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.

At the AGO

Posted by on 02 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Music and Arts, Toronto

We renewed our membership at the AGO this year. I’m not sure J. was entirely convinced, but I kind of like the idea of supporting at least one local museum and you never know what interesting thing may show up to justify a visit to McCaul and Dundas. We paid a visit to the AGO one Sunday afternoon last year after it re-opened, but we didn’t see much aside from Frank (the new restaurant), the European art and artifacts in Thompson collection (most memorably, Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents), and the new Frank Gehry contemporary art space on the 3rd-5th floors. (We weren’t there for very long and I think we paid more attention to the space than the art therein.)

So I decided to use my Civic Holiday today to get a sense of what the new AGO is really like. I didn’t go back to the new Frank Gehry space, preferring to concentrate my efforts on the first two floors.

In general, the new space is clean, well-organized, and visitor-and-art-friendly. There’s a small but functional and reasonably welcoming cafeteria in the basement where I had a quick lunch (grilled club sandwich and coffee). If all you are looking for is a decent bite to eat, this is a much better bet than Frank — which is high-concept and expensive but not really memorable as a food experience. I later discovered the Members’ Lounge in Grange House which serves (I suspect) essentially the same food as the cafeteria in a more attractive setting.

As far the collections go, the AGO is in a rather strange situation. They are the lucky recipients of the Ken Thompson collection, which has incredible quality and depth in the kinds of art and artifacts that Thompson was interested in. There are rooms full of works by well known Canadian painters (from Krieghoff to Lauren Harris to David Milne), an enormous collection of of model ships, and a large display of Chinese snuff boxes. And much more. Not everything is to my taste but it is clearly the work of a serious collector applying intelligence and taste to the investment of a very considerable personal fortune. Apparently Thompson did not collect a lot of European painting, but what he did collect was and is memorable — notably, of course, that Rubens but also some early Flemish paintings. In the Canadian paintings rooms the curators have given up on finding wall space for labels, opting instead for a read-and-return Gallery catalogue for each room.

By contrast, the Gallery’s own main collection is a much more hodgepodge affair. Essentially, they have a few really good pieces from here there and everywhere, and a lot else that is not as memorable. They have dealt with this situation in a fashion that is interesting though only partially successful. Sensibly, they have eschewed a chronological approach, beginning their European Gallery with a room full of some of their best stuff — Dutch paintings by Rembrandt, Hals, Cuyp, etc. In other galleries they have adopted a more thematic approach, mixing old and new, European and decidedly non-European. Some of these galleries work better than others. There is an room full of paintings of women, which makes for an interesting reflection on how women have been portrayed in the arts through the ages. (There is also the suggestion, worded so cautiously as to say almost nothing, that men have portrayed women differently from women — a theme perhaps worth exploring further.) Not quite as successful but still worth considering is an attempt to group together a number of European paintings (and a contemporary shadow-puppet film) as exploring themes of multiculturalism and cultural conflict.

Some other attempts to make use of this approach are not nearly as compelling. Perhaps the most striking failure of curatorial imagination is the presentation of the older pieces in the Museum’s Canadian collection. The paintings are thrown hodgepodge (Pitti-Palace-style, as it were) on to a wall, without any kind of labelling or identification (to be fair, I think a number of them were also presented this way under the old regime). The one piece of curatorial text that is supposed to assist the viewer is the suggestion that we should look for the power relations expressed in these paintings. I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. The best I can come up with is that the curators don’t think they’re very good paintings (some of them clearly are not), but they’ve been on the wall so long that people will complain if they take them down, so why not leave them up as an exercise in deconstruction for the viewer?

The curators have unfortunately done something similar, minus the hamfisted political overtones, for the gallery with their Impressionist and pre-Impressionist European paintings. The Impressionists (some nice Pissaros, but nothing spectacular) get their own space and actual labels; the unidentified (largely but not entirely?) pre-impressionist works on the other wall get the Pitti Palace treatment. I suppose it’s a statement of sorts (they point out that these methods of presentation are faithful to the respective approaches taken in the salons where these paintings would have been first shown), but frankly some of the paintings on the non-Impressionist wall are more interesting than those on the Impressionist wall and it would be nice to know more about them.

This kind of thing is really a failure of curatorial intelligence, and this is the most disappointing thing about the new AGO. We all know the AGO is not the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they need to work with what they have. As some of the new galleries demonstrate, the thematic approach can be an effective way of presenting art that is arguably not of the the first rank but nevertheless not lacking in value and interest. Perhaps it’s just that this approach needs to be handled in a less hamfistedly political way.

Along the same lines, I started my day at the Gallery with the Drama and Desire special exhibition. There are a few really impressive pieces here, as well as some stuff that is at least worth seeing. (I suspect the unstated theme of the exhibit is to some extent “it’s what we could get our hands on”.) It’s mixed in with a lot of fairly ordinary French and English painting, especially in the earlier galleries of the exhibition. Like the other galleries, it’s a mix of really good, decent, and indifferent, which could be redeemed by some kind of context/history/whatever for the viewer. And there’s clearly a story here, but we’re not getting much of it from the curatorial notes on the wall.

Real estate geography

Posted by on 12 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Toronto

Where would you guess this is:

Beautiful Semi-Detached 4 Bedroom Brick Home In Annex, Corner Lot, Det Brick Garage, Private Drive.

To be generous, Seaton Village? Past Christie Pits? But no:

Steps To Public/ Seperate Schools, Dovercourt Park And Tennis Courts, Dovercourt Boys & Girls Club (Full Daycare/Children s Programs). Minutes To Dufferin Grove Park…

It’s here.

Through the magic of real estate the central city could be reduced to a handful of neighbourhoods with inflated boundaries — a whole different neighbourhood map.

Baby, meet bathwater

Posted by on 27 May 2010 | Tagged as: Current Events, Small people

At first glance this makes a good deal of sense:

Bill would protect kids from drug endangerment

The bill would make it a separate offence to “drug endanger” a child. It would establish drug-endangered children as a category in need of protection. It would also add drug endangerment as a form of child abuse under the Child and Family Services Act, Dunlop said Wednesday.

Endangerment would include exposing a child to the manufacturing or production of an illegal drug, as well as any substance that is used to make illegal drugs, he said.

Obviously, having little kids living in houses that are meth labs or grow ops is a poor idea.

It’s the “any substance that is used to make illegal drugs” clause that worries me here. Lots of perfectly normal household substances go into drug manufacture — alcohol, acetone, paint thinner, camp-stove fuel, gasoline, some kinds of cold/allergy pills, and so on. It seems to me that many a fishing expedition could be carried out under such a law: “Your Honour, we found no less than SIX such substances in the house! Think of the chiiiiiiildren!”

Surely social services and the law already have sufficient other tools to cope with the Crack-House Kid problem?

The Feedback Tour, Europe edition

Posted by on 25 Apr 2010 | Tagged as: Music and Arts

At first I thought someone was pranking the press when I saw this item:

Lou Reed is back with experimental music of 1970s

LONDON (Reuters) – It was dismissed as “career suicide” and a joke, and some fans returned the record thinking it was faulty, but rocker Lou Reed is re-releasing a digitally remastered version of his 1975 album “Metal Machine Music.”

And, despite the absence of melody and vocals and the unending presence of feedback, the 68-year-old rocker best known for his work with the influential band The Velvet Underground is touring Europe playing music inspired by the record with the Metal Machine Trio.

For the uninitiated, Metal Machine Music is quite possibly the biggest eff-you ever issued to a label by one of its artists. The whole thing is — apparently, I’ve never heard more than five minutes of it and I very much doubt anyone on the planet has subjected themselves to its entirety — atonal, lyric-free metallic/industrial noise. And feedback, oh yes, lots and lots of feedback. I feel sorry for the poor sound engineer stuck with digitally remastering the thing.

An “improvisational” show based on such cacophony would, I’m sure, be good for beer sales in the venues. I’m picturing an entire audience of European 60somethings watching Lou et al screech away randomly onstage…. all hearing aids firmly in the Off position.

Ah, art: the one unassailable reason for a Europe tour. Go, Lou.

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.

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