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Weird and Wonderful: Natural wines, the funky punk-rock stars of the wine world, are coming into vogue

Purists will love the idea of natural wines. They’re made from grapes that are grown using organic practices, for starters, but they’re also unadulterated in the winemaking process. In a nutshell, the philosophy is to let the grapes do what they do, add nothing (or very little) and take nothing away. To me, the minimal use of sulphur dioxide is what defines “natural,” but it’s also the reason natural wines have only a tiny presence at the LCBO. Without sulphites, wines can easily oxidize, become vinegary or even overdevelop gamey flavours related to a yeast called Brettanomyces (a.k.a. brett). Poorly made natural wines can exhibit all of these flaws to varying degrees. Even the best are often judged as atypical because they fly in the face of today’s polished, cleansed, commercial wines. Like funky cheese, they’re an acquired taste. But they deliver penetrating fruit depth and exquisite textural lustre. The flavours can be authentic and expressive in a way that processed wines are not. My preconceptions cracked wide open after tasting dozens of offerings from importers like Nicholas Pearce, the Living Vine and Le Caviste at Archive Wine Bar, Toronto’s epicentre of the natural wine movement. Here are a few of my favourites and the restaurants that serve them.

Jonathan Poon's Chantecler on Queen West

Chantecler (Image: Dave Gillespie)

weird-and-wonderful-natural-wines-tawse-2014-unfiltered-quarry-road-chardonnayTawse 2014 Unfiltered Quarry Road Chardonnay
Niagara | 91 Points

Wineries can be coy about saying “natural” on labels, because definitions and perceptions vary. The fine print here says “produced without the introduction of sulphites.” The wine shows minimal oxidation, lovely pear and spice flavours and fine, creamy texture, with a mineral finish typical of the Quarry Road site. Look for it at Barque, Chantecler and Böehmer.

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People

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Q&A: Marco Mendicino, who beat Eve Adams to the nomination, on staying in Justin Trudeau’s good books

Marco Mendicino

(Image: Erin Leydon)

You trounced Eve Adams, whom Justin Trudeau parachuted into Eglinton-Lawrence, to win the Liberal nomination. How’d that go over with the new boss?
I think I’m in Mr. Trudeau’s good books—all along he said that anybody who wanted to be the candidate would have to participate in an open and fair nomination.

When Adams announced her candidacy, you’d already been campaigning in Eglinton-Lawrence for months. Any rational person would have been annoyed. Are you a rational person?
Haha—well, I like to think so. Sure, I was surprised, and I reflected on my decision to run for a few days. But then I turned my mind to winning.

How long did it take for Trudeau to call with his congratulations?
I won on Sunday night, and he called the next morning.

How awkward was that conversation?
Not awkward at all. It was great to hear from him, and it will be a privilege to work for him.

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The Dish

Drinks

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Bittersweet Symphony: vermouth, the light, refreshing, versatile aperitif, is back

Bar Raval's Mal Gusto cocktail, and co-owners Michael Webster and Robin Goodfellow

Clockwise from left: Bar Raval’s Mal Gusto; co-owners Michael Webster and Robin Goodfellow; Bar Raval’s patio (Images: Dave Gillespie)

For years, Toronto bar lists have favoured ballsy amber liquors (bourbons, ryes and the like) for building powerhouse cocktails. But lately bartenders have been experimenting with tipples that pack more flavour than potency. ­Vermouth, the once-popular aperitif, is a favourite. It’s made from dry white wine infused with herbs, roots and barks (sweet or red vermouth gets its colour from caramelized sugar and plants), and then fortified with spirits such as brandy, vodka or gin. It lasts longer than wine, but not by much—both dry and sweet styles will develop a sour, oxidized tang after about a month—so keep it in the fridge after opening.

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Features

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Fountain Heads: old-fashioned milkshakes and floats are back, this time with grown-up ingredients

Hover or tap numbers for annotations. (Image: Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott; Styling by Carol Dudar)

Summer’s the time to revel in childhood eating habits, and at the top of the naughty list are awesomely junky milkshakes and floats. A recent mini-resurgence of old-fashioned soda shops and diners inspired us to taste-test the city’s most delicious ice cream concoctions. Here are our favourites.

The Informer

Features

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The Nanny Diaries: Toronto’s Filipino caregivers talk about low wages, long days and immigration delays

SINCE 1992, some 75,000 Filipinos have become permanent residents of Canada through the federal government’s caregiver program. The sales pitch was hard to resist: help raise our children for two years, and we’ll reunite you with yours and give everyone a shot at permanent residency. Last year alone, some 23,687 Filipinos came to Canada under the program. But it has become a victim of its own success. Today, the backlog of applications for permanent residency is 17,600 names long. Citizenship and Immigration has promised swift action: it implemented an annual cap on the number of permanent residencies at 5,500, added educational and language components to the criteria, and announced plans to expedite the approvals process. But for many, the wait, which now averages 50 months—and that’s after two years of employment—is torture. At home, their kids are growing up without them. And with rock-bottom wages in the Philippines, going back isn’t a viable option. Here, the stories of five Filipina nannies whose lives are on hold as they await their fate.

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Real Estate

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Not Your Average Joe: who cottages where on Muskoka’s luxest lake

Of the three major Muskoka lakes, Joseph is cottage country’s most star-studded. Its lots—generally bigger than those on nearby Rosseau and Muskoka—attract celebrities and business titans who require adequate room for their toys, boats and egos, and prefer not to rub elbows with nosy neighbours. The maximal-living trend is most obvious on the lake’s northern tip, dubbed Billionaires’ Row, where one lakeside cottage compound recently went on the market for a record-setting $25 million. Here’s a look at who calls Lake Joe their home away from home.

(Images: Bronfman, Ivey, Crawford, Cynamon and cottage, Hamlin by Getty Images; Kenny G via Wikimedia Commons, cottage by Ted Yarwood; Walker cottage via Instagram; O’Leary courtesy of CBC, cottage by the National Post; Stavropoulos via Twitter. Illustration by Chloe Cushman)

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Shopping

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Toronto designer Laura Siegel shows us that ethical fashion doesn’t mean ugly hemp hippie clothes

(Image: courtesy of Laura Siegel)

(Image: courtesy of Laura Siegel)

Most people hear “ethical fashion” and think fair-trade Birkenstocks. How do you combat that crunchy granola image?
I focus on design. “Ethical” is a standard that has nothing to do with aesthetics.

So what makes clothing “ethical”?
Two things: the effect it has on the environment and the effect it has on other human beings. You want the people making your clothes to be happy people.

Your clothes are made by artisans all over the world. How do you find them?
The sustainable design world is strangely close-knit. My last collection was made by craftspeople from the Kutch region in India. I met them through a woman who runs an artisan collective there, and I met her through a sustainable shop owner in Vancouver.

(l to r) Siegel’s scarf is woven with scraps of recycled sari fabric. $135. This two-toned clutch consists of hundreds of interwoven leather strips. $225. The pattern on this silk caftan was created using an ancient form of tie-dye called bandhani. $435.

(l to r) Siegel’s scarf is woven with scraps of recycled sari fabric. $135. This two-toned clutch consists of hundreds of interwoven leather strips. $225. The pattern on this silk caftan was created using an ancient form of tie-dye called bandhani. $435.

I have to ask: how much do you pay the artisans?
It depends on the craft. For dye work, it’s $16 to $40 per metre. For weaving, $5 to $30 a metre.

You made a documentary, Traceable, about a work trip across India. Most memorable moment?
There were some tricky times. We had to leave one community because the leader wasn’t happy we were filming. The people there had never seen a camera like ours, and all the kids got really excited. I guess you could say it caused a ruckus.

How do you get people to pay $150 for a scarf when H&M hawks knock-offs for a tenth of the price?
I’m not telling everybody to go out and buy my clothes. But people need to consume less. Often it’s like, “Oh, I don’t really love this, but it’s only $15.”

It’s tough to resist a bargain.
It’s so hard! And confusing, too. Everything is billed as “sustainable,” but is it really? The fashion consultant Julie Gilhart has a word for that kind of talk—she calls it “sustainababble.”

Bottom line: why should people care about this?
Because it feels good to care. It’s a nice way to live.

The Goods

Homes

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Tiny Town: four Torontonians who are living large in micro-condos

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Restaurants

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Party Like It’s 1989: Yorkville’s Kasa Moto is an unholy mix of spray tans, bottle service and spectacular sashimi

The rooftop at Yorkville's Kasa Moto

In full swing, Kasa Moto’s rooftop patio is packed with preening Yorkvillians

KASA MOTO ★★★
115 Yorkville Ave., 647-348-7000
How our star system works »

I somehow managed to avoid Remys during its 26-year run. The place seemed to me the pinnacle of tacky Yorkville. No one ever went for the food, which had a reputation for being one step above swill. (The menu included an abomination called Oriental Chicken Stir-Fry Linguine With Oriental Teriyaki Sauce.) Instead, the draw was Remys’ rooftop patio, which was perfectly positioned for basking in the late evening sun and big enough to accommodate a couple of hundred people. I remember once stopping in with friends at Hemingway’s, the neighbouring Yorkville pub, after a weekend matinée at the Varsity. We’d planned to discuss the movie but instead sat mesmerized by the scene across Old York Lane, everyone in whites and sunglasses and as emaciated as the Virginia Superslims dangling from their fingers. Remys was like a Fellini movie, only louder.

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Columns

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Memoir: after my mother died, I found solace in her religion

Memoir: after my mother died, I found solace in her religion

My mother used to compare Buddhism to a boulder in a rushing river: something you could grab onto whenever you needed it, an anchor in moments of chaos. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, we left our Vietnamese village on a fishing boat. When we settled in Regent Park, my father toiled as a mechanic, my mother as a seamstress—they were always working to make a better life for my two siblings and me. Throughout my childhood, my mother would pray to the ancestors for guidance or good fortune. She’d set up an altar, place food on a wooden table by the window, and burn candles and incense to create an auspicious crosswind. My father was skeptical of her practice; he thought religion was a hobby for the ignorant. I tended to agree with him.

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People

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Ten things Tyrone “T-Rex” Edwards can’t live without

Ten things the Toronto-loving Much and E! host can’t live without

Tyrone Edwards

(Images: Erin Leydon; Life courtesy of Tyrone Edwards)

1
My lucky mug
My daughter made it for me. She’s four, and her name is Life. On the day she was born, I was hosting a live special for RapCity, and I had to race from the hospital to the MuchMusic studio to shoot the segment. She’s everything to me.

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The Tenant from Hell: how a serial fraudster took advantage of Toronto’s red-hot real estate market

The Tenant from Hell

Wilf Dinnick and Sonia Verma moved to Qatar in 2014 and rented their west-end home to people who seemed like ideal tenants. (Images: House by Dave Gillespie; Gubb, Dinnick and Verma via Facebook)

In the summer of 2014, Wilf Dinnick, a former news correspondent, accepted a job running Al Jazeera’s website in Doha, Qatar. He and his wife, Sonia Verma, a newspaper reporter, had settled in Toronto in 2009. They bought a beautiful four-bedroom brick semi at 47 Lakeview Avenue, near Dundas and Ossington, for $719,000. They loved the area—minutes from Trinity Bellwoods Park, steps from their favourite restaurants and cafés, and surrounded by neighbours who quickly became close friends. Rather than sell the house before the move, they decided to rent it out. They knew that if they were ever going to return to Toronto, they would want to build their life in the same area. Plus, in a neighbourhood that continued to gentrify, selling didn’t make sense. They hired Chestnut Park, which deals with some of the most expensive real estate in the city, to ­manage the rental. For $4,000, Sarah Giacomelli, a realtor with over 20 years of experience, agreed to take care of ­everything: placing an ad, vetting the candidates, choosing the tenant and handling the paperwork. A few weeks after the family had arrived in Doha, Giacomelli reported that she’d found terrific tenants. The Gubbs were a family of four: Jesse, his girlfriend, Haruka, his brother, Troy, and his father, John. Jesse, who appeared to handle the rental negotiations for the family, worked in sales at a tech­nology company called Web Factory Studios Canada. He drove a Range Rover, had more than $44,000 in savings and would have no trouble covering the $3,600 monthly rent. Another potential tenant showed interest in the property, but Gubb won them over with a sob story: he was trying to get his family, once estranged but newly reunited, under one roof. He upped his rent offer to $4,000 to seal the deal, and it worked.

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Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: what should I do with my back-seat cab-driving boyfriend?

Dear Urban Diplomat,

Every time I take a cab with my boyfriend, he guides our driver using the Waze app, which plots out the fastest route based on real-time traffic updates. He shouts, “Left here! Now right!” and so on, not unlike an English lord addressing his valet, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. Do passengers have the right to undermine a cabbie with an app?

—Not-So-Set in My Waze, King West

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Culture

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A New Altitude: photographer Ronnie Yip shoots the city from dizzying, dazzling heights

Ronnie Yip's feet dangle from a Toronto rooftop

Yip angled his camera straight down from his perch on a condo balcony to create a vertiginous perspective.

The latest trend in urban daredevilry is rooftopping, a style of bird’s-eye-view photography that often involves entering buildings without permission or scaling the exteriors of skyscrapers, and shooting the scenes below. The king of Toronto rooftopping is Ronnie Yip, who started shooting five years ago. Yip doesn’t break and enter—he has a knack for finding doors that have been left open or talking his way in by charming window washers and building managers, using his portfolio to convince them that his intentions are pure and his art worthy.

a-new-altitude-photographer-ronnie-yip-02

A slice of the Rogers Centre peeks out from behind a fortress of condo towers.

Getting inside is the easy part. At hundreds of metres up, freezing temperatures and strong winds create a hostile atmosphere. Yip occasionally uses straps and carabiners to keep his tripod secure, but otherwise he packs light, carrying only his Canon 5D Mark III camera, wide-angle lenses, a sandwich (he’s often up there for hours waiting for the right light) and occasionally a horse mask—“for the LOLs,” he says. The photos are luminous and vertigo-inducing. He edits them using exposure fusion, a technique that lets him combine the best elements of multiple frames. Each shot turns Toronto into a glowing, utopian version of itself while capturing its rapid skyward expansion. Here, above and below, are a few of our favourites.

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The Dish

Drinks

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Day Tripper: swap your stroll in the LCBO’s aisles for an outing to Prince Edward County

This month I’ll be driving two hours east of Toronto and filling my trunk with racy, elegant pinots, chardonnays and sparklers from Prince Edward County. It makes for a lovely summer weekend and puts more money per bottle directly into winemakers’ hands—especially important after an unexpected late-May frost wiped out a goodly amount of this year’s crops. Of the 35-plus wineries in the region, and hundreds of bottles produced there, these are my favourites.

Lighthall Vineyard in Prince Edward Countyday-tripper-01-wine
Fruity and Fragrant

Lighthall 2013 Les Quatres Diables Pinot Noir
$30 | 90 points

Glenn Symons has hit his stride since acquiring a vineyard in the county’s “deep south” region near Milford. County pinot is typically light, but this one is firm and well-balanced with cranberry-raspberry fruit. 308 Lighthall Rd., Milford, 613-767-9155.

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