintages.

2008 Santa Julia Reserva Malbec (Mendoza) (about $14, 14%). J. just viscerally disliked this wine, leaving rather too much of it for me and ultimately for the sink. It’s a high alcohol, plummy red with a hint of spiciness, medium tannin, no terroir to speak of and a bit of a confected feel to it. The Luigi Bosca is much, much better.

We have unfortunately started to give up on the $7 reds we used to like and buy regularly — both the Farnese and the Citra seem to be heading increasingly in a fruity/candied/carbonic direction. I don’t think it’s just a matter of being able to afford better wines these days, but the $14.95 Italians mentioned above are increasingly becoming the wines we buy if we want an everyday red on a weekday.

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