I am back from an inspiring and ambitious trip to Ottawa to argue R. v. Comeau on behalf of small BC Wineries and then Toronto for some R&R and a discussion with some Ontario small wineries. During my journeys I was lucky to taste and imbibe some fantastic wine and food. Here are my highlights.
Atelier in Ottawa. A 13 course menu with BC, Ontario and International wines. An exciting discovery for me was a fantastic Riesling from Cave Spring Cellars in Ontario. The restaurant is outstanding too!
Grey Gardens in Toronto. Chef Jenn Agg’s awesome new Kensington Market spot nailed it. With Jake Skakun as GM and selecting the wines, a brilliant experience is guaranteed. Innovative, ingredient driven food with honest wines. I loved everything from mushroom appetizer to the creative crab, pine nut, and Matsutake hand-cut buckwheat pasta. The 100% Graciano from La Sorda perfectly married one of the most creative preparations of sweet breads I have had (think kaffir lime leaves and vegetal accents) and I can’t say no to crushable California multi-grape blends like Matthiason’s Tendu.
A bottle of Nichalas Joly at the Canadian-food driven Actinolite (think game, berries, salmon, etc.) was a joy as was some delicious Marsannay at La Banane along with a good Cabernet Franc (no pyrazines but high acid) from Ontario’s Rosewood.
Archive and Brothers Wine topped it all off with an excellent wide-ranging selection of wines you will never find in the LCBO’s mockable, malaise and uninspired retail outlets. Think two singular expressions of Sangiovese, one from nearby Luca and another to the south of Chianti Classico. The Petrolo in particular impressed for its transparency and luminosity (it was fermented in amphora, which neutral vessel gives great expression to Sangiovese). A super-cool Muscat from Chile showed the seriously exciting efforts going on down there that need further exploring and a skin-fermented blend from Alsace’s Pierre Frick was a perfect example of that style of white wine: body and fruit with texture, but no oxidation or overt-greenness from stems.
A lunch at Vineland Estates topped it off with a classic Ontario vista and another delicious Riesling.
Conclusion: the place to make your wine life matter in Ontario is through the hospitality sector. Restaurants and wine bars thrive on the consignment system that allows them to stock fascinating and delicious wines. But retail purchasers are out of luck with what is likely the worst retail system in a major western city. Wine clubs and special group ordering is the only way to build a personal cellar, but such efforts are limited to the super-privileged. There is no doubt that, despite its problems, British Columbia is a far better province in which to be a wine lover.