Wine Rack makes last-minute save!

19
Sep/09
1

When it’s past 10pm and everything is closed, go to the Wine Rack. Breeze past all of that shitty wine from Inniskillin, Sawmill Creek and Jackson-Triggs and go straight for the coolers. Grab a 2L bottle of Grower’s White Cranberry cider and a magnum of Spumante Bambino sparkling wine and get yourself home.

Get out a couple of flutes, use some ice if you need to make it cold and fill with equal measures of both.

It’s not too sweet and the low alcohol content ensures you can have quite a a few… Delicious!

Celebrating V-Day with Veuve, some improv and a little rock ‘n’ roll

15
Feb/09
0

I wasn’t going to do anything for Valentine’s Day. Unlike some people, I don’t loathe it but I’m no fan either; why do you need a day to show how much you love someone? Cards generally suck and aren’t flowers good pretty much any day? So I had no plans until my friend Michelle came to me with the idea of a dinner party for Saturday. Despite not knowing who might already have plans, we decided to throw something together and see what might happen.

Invitations were sent out and we got seven guests; a perfect number for this kind of thing. Michelle was going to make salmon with lemon and capers and baked squash with carrots and walnuts, drizzled in maple syrup. For cocktails, we decided to make mimosas so I went out to the LCBO and picked up two sparkling wines: Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut and Yellowglen Pink Rose. I’d never tried the Pink but I’d heard it was sweet and light and since I was juicing the oranges and grapefruit, I wanted two options depending on the flavor of the juices. If they were a bit more tart, the Pink would go well and if they were sweeter, the Hungaria would do just fine.

People were invited to bring a dish and any drinks they might want. Michelle and I also ended up buying a bottle of Absolut and Flor de Caña (a Nicaraguan 5 year old rum, currently only $23 at the LCBO!). I also had a bottle of Centennial lying around as well as beer and wine so I figured we were well-prepared.

After dinner, we broke out a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut (a very thoughtful guest had brought it) but didn’t mix it with the orange juice. I always like Veuve because it’s one of the few champagnes with a distinctive taste to my tongue. It’s so crisp and not too dry with a bit of tartness and hints of apple and citrus.

The last drop drained, we moved onto the Hungaria which held up pretty well considering what had come before it. The addition of the orange juice was nice but I wish it had been a bit sweeter. The grapefruit juice was far too bitter and I had to add some grenadine. We never got around to trying the Pink which was a shame because it might’ve worked better with the juice.

Before leaving for the night’s entertainment, I created a shot with some amazing maple syrup Michelle had picked up from a friend’s farm. The recipe goes as follows:

3 oz Centennial Rye
3/4 oz maple syrup
top up with green tea ginger ale

The syrup adds a complexity that complements the hints of green tea and ginger. The rye is smooth enough that it never overwhelms and the carbonation gives it a smooth finish.

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Replete and more than slightly drunk, we headed out to Man Men, an improv show playing at the Bad Dog Theatre that skewers Mad Men, the AMC show about an advertising company in the 60’s. It’s incredibly funny and if you’re looking for something to do on a Saturday, you could do far worse. It’s playing until the end of February so check it out if you get a chance.

Since the show ended at around eleven, we capped off the night by attending Shake a Tail, a retro rock ‘n’ roll night at Clinton’s Tavern. The bar has a great style,with log cabin walls and an excellent selection of beers on tap. The back area–where the party’s at–gets really sweaty but that’s how it should be; I don’t think I stopped dancing all night. It’s less esoteric than Goin’ Steady, Toronto’s other retro night, but while the songs are more well-known, there are no huge line-ups and the crowd’s a bit more varied.

The best, cheap booze in Ontario

13
Feb/09
2

boozeIn honor of Esquire’s list of the best, cheap liquor one can buy in the US, I’m proud to present an Ontario-centric version featuring all of the best buys I’ve found at the LCBO. This knowledge wasn’t bought in some fly-by-night operation; it’s the result of many years of drunken trial-and-error as I slowly but surely trained my taste buds to appreciate all things alcoholic.

Like many young folks, I went for coolers because they were cheap and weren’t as gross as my virgin tongue made beer taste. I quickly found out that their sickly-sweet nature hid one hell of a hangover and I quickly progressed to old standards like rum-and-cokes and vodka-and-sevens.

The nightclub I was working at had a special version of these for employees that came in a pint glass and that worked just fine for me awhile until I got bored; a situation was paralleled at home as I got tired of having the same old cheap beer and liquor. (Wine didn’t really register for me at the time because it was something people brought over when they didn’t drink the above two which was inconceivable to me. “How could you not like beer?”, I thought, conveniently forgetting my inability to even finish one Corona back in ‘97.)

So I start buying new products. I’d usually stick with beer (because in terms of individual cost, I had the least to lose) and I came to see there was a happy medium between the bottom-of-the-barrel shit and the super-premiums. I also started going to quite a few more tastings and between trying new stuff at bars and availing myself of the tasting booth at the Queens Quay LCBO, I built up my tongue to supplement what I was learning online.

Fast forward to the near-present. A year-long stay at Joy Bistro as their bartender leaves me with a healthy appreciation for wine and I set about building a little wine-cellar at home, hampered only by my budget and thirsty roommates.

I discover how much fun buying wine can be and it’s much more forgiving than beer. Statistically-speaking, even choosing by label produces passable results but that soon gives way to being aware of regions and appellations, how the same grape will grow differently depending on where its from and differentiating the good years from the mundane and the bad.

Now, I spend far more money on wine than I do on beer and liquor combined. With the added bonus of having no roommates for a month, I’ve managed to build up a healthy collection in a couple of weeks and it’s gratifying to be able to go into the LCBO and know the taste of at least two-thirds of their inventory from experience.

But let’s go on to the list. I will cover one sterling example from pretty much every category but, unlike the Esquire list, my choices are equally drinkable straight or mixed in a cocktail. I demand that kind of versatility in my bar and I think you should too.

One caveat: I haven’t included any cognacs, sake or bourbon because I don’t think you should skimp on any of them ( but feel free to suggest something if you have a favorite).

centenFirst up is the Centennial Rye 10 Years Old Whiskey. I’ve talked about this before so I won’t get too much into again but suffice it to say, this is the best blended whiskey I’ve ever had for the measly price of $24 ($23 if you act now) and despite scary rumors, the man at Queens Quay insists that the LCBO is standing behind this product for the foreseeable future; even in absence of the heavy sales it so rightfully deserves.

I love this straight but it makes a lovely rye-and-ginger (go with ginger beer for that spicy kick-in-the-head feel) too. If you’re feeling fly and have ten more, go for the 15 Years Old, sip slowly and let the fireworks kick in. You don’t have to thank me; just drop a bottle off at 585 Gerrard. St East.

zubrowkaNext up, we have Żubrówka vodka, an herbal-flavored vodka from a region bisecting Poland and Belarus. Like Centennial, it retails for only $24 but is unfortunately not quite so available and can usually be found in the Vintages section.

It starts of grassy then gets a bit fiery before finishing on a slightly-bitter note. I get hints of vanilla mixed with almond but it’s more mild than one might think for a so-called flavored vodka. Traditionally, it’s served with apple juice but I find it much more versatile than that. Try Green Tea Ginger Ale with a splash of grenadine, for example, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

For those purists out there, go for Iceberg Vodka. It’s nothing special but it’s definitely better than Smirnoff or any of the other cheap Canadian brands available right now.

sjMy next choice is a bit more expensive but still of good value. Sailor Jerry Rum can be had for $27 and for all of that cherry, vanilla goodness, you’d be hard-pressed to do better. I like it with banana liqueur but you can go the traditional route with a Coke (hold the lime this time) or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a touch of extra-decadent gluttony.

By this point, you may have noticed that all of my choices are slightly-tweaked versions of what is regularly served but I’d rather have that than the same-old, same-old, especially when it’s cheaper.

50672I don’t buy much gin because I like Hendrick’s and I can’t afford to regularly stock that but when a party calls for some, I’ll generally go with Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin.

The juniper and savory spices come to the fore but I also taste the coriander. It’s light character belies a complexity that rewards its use in a martini or even with the standard tonic.

Like Sailor Jerry, it’s very nearly breaking the cheap bank at $30 but all of the really good gins cost at least $12 more so you’re still saving a bit and at 86 proof, it outperforms the 94 proof Broker’s London Dry which is still not worth it at $6 less.

I’m not going to feature any liqueurs but suffice it to say that you should probably stock at least three; apple, melon and banana and just buy whatever’s cheapest. Midori was the only one of the lot that noticeably tasted better and it’s discontinued, more’s the pity, so follow the sale and you’ll be fine.

On to beer! If I’m cheap (and we are today!) I’ll buy Grolsch tallboys (currently a steal at $2.05) and if I’m near-broke, I’ll go for Bavaria Holland ($1.79 each for a $10.75 six-pack) or Tuborg’s Gold or Pilsner (both currently at $2.15 but quite often discounted).

If I’m looking for something a bit tastier, I might go for a Creemore (still decent at $2.60) or Dragon Stout ($1.81 each for a $10.90 six-pack)

31Last, but most certainly not least, I’m going to mention my house red, white and sparkling.  Currently, like most of Quebec, I’m in love with the Fuzion Shiraz/Malbec 2008 from Argentina.

It’s extremely well-balanced and versatile and can either be enjoyed on its own or with poultry, fish or pasta. I like how smooth and fruity it is and the tannins don’t rub me the wrong way either. Best part is, it’s only $7.45 so buy two and leave that Valpolicella on the shelf.

For my white, we head across the Pacific to New Zealand for the Monkey Bay 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. $14.95 buys you an intense fella with plenty of acid and structure. It’s less grassy and more fruity with a bit of citrus. I like it with chicken, pork and seafood.

If bubbles are what you crave, I recommend the Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut. Dry and light, it’s everything a cheap sparkling wine should be and it’s way better than many more expensive bottles at a mere $11.95. It works well as a base for a Kir Royale or a Mimosa or can be enjoyed on its own as an apéritif.

And that, dear readers, is that. The entire bar can be had for under $200 or you can buy whichever bottles strike your fancy. You can rest easy knowing you’ll be getting the best, damn value for your coin this side of the border and you’ll be able to satisfy all of your party’s wants without hurting your wallet.