I love finding little restaurants off the beaten track that offer honest and well prepared dishes, use seasonal stuff and have enthusiastic and professional staff in both front and back of the house. Mr. Flamingo, located in Little Portugal, a neighbourhood and ethnic enclave in Toronto’s west end, is one such place. (Click images to enlarge.)
In this restaurant a decade or so ago, locals would frequent to tell stories, drink a Metaxa brandy or two, maybe sip heady espressos and chew the bones of a plate of Piri Piri chicken. Ten years later, it is a modest little eatery serving boldly flavoured foods in a trendy and voguish, but casual, atmosphere. The 30-something seat room has a stark look to it at first, but it is thoughtfully and nicely furbished.
Tables are lined against the view of Dundas St. West and tattooed hipsters sit opposite at the bar, sipping cocktails while facing a painted brick wall upon which hangs an illuminated sign claiming “We Serve The World’s Worst Barbecued Ribs.”
A little over a year ago, I happened upon a Crozes-Hermitage at a trade tasting given by our friends at A.H.D. Vintners that really grabbed my attention, so much so, that I bought a few bottles and brought them home to investigate further. After spending some time with them, I posted the following notes in April of 2014. (Click images to enlarge.)
2012 Domaine des Hauts Chassis Crozes-Hermitage Esquisse, 13% alc., $23.99: Deep, dark garnet color, and all garrigue, all the time, setting the tone over a solid core of rich, fairly ripe black plum and berry fruit. Full bodied, with good structure and length, this will age well for at least five years or more, but it’s drinking really well already. This pushes the envelope for ripeness, but falls short of going over the top, which is probably why it showed so well at the trade tasting where I discovered it for the first time. (Editor’s note: Based on the most recent taste of this wine, I’d have a hard time using the term “black fruit” again, but I’ll explain that shortly.)
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when we got to try not only this wine again, but a sister bottling as well, and we were just so impressed with them both. We tasted them side-by-side, starting with the Esquisse.
Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan’s new Vintages Release Notes were just posted yesterday, and there quite a few fine selections to choose from it, but there was a wine in his previous LCBO report that really caught my attention, and I’ll tell you why. For the past few months, I’d been eying two rosés from the Côtes de Provence resting snuggly in a bin at our friendly neighborhood Costco, and I knew that, sooner or later, temptation was bound to get the better of me. Then, a few weeks ago, I read Alan’s very favorable review of the 2014 Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé, and that’s all it took. (Click image to enlarge.)
I bought a bottle of each and we opened them both one night last week to compare, and our impressions were very favorable. I’m especially pleased to add our thumbs up to C.Z.’s regarding the Whispering Angel. It’s always good to know that our notes jibe once again, as they so often do.
G’day mates, a few Aussie wines are to be rocked up on the shelves of your local bottle-O store this coming weekend. Stylistically, Australian wines have changed over the past few years, much to this cobber’s liking. Many of these wines are totally bonza and some even got the old fella excited! Perfect to sip on a sunny arvo with some tucker on the Barbie, and you’ll have a ripper of a time. (Click images to enlarge.)
943399 D’ARENBERG THE COPPERMINE ROAD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 McLaren Vale, South Australia mL $49.95
Power packed, aromas of eucalyptus, mint, Ribena, black sweet cherry, mineral and smoke. Rich and chewy palate, with gorgeous layers of red and dark fruit, some spiciness, ground black pepper and ripe dusty tannins that stick to your teeth like candy. A very good price too as it is considerably more expensive elsewhere. Find this wine
048785 D’ARENBERG THE LOVE GRASS SHIRAZ 2011 McLaren Vale, South Australia $25.95
Some funk, muddy wet soil and mineral, but a solid background of dark fruit and blackberry lurks beneath. A touch of coffee grounds, very tasty black raspberry and blackberry flavours, with good acidity and a sprinkle of dark chocolate on the finish. Find this wine
408328 DE BORTOLI GULF STATION SHIRAZ/VIOGNIER 2010 Yarra Valley, Victoria$19.95
Earthy, floral and mineral aromas give way to prune, tar, cigar box and forest floor; lots of juicy cherry and plum flavours, chewy tannins and good length. Find this wine
One of the perks of being in the wine biz is getting to go to really fine restaurants and wine bars for wine luncheons, dinners, tastings and the like. That’s how I was introduced to Bacco Ristorante a little more than ten years ago. I was fortunate enough to attend two events in quick succession back in the winter of ’05, and that’s when I learned to love Chef/Proprietor Luciano Delsignore’s cuisine. (Click images to enlarge.)
I took Kim for dinner there as soon after as I could, and she loved it every bit as much as I did, and it has remained on a very short list of our favorite dining establishments in the metro Day-twah area. Recently, she noticed that Bacco was celebrating its 13th anniversary in business for 11 days in May with a special $13 menu of favorite dishes from over the years, so we made arrangements to hook up with our friends Anne and Brian Klumpp to boogie on out and take advantage of the great prices for such delicious food. The plan was to meet at Chez Klumpp this Tuesday past and continue on from there.
Before departing for dinner, Anne delighted us with some wonderful Champagne from her cellar. Have I mentioned that I’m a bubble head?
At least a few folks have told me that they’ve noticed a big uptick in my activities here lately on the Gang of Pour blog, and they would be quite correct. Since late last year and on into 2015, I’ve been exploring wine with gusto again, sharing my findings here and having a fine time with it all. My infrequent postings over the previous few years had a lot to do with refocusing on my music after a long hiatus, but I think I’ve figured out how to balance both of these passions, and I really like how things have played out. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Because of all this, I’ve been actively seeking out new wines to try, and have been delighted by a number of surprises. My favorite of those in the red spectrum is undoubtedly Mathieu Lapierre’s Raisins Gaulois, of which I might still be totally unaware, had my buddy Jarred Gild at Ferndale’s Western Market not put in in my face (and then in my hand) and told me the back story. (Yes, I’ve been mentioning Jarred a lot lately, and that’s because he’s really good at what he does, and he doesn’t try to saddle anyone with the same old shit from the usual subjects. Even wine guys like me need a good wine guy occasionally.)
This one is composed almost entirely of relatively young vine cru Morgon Gamay fruit (around 20 years of age, whereas Lapierre’s Morgon appellation vines are 60 years or older), augmented with some A.O.C. Beaujolais, all farmed organically. The Beaujolais’ governing body decided to do away with the Vin de Pays designation, leaving only the appellations or Vin de France, so there’s no in-between.
So here’s the deal. I’ve decided that I haven’t been drinking nearly enough Riesling lately.
Riesling is considered one of the “noble” grape varieties of the world, and I used to drink my fair share (and some of yours too) back in the late ‘70s. Over the years, however, I gradually consumed less and less of the stuff, and for no good reason that I can figure out. True, I seem to like it better than Kim, and every once in a while, we’d try something that really struck a chord with us, like a tasty little number from Tawse, or that lovely, bone dry 2004 Wyncroft Madron Lake out of a magnum. By and large, however, we haven’t spoken much Riesling around Gang Central for a long time. (Click image to enlarge.)
A good part of the reason I’ve decided to explore more Riesling is due to the fact that Michigan is doing such a great job of growing and making very fine wines from it, a point brought home to me yet again while touring six Leelanau Peninsula producers the weekend before last. Another good reason is a bottle that I bought and opened the night before said tour.
Whenever we travel up to Traverse City, our first stop is always Left Foot Charley. Every time. We’ve followed Bryan Ulbrich’s urban winery from the very beginning, and I’ve stated on several occasions that his Island View Pinot Blanc is consistently one of my two favorite Michigan still wines. So, as I was driving up two weeks ago, I decided, pretty much out of the blue, that it was time to taste what was happening with Bryan’s Riesling again. When I arrived at the facility, I exchanged pleasantries with him and Meridith Lauzon, LFC Operations Manager, then went to check out the selection
I picked up two of the 2012 Seventh Hill Farm Rieslings and a 2013 The Missing Spire Riesling, and after the Friday night festivities in Leland, I opened one of the Seventh Hills in my room. When I tried the 2006 version of this wine back in 2007, Ulbrich told me that his intent was to fashion “a glass doll” with this wine, but one that won’t break, and it was lovely, almost delicate. Fast forward to the present day, and six vintages later, I doubt that anyone will refer to this one as “a glass doll.” It is something else altogether, and as I headed back to Day-twah on Sunday, I stopped back in and bought two more bottles. Here’s why.
I just love hanging out in the little town of Leland, in Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. Straddling the 45th parallel and nestled between Lake Michigan and North Lake Leelanau, Leland is a picturesque community built on the site of the oldest and largest Ottawa village on the peninsula. I’ve had the good fortune and great pleasure to spend a few days there on two different occasions, the first during a musical road trip I took a few years ago. The second was the weekend of April 24-25, to participate in the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association’s Media Weekend, one of my favorite annual events. Add to that the fact that I had the opportunity to stop in for a plate of fresh smelt two nights in a row at The Bluebird Restaurant & Tavern, and it was all good. (Click images to enlarge.)
Our first encounter with the LPVA was in 2009, when Kim and I joined Master Sommelier Claudia Tyagi for a whirlwind three-day tour of Leelanau wineries, organized and sponsored by the association, that culminated with a brainstorming session with member wineries on sharing ideas on how they could use social media to spread the word about their burgeoning industry. Kim and I came back from that delicious experience with a far greater feel for what is happening in the Leelanau wine culture, and we like what we see and taste a lot. We’ve been attending the Media Weekend since 2012, and we relish the opportunity to get up close with growers and winemakers to taste and hear what they have to say about their wines.
The release for May 2nd has three features. One can choose to peruse through some wines from New Zealand, a small allotment yes, but there are some tasty Sauv Blancs. Fans of Germanic wines can sample some of Germany’s next generation’s style of wine. Or, to make us really believe that summer is just around the corner, there are several Rosé wines to chill down and assist with some long awaited patio sipping. (Click images to enlarge.)
095679 SAINT CLAIR PIONEER BLOCK 2 SWAMP BLOCK SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013 Dillons Point, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $24.95
Far from the typical in your face Sauvignon Blanc here. This has aromas of earth, apple orchard, tangerine, tomato leaf and citrus. The palate is rich with concentrated tropical fruit, kiwi, Meyer lemons, papaya and baked apple. I really like this style of sauvignon Blanc. Find this wine
063941 MAHI SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013 Marlborough, South Island $19.95
Very brazen, showing grassy, gooseberry, thyme and cumquat aromas; palate offers great acidity, lots of candied citrus notes and a herbaceous character that runs well into the finish. Find this wine
411603 TE WHARE RA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2014 Marlborough, South Island $24.95
Stony mineral, candied lime and gooseberry, quite grassy. Fresh squeezed grapefruit is the featured flavour on the palate, acidity is crisp, with hints of melon and papaya on the finish. Find this wine
408625 OPAWA PINOT GRIS 2014 Marlborough, South Island$16.95
Floral, stone fruit, toffee and apple candy aromas; nicely set palate, well balanced with apple and nectarine flavours, a rich chewy texture and caramel note on the finish. Find this wine
It’s not every day that Randall Grahm comes to Day-twah, so when it was announced a little over a week ago that the Bonny Doon Vineyard wine maestro was headed our way for a meet and greet at Cloverleaf Fine Wine and Craft Beer in Royal Oak this past Tuesday, Kim and I immediately adjusted our schedules accordingly. I discovered firsthand what a cool dude Randall is when I interviewed him back in 2005, so that was reason enough to attend this event. Add to that the fact that we’ve been enjoying his wines since well before that, and saying so time and again in numerous Gang of Pour reports, this was simply not something we were going to miss.
Randall’s appearance was sponsored by his Michigan distributor, Little Guy Wine Company, and ampelography, a fine wine sales and marketing company based in Toledo, Ohio. Both focus on artisan producers, and avoid corporate industrial wine manufacturers like that plague that they are. As for Cloverleaf, we’ve been customers for close to 20 years, so this was “old home” night for us. We were the first to arrive, following close on the heels of Randall and Adam Mahler, who IS ampelography (it’s a one-man outfit). On hand to facilitate to the festivities were Cloverleaf’s Tom Natoci, Little Guy Wine rep Ryan White and the ever delightful Rebecca Poling, of Great Lakes Wine and Spirits.