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Casing Prince Edward County: five fabulous, under-the-radar wines

Prince Edward County
Exultet Estates 2010 The Blessed Chardonnay
Exultet Estates 2010 The Blessed Chardonnay
$35 | Prince Edward County | 90 points
Gerry Spinosa and his family planted their first vines behind an old cheese factory in 2004. Their ethereal chardonnay has already won two gold medals at the Ontario Wine Awards. The texture is delicate and silky; spicy oak, nutmeg and resin need a year of aging to integrate with the ripe peach and honey flavours. 1106–1112 Royal Rd., Milford, 613-476-1052.

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Coming Up Rosés: nine great bottles of the ultimate summer dinner party wine

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

I recently hosted a dinner devoted entirely to rosé. It was on a terrace in Crillon-le-Brave, a small town in Provence, and I was joined by a group of Canadians who were there for a gastro-cycling adventure in Mont Ventoux, the site of the toughest leg of the Tour de France. Most of them were skeptical about pink wine, having only drunk cheap Mateus in their college days. But I was determined to convince them. We were, after all, in the heartland of dry rosé— the grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and carignan vines planted in the arid, stony soils of southern France produce fresh yet rich lavender- and anise-scented pinks. Our aperitif was a zesty Côtes du Ventoux, followed by a delicate, pale Côtes de Provence to go with the shellfish. With grilled pork and ratatouille we ramped up into richer, creamier Tavel. By the time the sun set, the sky matched the colour in our glasses and the doubters were silenced. Here, my favourite rosés for the summer. They won’t cost you a trip to Provence, or your reputation.

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Spirit of the West: David Lawrason picks nine bottles from California’s booming crop

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Last year, for the first time in history, the United States consumed more wine than any other country (even out-tippling France and Italy), and most of it came from California. Golden State wine is booming beyond U.S. borders, too. Global exports totalled a record-breaking $1.25 billion last year, and in Canada, sales of California wines were up 21 per cent over 2010 as our loonie hit parity with the U.S. dollar. There are some great new Rhône-inspired syrahs and grenaches from the rapidly growing Paso Robles region, but by and large California is sticking to what it does best—chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, zinfandel and pinot noir—but with more refinement. Winemakers are matching grapes to their ideal micro-climates, using sustainable growing practices to ensure healthier soils and correcting the over-oaking and excess alcohol heat that has marred the state’s signature wines. Many of these sophisticated standards are now hitting LCBO shelves. Here, nine of my favourites.

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Move Over, Malbec: David Lawrason picks nine lesser-known Argentine wines

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Argentine malbec, with its huge flavour, lush texture and low price, was the official soother of the recession. At $8, Fuzion’s malbec-shiraz was (and still is) the best-selling wine in LCBO history. Argentina has upped its game since then. It’s now the fifth-largest wine-producing country in the world, and vineyards have branched out from the Mendoza heartland to the windswept plateaus of Patagonia, the high-altitude vineyards of Salta in the north and several newly cultivated Andean pockets like La Rioja, San Juan and San Rafael. Although 26 per cent of all vineyards are devoted to malbec, vintners are experimenting with red grapes like petit verdot from Bordeaux, tempranillo from Spain and tannat from southwest France. Technology has improved, too. Cold fermentation, which helps maintain the delicate aromas of white wines, is elevating fragrant varieties like torrontés. Here, nine alternative Argentine wines that exude the country’s bold flavours with added sophistication.

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David Lawrason picks nine great, affordable pinot noirs from around the world

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Pinot noir is my desert island wine. It’s light and refreshing, and it pairs with just about any food. I adore it. For centuries, Burgundy, with its cool climate and limestone-rich soils, was one of the few places on the planet that could coax great wine from the famously precious, thin-skinned grape. As a result, pinot prices were inflated—one of the world’s most expensive reds is Burgundy’s Domaine Romanee-Conti pinot, which sells for $11,000. In the 1970s, under the disapproving gaze of the French, winemakers started planting pinot in Oregon, New Zealand, California and Ontario. The resulting wines were often exciting, though still expensive. Then 2004’s sleeper hit Sideways chronicled a pinot-swilling novelist’s road trip through California wine country and propelled the wine into the limelight. The heartbreak grape, as it’s known to vintners due to its finnicky nature, is now grown all over the globe and is much more affordable. While some may lament the popularization of the once-elite grape, I’m thrilled it’s more widely available. Here, nine bottles under $25 from Ontario, Australia and everywhere in between.

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Loonie goes up, Ontario wine goes down and the U.S. gets angry: a NAFTA story

(Image: Gary J. Wood)

Cross-border shoppers might be applauding the recent strength of the Canadian dollar, but according to an upcoming Bank of Montreal report, that same soaring loonie is actually hurting a major source of domestic foodie pride: Canadian wineries. With the dollar surging as of late, the rising price of wine from Canadian vineyards—half of which are in Ontario—is putting severe pressure on domestic sales, as penny-wise oenophiles look to imported wines from countries like Argentina and Australia, where the wine-producing season is longer and production costs are relatively cheap.

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David Lawrason offers nine reasons why garnacha makes for great barbecue wine

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Backyard sommeliers bored with the usual summer reds (merlot, shiraz, zinfandel) should try fruity garnacha. It is more commonly known by its French name, grenache, but it originated in Spain and thrives in the hot, arid Mediterranean. Despite once being the world’s most widely planted red grape, it was usually considered unfit for fine wine on its own. Its tannin and acidity are low and its alcohol quite high, so it’s most often blended with syrah, mourvèdre and carignan, or torn out of the ground altogether to make way for merlot and cabernet vines. In recent years, however, such leading winemakers as Alvaro Palacios, Hugh Ryman and Norrel Robertson are reviving derelict garnacha vineyards in Spain. The old, gnarled, low-yielding vines make richly fruity, even creamy reds that are dense enough to match red meat textures, smooth enough to drink without aging, and ripe and peppery enough to handle any barbecue sauce yet invented. If you crave something light, garnacha is the base for dry Spanish and French rosés, and there is even a handful of whites made with garnacha blanca. It’s also affordable, so you can mix a case of different styles to keep your deck and dock guests happy all summer long.

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Nine West Coast wines that are flying off the shelves

Illustrated Portrait of David Lawrason

(Image: Jack Dylan)

California wine has always had a certain easygoing appeal, and the region’s big-ticket bottles have been a staple in collectors’ cellars for the last three decades. In my opinion, however, they’ve also suffered from excess—they’re too expensive, too candy-coated, too oaky and too hot on the finish. I get angry when I taste a $300 Napa Valley icon wine and discover it barely deserves 90 points—the quality doesn’t match the price. But a new generation of California winemakers is breaking away from tradition and working with new blends and grape varieties. Regions like Mendocino County, the Sonoma Coast and Paso Robles, which typically live in the shadow of Napa and Sonoma, are producing wine that’s more refined, better balanced and much more affordable (in the $20 to $40 range). This improvement, combined with a strong Canadian dollar, has boosted sales at the LCBO’s Vintages stores, where, for the first time ever, California wines are outselling those from Italy and France. In 2010, they brought in $70.8 million, which is a 21.5 per cent increase from 2009 and accounts for a fifth of all Vintages sales. I recently tasted several dozen of these top sellers and picked the best of the bunch.

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The sipper club: meet the city’s competitive cabal of top sommeliers

Will Predhomme belongs to a competitive cabal of top sommeliers who sniff, sip and spit their way through hundreds of bottles a week. They do this to help you decide what to drink with your dinner, while making you think it was your idea all along

One hundred and fifty-one people have reservations at Canoe tonight. Among these are many Bay Streeters, a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, dozens of people on dates, including the bar manager from Crush, and a young woman who plans to propose to her boyfriend over dinner. The two private dining rooms are fully booked.

Canoe, part of the ever-expanding Oliver and Bonacini empire, is routinely considered one of the finest restaurants in the city. Last summer, in a rigorous competition held by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, known as CAPS, Canoe’s head sommelier, Will Predhomme, was proclaimed Ontario’s best. Predhomme has devoted a third of his life—he’s 29—to wine scholarship. He now knows more about wine than almost anyone in Toronto.

Just after 5 p.m., the bar area begins to fill up with commuters sipping cocktails as they wait for the traffic on the clogged Gardiner, 54 floors below, to dissipate. One of the restaurant’s first guests, a retired trial lawyer, arrives. As a young female host escorts him to his large corner table, he puts an arm around her shoulder. “I don’t like to pay bills,” he says. “I want a fucking account. Last time I was here, I offered those ladies”—referring to the hosts who greeted him at his last visit—“$300 and told them to set up an account for me. And I still don’t have one.” He and his three dining companions, Canoe regulars, have brought in several bottles of their own wine, including a cabernet franc from the ex-lawyer’s private vineyard in Tuscany. When Predhomme arrives at the table to discuss the wine, the ex-lawyer, captivatingly bratty in a way that only the rich and sort-of-powerful can be, repeats his complaint. “Look, I spend about $50,000 a year at Bymark, and I’d do the same here if I had a fucking account.” Predhomme is unmoved, but gracious. “If you give me your contact information,” he says, “I’ll make sure that it gets to the right people.”

“You’ll get me an account?”

“I’ll look into it.”

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Of Great Import: The best wines from British Columbia

Finally, more of British Columbia’s premium bottles are available in Ontario. Here, the best of the west

(Image: Jack Dylan)

It’s boom time in B.C. There are now nearly 200 wineries, and the quality just keeps getting better. In fact, with the recent influx of showcase wineries and new restaurants, the Okanagan Valley is being called Napa North. Winemakers have perfected techniques to harness the arid valley’s impossibly short but scorching growing season. The sheer diversity of wine is stunning: floral aromatic rieslings and gewürztraminers from cooler sites north of Kelowna; sophisticated pinot gris, chardonnays and pinot noirs from the Naramata Bench; and powerful cabernets and syrahs from the hot south near Oliver and Osoyoos. Until recently, however, it’s been hard to taste the western renaissance in Ontario. Supply is limited (B.C.’s output is two-thirds of Ontario’s), and the wine is still treated as an import here due to archaic interprovincial alcohol regulations. (For starters, it’s illegal for wineries to take orders from Ontario and ship directly to their customers.) Thankfully, more good B.C. wine is now trickling into Vintages stores and wine agencies. The selection below includes some of the best cutting-edge wines now available.

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Can’t argue with results: wine biodynamics might be hocus pocus, but it doesn’t really matter

A biodynamic wine from Niagara's Southbrook vineyard

As consumer demand for organic wine grows, more and more wineries will be adopting the oft-contested growing method known as biodynamics. “It’s coming whether we think it’s bunkum or not,” Toronto wine expert Tony Aspler tells us. “Once growers start on organic growing, they usually will take the next step and go biodynamic.” With Halloween just around the corner, it’s probably an apt time to look into the merits of biodynamic viticulture anyway—critics often equate it with witchcraft.

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Tiny bubbles: top picks from Prince Edward County’s first sparkling wines

Prince Edward County’s first sparklers are incredible: you’d swear you were drinking champagne

(Image: Jack Dylan)

The first three sparkling wines to come out of Prince Edward County are taut, tender and dance across the palate: they taste more like champagne than any non-French bubbly I’ve ever tasted. The secret is in the dirt. The sunny farming region south of Belleville has almost as high a concentration of limestone in its soil as France’s Champagne district. Limestone is fissured and spongy, which allows vine roots to penetrate deep into the bedrock, and the wine it yields is full of refreshing minerality. The similarities in terroir and climate were so striking that two expat Torontonians, Jonas Newman, a former maître d’ at Scara­mouche, and his partner, Vicki Samaras, have opened Hinterland winery, the County’s first dedicated exclusively to bubbly. It’s one of 14 launches in the past year, bringing the total number of wineries to 31. The region once considered laughably marginal is full of undercapitalized but pioneering vintners. Many are eking out fewer than 1,000 cases from small acreages, making their wines scarce (most are unavailable at the LCBO) and expensive. But low yields create better quality wines. Here are some examples of PEC’s finest to seek out on your next, or first, trip.

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Bonnie Brooks is singing along to the Black Eyed Peas

Bonnie Brooks with Sarah Jessica Parker (Image: George Pimentel)

Bonnie Brooks, president and CEO of The Bay, is no stranger to the media, but we’re always hearing the same stuff about her: she’s from London, she worked in Hong Kong for retail giant Lane Crawford, and she is going to revitalize The Bay. But for some reason, the Globe and Mail’s auto section was able to draw out some details we hadn’t read before. Here’s four things we learned:

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Bio Picks: 10 top eco-wines

Eco-wines that taste so good your guests will never know they’re saving the planet

(Illustration: Brian Rea)

I’m all for protecting the environment, but when it comes to wine, what I care about most is taste. Fortunately, there’s good news on the eco-friendly front. Like organics, biodynamic wines are free of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, but the eco-balanced regimen is even more stringent. One of biodynamic vintners’ main aims is to strengthen the soil and, therefore, the vines. They bury cows’ horns filled with compost material in the soil and take cues from lunar cycles for planting and pruning. The techniques might sound paganistic, but such meticulous attention often results in better tasting wine. I’ve also found that biodynamic wines offer unparalleled expressions of terroir. The best I’ve tasted was a famous Loire Valley chenin blanc made by French biodynamic proponent Nicolas Joly. The Coulée de Serrant is a sinewy, incredibly intense wine that radiates flint and oyster shell—there’s no question that it comes from chalk soil vineyards in a maritime climate on the banks of the broad Loire.

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Hope for the Cottageless: an insider’s guide to vacationing in cottage country

So you didn’t listen when everyone told you to book a rental back in January, and you haven’t yet managed to finagle an invite from cottage-owning friends. We offer hope: an insider’s guide to vacationing in cottage country—where to stay, what not to miss, and how to find urban luxuries in the boonies


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