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Chilling and Grilling in Canada

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 17, 2009 11:50am ET

I was on vacation this past week, visiting my family in Ontario, and thus subject to the provincial monopoly for purchasing wine.

At least there was a Liquor Control Board of Ontario with a Vintages section about 25 miles from my parent’s house. Vintages carries more limited items, often one-time releases, as opposed to the general listings section, which offers larger-volume labels and brands that can be restocked easily.

So it’s always a challenge to pick up a few bottles to enjoy with some grilled steak, chicken or burgers.

Not surprisingly, I found a few Malbecs from Argentina that were reasonably priced. During the week we enjoyed several bottle of Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Mendoza 2008, a good deal for CDN$14, especially when you consider there was a 15 percent discount on the exchange.

The Malbec was bright and fruity, with loads of blackberry flavor, if not a lot of depth and richness. Delicious, however, with the pork ribs my brother finished on the grill lightly brushed with a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce.

A few days later, we paired a vibrant, black currant-tinged Viña Montes Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley Alpha Apalta Vineyard 2007 (CDN$22) and a rich, spicy, black cherry-flavored Greg Norman California Estates Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast 2005 (CDN$25) with perfectly grilled bone-in rib steaks.

The Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Réserve 2007 (CDN$15) delivered a blast of ripe blackberry, wild herbs and black pepper that stood up to spicy grilled chicken legs.

With grilled scallops wrapped in bacon as an appetizer, followed by lobster, I picked up two bottles of Merryvale Chardonnay Napa Valley Starmont 2006 (CDN$29). The first bottle was corked (which the LCBO replaced), but the second provided rich, buttery peach and fig notes and just the right amount of oak to match the seafood.

Last Friday, my brother grilled some tasty New York strip streaks from his Italian butcher that outshone the Pascual Toso Malbec Mendoza 2008 (CDN$13), which showed meaty blackberry flavors but finished with gritty tannins.

All things considered since one is only allowed to bring 1.14 liters into Canada duty-free, we didn’t go thirsty. But I think I’ll enjoy a good red Burgundy this weekend.

David Lobe
Toronto, —  July 17, 2009 1:21pm ET
I feel your pain Bruce.....try living up here year round :(Where did you grow up?
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  July 17, 2009 2:52pm ET
David,I grew up in Hamilton, then lived in Toronto throughout most of the 1980s. I can remember rising at 6:00 am on a snow-filled February morning and lining up outside the all-brands store on Lakeshore to buy one bottle of Chateau Margaux 1979. That was the limit.
Malcolm Rose
Ottawa —  July 18, 2009 8:22am ET
Bruce, it was a shame that you didn't try some of the locally produced Niagara wines from Ontario. There are some lovely reds produced by some fine wineries that would have paired nicely with your meals and available at Vintages or on the general list. When in Rome....
Kevin And Val Molloy
July 18, 2009 7:50pm ET
How about writing about Canadian wines when you visit Canada. British Columbia wines are superior to anything you mention in your article.Try anything from Popular Grove, Borrowing Owl or Black Hills especially each of their Bordeaux blends.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  July 18, 2009 9:12pm ET
Malcolm, I did have a few "home grown" wines. My brother had purchased a few bottles. One evening, we had the Angels Gate Merlot 2006 and Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery Merlot 2007, both VQA. Nice fruit on the Pen Ridge. The Angels Gate was richer, but more herbal. I also looked at some Niagara wines at Vintages, but opted for the value Malbecs and CdR.
Don Mooney
Langley, B.C. —  July 19, 2009 3:57am ET
Hey Bruce,Further to the previous note on BC wines, you really have to come out this way and do the Okanagan wine tour. Burrowing Owl, Quails' Gate, and Mission Hill (with Michel Rolland as consultant) are a few of my favourite wineries to go to and purchase from. The past 10 years has seen a HUGE increase in quality in our wines here in BC and we are very proud of our local vintners. They are challenging the rest of the wine world and certainly garning their fair share of plaudits internationally. Quails' Gate Family Reserve Chardonnay won Chardonnay du Monde in France a few years back and just recently Jackson Triggs won best "World's Best Shiraz". Quite the accomplishment for an area that was not supposed to be able to produce red wines worthy of drinking! I would love to arrange a tour for you the next time you are touring the west coast of Canada.
Mark Hicken
Vancouver, BC —  July 19, 2009 1:59pm ET
Bruce, There has been a huge increase in quality in both BC and Ontario wines (although like most wine producing regions, there are still poor ones). As you mention, Canada is mostly still subject to archaic government control systems which are a remnant of prohibition. Occasionally, as you discovered, there are bargains. Mostly, there are not. In BC, we also have bizarre liquor board imposed pricing and tax policies which mean you can pay as little as 15% tax or as much as 150% depending upon what product you buy and where you buy it from. If you are interested, please check out my web site at www.winelaw.ca.
Martin Cote
Orlando —  July 20, 2009 1:46pm ET
I would love to see the reaction from any other wine producing country or region should an article be written about it and not a single one of its wines be featured. It shows, in my opinion, very poor judgment on the part of a magazine such as the Wine Spectator.
Stephen Thomas
Carlisle, ON —  July 20, 2009 9:27pm ET
I don't think Bruce is commenting on Canadian wines; I think he's giving a pretty scathing indictment of the LCBO, frankly. I think it is completely fair to point out that if anyone goes into their local LCBO and looks for a reasonably priced red wine to pair with the grill, the best options at just about any price point are NOT going to be Canadian. There are some very good wines being made in Canada, but they just aren't available enough (in general) at the LCBO.
Chris Haag
vancouver, bc —  July 23, 2009 3:15pm ET
I think Stephen's comments are appropriate for the article. The govt monopolies on liquor in Ontario ane BC are brutal. As to the rest of the comments on the quality of Canadian wine. While I agree that BC is making some very good Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and other white varietals. The red wines, in general, do not hold up to other wine growing regions. There are exceptions to this rule but the wines tend to sell out very quickly and are not inexpensive. My two favourite BC producers are Blue Mountain and Joie Farms, for what it is worth.
Bruce Sanderson
July 23, 2009 3:37pm ET
Stephen, Your comment is spot on. I like to visit wineries if I have time, but it was vacation and in this instance, many family commitments kept me occupied. Thanks to you, Chris, Don, Kevin and Val for recommended producers.
Robert Hammersley
Calgary, AB —  July 24, 2009 3:57pm ET
As difficult as it is for us to imagine that someone on vacation might not want to visit wineries, cut Bruce some slack...tasting wine is his day job! Regarding the comments on the Canadian wine industry, I also believe that it's somewhat underrated in the wine world, but I see this as an advantage. There are many high quality, cellar worthy wines being made in Canada, but these wines are usually hard to come by, and yes, relatively expensive when measured against comparable wines from other regions. There aren't many top tier wineries in either the Okanagan or Niagara that have difficulting selling thier production, so while it would be nice to have validation from the broader wine media, this would only make the better wines more expensive and more difficult to obtain. By the way, almost 1/4 of my cellar is devoted to Canadian wines, and my personal favourite is Twisted Tree's pinot noir from Osoyoos.
Martin Cote
Orlando —  July 24, 2009 8:21pm ET
I respect everyone's opinion and I certainly would never say that Bruce should visit wineries when he's in Canada, nor that he should even drink Canadian wines when visiting family in Ontario. My point still stands that for him to write an article about grilling in Canada, going to wine stores in Canada and then writing tasting notes on Argentinean, Chilean, French and American wines shows poor judgment, if not only a lack of respect for the Ontario wine industry, in my opinion. I still can't help but think of his next vacation to Napa Valley for example where he would write about Spanish, French, Chilean and Argentinean wines.And yes Robert, poor Bruce, tasting wine is his day job but if he's writing tasting notes in here, whether he's on vacation or not, isn't that still part of his job? I do agree 100% with your point that for us who enjoy Canadian wines, it may be best if Canadian wines are kept under the radar, for the reasons you listed. And for that I would like to thank the Wine Spectator!
R Eric Feige
Toronto, Ontario —  July 25, 2009 10:24am ET
Let's not be too hard on the LCBO. Facing the reality of the Ontario market, the LCBO does not, in my view, do too bad a job at their Vintages locations in bringing us some great selections at prices that are not insane. Their stores are very nicely done, their product consultants knowledgeable, and the special tasting programs and events that they sponsor are rather exceptional for a retailer to undertake. While the LCBO does enjoy a monopoly, and from stories I have heard may be one of the largest single buyers of beverage alcohol in the world, as a consumer I have never felt any abuse of this monopoly. I look forward to my weekly visit to find out what is new, and find myself pleased that Vintages regularly brings in new products from new sources. Now if only they would bring in some Mollydooker ......
Nik Rasula
Calgary, Alberta —  July 28, 2009 7:14pm ET
If you're looking for Mollydooker, buy it in Calgary. The Kensington Wine Store and Metrovino probably have it in-stock right now.And yes, we should be hard on the LCBO. They're miles behind us in Alberta. I can and will, just shake my head when I go back to visit Ontario and have to make the requisite LCBO visit.

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