Archive | April, 2014

Archive – A Chilly Spring Charcuterie Crawl

25 Apr

Some of the bloggers that I follow include restaurant reviews or tales of eating out. So I thought that I’d give it a try.

archive1This past week, I was slumming in Toronto, spending a night at the pleasure of the province. No, not doing my normal 30 to 90 day intermittent sentence but tagging along with the Director. That usually means while she tends to the J-O-B, I fill my time with a trip to Summerhill LCBO and visiting with dear friends. I’ve spoken in these pages of the Summerhill store and the bounty that it holds but today I’ll focus on an interesting night of charcuterie crawling with my friend, Andrew. The thing that you need to know is that Andrew borders on obsessive on the subject of what my mother used to call ‘cold cuts’. Now, mom really only meant bologna, or better spelled baloney, not what passes these days for ‘cured meats’. Andrew informed this day that he had even made his own (now, let’s see if I have this right), capacollo? The details were of immense interest to him – the story ending with the product hanging in his basement, I believe. That’s dedication to the subject of your obsession – if you read my last post, you’ll understand me if I say, I’ll not follow his lead and make my own wine.

Where was I? Oh yeah, charcuterie crawling. We met up on Portland, above King at Gusto. It was a new spot for me, we sat at the bar, and I innocently asked the bartender how long they had been open assuming “not very long”. The answer escapes me (somewhere around 2 years) but it was a where have you been? answer. So, I’m clearly not up to date on my cool places. Among a full menu, before 6 they serve a charcuterie plate which we had to have. They have their own barrel wine at $1 an ounce. A cool concept – but struggled to translate for me. Call me a wine snob but it was not great, just OK. I’d mention their Niagara pinot grigio was redolent with some fruit that you all have never heard of – but you’d see through me and you’ll know I didn’t have any. However, it allowed us a little wriggle room on the budget. I won’t expand on Gusto – just to say that it seems to be a great place to sit on their front or second story patio – great vibe, super staff, good wine selection (excellent Italian selection but avoid the barrel). I’d recommend for afternoon cocktails – small batch liquor available.

We then cabbed to Archive: a small, village-style bistro on Dundas a few blocks west of Bathurst. When I say ‘village-style’, I mean that it isn’t all tricked up by a designer – it’s sparse but not ‘minimalist’. Follow? Archive is the brainchild of Joshua Corea and his business partner, Joel. Along with chef, Ian Liepurts, they serve a small plate menu with quite an interesting wine list. We settled in for a session of discussing cultural affairs, our families and ordered some stuff: Baccala Mantecato (as per the menu – salt cod whipped w/olive oil and topped with/orange zest, olive, parsley); chorizo; lonzino (cured pork loin); celery, fennel, parsley salad; olives; dates with manchego wrapped in prosciutto; and 1608, a Quebec unpasteurized semi-firm cheese.

So, how was it? These guys played right into Andrew’s weakness because they make some of their own cured meats in-house, including the lonzino. Much discussing of techniques with the on-site meat curer ensued (yawn). But, the lonzino was superb and the best lonzino (read: only lonzino) that I’ve ever experienced. I’m not someone who orders salt cod much. Not sure why but I don’t. So, I was interested in the baccala. It was unexpectedly light, creamy and just the right amount of citrus playing off the cod – served on crostini. Loved it. When I return it will again be on my plate (board). Quebecois cheese was great – just starting to have a little stink but not too much. But, let me say that the highlight was the dates. I had recently been in Chicago and was told to allez-vous à Avec, a trendy restaurant that I was told served these exquisite prosciutto wrapped chorizo stuffed dates. We didn’t – allez à Avec, that is – so I missed the dates. Just had to try them at Archive and well, I now have a new favourite nibble – dates with a snippet of manchego wrapped in prosciutto and slightly warmed – wow!

But, this is a wine blog and I must talk wine or my wine blogger’s license is revoked. I find that many restaurants’ wine lists are somewhat lazy. The work goes into trying to attract purchases with styles, regions, and labels that diners will appreciate sans sip. Wines they won’t fear. Wines that they’ve had, seen on other wine lists, or can somehow be related to their favourite wine at home by skilled staff. “May I call you Bill? Bill, if you like Flowing Creek cab sav, you’ll love Babbling Brook cab sav.” It’s not to say that there’s anything objectively wrong with these wines – just the same old- same old – boring. “But. Bill, we need to sell wine and people are uncomfortable enough ordering wine. Let alone when they’ve never heard of the region, the producer, etc.” I get it. Then step up to educating them and they’ll thank you. But, for me and my peeps, it’s neat to see Gaillac, Bierzo, Montsant, Barberesco, Cotes du Jura, and Pic Saint-Loup wines, among others, available by the glass (average price $11) as we see at Archive. I fear someone having the salt cod with McManis or Ironstone. – because there are always style points available and they’d be leaving them on the ice with Virtue and Moir and to make it worse, the perfectly good wine would lose as would the food. The list isn’t Euro-centric. Well, maybe a bit. But it’s European cuisine, isn’t it? There are Ontario wines – Lailey, Stratus, Norman Hardie, Cave Spring, Pearl-Morissette, and Tawse all represented. And, they have a fine rotating selection of port – I had a superb Coheita to end the night.

When I see places like this, ones I like, I right away think to myself, “What a risky concept. I wonder if they can make it work.” Well, bravo to Joshua, Joel, and Ian – this place works. If you’re looking for a meal of primi, secondi, etc. head further west on Dundas to Campagnolo (superb country Italian – wish that I’d written a post on it after we visited last summer – try the bone marrow). But, if you want what Andrew and I wanted – conversation, great wine choices, inventive takes on traditional tapas-style nibbles, light eating, and Andrew’s all too necessary house-made charcuterie, book a bistro table at Archive. And, for crying out loud double up on the dates!

Archive: 909 Dundas Street West, Toronto 647-748-0909

Cash and debit only.

#MWWC9 – Slowly Step Away From The Elderberries

22 Apr

The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge is an opportunity for wine bloggers to lay bare their writing skills before their peers. Last month’s winner, The Drunken Cyclist chose this month’s theme: ‘Fear’. I was afraid to try a response. Cowed by past failures to work my clever short pieces into a lucrative book deal. Anxious that I didn’t present a ‘new voice’ on the topic. A fear that I worked through with the help of, well, a glass of wine or three.

I’ve found that people are generally motivated by two things: the possibility of success and all that comes with it and fear. I’m sure that there’s a pop psychology book and charismatic leader (Wayne Dire?) out there that claims to help you move from fear to striving for success – something like Forget Your Fear and Rule Your World – monthly FYFRYW magazines going out to little George Bushes everywhere. Well, I’m here to confess that on many things, I’m motivated by fear. Why do I hate squirrels? Because they will break in to my house and gnaw on my stuff. Why do I shake over a 3 foot putt for a $10 Nassau? Because, of course ridicule will be heaped upon me by even those that claim to be friends, I will never play golf again. Abide by the law? Because I might end up in prison as Bubba’s little sex toy – OK, that’s an image that doesn’t work, I admit. But, you get the idea – fear motivates me on many fronts – but one deviation from that exists – Wine. Here’s why I think it works like that.

As a blossoming adult who, in retrospect, was working hard to develop issues with alcohol, I decided to make my own wine. Cheaper would mean – more for me. After all, my father was an amateur winemaker. Glorious cuvees from grapes that are rare in today’s commercial world of wine – Niagara, Lambrusco, Catawba, Chancellor, and others that I can’t remember. My father would confidently state that his wine was, “as good as that fancy stuff from the LCBO that costs $1.50 a bottle!” I don’t recollect that the bottles that I snuck lived up to that claim. My former father-in-law also made cherry and elderberry wine and held the same opinion as my dad, “you know what that one tasted like, Bill? Another.” So, it was with this background that I embarked on a short-lived experiment in fruit fermentation. I just can’t bring elderberriesmyself to call it ‘winemaking’. In late spring, I wandered abandoned rail spurs looking for elderberries in blossom so that I could come back and harvest on the Labour Day weekend. Then, it was my son Nathan (losing interest after about 5 minutes) and I picking, de-stemming (a tortuous process that eliminated the poisonous stems – the poisonous part being something to pay attention to up front) and crushing elderberries. Then, since elderberries have the tartness quotient of alum, adding the right amount of sugar -which was measured in shovelfuls. Long story a little bit shorter – my elderberry wine was what a friend likes to call Screech and Porch Climber – absolutely without a redeeming quality – broo-dal. I have never spent as much time on the bathroom floor as I did after a bottle of Bill’s Purple Passion. The whirlies came to visit with no sign of departing.

So, what does this have to do with fear? Well, I believe that fear is related, in part, to lack of experience. We fear the scariest imaginings of the unknown. The Boogieman Syndrome. I haven’t had squirrels in my house gnawing on Arlene – so, it still motivates me. I never miss a short putt (OK, so that isn’t exactly true but bear with me) – so the ridicule is still in play. And, although I spent 5 years working in prisons, I still haven’t shared a cell with Bubba. But, and I’m using bold caps here, I have experienced THE WORST WINE EVER. And, I survived to drink again. And again. Oh I’ve still had missteps with wine – the consignment vintage Nuits-Saint-Georges I purchased in Saint Germain being the most instructive experience, lately. But, to quote Reginald Dwight, I’m still standing.

Life Lesson? When I see an unknown, interesting looking wine, I need only remember that it cannot, cannot; it CAN-NOT be worse than that elderberry of old. And those ‘new’ wines have almost always proved to be interesting, bordering on wonderful – it’s wine after all. And, repeat after me, “Wine is Good.”

My motto – fear not the wine!

What does scare me though is, if I follow this reasoning to its conclusion, I need to let the squirrels in, miss a putt and, gulp, have some quiet time with Bubba. I’ll give it some thought and share my progress with the group next session, Dr. Dire.

*Elderberry image courtesy of

Portugal Redux and the Red Daily Slosh

21 Apr

Spring weather shout out to the David Wilcox fans out there. You know who you are.

Disregard my earlier proclamations stating that Spring was here because today marks the real date. I mean, Spring Is Here, Baby! It’s glorious outside, windows open, birds chirping and my keyboard singing. If you’re looking for spring recos, check out my post on that very topic.

passerelaA post or two back, I reviewed a Portuguese red and stated that I was going on a hunt for good Portuguese wines. I opened another a week back – 2009 Casa de Passarela Reserva #365557 $18.95. This is from the Dao region which is a ways south of the Duoro river – sheltered and warm, it makes Mediterrenean style reds. This blend is predominantly touriga nacional, the most commonly used grape for port. I found it a bit closed and tight at first needing loads of air. I didn’t really let that stop me. And, once it got going, it provided some strong wood influences and purple fruit. Opaque, quite sophisticated, lots of energy, and I’d highly recommend if you lean toward Tuscan-style wines.

These recommendations are for the April 26th release.

threeriversThis winter I got away a couple times to visit our neighbours to the south, as we like to call them. It was decidedly warmer, cheaper, and, when you feel like you’re on vacation (and, don’t suggest that I’m on permanent vacation again) more fun. I had maybe a bottle of wine or two. One was a great Washington red – 2011 Three Rivers River’s Red #287433 $19.95. I did not pay $19.95 – or even an exchange adjusted $19.95 – way south of that. But, I digress. This is a merlot dominated substantive wine – not with fruit but its structure – solid tannins through to the finish, a bit dry at the start, a nice vein of acidity, and the fruit I get isn’t the normal merlot reddish fruits but dark and dirty ones – maybe the syrah and cab franc in the blend. The write up suggests steak and that seems bang on. This isn’t a standing around wine. I know because I stood around when I had it. Confession: sat around. Have with food. If you’re partial to California cabs, take a peek at this. I think it will please you and remember: eat responsibly.

momopnI have been disproportionately enjoying New Zealand pinot noir lately. Our Easter dinner this past weekend featured The Ned and Te Mania – both nice examples of entry level Kiwi Pinot . Which coincidentally is the sound I hear out my window right now. The northern shrike in spring – Ki….WI… This week, there’s the pinot half of the Momo label – 2011 Momo Pinot Noir #163972 $19.95. This is an organic product. Great pinot acidity, minimal oak effects except for the tea notes that I love, and medium bodied. This is indeed a standing around wine – gravitating to leaning around – on to sitting around. It was great with a simple shrimp pasta (butter, EVOO, and garlic) but you can just twist and pour and enjoy by itself. If you haven’t had New Zealand pinot lately, pick this up. If, like me you have, pick it up anyway. Momo’s sauvignon blanc is outstanding value as well.

villacafaggioI have had a few of the 2010 Chianti Classicos and, there wasn’t one that I didn’t like. Not sure if the consensus is that it’s a good vintage, great vintage or meh. But, I think that if you pay attention and Tuscany didn’t suffer from a flood or drought, you can find great Chianti Classico in most vintages. This just in – I did a little extra research and it was a ‘great’ vintage according to the pros. This beaut of a Chianti is one that I look for every year and keep a few in my basement that seem to age very well (still have a ’98) – maybe 10 to 15 years. The 2010 Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico #176776 $19.95 is a solid value as always – strong bones of acidity, easy tannins, and musty Tuscan scents and flavours. A friend that loves Italian reds would love this – so, MR, pick up a couple – one now and the other a few years hence. I love this! Pork roast. Actually, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that my food recommendations are a crap shoot. I presently believe that the ‘science’ of pairing is a bit overblown. But, I am open to arguments to the contrary. I find that if you love the wine and you love the food, you’ll probably like the match.

faustinoReaders’ feedback suggests that they are most interested in everyday priced wines. I have a splurge category but haven’t written much on splurges to focus on more affordable quaffs. I listen to my readers (all 7 of them). But, I just couldn’t ignore a stunningly elegant wine like the 2001 Faustino I Grand Reserva #976662 $32.95. A Rioja Gran Reserva must age at least 5 years, 2 of which has to be in oak barrels. Had this a year ago and it still carries lots of pep – not flabby or easy – still demanding your attention. I can’t really see how this couldn’t age gracefully (like Sophia Loren?) another five or so years. Wait that doesn’t sound right. Of course, we want Sophia to age for more than 5 years. Back to the wine – powerful and smoky, nervy, lipsmacking good. And, lots of fruit especially after the swallow –  long finish. If you’re a fan of shelf talkers, this one will probably have a 97 on the tag. And, oh yeah, it was Decanter Magazine’s Top Wine of 2013 (out of 3,200 wines tasted)! Sometimes, you spend a little extra and ask, “Why did I bother?” this will not invoke that sentiment, rather “Why didn’t I splurge for more than one?”


Monica Re-Appears Con Caprini – The Red Daily Slosh

11 Apr

I included this song because of the memories. It was playing in a Paris bistro when I had my first DRC wine (La Tâche – 1975). OK, I’ve never had more than a very small tasting sip of La Tâche and 1975 was a shitty year – truth be told and, just like Glen Beck, I’m all about the truth (he said with tongue firmly planted in cheek), actually this song was playing as I was getting this written up. Memories of school dances and Motown as it was meant to be – never forgotten. In future posts, I promise to bring my music selections into the present or recent past instead of the way back when.

This is for the April 12th release. This release features ripasso and appassimento wines. There is a great write up in the release brochure or on-line that’s good information about these techniques. It’s very well done and one of the things that we might actually miss if we privatized.

etichetta_ripassoA few weeks ago, I recommended a Speri ripasso – their Pigaro – great value wine and, yes, I do have some left – medium bodied with lots of local knowledge. This week, there’s the 2011 Speri Ripasso della Valpolicella Classico Superiore #370353 $21.95. This is a step up in depth but doesn’t sacrifice the sense that you’re drinking this while watching Monica Belluci guide her goats through the piazza (that breaks a four month hiatus without a Monica Belluci reference – fell off the wagon, I guess). But, even more important, what you’re eating with this seals the deal. This past week, we were in Chicago and had a great Italian piazza dinner. Well, not in a piazza but inside by a busy street but the reference works for me. We had margherita pizza, cheeses, lamb meatballs with aioli, grilled calamari – this wine would have been perfect.

My friend, MR, recommended an appassimento wine just this past month and voilà here it is. The 2012 Tedeschi Capitel Nicalò Appassimento Valpolicella Superiore #984997 $16.95 is pure Italy. I recommended the 2010 a while ago. If you favour wines that are easy, stay away. It’s not that it is “hard” – just it isn’t simple – it has some flavour muscle – dirty, earthy, dried fruit, but never heavy. I love wines like this stuff. Remember the wine that I recommended a few years ago – Tenuta di Castiglioni? This doesn’t taste like that, flavour-wise – but you get the same feeling from it – local, rustic, country-side. Like the one above, sit outside and enjoy the spring-like weather that we’ve been waiting so long for.

criosmalbecIf you play along at home, you know that I am in love with Susana Balbo. A woman that makes great wine? It’s got a sliver of romance to it that’s hard to resist for this wingger (wine blogger). Passing on a Susana Balbo wine would be like fooling around on her! Well, this week there’s their entry level malbec – 2012 Dominio del Plata Crios Malbec #162529 $13.95. My favourite reasonably-priced wine of theirs is the Susan Balbo Signature Malbec and this Crios holds up against that. It’s a little lighter but it carries the same degree of fun and flavour. If you’re a malbec lover and have settled for cheap (read: Fuzion) malbec, give this a try. I think it’s a big step up in sophistication from those. This is fine by itself with tears and old movies.

temaniaI can’t help myself (which is part of a lyric that I can almost grasp through my dementia – Buehler?) when I see New Zealand pinot noir under $20. I just have to try it. There have been flame outs, failures, but many great finds. This week, the 2011 Te Mania Pinot Noir #365247 $19.95 finds its way to our shores. It’s just what it appears – a refreshing medium-bodied pinot, that’s the kind of pinot that Goldilocks would appreciate. Not too much – just right. It carries enough structure to avoid being flabby – it’s got a spine of acidity and a bite that’s just right (reference Goldilocks, again). I like this kind of pinot by itself. I know that New World pinots can accompany meals just like their older siblings from Burgundy but this one would be great with friends at the start of an evening and before things get too serious. Or sadly by yourself in a hotel room while on business watching a movie that you wouldn’t rent at home (oh, behave) in a faceless city. Not that I have ever done that – just trying to imagine things and make a suggestion. It’s versatile. Loads of red fruits with mostly darker cherries and not much wood at all – clean and fresh. Great stuff at this price.

Other worthy picks:

2008 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenère #169862 $19.95

Apologies for my Italian.


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