Beautiful Barolo under $60

On spec, I bought a Barolo at the LCBO for $57 that delivers tremendous potable pleasure for the money.  Cannubi Riserva 2008 Barolo, from the region’s finest vineyard, is produced by a pair of brothers from the well-known Borgogno family, Serio and Battista.  (It’s imported by  The wine is a medium deep dark garnet-ruby with lovely elegant berry fruit, faded rose petal and dusty aromas.  The tannins are grippy but fine and ripe, and all the elements dance on your palate in fine balance for a long time.

Okay, it’s not a cheap bottle, but it beats other “special occasion” wines.  It’s ready to drink now and should improve for another ten years (at least.)

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Stem chewers

My friend and wine-writing colleague Chuck Byers thought earwigs might be gnawing their way through vine-leaf stems in my little vineyard.  Whatever pest was actually responsible for the carnage, it hasn’t come back.  Just to be certain, I’ve sprinkled the plot with diatomaceous earth (silicon dioxide), which crawling critters don’t like to walk through.

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Vine pests strike again

Attention viticulturists: Something is eating through the leaf stems on my vine. Anyone know what’s doing it and how I can combat it?

Irvin Wolkoff's photo.
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Think Pink for a Great Summer Drink

Sales of rosé wines have taken off like a rocket in recent years, and deservedly so.  Today’s rosés bear little or no resemblance to the sweet candyish still or sparkling pink wines we loved at university (and hated the morning after.)  Current versions are dry, refreshing and tasty.  Some are surprisingly complex, while others are easy drinkers perfect for quenching thirst on a hot summer day.  You can enjoy these wines on their own or with any food you can name from smoked fish and charcuterie to roast meats.  If that isn’t enough, rosé is wonderfully inexpensive.

Rosé wine is made from red grapes whose black skins are allowed only brief contact with their colourless juice, staining it rather than turning it red.  In Provence, Mourvèdre is the rosé varietal of choice.  In the southern Rhone and the Languedoc it’s a blend from Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah.  In Anjou, Cabernet is the base for rosé wines.  In Spain, Grenache and Tempranillo get the nod.  In the New World, many black grapes end up as pink wine.  The half-tinted juice obtained from black grapes is fermented like white juice for white grapes.  Sparkling rosé adds CO2 to a still pink wine.  (In the production of rosé Champagne, adding still red wine to the sparkling white is standard practice.)

Members of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada gathered recently to taste over eighty widely available rosé wines.  My favourites were from Provence, the southern Rhône Valley, and the Languedoc where torrid summer weather has driven the evolution of fresh pink wines that pay homage to the celebrated reds of southern France and partner similarly with food.  Spain produces fine rosé for the same climatic reason.

The rosés I tasted from New World regions were variable with unwelcome hard red candy and kiddie cosmetic characters.  Tread carefully.

Here are my notes on my favourites from the tasting:

Southern France:

Chapoutier Beaurevoir Tavel 2013 (<$20, score 90+) marries mildly pungent mineral and rich ripe red berry aromas and flavours.  It’s fresh to crisp with grippy velvet tannins through a long dry finish.

Guigal Côtes du Rhone Rosé 2014 ($18.95, score 90+) has typical elegant stones and cherry berry fruit with fresh acidity and a long refreshing finish.

La Vieille Ferme Rosé 2014 ($10.95, score 90+) flaunts a red berry and subtle mineral nose with a very interesting floral acacia blossom note.  It’s crisp and ripely fruity with a long, fresh tasty finish.

Ogier Ventoux Rosé 2013 (<15, score 90+) has pungent minerals dancing elegantly with red fruit.  It’s enticing on the nose and mouth-watering on the palate with fresh acidity and gentle velvet-grippy tannins on the palate with fruit and a refreshing bitter note on the finish.

Vignobles Lorgeril L’Orangerie Rosé 2014 ($9.95, Score 89+) serves up intense angular minerality and red berry fruit wrapped in fresh acidity and fine grippy tannins.


Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosé 2014 ($13.95, score 90) is built around strawberry and mineral notes.  It’s got good intensity and balance with crisp acidity, fabulous fruit and good persistence

Torres Sangre de Toro Rosé 2014 ($13.95, score 90) has deep red berry and watermelon fruit.  It’s slightly grippy on the palate with fresh elegant fruit and fine length.

Campo Viejo Tempranillo Rosé 2014 (<$15, score 89+) flaunts barnyard and decadent cherry berry aromas.  It’s fresh with a creamy mouthfeel through a pleasantly fruity finish.

.Rose tasting 2015

Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada Vice-President Carolyn Evans Hammond ponders one of over eighty bottles of pink wine at a recent WWCC tasting in Toronto.

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Hiro Sushi: A Fabulous Restaurant Adds a Knife Store and Sake Lounge

Hiro Yoshida has been creating and serving exquisite sushi and other Japanese culinary delights in Toronto for decades. His specialty is “omakase,” a traditional form of service in which the host assumes full responsibility for the guest’s menu. His fish is of the highest quality. When possible he uses local seasonal ingredients. He creates his dishes on the fly, so there’s never any possibility of boredom. The kitchen dishes, prepared by the indomitable Rei, are poetic.

If exceptional food isn’t enough, Hiro gives his guests a warm Japanese cultural embrace. He creates an atmosphere of respect and friendship, and encourages guests to get to know each other. He plays his beloved jazz and swing music to add to the mood. (Nina Simone is his favourite.) His servers, mostly foreign exchange students with temporary work permits, are uniformly intelligent and helpful. All in, you’ve got to love this place.

Hiro recently opened his renovated establishment, formally called Hiro Sushi Restaurant, Catering and Knife Store (171 King Street East, The knife store, with a range of impressive Japanese steel knives in all shapes and sizes, doubles as a sake lounge after 6:00 pm. The opening was an excuse for a great party. Best of all, it gave Hiro’s friends to show him the respect and affection he’s earned looking after us well for many years.

Hiro and knives
Hiro is justifiably proud of his new “Kotobuki”  knife store and sake lounge.

Hiro sake bar sign

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Sake: Japan’s National Drink Deserves Better Press

Sake could be the best unknown fermented beverage in the world.  It’s Japan’s favourite drink and has been for a very long time, but its relative obscurity means that prices in Canada are comfortably low.

Sake is not a type of wine, spirit or liqueur; it’s a rice beer without the CO2 bubbles we expect in conventional beer and cider.   In the glass it performs pretty much the way dry white grape wine does.  It can be consumed on its own as an aperitif or partnered with a wide range of foods.   The best examples should be drunk cold.  More modest bottlings taste gentler and more complex when heated to about 30o C.

Sake starts off as rice.  The grain is milled, steamed, blended with yeast and kojo (aspergillum mould) and fermented for 30 to 90 days with added lactic acid to deter infection.   There are many rice varietals available to sake producers, each with its own fermentation behaviour and flavour profile leading to a distinct style.

Water is a crucial ingredient in sake.  The source of the H2O used deeply shapes the final product.  Water variables include whether it originated in snow melt or springs and how much time it spent percolating through what kinds of stone.  Dissolved potassium, magnesium and phosphoric acid serve as nutrients for yeast during fermentation.  Hard water is known for producing drier sake.  Soft water typically yields a sweeter brew.

The kojo (aspergillum) added to the rice breaks the grain’s starch into its component sugars.  The action of the amylases it generates does the job.  The sugars are then fermented into ethanol by wild and cultivated yeasts selected for particular aromas and flavours.

The quality level of a given sake is determined by the degree to which its rice has been milled.  This polishing removes the bran and some of the endosperm of the rice grain, leaving behind the desirable shimpoku (starch heart).  Futsu or table sake has no milling constraints.  It’s often made from table rice and bulked up with distilled spirit.  This category benefits from heating.  Honjozo sake is made of rice polished down to 70% or less of its original size with a small amount of added spirit.  It tends to be fragrant and lightish.  Junmai or “pure rice” sake, full-bodied with pronounced acidity, contains no added alcohol.  The grains are usually milled to 70%.  Gingo sake uses rice milled down to 60% and is fermented at cool temperatures.  It’s elegant, refined aromatic stuff.  Daiginjo is sake’s grand cru category.  Made from rice milled down to less than half of its original size, it’s light and intensely fruity and fragrant.

The character of an individual sake is strongly influenced by where it’s made.  Each prefecture boasts its own water and a particular philosophy and style favoured by its producers.

At a wonderful seminar in Toronto sponsored by the IWEG Drinks Academy (, sake experts Michael Tremblay and Robin Morgan presented a clutch of typical sakes to an enthusiastic crowd.  Here are my notes on nine of them.  At prices starting out under $15 and topping out at $35 for a 750 ml. bottle, these sakes belong in your basket.

Izumi “Nama Nama” Junmai Nama (88+) is unpasteurized.  It’s fresh, subtly sweet, mildly dusty and pungent with tropical fruit notes.

Nagai Shuzo “Mizuaoki” Honjozo, Gunma Prefecture (89+) is powerful and deep with fresh Asian pear, apple and floral notes and a mild hot bite from the alcohol.

Kodama Shuzo “Taihei Zan” Junmai Kimoto Akita Prefecture (89) is pungently mineral and slightly salty with a buttery creamy elegance and a fruity sweetness.

“Izumi” Nigori Junmai, a ringer from the Ontario Spring Water Company in—wait for it—Toronto Canada (89) is an example of unfiltered sake.  It’s a cloudy creamy yellow-tinged brew with sweet spice aromas.  It’s rustic with a slightly gritty mouthfeel and pleasantly bitter and sweet flavours.

Kiku-Masamune Junmai Taru, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture (90) is a pale straw colour with a very elegant complex nose of fruit and sweet spice with notes of caramel, minerals and white pepper.  There’s power and punch but with no rough edges.

Yoshi no Gawa “Goku Jo” Ginjo, Niigata Prefecture (90+) is suave and elegant with fruit and orange petal and star anise aromas.  It’s fresh, complex and creamy with a long rich persistence.

Hokkai-Otoyama “Man’s Mountain” Tokubetsu Junmai Kimoto (90+) features a distinct pungent minerality over rich melon and slightly tropical fruit.  Suave and elegant, it’s also intensely flavourful and fresh.

Fukumitsuya “Kuro Obi Dodo” Junmai Yamahai Ishikawa Prefecture (90+) offers gently pungent earthy cereal and mushroom aromas.  In the mouth it’s less fruity and more grunty than other Junmai samples but with lots of style and fine length.

Oomuraya Shuzo “Watatake” Junmai Daiginjo Shizuoka Prefecture (91) has bright tropical fruit and cereal notes including cantaloupe and freshly-snapped celery stalk.  It’s intense and elegant, creamy, fresh and supple.  It is absolutely smooth but intense with a very long finish.

Sake and Sake Experts 3

Sake experts Robin Morgan and Michael Tremblay strike a meditative pose behind a beautiful batch of empty sake bottles after presenting a wonderful IWEG seminar to an enthusiastic crowd.

[IWEG is offering the WSET Award in Sake course in Toronto.  The eight session course runs from April 8 to June 3 in Toronto.  For more information log onto]

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Barolo Marchesi di Barolo

Marchesi di  Barolo is a reliable producer with high quality bottlings at every level from generic Barolo to single-vineyard “cru” entries.

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