Affordable August Long Weekend Wines

Napeague Walking Dunes

as seen on

From the exploration of the Walking Dunes on Long Island to a look ahead at the August civic holiday long weekend, wine persists as the imperative of investigation. Vines are like the barren landscape’s phantom forest of forever shifting powder, speaking of a specific idea, a philosophy, a métier. A forest of pitch pine and oak is buried over by wind driven, walking sands. Truth be told, the pursuit of wine is made possible by ever evolving vines, each unique to its local sense of place.

I go wining like the Montauketts and Bonackers who once worked these fruitful waters. I rake the releases and wine stores to unearth gems like the crabs and clams crawling in Montauk’s living waters.

The dry summer is creating a challenge to crops but the teeming ocean swells alive. Lobster, Fluke, Blue Fish, Scallops and especially crabs are abundant and well-priced. Look for these under $20 values to enliven your long weekend meals.

Soft Shell Crab, Fluke and Delmonico Sirloin

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Alsatian at heart, PG is laying down roots all over the New World

The lowdown: Arguably the finest Kiwi version I’ve found, especially at this price

The food match: Steamed Mussels in white wine, shallot, fennel and tarragon

Spinyback Pinot Gris 2010 (214569, $16.95) of sexy flesh and bone has got a lot going on for the IVR*. River walks through Maori gardens of “ginger, lemon, indigo, coriander stem and rose of hay.” Biting chalky, mineral and pear, finding the river and swimming with Notacanthus sexspinis.  89

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Lack of oak in Chablis makes for mineral-driven wines

The lowdown: Quality is rarely high at the under $20 (non-Cru) level. This could be your Wonderwall

The food match: Steamed and Grilled Soft-Shell Crab with lime aioli

Domaine Des Malandes Chablis 2010 (111658, $18.95) is a crisp, fresh, floral and tropical oasis of quality in a sea of mediocrity. The citron pressé, “back beat, the word was on the street” Malandes is endowed of high complexity and complement.  88

The grape: Fiano

The history: Ancient varietal from southern Italy

The lowdown: The unheralded whites of the Campania are one of the wine world’s undiscovered treasures

The food match: Grilled Calamari with garlic, olive oil, lemon, capers and parsley

Terre Dora Fiano di Avellino 2010 (120048, $18.95) is always good company and accompanies warm water seafood with pairing ease. Juicy, bursting citrus and tropical, tree-fruit flavours. This Fiano of one of Terre Dora’s three terrific, single-varietal whites (along with the Greco and Falanghina). This Fiano can knock on my door anytime.  89

The grape: Syrah

The history: Noble, dark as night varietal from the Northern Rhône

The lowdown: Languedoc Syrah tends to need support from Grenache and Mourvedre but this one emulates the northern style, in a top vintage and for a song

The food match: Crispy Pork Belly and parsnip pureé

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2009 (177584, $13.95) is certainly more north than south with its smokey, cured beef and pork perambulations. Depth to raise thoughts of Septaguanarian Hermitage vines of twist and gnarl. A touch of burnt rubber and varnish but all in all a heap of Syrah for under $14.  87

The grape: Garnacha

The history: Big, juicy red of French and Iberian fame

The lowdown: Under $15 Calatayud Garnacha has become a consistent go to value

The food match: Ground Sirloin Burgers with Mahon Cheese

Filón Garnacha 2010 (280602, $14.95) is actually a bit of a misprision because of its black fruit character. Re-enacts Tuscan IGT and the most modern of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tar, asphalt, bitter chocolate and sanguine Kirsch and very, very ripe fruit. Grand oak and tons of wine at $15.  88

The grape: Zinfandel

The history: Primate-like cousin to Primitivo from Italy and before that, Yugoslavia

The lowdown: Dry Creek Valley does this varietal like no other; sweet and dry.

The food match: Dry Rub, St. Louis Style Side Ribs

Pedroncelli Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel 2009 (463026, $22.95) is so toothsome and bruising you may want to eat it with a fork. A sickly sweet moment is rescued by the DCV terroir. This 15.2% abv elixir of crushed and blended berries is a single-vineyard beauty that begs a question. Why pay $50 for top-tier Zinfandel when you can go Pedroncelli?  89

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache and Syrah

The history: Storied producer of more than 200 years located near the famous Dentelles de Montmirail

The lowdown: The best Grapillon since 2001

The food match: Grilled Delmonico Sirloin Steak with cherry tomato, avocado and black beans salsa

Domaine Du Grapillon D’or Gigondas 2010 (981787, $28.95) of inky, jet black pitch is bombastic and confidently announces itself of full extraction. Blueberry compote, macerated cherries, roasted and bleeding elk all come to the visceral mind. Sweet, viscous liquor with acidity and viscous tannin. Needs 10 years or several oxygenated hours to settle in.  91

Great wines are sometimes found online

Laurent Fievet, AFP/Getty Images

Reporting from Eastern Long Island, a strikingly beautiful stretch of land divided by its two forks. Over the next few days I will be tasting North Fork Merlot and Riesling, South Fork Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. This fledgling wine industry is not unlike our own back in Niagara and Prince Edward County, full of promise and local affordability. Together we share a passion for wine that is free to those who can afford it, in opposition to what is very expensive to those who can’t.

I rarely get excited by the online shopping experience but sometimes you just have to call a gem a gem. The frivolity of spending bravely on wine repays in the memories the future holds. Besides, “we just ran out of wine. What are we gonna do about it?”

VINTAGES Shop Online

The grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon

The history: The synergy of these white varietals in Bordeaux is the cat’s pee and meow. The west finesse of Pessac Léognan is best.

The lowdown: Others intimate a zeitgeist of dry, white hedonism but few succeed. Haut-Brion, Smith Haut-Lafite and Chevalier are three of the best.

The food match: The best Porchetta sandwich money can buy

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2008 (581033, $59.00) is possessive of febrile gooseberry imagination. Blows sweet peach and apricot in and out of the glass in alberge de tours waves. “Hungry like the wolf” and his lycopersicon esculentum. A white PL for the ages.  92

The grape: Merlot

The history: Few Napa Valley vineyards take Right Bank Bordeaux to the Greek like this iconic outfit

The lowdown: First appearance in Ontario by one of California’s legends

The food match: Grilled Beef Ribs with a Tomato and Agave Glaze

Plumpjack Merlot 2009 (296491, $72.95) is an eponymous ace of base and is all that Napa Merlot should be. “Beware of that is flashing in her eyes. She’s going to get you.” Takes me to the pilot, beauteous of chocolate “like a coin in your mint,” gob-stopping red fruit and an acumen of alchemic spicing. Steely and replays the deep, oaky fruit on the palate. ” You go back, Jack, do it again. ”  93

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc

The histoty: Perhaps the most affordable classified Bordeaux on the market today

The lowdown: This Chateau over delivers and never gouges its customers. Kudos to the LCBO for this perrenial bone toss our way. Treat yourself

The food match: Fresh Brisket and Flat Iron Hamburgers with Thick-Cut Bacon

Château Ferrière 2008 (229567, $44.00) may be a wine whose lot is to be grouped in serried ranks but I find a unique presence in its mineral expressive, espressoness. The Margaux perfume is there, along with a hint of blueberry blossom and pine straw.  Can’t help but reach a modest degree of approximation to the full complexity of it’s Gallic, articulated language.  90

Good to go!

Sun, water, wine and flatbreads

Simcoe Sunset, Photo Courtesy of Kiowaman

as seen on

Here we stand a month into this pungent, brown, retrogressive summer, the likes of which has not been seen for quite some time. Perhaps it ‘aint right, this heat, this drought, this anxiety laid upon the poor farmer. Or perhaps it’s “so right it aint right.” If you are like me and relish the eudaemonic concomitance of hydro-solar, eonopoetic gastronomy, then all is good.  The endless summer of 2012,  a veritable documentary on surf, turf and vine.

It is hard to see local growers beating plowshares into swords, watching their crops of corn, snap peas, peas and beans of reluctant yields due to the absence of rain. “Aspetta per l’acqua,” dear farmer, as per the Gaiole proverb. Innocence seems lost at the hands of mother nature yet can you recall a more inviting time to drive up to the lake, fire up the grill, summon the inner chef inside and “let your inhibitions run wild?” Ontario’s cottage lakes are our French Rivieras, bringing about a Baudelaire call to mind of Luxe, calme et volupté.

Luck leads me to such a place, where great food is crafted and shared amongst family and friends. Here I play the part of the amanuensis, with a directive to relay and replay the food and wine exploits of the weekend.

Cottage Lunch, Photo Courtesy of Kiowaman

The local field tomatoes are thus far of excellent quality, certainly 1000 times greater in flavour and acidity than what we reluctantly consume for most of the year. Coupled with Bocconcini and fresh Basil, they are like a rug that really ties the summer lunch room together. Fried Jasmine, Calrose Brown and Wild rice with a caramel, soy and sesame oil saucing helps to satisfy a crowd. The centrepiece at lunch are the Grilled Flatbreads. One is topped with roasted garlic, sauteed garlic scapes and fresh basil. The second with tomato, cheddar, Reggiano Parmesan and grilled zucchini.

Grilled Flatbreads


1 tbsp dry active yeast
1 tbsp corn syrup
1/4 cup plus 3 cups all purpose, unbleached white flower
1/4 warm water, plus 2 cups tepid water
1 bulb fresh garlic
6 garlic scapes
1 bunch fresh basil
1 bunch fresh Italian Parsley
1 green and one yellow zucchini
1 large beefsteak tomato
1 cup grated white cheddar
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
4 tbsp olive oil


Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Mix together yeast, corn syrup 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water in a large mixing bowl. Stir well and leave to incorporate for 15 minutes.

Cut off a thin layer off the top of the garlic to expose the bulbs. Drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil, wrap in foil and place inside the BBQ. Cook for 30 minutes.

Slice Zucchini into 1/2″ thick pieces, toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper and grill for three minutes on both sides.

Dice up scapes and saute in 1 tsp olive oil until dark green and tender.

Add the three cups of flour and 2 cups of water to the yeast mixture, mix, knead and form into a ball, dusting with more flour as necessary. Rub with 1 tbsp olive oil and cover bowl for 15 minutes.

Grate the cheeses, slice the tomato, wash and pick the basil and parsley.

Flour a work surface, turn out the dough and split into two pieces. Press out gently with fingers, brush tops with olive oil and grill for four minutes. Brush the exposed side, flip and grill again for four minutes. Remove from grill and turn down to lowest setting.

Top the first flat bread with roasted garlic, scapes, half the parmesan and basil. Top the second on one side with tomato, cheddar and parsley, the second with zucchini, parmesan and basil.

Return to grill and heat with the top down, two to three minutes. Serve with a knife and scissors.

Château La Tour De L’évêque Rosé 2010 (319392, $18.95) turns simple grilled fish into Baudroie à la Provençale and is consistent with an earlier note: Initiates a Strawberry response, of course. Subtle, faint pink tinge yet viscous, I could drink this by the bucketful. At once cloudy and then see through. “You thought that I would need a crystal ball to see right through the haze.” Could spot this one from a mile away.  88

Grilled B.C. Wild Salmon and Tilapia

Fish plays a big roll in summer cooking, along with many cuts of beef. Lean and flavourful Flank Steak often works itself into the rotation.

Dinner and a Shiraz

Charles Cimicky Reserve Shiraz 2002 ($35) harkens back to a 2005 VINTAGES release and at 10 years old it is singing. Causes a Buddy Holly “you…make…me…cry” stammer. A great Barossa vintage with foresight to predict longevity. That’ll be the day when the Cimicky’s dark cedar and menthol, hubristic and extracted fruit would not accelerate to greatness, live long and prosper.  93

Good to go!

Looking for whites in all the right places

Laurent Fievet, AFP/Getty Images

as seen on

The big red chill offered a brief weekend respite from white wines but I’m still feelin’ hot, hot, hot. The sun’s arrow is pointed directly at my vinous heart so I’ve no choice but to bust-a-move towards a renewed search for thirst quenchers of the less-pigmented kind. These recently released great whites are waiting and willing to assist.

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: While perhaps not as versatile, potentially exciting and confounding as Chenin Blanc, this varietal outsells all else in the Loire. Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Touraine are the keys to the Loire’s success.

The lowdown: I can’t think of a blasphemic reason not to run out and buy this one by the dozen

The food match: Pan-Fried Pike in a Garlic Scape-Leek-Shallot Beurre Blanc

Domaine De La Colline Sauvignon Touraine 2010 (169656, $12.95) is the workday done sun-downer few Sauvignon Blancs can match for IVR* assurance. Eglantine and apple tisane. Bony and blanched shallot driven by the Loire’s rocky truffeau, with a smokey persimmon fini glacé.  88

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Owned by Raventos of Spain, famous for Cava, the name means “handcrafted” in their native Catalan

The lowdown: The iconic white varietal of Burgundy is many things and while the Artesa is not a California ween of bananas and blow, its none of them either

The food match: Chicken Shish Kebabs

Artesa Chardonnay 2010 (657585, $23.95) is an understated and capital if not a once in a lifetime example of cool Carneros. “Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground.” It talks to me in a voice I can understand and heads in a faint citrus, CVR** direction. Tropical with apricot and longan, but is neither heavy nor bloated.  89

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Pinot Noir variant, third most planted varietal of Alsace, behind Riesling and Gewurztraminer

The lowdown: A producer of pedigree and passion despite some contrarian and snobbish grumblings of a conglomerate nature

The food match: Grilled Tilapia in a Soy, lime and Rice Vinegar marinade

Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2008 (971762, $22.95) is seductively Sauternes-like in its orange marmalade viscosity. An immense Gewurz-like PG. Off-dry tropical fruit, lanolin and a macadamia nut streak foils lemon, peppery orange and gold nasturtium. The edible florals are replayed in its sun-blazing technicolour.  90

The Splurge

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Chablis has reached a peak in quality that to me began with this 2002 vintage. The mineral, steel and flint of great Chablis is so unique to Chardonnay

The lowdown: As good as Premier Cru gets. As good as most Grand Cru that cost a minimum 50% more

The food match: Bouillabaisse, or any fish stew with high quality fish and seafood

Domaine Daniel-Etienne Defaix Les Lys Chablis 1er Cru 2002 (289256, $44.95) 10 years on is impeccably balanced, with dry-roasted nuts, steel-cut oats and brilliant Marigolds wrapped up in a bursting mineral package. The age is imperceptible, the poise uncanny. You won’t fond this for less than $50 in the US. This is a steal and will drink beautifully for 5-10 years more.  92

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-t0-value ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-t0-value ratio

Good to go!

Chill red wines for another hot weekend



As seen on

Extolling the virtues of whites and rosés is easy in times like these. Tipping my hat to reds when the thermometric accumulation pops over the 30 mark may lead to more than one virtual hairy eyeball. Try this one on for size. Take that bottle of red with your name on it and lay it down in the icebox for twenty minutes. Pop and pour. The result? A cool, refreshing summer drink. Go ahead, try it.

The late, great Steve Irwin said “I think my path would have always gone back to or delivered me to wildlife. I think wildlife is just like a magnet, and it’s something that I can’t help.” For me, it’s food and wine. There is never a feeling of time wasted, no pangs of guilt or regret.

Zinfandel and other big wines pushing the 15% envelope do not take well to a cold treatment. Nor do the finest big B’s; Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello. Their subtleties can be masked by low temperature. Right now “it’s hotter than the outback after the apocalypse.” That’s a quote. Uttered in conversation yesterday. Australian reds are the apex predators of wine, Crocodiles, full of lash and whack. Quotidian examples from paradoxically branded “cool-climate” Victoria take the reptilian itch down a notch, perfect for a short chill in the throes of this sweltering, Ontario summer. Give these four red wines the air-conditioning treatment. You won’t regret it.

The grape: Shiraz

The history: Signature varietal of Australia, producing more than 400,000 tonnes annually

The lowdown: Victoria’s climate is suitable for a low and slow growing season

The food match: Grilled Half Chickens with an Apricot, Ancho-Chile BBQ glaze

Camelback Shiraz 2008 (665125, $27.95) out of the Sunbury sub-section of Victoria trades sun stroke for an even tan. Expatriate Lorenzo Galli brought Tuscany to Victoria and here the fennel, almond biscotti and ripe fig dominate this medium-bodied, princely Shiraz. Too many OZ reds load up on straw that break the camel’s back. The Camelback far I enters the eye of a needle. A berry good Galli walking gracefully across the sand. Chill and grill.  90

The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot

The history: Derivative if not exactly typical Right Bank, Bordeaux blend

The lowdown: The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is an excellent Meritage site. Osoyoos Larose is a world-renowned, red blend

The food match: Grilled Lamb Chops marinated with Rosemary, Garlic and Olive Oil

Lulu Island Meritage (277566, $23.95) just sounds like an Aussie moniker when in fact it hails from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Maybe the most lustrous B.C. red I have ever laid eyes on. Hard not to forbear a crush on its purple profile, hued like a $100, Single-Vineyard Argentinean Malbec. A bit reductive due to its infantile youth but this is appurtenant to the samphire, currants and peppery Merlot scents. Less weight buoys the palate. Bites back in the end. Follows varietal rules of proportion vis-a-vis the dry martini. Massive CVR** complexity from this massif assemblage.  91

The grapes: Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah

The history: Traditional CMS combination from the Midi

The lowdown: Carignan-lead reds are often a fortress of austerity. This is a welcome exception

The food match: Crispy Duck Legs, finished on the grill with a Tamarind glaze

Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2010 (277079, $14.95) is a big, chic IVR* wine for $15. Foxy, Wisterian colour and salinity of a quayside negotiation. Dancing circus act craze of TGV vitesse yet structured and organized of a Poussinian order. “Like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  88

The Splurge

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Memories of Bordeaux long gone, now essential Napa Valley

The lowdown: From a small husband and wife run winery in Calistoga

The food match: Grilled Za’atar-rubbed Boneless Rib-Eye Steak

Summers Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (279380, $29.95) inculcates the success of Napa Valley Cabernet at a fraction of what most others cost. Silky texture, rapt tint and deep-seated, earthbound aromas. Fresh picked blackberries and crushed pine cones underfoot in an evergreen forest. A warm weather song, “taste the summer on your peppery skin.” No bruised fruit bomb so be not afraid to add a few minutes of December gelidity.  89

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-value ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-value ratio

Good to go!

Canoe trip recipes for success

as seen on

Canoe trip cooking adheres to a less is more, zen-like philosophy. The chef must manage the intensity of absences, the maximization of omissions. The carrying weight of a tripping pack, storage restrictions and spoilage all combine to limit the boundaries of mis en place. Culinary science as outdated rhetorical lunacy, the act of banal heroism. My muse may not be a Jack Tripper Coq-au-Vin but “Lordy, Lordy, Lordy,” cooking outdoors is just plain fun.

The simple and meditative act of back country canoe camping perculiarizes the anthology of Canadian culture. Long before the assembly to dominion it was a summoning that defined our call to being. Today, the courir dans les bois persists as a tug of positable mythic that underlies who and what we are. Cherrywood paddles cutting whirlpools through ambient lakes.  Portage ambling over trails cut out of the forest lined with networking tree root systems and glacially deposited rocks. This base traversing of the landscape, in and out of a canoe, plodding a direct and simple course from points A to B.

Paddling Home

Living on nuts and berries” once sustained us, we gatherers, fishermen, hunters and farmers. Canoe trip cooking marked an enlightened beginning for many Canadian chefs, a list not the least of which includes me. It was simpler back then. Tripper’s stew, Mac and Cheese, Boil in the Foil. I don’t miss and reminisce on those anti-culinary days. The paradox of modern campfire cooking merges the taste of maple, pine and birch smoke with gastronomical possibilities that leave beef jerky and tuna surprise in the dust. The demotic canoe trip maxim might state “show me a good casserole and I’ll show you a casserole.”

Pancake Breakfast

The key to canoe trip cooking, especially in the heat of the summer, is to keep perishable food cold for as long as possible. Freeze everything that can be frozen the night before departure, transfer to the food barrel and don’t open until dinner. Remove only last in, first out items and re-seal the barrel. The following morning the milk, eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese will all be good to go, straight from the “fridge.”

Green Beans, Feta, Golden Beets and Kale Shoots

Recent years have seen preparations that included Glazed Baby Back Ribs, Smashed Potatoes, Fried Rice, Deep Dish Pizza, Tortellini in Brodo, Grilled Flank Steak and Mushroom Risotto. Night one in July 2012 ventures into some new territory. Vietnamese Phở Bò Tái Nạm, Pan-Fried Halibut, Salad of Green Beans, Golden Beets, Greek Feta and Kale Shoots.

Soup’s On

Pho Bo Tai Nam


1 package of flat rice noodles
2 lbs. centre cut beef tenderloin
2 litres frozen chicken stock
cheesecloth spice bag filled with cassia (cinnamon bark), fennel seed, whole cayenne chile, coriander seed, star anise, Szechuan peppercorn and clove. tied up with butcher’s string
fresh bean sprouts or baby greenhouse pea shoots
Thai basil (can substitute regular green, Genovese or purple basil)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper


Bring water to a rolling boil for 15 minutes and add rice noodles. Cook for three minutes, strain out the water and coat liberally in canola oil.

Grill Beef Tenderloin over campfire coals until charred and rare. Remove and rest for 20 minutes.

Take out frozen chicken stock from the food barrel, transfer to a stock pot and add one litre water. Drop in a sachet of spices. Bring to a rolling boil over extreme campfire heat and continue to boil for 15 minutes.

Slice beef very thin.

Serve bowls of broth with rice noodles, sliced beef, bean sprouts and Thai basil.

Slicing the Beef

Braised beef, fully cooked and frozen ahead, effectively works protein into night two of a canoe trip. Rump roast, stew beef and short rib can all be reshaped into stew. BBQ sauce glazed boneless short rib acts as esculent partner to rice, beans and pasta. In this case, good-bye baked beans and hello Garam Masala-spiced green lentils. The beef would star in a Khao San Road inspired Khao Soi but tonight it rides along with grilled Veal Knuckers, gluten-free corn pasta, olives, baby carrots and Padano Parmesan.

BBQ Flanken

Beef Short Ribs


3 lbs. beef short rib, cut “flanken” style”
2 shallots, peeled and sliced in half
4 garlic cloves, sliced in half
2 cups dry red wine
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup BBQ sauce


The day before the trip, season flanken butchered short rib with salt and pepper.

Braise for two hours in a 375 degree oven covered in red wine, shallot and garlic.

Remove from the jus, cool, discard the bones, then deep freeze wrapped in foil and double-bagged.

Glaze with BBQ sauce and grill over hot coals, two minutes each on all four sides. Slice and serve.

Courtesy of PlatyPreserve

Boxed wines have been the go to beverage to pair with my uptempo, combative and sanguinary campfire cooking. On my next venture into a Canadian nature preserve I plan to bring better wine. On the reliable and heady advice of AM, hereto referred to as my “wine conscience,” this contraption will house a bottle or two of something more than drinkable. I’m not suggesting a classified growth Bordeaux or Barolo here. I’m thinking dry as the desert Italian reds will find their way inside the preservation system.

Argiano NC Non Confunditur 2009 (72397, $24.95) achieves crunge by amalgamating Cabernet Sauvignon (chocolate and berries), Merlot (basil, lead), Syrah (black as night) and Sangiovese (animale grosso) in a Super-Tuscan, spezzatura package. Could paddle without a care to the world and sip this all day while searching for “that confounded bridge.” He sure is a good friend.  90

Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2009 (977629, $25.95) confounds as a juxtaposition of the exquisite and the atavistic. A prince of raspberry purée, “I think I love you.” Yet oak and osseous variation turn the Mazzei into a Black Beret, a strong-willed and big-boned, alpha male animal.  Walk with the Moose.  88

Good to go!

A canoe tripper’s ode to boxed wine

At the end of a long day paddling and portaging the lakes and rivers of Algonquin Park, nothing satisfies like a good mug of boxed wine. I know what you’re thinking. Beer? Come on, it’s a canoe trip. Into the pristine, wild interior of Ontario’s greatest nature preserve.  If this isn’t a desideratum that calls for thinking outside the glass, what is?

Portage Sign

Flipping Down

Eric Asimov once reported that to a snob, wine housed in a multilayer, aseptic carton was “…the epitome of déclassé, the vinous equivalent of trailer trash.” Then he noted, “the idea of putting wine in a box, or more accurately, in a bag within a box, is brilliant.” The cartons have been criticized for allowing flavour-destroying oxygen to seep in, when in fact the wine can stay fresh for weeks once it has been opened. Perfect for a canoe trip. Hey, that redneck wine also aids in the removal of  “ladybug taint,” an industry-wide, chemical-bad taste caused by alkyd-methoxypyrazines. Yep, soaked up by the packaging and essentially removed from the wine.

Afternoon Paddle

This lament cries out for the golden era of boxed wine. Where not too long ago a proliferation of quality abounded, locally available brands are now prohibitively limited. Where are you Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon? Who took away my Black Box out of Paso Robles? Why did the Aussies run away; yes you, Hardy’s and Banrock Station.

I did manage to locate four decent cartons to taste on the trip. The consensus number one was the Ciao Sangiovese.

Boxed Wines

Three Thieves Bandit Pinot Grigio (622019, 1L, $12.95) is made by California’s Trinchero from regions “not specified.” Pallid complexion, almost achromatic, like cheap Soave. Cheesy, effluence of a Petawawa tributary, Joycian “corpse of milk” aroma but rescued by coquettish, juicy fruit, Courtney Jaye flavour. Makes for a decent aperitif chilled straight out of the food barrel. When it comes to box wine,  “the bottom of the barrel ain’t bad when you make it feel like home.” Eaten alive by the Phở Bò Tái Nạm and the Halibut.  82

Ciao Bianco Pinot Grigio Carton (669200, 1L, $11.95) out of Italy’s Veneto region is the forward-thinking work of Cantine Luigi Sgarzi. Lambent, ochroid and organic, green head-water lake hued. Intensely dry and spartan for the varietal. Snappish yellow plum anointed with tarragon to support corn pasta, black olives, peas and carrots. 84

Pasta with Ciao Sangiovese

Ciao Sangiovese Organic Carton (29090, 1L, $11.95) puts overripe fruit and maximum colour extraction to good use. Moderate heft, renascent Tuscan red fruit of a Chumbawamba, straw flask era. Sincere, sugarplum, anarcho-rocker Sangiovese for straightforward campsite consumption. A friend to red sauce and to Padano Parmesan.  Ciao Bella 86

French Rabbit Cabernet Sauvignon Carton (621680, $12.95) is contentious and inchoate of composition like oil poured over troubled water. That said, it’s an easy quaff. Fructifying enough to consume with nary an ill effect. Tiny molecules of mint, mineral and wild blueberry. The least interesting of the four but sneaks in under the wire for back country needs.  81

Moose Skull on Little Trout Lake

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Your weekend wines

ilumus photography,

Read this at

Another stellar weekend is heading this way. My goal each week is to provide the wine equivalent of an operatic recasting, a retooling, a restocking, whether it be for deck, yard or on the water. A few good reds are here for BBQ compliment but let’s face it. This is the summer of whites baby!

Related: Recent release notes

The grape: Vermentino

The history: From grapes grown in Gallura on the northern coast, the producer Sella & Mosca is to Sardinia as Antinori is to Tuscany

The lowdown: Versatile and food-friendly,Vermentino combines dry, salty sea air with rocks, minerals and acidity. Gotta love southern Italian whites

The food match: Seared Sea Scallops with lime zest, lemon juice and orange segments

Sella & Mosca Monteoro Vermentino Di Gallura Superiore 2011 (203422, $15.95) is fresh as a crustacean pulled from salty, Mediterranean waters. Vermentino of Sardinia is to white as Tavel of Provence is to Rose. Scented by sweet citrus, marzipan, Gin and Tonic.  88

The grape: Riesling

The history: Originates in Germany’s Rhine and thanks to the Duke of Lorraine, came to Alsace in 1477

The lowdown: Recent thought has pegged Alsatian Rieslings as “sweetened up” but as a rule I find the entry-level ones to be some of the the driest. They certainly lack the petrolic character akin to their German brethren

The food match: Pan-fried Whitefish with citrus beurre blanc and toasted almonds

Domaine Ehrhart-Pfohl Riesling 2010 (282186, $13.95) summons chalky virility from the Saxon stone mason’s hands and yet stages tropical sweatshop scents of guava, apricot and quince. The confusion is quieted by a near, neo-cabbalistic call to baking Mittelwihr, mandelbroit order. Wants to be Viognier but knows its place. Underappreciated if a bit rakish Alsatian.  87

The grape: Friulano

The history: From Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeast Italy. The project of restauranteur Joe Bastianich and Mother Lidia, the Food Network cooking star

The lowdown: A varietal of unctuous, orchard fruit behaviour, saline like southern whites but of fuller mind and body

The Food Match: Frico Morbido, grated cheese and swiss chard fritters

Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010 (277467, $18.95) brings Friuli by the Adriatic to the world. Like Lidia and son Joe, a pastiche and piece of work. Peach, pear and apricot marmellata. Tiger Lilly length, stalky and saftig 88

The grape: Tempranillo

The history: The great and totemic wine of Spain, most famous for Rioja and Ribera del Duero

The lowdown: A small case production (1,200 bottles) by a tidy northern Spanish producer. First tasting was from an oxidized bottle. This second specimen shone

The food match: Jamon, Chorizo and Manchego

Fernández De Piérola Reserva 2004 (270579, $25.95) lenses purity of Tempranillo colour, looking through a glass lightly. Svelte to knock back with cold-pressed and dressed virgin tapas. Early evening blossom fragrance meets beet, mushroom and cinnamon. Woodsmoke mingling with sugar near-caramelized in the black kettle.  88


Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling (241182, $35.20) from the unique terroir of the Vinemount Ridge of Niagara is an outrageous and gregarious flirt.  Strewn notes of citrus, nuts, apples and magnesium. All out there right now. Like lemon in a wound. Go big or go home. Drink up.  89

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 (184291, $34.95) seems anti-Beamsville because of a gooseberry-marmalade character.  Rather unlike any of the other CC SV’s. Sun-swelled apricot and pineapple, candied, baked.  87

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (173377, $24.00) while sourced from down on the peninsula’s floor maintains the throaty Louis fruit this Niagara producer has developed a reputation for. Gravelly, deep and soft, like a pelt carpet. The strong-armed apple of your eye. “So I said to myself,” what a wonderful Chardonnay.  88


Wynns Coonawarra Estate Riesling 2010 (528216, $17.95) is a first love, a same time next year type of wine. “Thelonious my old friend” built from tree fruit and their blossoms. Cruising, cool, misty acidity to welcome a midnight, seafood supper.  88

New Zealand

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2008 (640383, $34.95) extends the North Island vineyard’s reputation as top niche producer. Smell and taste replay of match lit, smouldering herb. Tuff gong with terrific persistence. High toned, polished and on the Zion Train.  89


Tramin Pinot Grigio 2011 (627059, $15.95) venerable and virtuous gives Alto Adige PG its due. Walks tenuously and carries a stainless steel stick. Bang on entry into the niche, inoffensive and whitefish driven of a simple preparation.   86

Attems Pinot Grigio 2011 (707950, $19.95) does the Friuli with less floral Viognier/Muscatel, more vibrant citrus and Amaretto than the Tramin. Costs more too.  87


Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010 (215210, $59.95) I’m hoping will not find me “in my ragged company” because I’d love to “kill off the hours” with this impeccably groomed and pretty white.  With steamed lobsters at a table among the wildflowers. Just don’t bring me dead ones.  90

Mazzocco Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2009 (287193, $24.95) shows no shortage or ripe, red licorice and fortified, port fruit. Smells like a fruit basket in the sun. Brief acquiescence and then a recrudence of brambles and berries. Sassy and jazzy. CVR**, DCV Zin.  89

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-value ratio

CVR**– Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-value ratio

Good to go!

A wine tour de France


The Tour de France is a 22-day, grueling test of endurance. Tasting through 22 French wines may not be the sporting equivalent, but someone’s got to do it. The Tour travels and circumnavigates a path through many of France’s storied wine regions; Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Rhône and Languedoc. The wine tour goes deeper, making stops in lesser known regions like Savoie and Jura. Here are 11 notes with 11 days to go.

Related – more wine recommendations

French wines to look for now


Pfaffenheim Cuvée Bacchus Gewurztraminer 2010 (VINTAGES 996017, $19.95. SAQ 197228, $19.70) looks to wine a stage with its progressive and ambulatory nature like the “Cannibal,” Eddy Merckx. At once steely but also possessed of a creamy, recriminatory lycheeness. A Gewurztraminer island in a sea of mediocrity, less bitter, less off-dry. A comeuppance of residual sweetness and forward thinking expression.  88


Henriot Souverain Brut Champagne (959643, $56.95) operates as opulent, bombastic bubbles. Conspiratorial instigator, non-traditionalist and anti-establishment. Cassius to Caesar and to Frazier. Agitated rope-a-doper laden with tropical citrus and guava to belie yeast, smoked nuts, clay and toast. The mousse is persistent if relegated to the ring’s perimeter and the cheap seats of the Colosseum.  Tasted twice.  89


Louis Picamelot Brut Cremant De Bourgogne (161919, $17.95) is continental breakfast at the round table where dry toast cuts a linear radius through pious citrus, namely lemon and grapefruit. A strong-armed, knightly representative for the anthology of the Burgundian bubbles culture. A polarizing character, the lance of the lot 87

Pascal Marchand Meursault 2010 (285866, $57.95) would make for an intriguing tête-à-tête comparison to the Tawse Quarry Road from Moray’s other guy, peer Paul Pender. Marchand’s Chardonnay is multi-layered, zesty and intense. Pear and hazelnut stand out but so too does oatmeal, in an elemental, periodic way. Which leads ne’er the cheerleader MV to comment, “egg salad sandwich.”  White Burgundy with regard to the atom.  90

Domaine Gille Côtes De Nuits-Villages 2009 (210864, $28.95) is cheap talk and wine, for Burgundy that is. Clean, pure Pinot fruit, black raspberry scent. On the border of simple, elegant, well-priced Villages. Will give you the best of its love.  88


E. Guigal Gigondas 2009 (331900, $29.95) fully elicits hedonism from southern France with rakish Guigal typicity. Blueberries baked in an Ortolan pie with essence of Molasses. Bold, brass Bassline of tannic tenderness.   89


Jean Bourdy Cotes De Jura White 2007 (286427, $24.95) is most unusual Chardonnay. “Nothing in the world smells like this son.” Tis kind to call it an “oxidative” style but truth be in the pudding. Yerba tea, malt and peat each have their moment. Scottish as if Kilgore retired to the Hebridic isle.  86


Domaine Edmond Jacquin Altesse Rousette Savoie 2010 (277335, $17.95) is a Big Mig, a jazzy, rarely seen release that trills citrus and spice in a breezy, casual way. Altesse, also called Roussette, seems to me a superior, physiological varietal. Federer workmanlike approach, a rider like Indurain, wins fans for athletic greatness and for acting effortlessly like itself.  88

Jean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Prestige Mondeuse Vin De Savoie 2010 (272112, $14.95) visually reminds me of Portugal’s Bastardo grape and by a nose. There is sour cherry, cranberry and refreshing citrus vitality as if Viognier were supporting Syrah. Perhaps like Pliny’s “vine of least repute” but there is an acme of elegance.  87


Château Haut-Vigneau 2009 (29678, $25.95) opens the door to the ’09 Bordeaux party with a Tao, raison d’être and talisman’s affordable summoning via the Left Bank’s Pessac-Léognan. Candied coffee, black cherry and tobacco, radish red. Solid PL and worth storing three away for now and to the decade’s end.  89


Château Du Donjon Grande Tradition Minervois 2009 (275578, $12.95) speaks directly of its mineral, Minervois roots. Brillat-Savarin might say this about the Donjon. “Tell me what you drink and I’ll tell you who you are.” The Châteauneuf-du-Pape aspiration of Kirsch with Daube is only deterred in the slightest by an aspersion of cherries steeped in quinine, but of a good kind. A “badger” of a red, fighting like Bernard Hinault and his two black eyes.  87

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-value ratio

CVR* – Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-value ratio

Good to go!