A Tale of two Pinots

A Tale of two Pinots

I spend every Christmas Eve in Toronto at my brother’s house where my sister in law Allison cooks up a fine Prime Rib from Brunos a fabulous and not cheap Butcher shop. We tend to save our best wines for this sacred occasion. My offering this year was a pair of pricey Pinot Noirs.

Pinot Noir the major red grape from Burgundy has been coined “the Heartbreak Grape” due to its’ finicky nature and the difficulty winemakers all over the world have turning it into delicious wine.

So my candidates were:

1.An unfiltered Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County made by that emerging regions most celebrated wine maker Norman Hardie.

2.And an iconic Pinot from Santa Barbara California made by Hitching Post  Winery.

Norman Hardie’s Pinot (as judged by six knowledgeable tasters)

Was: thin, insipid and forgettable…..and it cost me $42…

Now that was heartbreaking. Big Fail

Hitching Post Pinot you may recognize or remember as the anti-dote to the protagonists’  “boring” Merlots in the movie Side Ways. At $35 it offered a good solid example of a rich fruit forward supple California version of the iconic grape variety. I would call that a moderate success.

I realized later that part of my lack of enthusiasm for both wines was due to the fact that a week before I attended an Open House chez Cyndi Grossman (Mellecey Wine Agency). Among the huge array of stellar wines she represents She poured about 10 Burgundies that were just stunning. 

A sip of Gevrey Chambertin from Domaine Drouhin Laroze and you’re done….

And your objectivity permanently ruined when tasting any other Pinot Noir for the rest of your life. (Thanks Cyndi)

A Luscious Portuguese Red for a Winter’s Night

A Luscious Portuguese Red for a Winter’s Night

Portugal’s claim to fame in the wine world has historically been tied to the production of one of the world’s classic dessert wines. And then, of course, there was Mateus and Vinho Verde my entry level introduction to wine like many others during my university years. But in the past few decades the improved quality of Portuguese table wines has served notice that they have arrived with a big bang on the world stage. Modernization of winemaking techniques has left the foot stomping behind producing better quality and more consistent results. The first wave saw Port winemakers in the Douro vineyards simply using the same grapes that they used to make Port and transforming them into high octane table wines. This jump started a movement that spread to other historic wine regions in Portugal. The wine that I am recommending this week has an unorthodox mixture of grape varieties and comes from Alentejo-Portugal’s biggest grape growing region in the south-east of the country bordering Spain.

This region also supplies about half of the world’s supply of cork.

This wine currently featured in your LCBO Vintages section is robust and concentrated with flavours of black fruit, dark chocolate and raspberries. The grapes are Syrah, Cabernet and Alicante Bouschet-a Grenache clone. Checking in at 14.5% alcohol, aged in French oak and coming in at just a little less than $16:00 this is a great opportunity for you to expand your palate. Works well with spicy chicken or a rich stew.

Chardonnay Revival 3 Stories

Chardonnay Revival 3 Stories

The last decade or so chardonnay has lost its’ lustre as the “go to”
white in North America. There has even been a snarling attack by wine
snobs on the alleged mediocrity of the grape –with its’ own caustic
acronym: ABC (Anything But Chardonnay)
Pinot Grigio to some extent has knocked chardonnay off its’s top
leaderboard position but wine lovers are also discovering and learning
to experiment with other unique white grape varieties.

That’s a good thing. However there is much to be celebrated if you take
the time to revisit the diversity of styles available in chardonnays from

different international terroirs.

Macon Lugny Bouchard Pere & Fils Burgundy $16.00

A real bargain for a white burgundy from a reputable House. You can
taste the chalky terroir with intense fruit and a nose of apples and
biscuits. I paired it with some raw Malpeque Oysters -perfect.
Chardonnay Cave Spring Niagara VQA $16.00

A terrific chardonnay made from 25 year old vines in Niagara. Soft
peach and pear flavours with the scent of vanilla. Served by the glass at
Fellinis. I matched it with a slab of grilled swordfish with a lemon caper


Kendell Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Sonoma County $19.95
This rich and exotic blockbuster - in your face. Beautifully balanced
though. I drank it with a big fatty centre cut pork chop from Farm Boy

with a mango chutney on the side. That worked!

Note: Word to the wise:

Macon Lugny and Kendell Jackson are currently $2 off at the LCBO.


Malivoire Gamay vs Cru Beaujolais

Malivoire Gamay vs Cru Beaujolais

This time of year brings thoughts of Vendage and the grape harvest in Beaujolais in the Burgundian vineyards of France. While the celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau has lost its’ lustre as a marketing juggernaut it still remains the most famous celebration of grape picking and early fermentation in the world.

The grape in question is Gamay and in Burgundy the top Beaujolais are represented by 10 “Crus” “or designated wine growing regions. Each one has a distinctive character based on its’s terroir and the skills and stylistic intentions of the winemakers.

The Niagara wine region in Ontario in its own young grape growing history has always cultivated the grapes of Burgundy: Chardonnay, Aligote, Pinot Noir and Gamay.

I thought it would be interesting to compare a locally grown Gamay from our wine list with the best: A Cru Beaujolais. In this case I chose as our candidates for a blind tasting comparison a Gamay from Malivoire in Niagara and a Cru Beaujolais- a Brouilly from the “King of Beaujolais” winemaker Georges Dubouef.

I drafted my Saturday night serving crew for the tasting.

I chose a Brouilly as my Beaujolais example because it is somewhere in the middle of the 10 Crus in terms of body, power and flavour.

The typical flavour profile of a Cru Beaujolais is this:

Light to medium bodied, fragrant, nose of cranberries, raspberries, and violets with a touch of that unmistakeable Burgundian earthy nose.

Well in terms of preferences the taste contest turned out to be a tie.

My preference was actually the Brouilly-a bit denser, and darker but the mere fact that a Niagara Gamay held its’ own against a Beaujolais Cru is worth noting.

Also the bottle of Malivoire was 3 dollars cheaper ($15.00) than the Brouilly .

Do not be afraid to chill your Gamay or Beaujolais for 20 minutes to bring out the flavours.

Follow this link for more information about Cru Beaujolais.

Xarello Heretat mont rubi

Xarello Heretat mont rubi

I try a couple of Vintages products every week.

How do I choose?-Well like everyone else I can be a sucker for a provocative wine label.-I am a minimalist by nature so the look of this bottle reeled me in….A plain white label embossed with one word “WHITE”.

Flipped it around for the back label description and I was hooked-

From Spain near Barcelona this wine is a rare bottling of a single Spanish grape variety Xarello-a grape that is the major player in the blend used to make Spanish sparkling wines (Cava). The other two most common grapes in the blend are Viura and Parellada.

Sort of like the headliner of the show allowing part of his or her backing band to step out of the shadows to riff out a solo. It works!

Grown on sandy soils near the Mediterranean it is fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged on its lees. There are mineral aromas of wet stones and citrus, green apples and herbs.

This wine is the perfect match for Tapas and grilled seafood-firm fleshed fish, lobster, shrimp or octopus.

Xarello Heretat mont rubi

12.5% alcohol

LCBO # 488742


Revelation in a Glass-Marsanne Kew Vineyards

Revelation in a Glass-Marsanne Kew Vineyards

Revelation in a Glass-Marsanne Kew Vineyards

Marsanne is one of the grapes along with Roussanne and Viognier that is part of the blend that makes up the great white wines of the Southern Rhone.

I previously posted that my go-to house white at home is a version of this blend made by Guigal. At a celebratory restaurant dinner for my son Sam’s 23rd birthday a few weeks back I could not resist the temptation of trying a wine that you not only rarely see on a wine list and never offered by the glass. What made the temptation even more irresistible was that the wine was made in Niagara!

The only other solo Marsanne I had tasted was from Australia (Very different growing conditions) Long story short-the wine did not disappoint.

Flavours of white peach, spiced pear, rich with nutty honey overtones.

By the way -The restaurant in Toronto near China Town …


Great food Brilliant little Wine list-Reasonable prices

Later that evening I found that the process of researching the story of the creation of that wine was equal to my pleasurable quaffing experience.

The wine from Kew Vineyards was made by Phillip Dowell-a migrant winemaker from Australia who started his Canadian career at Inniskillin and has been the winemaker at Angel’s Gate since 2007. (Should have known) it would take a transplanted Aussie to have the moxie to try growing Marsanne in the cool climate terroir of Niagara.

Next day to cap it off I found exactly one bottle left at the LCBO beside the St Lawrence Market across the street from my parent’s condo.

A serendipitous wine adventure came full circle!

Scott’s School of Wine - First Edition-The Mellecey Group

Scott’s School of Wine - First Edition-The Mellecey Group

Many thanks to Cyndi and Fred Grossman who made our inaugural Wine Tasting evening such a huge success. Their wines were all stunning, the food terrific and their commentary brilliant.

Visit the Mellecey Group and their wine portfolio at www.melleceywinegroup.com


To start what I regard as hands down the best champagne substitute in the world-Spanish Sparkling made in the traditional champagne method -almonds, melon, citrus with floral notes.

Marques de Plata Cava Brut Nature NV

We paired it with Deep Fried Calamari with Aioli.


Next a rare treat a Rose from Spain’s Basque country.

Inazio Urruzola Txakolina Rose 2015.

Bright fresh aromatic with a salty ocean feel with some spritz at the end.

We paired this lovely Rose with a tomato rubbed toasted pintxo topped with prosciutto (in the spirit of the similarly produced Basque Bayonne Ham)


Another rare treat-a white Rioja!

Valenciso Blanco- (96 points Wine Decanter)

Mainly Viura grapes with a honey caramelized nose and flavours of roasted nuts. It paired perfectly with a smoked chicken pintxo-the subtle oak of the wine matching the mild smokiness of the moist rotisserie chicken.

..........................................................................................................................................................And finally a killer Red Rioja

Such an elegant wine. Lots of powerful berry flavours beautifully balanced with velvety tannins.

Valenciso Rosado-paired with Carne di Porco-thinly sliced roasted pork tenderloin served on a bed of arugula, finished with a brandy and pepper demi-glace.




My House Red

My House Red

When I was at the University of Toronto at Victoria College every fall I took a two week trip to Europe before I started classes.

I worked every summer as a very young head chef at Windermere House in Muskoka 7 days a week for about 5 months straight. One September armed with my First Class Eurail Pass (about 175 dollars) I headed for France. I flew to Nice on the Mediterranean with the intention of working my way back up to Paris. My goal was to taste first hand as many of France’s regional dishes as I could. Bouillabaisse in Marseilles, Cassoulet in Carcassone, Truffles and Foie Gras in the Perigord and the Charcuterie of Lyon.

Arriving in Lyon I headed straight to its famous outdoor market just in time to see Paul Bocuse (arguably the most famous chef in the world at that time) and his entourage cruising through the food stalls like an emperor.

Armed with a letter of introduction from a Lyonnaise trained chef who I worked with in Toronto I made a detour to a small town off the grid called Ampuis. It was there that I was destined to meet a winemaking family who were about to garner world-wide fame as “Kings of the Rhone”. Although I had never met my host before, for three days I was welcomed to sit at his family table and stay as a guest in a spare bedroom in his house. I learned more about the process and precision of making fine wine than I ever had before or have since. My generous and gracious host was Marcel Guigal. He learned his craft from his father Etienne. Marcel’s son Phillippe is now the boss.

And thus My Red House Wine (maybe feeling a bit nostalgic) the red I drink at home with friends is E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2013.

LCBO #259721 -19.95

Made from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes.

Flavours of black olives, plums, raspberries-a wine of elegance and finesse.

(Available at Fellinis by the glass!)



Matching Food and Wine 3 Simple Rules

Matching Food and Wine 3 Simple Rules

There are reams of articles and book meticulously preaching the art of matching food with the right wine. I’ve read most of them but at the end of the day these three simple strategies work for me.

1.Match the wine with the country and the region it came from.

With hundreds of years of tradition-how can you go wrong?

A meaty tomato based pizza?-Sicilian Red…

A fatty grilled Ribeye?-Californian Cabernet or Zinfandel…..

Weiner Schnitzel?-an Austrian Gruner Veltliner or Reisling

Warm Goat’s cheese salad?-a steely Sancerre from the Loire.

2.Determine what the strongest flavour element is in the dish and either Attempt to match it or contrast it.

Whatever the recipe-meat, poultry or fish it is the sauce or marinade that you are actually trying to complement. Big flavours demand big reds

Delicate flavours call for lighter whites

3.For dishes with Spicy and Complex Flavours :

(Thai, Szechuan, Curries etc.) If there is not an accompanying wine culture that is a part of a culinary tradition I say “let it go”- that belies a simple truth- wine isn’t perhaps an appropriate beverage partner for that style of cuisine. Often “off dry” Rieslings, Viognier or Gewurztraminer are the standard wine recommendations to pair with these more exotic flavours. 

But I find that they are a bit of an arranged marriage. 

Try these matches: with Japanese Food - Sake with Serious Curry-Beer- 

or Lassi-(a non-alcoholic yogurt based beverage) (alcohol doesn’t really work with Curries) with Chinese/ Asian dishes-Beer preferably Toboggan.

Barbecue ( Grilled Meat Fish or Chicken) a chilled Beaujolais or Gamay.

McManis Cabernet WTF

McManis Cabernet WTF

It is time to address the Elephant in the room. McManis California Cabernet.

Woe to the restaurant in London Ontario who dares to omit this beast of a wine from their wine list. So …What’s The Fuss? McManis Cabernet is like a big lollipop. Without getting too carried away with that sucker analogy…as Woody Allen once said (after running away with his adopted daughter) “the heart wants what it wants” and London wants McManis.

Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Bordeaux where it is usually mixed with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. These grapes are fermented separately and blended after every harvest to create some of the most expensive and brilliant red wines in the world. The wines are taunt, supple, complex and very expensive. Sometimes they take decades to reach their peak. The terroirs (soil and climate) of Bordeaux and California are like night and day.  California has a much warmer climate which produces riper grapes whose bigger sugar counts (brix) produce bigger alcohol levels and more explosive wines. McManis therefore is a prime example of a voluptuous, more fruit driven wine-and therefore a real crowd pleaser- especially to those who have an adolescent palate. At the end of the day though if McManis turns your crank all the more power to you….at least you are drinking and enjoying decent wine. 

We all like to laugh….some like slapstick…some like satire.

Interesting though, these days, many winemakers in Napa are attempting to dial it down and capture the essence and character of Bordeaux Cabernet blends. And there is also a parallel push by many young winemakers in Bordeaux to adopt a more American style. If you would like to experience this attempt at a meeting in the middle try this excellent wine for roughly the same price as 

McManis Cabernet Sauvignon 

Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon LCBO # 468157

 It is a well-structured fragrant red from Sonoma. Ripe cassis, and black cherry, dark chocolate with a dried fruit finish.




Branu Vermentino di Gallura


Well, this may be the new “it” grape folks”. There has been a buzz about this Mediterranean variety for some time but I have not been successful in finding a sample that lived up to the advance hype until now. Branu comes from Gallura a northern province of Sardinia. Gallura is also renowned for its cork production so you are not going to find a screwcap on these bottles. It is a lovely white on the light side-recalling flavours of pears, peaches, lime, and citrus with a clean mineral finish. This floral white with a hint of roasted almonds is most similar to Sauvignon Blanc and surprisingly tastes a lot like a gin and tonic. In France (where as Steve Martin once said “they have a different word for everything”) Vermentino is called Rolle. Rolle is an important component of many of the best Rose wines in the south of France. Vermentino does not deliver a blockbuster kind of experience but for me the wine tastes like where it comes from-a crisp lively white from close to the sea. And not surprisingly it pairs best with fresh seafood. Vintages at the LCBO # 455246   $21.95.

My House White

My House White

I am often asked what I drink at home.

What’s my value driven everyday sip at the end of a challenging day ?

A Chardonnay…Pinot Grigio…. Riesling -love them all but the bottle I keep coming back to is my beloved French white Cotes du Rhone blend from Guigal. The blend of grapes varies from vintage to vintage but the wine is always an exotic treat. The mainstay grape varieties for white wines from the Rhone are in the mix (Grenache, Marsanne and Roussanne.) But a whopping 65% of the blend comes from Viognier.

(That’s like discovering your jar of “deluxe mixed nuts” purchase contains 65% cashews)

The wine itself tastes like pears, tangerines, apricots and orange blossoms. It finishes though with a crisp extra dry mineral finish.

I would match it with glazed ham, sticky ribs and even a mild chicken curry or Pad Thai.

It’s a Vintages Essential LCBO # 290296. $19.95

It is not dirt cheap but it delivers a unique complex and sophisticated taste experience.