April 3 Roundup: T.O. Restaurant Reviews,Starbucks Beer & Wine Menu, and a Little Gem from the Archives

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
***Salutations, Faithful Readers. I’m back from a much-needed vacation (hope you missed me!). I’m sure you didn’t handle the lack of a perky, pithy wine blog in your inbox very well, so this week I’m treating you to two restaurant reviews, which include, of course, a thorough commentary on their wine list, and a favourite from the archives. (Sorry – it was a busy weekend!)***

Volos (Financial District)
This isn’t your kitschy Greek resto on the Danforth. Absent are the murals of Zeus and nymphs bathing in front of the Parthenon. This is an upscale, rustically elegant dining spot that classes up standard Greek comfort food dishes, like moussaka, and tries to put an exotic spin on run-of-the-mill favourites, like Caesar salad.

Me and my enchanting dining companion descended on Volos before a performance of The Marriage of Figaro back in February. It was one of the coldest days of winter, and we erroneously decided to Uber to the restaurant (which was a way more circuitous route than we had imagined, forgetting about all the one-way streets that pepper the downtown core). The warm comfort of the Honda Civic was quickly replaced by a chilly dining space, not normally this nippy; on the evening we went the power had been knocked out of much of the city, and it was late to return by restaurant standards. As a result, some of the usual prep work was affected, and getting ovens up to that consistently hot temperature to ensure entrees were warm must have proved challenging since ours were cold.

This little hiccough, though, should not be held against an otherwise impeccable dinner service, from the attentiveness of the waitstaff, to the overall flavourful dishes. My companion had the Avgolemono (traditional chicken soup, lemon, dill, orzo), despite detesting lemon, and the moussaka, with a rich Kefalotyri béchamel. I had the organic baby kale salad with Kefalotyri, anchovies, yoghurt, and Pumpernickel croutons (slightly soggy), and the Exohico, a braised lamb with spinach, leeks, Feta, Kefalotyri, and lamb jus.

The food was respectable, but not out of this world; the dishes are tasty, but lack a certain pizzazz to take them over the top to extraordinary. Dessert, however, was sublime. The chocolate mousse was rich, yet light and velvety. It was incredible. We both raved about it, even during intermission.

The best part of Volos is the exotic wine list, with predominantly Greek choices. A VQA Niagara or two snuck its way in, but for me, it was a Xinomavro-Syrah-Merlot blend (‘Paranga’ Kir-Yianni, Naoussa, $12/gls) that knocked my socks off. Fruity, complex, and relatively light for a red, reminiscent of the weight of a Rhône blend, the wine is a blend of 50% Merlot, with the balance split evenly between the Syrah and the Xinomavro, sourced from Northwestern Greece. Aged in a combination of stainless steel and bottle, the wine is a regular bronze and silver award-winner, including a two-time Decanter World Wine Award recipient.

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Chabrol (Yorkville)
Anyone who knows me knows my penchant for French food, so when I read a review of this former clothing store-turned-restaurant in the Toronto Star, I had to go that week. A hidden gem in Yorkville, the establishment seats ten people at tables, and another nine at the bar area, and has been open since the late fall of 2015. According to our server, for approximately three months, the chic French-inspired dining spot was without a liquor license, which made New Year’s Eve particularly challenging. When I went in February, however, wine was very much available, and I selected the perfect day for dinner as I walked in on a tasting of Louis Jadot.

It must have been the longing in my eyes, but, within minutes, one of the restaurant’s partners came over to apologize for not including me. Before long, I had a glass in my hand with a complimentary splash of Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé to tickle my taste buds. The light, creamy Chardonnay was exactly what you’d expect from high-end producers in the appellation: fruity, yeasty, complex, and minerally, the optimal intersection of talent and terroir. 

I didn’t know where to begin with the menu, so I ordered a bit of everything: Puy lentils with smoked parsnip purée, beets, and Grenache vinaigrette; the gratin of potato, cantal, and thyme; an assortment of cheeses; and, of course, Crème Brûlée. Perhaps we should get the low-point of dinner out of the way first: dessert. The Crème Brûlée was runny under its burnt sugar crust, likely the result of too shallow a dish, but the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($14/gls), which accompanied it (because they were out of Sautneres), was bright, sweet, crisply acidic, and chock full of tropical fruit flavours. The rest of the meal, though, was heavenly.

Lentils are not my favourite, yet the review I’d read recommended the salad, so I had to order it. The parsnip purée, obviously pressed through a fine mesh sieve, was the star of the dish, well-seasoned, and a perfect consistency with the other textures on the plate. Though it was very good, I probably wouldn’t order it again when I return. Now, the potato gratin is a whole different story; I will be ordering this every time. Layers of thinly sliced potatoes interspersed with carmelized onion, and topped with melted cheese so hot that the entire dish was still bubbling as it arrived at the table in its cast iron pan…this was the unquestionable superstar of the evening. Despite being very full half-way through my selections, I still polished off the entire side gratin. My dining companion ordered the ragoût of wild mushrooms with braised artichokes, which I sampled as well. Very tasty; this was my first up-close encounter with a hedgehog mushroom.

Let’s get down to the wine. The list is small and all French. Some Bordeaux made it on, a little Burgundy, and the South of France, mostly. By-the-glass offerings were virtually non-existent, particularly if you cared to try anything interesting, so my dining companion and I split a bottle of Lirac Domaine de la Mordorée ($80, I think…I forgot). Dark ruby, dense, and intensely fruity with notes of plums and berries, the mildly tannic wine was a solid accompaniment to the fare, a blend of 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah. The hand-harvested grapes are grown in a sandy soils, mixed with clay, and topped with the ubiquitous galets roulés. The wine could’ve done with a bit of aging, but overall, an exquisite little number from the Languedoc-Roussillon, one of my favourite French regions for finding budget finds that taste way above their price point.
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FROM THE ARCHIVES
THIS WEEK: WINE REGION

Casablanca: Spotlight on Chile’s first cold-climate wine region

I pulled myself back from a dangerous precipice: providing an overview of all Chile’s viticulture areas from north to south. I’m reminded that this is not only a weekly blog (so, I need to conserve material), but also one that I wanted to ensure achieved a level of pithiness in the entries that allowed readers to breeze through while still acquiring some new knowledge about wine. So, for this week, one region.

Why Casablanca? In an informal poll which included a sample size of one, I asked, “Do you think of Chile as having a warm or cool climate?” Those polled said “warm,” adding that they didn’t expect to see penguin (a subject, no doubt, handled by a different blog). For that reason, I think Casablanca is pretty neat, because summers can be as nippy as 15-18°C.

Casablanca Valley’s climate is strongly influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the cooling effects of the Humboldt Current which carries chilly sea breezes inland, contributing to colder night temperatures and to morning fogs that help minimize frost in the winter and spring. The temperate climate — which allows for a longer ripening season for white varieties and warmer, frost-free zones for red varieties — has led to comparisons being drawn with the U.S.’ Los Carneros AVA (which includes parts of Napa and Sonoma County) and Bordeaux, though these are both further from the equator than Casablanca Valley. Noting the latter, in particular, it’s probably little wonder that many of the varietals grown in the region include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, among others. Many Burgundy and Southern Rhône varieties also make an appearance, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Chile’s Casablanca Valley also grows a number of those fun aromatic grapes we so adore, like Gewürtztraminer, Muscat of Alexandria, Riesling and Viognier.

Serious winemaking in this region is relatively recent. During the gradual influx of domestic and international investment in Chilean winemaking in the late 1970s and 1980s, the country also saw the pioneering efforts of viticulturalists and vignerons, like Pablo Morandé (note the Morandé wine reviewed in this week’s “Tasting Notes”), who planted the first vines around the industrial city of Casablanca in the 1980s, defying skeptics and naysayers who doubted the region’s potential for making quality wine. According to wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd, today the wines from the Casablanca Valley now enjoy an “internationally established reputation…for [their] arresting, vibrant, mouth-watering white wines.”

 

 

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