JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 'WINE SCENE' IN TORONTO?

I CAN HELP

For those who appreciate wine, Toronto is a superb city in which to live. With numerous wine-tasting bars and a constant stream of wine-related events throughout the year, the 'Toronto wine scene' offers much to satisfy even the most demanding wine enthusiast.

TORONTONIANS' INTEREST IN WINE:

For the past several years or so, an increasing number of people in our fair city have developed a taste for good-quality wines at all price levels. While most people simply purchase their bottles at the L.C.B.O., more and more individuals are utilizing wine agencies and out-of-province sources to obtain wines either not offered by the government-controlled retail monopoly or at better prices.

On the 'Toronto wine scene' homefront, the result of this has been an ever-growing number of 'portfolio tastings' and full-scale wine events taking place in Toronto throughout the year, as agencies and national economic representatives (such as consulates and embassies) wish to take advantage of the growing competitive interest in the demand for fine-quality wines --- want to learn about how one can attend these tastings? Let me know!


CLICK BELOW FOR DIFFERENT SECTIONS:
-BUYING WINE IN TORONTO --- TORONTO WINE AGENCIES
-BUYING WINE OUTSIDE OF TORONTO
-PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT WINE DISTRIBUTION
-TORONTO WINE BARS
-TORONTO WINE SOCIETIES
-TORONTO WINE EVENTS
-IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE TORONTO WINE SCENE

BUYING WINE IN TORONTO

Aside from the L.C.B.O. and Wine Rack stores, there are very few alternatives to buying wine in Toronto. While there are plenty of private agencies operating throughout the city and province from which to order wine, one can only purchase wines through them (at minimum) in cases of six bottles (in actuality, cases of twelve are much more common). Still, for serious wine enthusiasts, it is extremely worthwhile to familiarize oneself with the better agencies, as many of them boast a fine array of interesting items that the L.C.B.O. does not carry.

A NOTE TO WINE AGENCIES: Assuming I am pleased with what I try (which is only honest), my regular sampling of your items means that I might post them on my website as recommendations!


HERE IS A LIST OF WINE
AGENCIES IN CANADA:
  • Abcon International Wine Merchants Inc. --- fine wine agency, with an extremely solid portfolio; Australia, South Africa, and California seem to be their specialty (at least at present); staff is polite and knowledgeable; prices are decent (you can now order online) --- website: www.abconwine.com
  • Argentum Wine Imports --- owned and operated by Rolando Maya (a most friendly and knowledgeable person), I only became aware of this agency's existence in late-2008; though specializing in Argentinean wines, Maya has a wonderful selection from Italy; prices are competitive --- website: www.argentumwineimports.com
  • Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants --- medium-sized agency that seems to concentrate on selling 'entry range' wines of good quality, most of which can be obtained at the L.C.B.O. --- website (currently being rebuilt): www.awsm.ca
  • B & W Wines --- very impressive agency, specializing in carrying premium Australian brands, though also offering a good assortment of wines from other countries around the world; credit where credit is due, they have a notably friendly staff (the agency is currently run by Howard Wasserman), as well as fair prices --- website (recently updated): www.bwwines.com
  • Bokke Wines --- founded in 2004, this small agency deals in fine-quality wines from South Africa (but they also carry a few wines from New Zealand, Argentina, and Australia); prices are unavailable on their website, which ought to be changed, because the site, as a whole, is cheerfully designed --- website: www.bokkewines.com
  • Brunello Imports --- small agency that offers about two-dozen different Italian wines (as well as a wonderful selection of olive oils, pasta foods, and other fine goods), most of which are of high quality; solid, straightforward website --- website: www.brunelloimports.com
  • Calibrium --- growing agency, focusing its efforts on developing a portfolio of premium wines; for several years now, I have been tasting their wines and have been very pleased (many of their items find their way into the L.C.B.O. system) --- website: www.calibrium.com
  • Carriage Trade Wines & Spirits --- decently-sized agency that offers all sorts of interesting wines (including a fine selection of premium items from the Rhône); website is rather poorly designed --- website: www.carriagetradewines.com
  • Carto Enterprise Inc. --- small-sized wine agency, based out of Kitchener, specializing in items from Italy and Romania; prices are fine --- NO WEBSITE (Telephone: 1.519.578.1426)
  • Charton-Hobbs --- one of Canada's larger (and more premium and diversified) wine agencies; many of their products are sold through the LCBO; website is very well organized and prices are quite good (they even have a section on their website that offers all sorts of ideas on wine-and-food combinations --- website: www.charton-hobbs.com
  • Churchill Cellars Ltd --- sizeable agency that carries a rather large selection of items; though their website is prone to malfunction from time to time, their annual portfolio tasting is very informative (however, because their portfolio is so large, they can only pour a handful of the items they carry); because many of their wines are sold within the L.C.B.O., it is really their premium products that are most worth looking out for; an excellent agency, overall --- website: www.churchillcellars.com
  • Connoisseur Wines & Spirits --- best described as an old 'mom-and-pop' agency, which has a good little selection of high-quality items --- NO WEBSITE (Telephone: 905.508.7054)
  • Corby Distilleries Limited --- large-scale importer of alcoholic products, all of which can be found in L.C.B.O. stores; they sell several big-name 'entry range' brands of acceptable quality, as well as even a few items worth checking out; prices are not listed on website --- website: www.corby.ca
  • Dersingham Holdings Limited: Wines & Spirits --- tiny agency run by delightful retired gentleman Larry Brenzel, who is currently bringing in premium wines from Tuscan estate Fattoria le Fonti; prices are good for the quality --- NO WEBSITE (Telephone: 416.863.1655)
  • Diageo Canada --- extremely large alcoholic beverages importer (from wine and spirits to beer and vodka); their focus, judging by their very 'corporate' website, seems to be that of large businesses in the hospitality industry (in other words, not the private consumer); most of their wines (and other products) are pretty basic, and can all be found in L.C.B.O. outlets; prices are not listed --- website: www.diageo.com
  • Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits Ltd. --- big wine agency, with an excellent selection of wines from around the world at varying levels of quality (from solid 'entry range' items to more premium bottles); agents are polite, straightforward, and helpful; most of their wines (if not all of them) are sold through the L.C.B.O.; informative website, though prices are not listed --- website: www.diamondwines.com
  • Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd. --- large agency that carries quite an impressive range of wines; NOTE: at present, all of their products are sold through the L.C.B.O. only --- website: www.dionysuswines.ca
  • Distiller's Vintners & Brewers Agencies --- large-scale wine agency (they also sell premium Scotch and Cognac) that; most of its products are sold through the L.C.B.O.; selection is quite large, and prices are reasonable; quality varies from 'entry level' to ultra-premium, all of which hold a proven track record --- website: www.dvb.ca
  • Free House Wine + Spirits Ltd. --- large-scale wine agency, carrying a very impressive assortment of fine wines and spirits; selection is superb; many of their products eventually find their way into the L.C.B.O. (but not all of them); on their website, however, they do not make it easy to find out about prices --- website: www.freehousewine.com
  • Groupe Soleil --- small-medium-sized agency that specializes primarily in premium wines (specifically from Italy, France, and Chile); prices appear reasonable; website, though very simple, is built like a simple newsletter (I like it) --- website: www.savvysailor.com/groupesoleil.html
  • Halpern Enterprises --- one of the most prestigious wine agencies in Canada, offering a vast assortment of luxury items to its clients; prices are competitive and its sellers are very professional (though the owners are 'kings of their particular hill'); geared toward the upscale market --- website: www.halpernwine.com
  • H.H.D. Imports Inc. --- highly-successful wine agency that offers a good selection of wines from around the world; most of their products are released through the L.C.B.O., but can also be ordered on consignment --- website: www.hhdimports.com
  • Hobbs & Co. --- well-organized family-run wine agency that offers quite a splendid selection of fine items from various parts of the wineproducing world; orders can be delivered or picked up (for people in more rural areas), via Hobbs, through L.C.B.O. outlets --- website: www.hobbswines.com
  • J. Cipelli Wines & Spirits --- solid 'entry-range-based' wine agency, which seems to specialize in affordable French and Italian wines; prices are acceptable --- NO WEBSITE
  • J H & Sons --- one of the oldest and most respected wine agencies in all of Canada, whose operators, themselves, hold a noticeably pronounced appreciation for most things pertaining to wine; selection is rather large (and quite varied) and prices are not cheap (but you get excellent stuff for what you pay for) --- website: www.winetrader.ca
  • The Kirkwood Group --- based out of Oakville, Ontario, this agency is a large-scale importer of alcoholic beverages, all of which seems to find their way into L.C.B.O. stores; their list of wines, though short, is actually pretty good; website is designed in a very 'corporate' fashion; prices are not listed, though --- website: www.thekirkwoodgroup.com
  • Klebesits Wine Imports Ltd. --- based out of Gormley, Ontario, this is a medium-sized agency that focuses much of its attention on Austrian wines (as well as a few beers); quality is good, and so are the prices; their website is very well designed --- website: www.klebesitswine.com
  • The Kolonaki Group --- interesting agency that specializes exclusively in Greek wines; selection (of Greek wines) is very good, and prices are pretty decent --- website: www.kolonakigroup.com
  • Kylix Wines --- larger-sized (Thornhill-based), quality-minded agency, with a great list of items on offer, many of which can be found within the L.C.B.O. system; prices are very fair, and level of professionalism and helpfulness of representatives is excellent --- NO WEBSITE (Telephone: 905.882.1999)
  • Le Sommelier INC. --- highly-regarded agency that presently offers some very intriguing (and very good-quality) wines from France, Italy, California, and Australia --- website: www.lesommelier.com
  • Lexcellent Wines --- small-medium-sized agency that specializes in French wines; selection is interesting, and prices seem fine (though they do not accept credit cards) --- website: www.lexwines.com
  • Lifford Wine Agency --- superb agency that features an impressive array of items (most of which are sold in cases of six, if bought on consignment); prices are fair; portfolio tastings are excellent; its salespersons are very knowledgeable and friendly; many of their items, quite thankfully, can also be found within the L.C.B.O. system --- website: www.liffordwineagency.com
  • Liquid Art Fine Wines --- based out of Alberta and British Columbia, this large-sized agency offers one of the finest selections of premium wines in the country (though most items are only available in very limited quantities); for wine enthusiasts in Ontario (and other parts of our great nation), my understanding is that they do deliver on private order; given the quality of the wines, prices appear decent enough --- website: www.liquidart.ca
  • The Living Vine --- commendable agency, focusing on organic/biodynamic wineries; representatives are very polite and helpful; prices are within reason (considering the quality of the wines); website is still in development --- website: www.thelivingvine.ca
  • Lorac: Wine and Food --- interesting little wine and food agency, with some fascinating items from Spain and Italy, most of which eventually wind up in L.C.B.O. outlets; prices are fair --- NO WEBSITE: (Telephone: 416.783.2516)
  • Majestic Wine Cellars --- medium-sized agency that has a very eclectic selection of items, a good number of which can be readily found at larger L.C.B.O. outlets; they also appear to have online-buying on their website, but it does not seem easy to work --- website: www.majesticwine.ca
  • Marco Taloni - Trading --- Italian wine agency that offers an impressive collection; though some of their wines do end up within the L.C.B.O. system, it does appear that they sell their wares in bulk only to licensees; their website could also be a lot better (many links are broken) --- website: www.marcotalonitrading.com/wine
  • Maxxium Canada --- large-scale agency, whose focus is on spirits (both premium and 'entry range') and gigantic wine companies (ex. Beringer Blass); their website is that of a cutting-edge corporation (prices are not listed); for all intents and purposes, private wine enthusiasts are not what this agency's prime focus is on, but that of big businesses, so I would be cautious when dealing with them if you are a private consumer --- website: www.maxxium.com
  • MCO Wines --- medium-sized agency that offers wines from France, Spain, Australia, and the Okanagan (British Columbia, Canada); the owners, while agreeable people, only sell their wines on consignment to licensees; otherwise, the only way to obtain their wines is through Vintages at the L.C.B.O.; prices are reasonable --- website: www.mcowines.com (yet to be completed)
  • The Merchant Vintner --- large-sized agency with a great selection of wines from around the world, most of which are of high quality; fortunately, many of their wines eventually land up in Vintages; representatives can be disagreeable, though --- website: www.merchantvintner.com
  • Mondia Alliance (recently renamed 'Profile') --- remarkably friendly agency that caters to both good-value wine lovers and enthusiasts of premium items, alike; portfolio tastings (though I have only been to one) are not only extensive, but fun, as well --- website: www.barrique.ca
  • Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. --- important, premium-based wine agency, with an excellent selection of products, most of which are sold through L.C.B.O. stores; prices are reasonable, and professionalism of representatives is impressive; website, though not high-tech, is informative --- website: www.nobleestates.com
  • Nokhrin Wines --- small-to-medium-scale agency (family-owned) featuring decent wines from France (plus a few from Italy); at present, none of these items are sold through L.C.B.O. stores; prices are respectful; their website, though basic, is informative --- website: www.nokhrinwines.com
  • The Old World Wine Agency --- based out of Mississauga and specializing exclusively in French wines, this agency I have only just recently come across; nonetheless, I find both their overall selection and prices to be most pleasing; more importantly, their website is very user-friendly (as well as their staff) --- website: www.frenchwineimport.com
  • Opimian: The Wine Society of Canada --- one of the most important wine agencies in Canada; though it bills itself as a society (because it does hold regular tasting events and all buyers must be members), Opimian still remains a very good agency for obtaining a fine array of wines, almost all of which are not offered by the L.C.B.O. --- website: www.opim.ca
  • Peter Mielzynski Agencies Ltd. --- large agency that offers a fairly substantial selection of items, most of which can be found at L.C.B.O. stores; website is a bit complicated --- website: www.pmacanada.com
  • Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd. --- upscale agency with a medium-sized collection of wines from around the world; sold though L.C.B.O. stores; superb website, even though prices are not listed; they are soon going to make private orders available --- website: www.vinsphilippedandurandwines.com
  • Portfolio Wines --- admirable medium-sized agency, boasting a friendly staff and some solid wines (some of which can be found at L.C.B.O. stores); website needs updating; prices are in line --- website: www.portfoliowine.com
  • Prevedello and Mathews: International Wine and Spirits --- higher-end agency that specializes in all sorts of interesting items; their 'portfolio' is currently undergoing a major expansion; practically all of their wines are sold through the L.C.B.O. --- website: www.PMWine.com
  • RKW Wine Imports --- medium-sized agency that sells most of its products to the L.C.B.O.; they are soon going to offer private orders, which is good, because they boast some interesting items --- website: www.rkwwineimports.ca
  • Rogers & Company --- well-sized agency specializing in higher-end wines; selection is very good (many of their products are purchased by 'Vintages' in the L.C.B.O.) and prices are well-placed --- website: www.rogcowines.com
  • School House Wines --- small wine agency, based out of St. Marys, Ontario; a very pleasant little business, with some interesting wines (particularly from Austria and New Zealand); website is nice and straightforward (though prices are not listed) --- website: www.schoolhousewines.ca
  • Select Wine Merchants --- quality-minded agency with a very fine (albeit not enormous) selection of wines, most notably from Chile (NOTE: their portfolio varies from province to province); many of their products wind up in L.C.B.O. stores; prices are very good; agents are polite --- website: www.selectwines.ca
  • The Small Winemakers Collection Inc. --- very fine agency that offers a good selection of wines (around 70 to 100), many of which are not sold by the L.C.B.O.; they used to hold portfolio tastings several times a year, which were always delightful and informative --- I wish they'd bring them back --- website: www.smallwinemakers.ca
  • Stem Wine Group Inc. --- based out of Concord, Ontario, this medium-sized agency specializes mainly in Italian, Spanish, and Australian wines; selection is very interesting, and prices seem good --- website: www.stemwinegroup.com
  • Tannin Fine Wine --- solid agency, featuring wines mainly from Greece and Italy (along with Australia and Chile); selection, though straightforward, is one of quality; prices not listed on website --- website: www.tanninfinewines.com
  • Terra Wines --- small-scale wine agency, offering some very decent wines from Australia and New Zealand; prices are competitive, and representatives are helpful; website is informative --- website: www.terrawines.com
  • Trilogy Wine Merchants --- quality-oriented agency, whose efforts in affordable fine wines have not gone unnoticed; its agents are agreeable, if not exactly overly talkative; straightforward website; I'd be happy to do business with these folks, no-nonsense and reliable --- website: www.trilogywinemerchants.com
  • Vergina International INC. --- medium-sized wine agency, whose items are generally of impressive quality; owner(s) are quite knowledgeable and helpful --- NO WEBSITE (Telephone: 1.866.768.7684)
  • The Vine Robert Groh Agency --- impressive, relatively-large agency that offers a really good selection of premium wines, especially from California and Italy; website is somewhat underdeveloped, though --- website: www.robgroh.com
  • Vinexx Inc.--- large-scale wine agency with an exceptional selection of quality wines; prices are very good, and agent representatives are most agreeable; website is well-designed and informative; portfolio tastings are excellent; a very solid wine agency with which to do business --- website: www.vinexx.com
  • Vinifera --- small wine agency, which (uniquely) has an excellent selection of wine accessories; for it's size, they have a superb selection of items, specifically from France (and one from Niagara), a good number of which can occasionally by found in L.C.B.O. outlets; prices are fine; website is well-designed --- website: www.vinifera.com
  • Vintage Trade --- sophisticated wine agency (with a great website) that offers a fine selection of items from Australia, New Zealand, California, Chile, and Italy; an agency to keep an eye on --- website: www.vintagetrade.ca
  • TWC Imports (The Wine Coaches) --- young agency (est. 2001) that offers an ever-increasing selection of items, most prominently from Italy and Spain; prices are to my liking --- website: www.thewinecoaches.com and www.twcimports.com
  • Wine Fanatics Inc. --- 'starter-up' wine agency that (at least from my impression) is well on the road to offering some interesting stuff; small selection of German and French wines; prices are fair --- website (still under construction): www.winefanatics.com
  • Wine Lovers Agency--- small-sized agency that specializes in 'entry-range' Italian wines, most (if not all) of which can be found in L.C.B.O. outlets; they also offer a couple of very good premium-range items --- website: www.wineloversagency.com
  • Wines of Portugal --- large-scale wine agency that models itself as a sort of 'unofficial embassy' for promoting and selling Portuguese wines in Toronto (and the rest of Ontario); this is an excellent agency, with delightful sales representatives and competitive prices; website is informative and well-designed --- website: www.winesofportugal.ca
  • Wineworld Importers and Exporters Limited --- good-quality wine agency that offers a small-but-fine selection of items from around the world, most of which can be obtained through the L.C.B.O. --- website: www.wineworldimporters.com
  • Woodman Wines & Spirits --- premium agency that offers a fine array of higher-end products, much of which is (thankfully) sold through the L.C.B.O. --- website: www.woodmanwinesandspirits.com

BUYING WINE OUTSIDE OF TORONTO

(OTHER CANADIAN PROVINCES)

For Toronto wine enthusiasts (that is, those based in and around Toronto) that do a lot of travelling within Canada, it might be interesting to know that not all provinces in Canada have government-controlled liquor monopolies as they do in Ontario. In fact, in a good number of provinces (especially those out in western Canada), the distribution of alcohol is carried out by private merchants. As a result, not only is there (in many cases) a much wider selection of items from which to select, there is also the possibility of obtaining wines at better prices.

HERE IS A LIST OF SOME OF THE BETTER
WINE STORES OUTSIDE OF ONTARIO
(CANADA WINE STORES):

  • Bin 905 --- located in Calgary, Alberta, this is a decently-sized boutique wine shop that offers a fine array of premium items; their website has recently been redesigned and looks pretty cool; selection is very good, and prices are competitive --- website: www.bin905.com
  • The Cellar --- located in downtown Calgary, Alberta, this is one of the finest independent wine stores in the Wild Rose province; for its size, selection is amazing; their website is usually up to date; prices are generally reasonable; in-store tastings are held every week; my father and I have bought wine from this store many times --- website: www.cellarwinestore.com
  • Cloud Nine --- located in Calgary International Airport, this is a brilliant little store; contains a superb selection, as well as offers acceptable prices; not to be missed --- NO WEBSITE (Telephone: 403.590.8481)
  • Dundarave Wine Cellar --- located in West Vancouver, British Columbia, this is an extremely fine store, with a truly admirable selection of high-quality items from which to purchase; prices are fair enough and the staff are helpful;  they are still constructing their website --- website: www.dundaravewine.com
  • J. Webb Wine Merchant --- located in Calgary, Alberta, this independent store offers a fair selection of items; prices are reasonable; they also have a very good --- website: www.jwebb.net
  • Kensington Wine Market --- located in Calgary, Alberta, this is one of the largest stores I have come across in the province; selection is excellent, though sometimes their website inventory (which is gigantic) is out of date --- website: www.kensingtonwinemarket.com
  • Liberty Wine Merchants --- located throughout Vancouver (they have six outlets), this is a pretty good small-chain of private wine stores; selection is medium-sized, and prices are not bad at all --- website: www.libertywinemerchants.com
  • Marquis Wine Cellars --- located in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, this is one of the finest stores in Canada's westernmost province; selection is outstanding (though they only post their new arrivals on their website) and service is very friendly; regular in-store tastings are held in the back room, and are very fun; prices can be high, but not unreasonable considering the high provincial liquor taxes --- website: www.marquis-wines.com
  • Spinnakers Spirit Merchants --- located in Victoria, British Columbia, this is one of the best wine stores (or agencies) in Canada; selection is excellent, and prices (excluding tax) are not outrageous --- website: www.spiritmerchants.ca

PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT WINE DISTRIBUTION

Though often the subject of endless controversy, the sale of wine in many provinces throughout central and eastern Canada is controlled by organizations established by provincial governments. Controversy aside, many of them offer an excellent selection of items at fair prices to their customers.


HERE IS A LIST OF PROVINCIAL
GOVERNMENT LIQUOR ORGANIZATIONS:
  • A.N.B.L. --- New Brunswick Liquor Control Corporation (or Alcool NB Liquor); a government-owned distributor of alcohol throughout the maritime province; selection is not the greatest, but prices are acceptable --- website: www.nbliquor.com
  • L.C.B.C. --- British Columbia Liquor Stores; a government-owned distributor of alcohol (in British Columbia, there are also independent, privately-run liqour stores); selection is pretty good, but prices are somwhat higher than is the general norm; selection of wines varies from outlet to outlet --- website: www.bcliquorstores.com
  • L.C.B.O. --- Liquor Control Board of Ontario; a government-owned distributor of alcohol throughout the province of Ontario; on the whole, prices are reasonable because the L.C.B.O. is one of the largest importers of wine in the world; selection of wines vary from outlet to outlet, but is generally very high at most locations --- website: www.lcbo.com
  • M.L.C.C. --- Manitoba Liquor Control Commission; a government-owned distributor of alcohol throughout the Prairie province; selection is acceptable and prices are good enough; selection varies considerably from outlet to outlet --- website: www.mlcc.mb.ca
  • N.L.C. --- Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Control Corporation; a government-owned distributor of alcohol throughout the Atlantic province; selection is decent, as are prices; selection varies from outlet to outlet --- website: www.nfliquor.com
  • P.E.I.L.C.C. --- Prince Edward Island Liqour Control Commission; a government-owned distributor throughout the entire maritime province; selection and prices are not the best --- website: www.peilcc.ca
  • S.A.Q. --- Société des alcools du Québec; a government-owned distributor of alcohol throughout the province of Quebec; though beer and small amounts of cheap wine can be sold in corner stores throughout Quebec, the S.A.Q. does not allow any private wine merchants to set up shop for over-the-counter retail; selection varies from outlet to outlet, though some stores are truly better than others --- website: www.saq.com

TORONTO WINE BARS

Within the past several years, the quality (and quantity) of Toronto wine bars has been noticeably increasing. Moreover, as more and more people continue to develop an interest in wine, an ever-growing number of establishments are starting to offer a greater selection of good-quality wine 'by the glass'  for their patrons. While some places offer better prices than others, it is nonetheless clear that lovers of wine in Toronto stand to benefit.

This being said, I do feel it necessary to advise Toronto wine enthusiasts about one important thing: practically every establishment in Toronto is guilty of vociferously overcharging on wine, regardless of quality. This is because, in North America, wine is still not considered a staple (such as in Europe), but an indulgence. And so, markups on wine in most places can be astonishing, making the enjoyment of a fine glass of wine almost a rich person's affair!

HERE IS A LIST OF SOME OF THE BETTER
TORONTO WINE BARS AND RESTAURANTS:
  • 360 Restaurant at the CN Tower --- not too difficult to locate in downtown Toronto, the 360 Restaurant houses the world's tallest wine cellar and boasts an impressive collection; unfortunately, selection by the glass could be friendlier (along with the prices), but no one will dispute the quality of the view; this place can get pretty busy (especially in the summer), so it is always best to make reservations --- website: www.cntower.ca
  • Allen's Restaurant on the Danforth --- located at 143 Danforth Avenue, the proprietor of this establishment is notably keen on offering patrons a fine selection of wine, beer, and spirits (particularly the very latter); loyal to Canadian wines (almost to a fault), one has to accept this when eating and drinking here; prices are not listed on website --- website: www.allens.to
  • Canoe Restaurant and Bar --- situated on the 54th floor of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower, one is afforded (to say the least) quite a remarkable view of our fair waterfront (such as it is), island, and lake; boasting a very good selection of wines by the glass (though prices could be cheaper), I offer my compliments to the sommelier; the food (which is entirely Canadian-derived) is delightfully sumptuous --- website: www.oliverbonacini.com
  • Caren's Wine and Cheese Bar --- located in downtown Toronto (in the ritzy Yorkville neighbourhood), this establishment offers a fair list of decent wines by the glass, accompanied by a cheese suggestion (which is not included in the cost of the wine); while prices could be a bit lower, this place is still fun to visit --- website: www.carenswineandcheese.com
  • Centro Restaurant & Lounge --- located in mid-town Toronto; offers a decent selection of wines by the glass, though prices are not terrific; half-bottle and full-bottle selection, however, is excellent; this is a very high-end restaurant, so it is always best to make a reservation beforehand, even for the wine bar --- website: www.centro.ca
  • Crush Wine Bar--- located at 455 King Street West in downtown Toronto, this one of the city's best known wine bars; it offers an interesting selection of different wines from which to sample by the glass; prices are acceptable, and food accompaniments are superb; as a place to dine and drink, it is quite busy, so it is probably best to make a reservation beforehand if one wishes to obtain a table during peak hours; they have recently undergone extensive renovations, and the place looks pretty damn nice; the service is exemplary --- website: www.crushwinebar.com
  • Eight Wine Bar --- located at 8 Colborne Street in downtown Toronto, this is a wine bar/restaurant that prides itself in its wine list, particularly its selection of wines by the glass; selection is creative and extensive; prices are high, but the food is delicious; wealthy yuppies have all the fun! --- website: www.eightwinebar.com
  • Far Niente --- located at 187 Bay Street in downtown Toronto, this is a wonderful place to sample different kinds of Californian wines by the glass, along with an increasing number of solid wines from around the world; prices are fair enough, and the food is second to none; it is best to make a reservation, as the place has, quite rightfully, become incredibly popular --- website: www.farnientegrill.com
  • Fat Cat Wine Bar --- located in downtown Toronto; offers a small-but-fair selection of wines by the glass from which to partake; prices are satisfactory and the menu is very good, making Fat Cat worthy of patronage --- website: www.fatcat.ca
  • Four Seasons (HOTEL) --- located in downtown Toronto (right off the ritzy Yorkville neighbourhood), the Four Seasons is one of Toronto's most prestigious hotels, boasting four dining facilities of impeccable distinction; selection of wines by the glass are expectedly high in both quality and price --- website: www.fourseasons.com/toronto/dining
  • Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar --- located in downtown Toronto; offers quite an admirable (and eclectic) selection of wines to sample by the glass; prices could be a bit lower for my taste, though; a busy place, so it is best to reserve a table beforehand --- website: www.jkkitchens.com
  • Il Mulino --- located in mid-town Toronto (between Bathurst and the Allen Road), this establishment is very special, in that it offers to open any of the bottles in its wine cellar (within reason) to serve as a 'wine by the glass' to its customers --- though their website is not specific as to how much they will charge, the price they charge for most wines 'by the bottle' appears to be fair enough; bravo! --- website: www.ilmulinorestaurant.com
  • Le Sélect Bistro --- located in downtown Toronto, this place is really more of a bar-and-restaurant than a wine bar, yet it has one of the most impressive wine selections in the city; selection is great and prices are all right --- website: www.leselect.com
  • Marlowe Restaurant --- located in downtown Toronto, this establishment offers a relatively acceptable list of wines by the glass (though prices could be a bit more reasonable), along with an interesting array of different types of foods --- website: www.themarlowe.ca

  • Reds Bistro --- Located in downtown Toronto, this establishment has a remarkably extensive list of wines by the glass; though prices are high, the cuisine on offer is among the best in the city; and, from what I have been told, Reds is on the verge of establishing itself as the place to sample fine wine by the ounce --- website: www.redsbistro.com
  • Sassafraz --- Situated in fashionable Yorkville, Sassafraz is one of Toronto's most chique restaurants, catering to many celebrities and high-profile businesspersons; they have recently reopened after a devastating fire burned the inside of their establishment to a crisp several years ago; their selection of wines by the glass is pretty damn good (though prices are not low, which is what one is to expect whenever dining in Yorkville), and their food is terrific --- website: www.sassafraz.ca
  • Soul of the Vine --- More of a high-end restaurant than an actual wine bar; located in the heart of the financial district in downtown Toronto; prices are not expectedly high, but their selection is beyond reproach; just touring their wine cellar is a treat --- website: www.soulofthevine.com
  • Splendido--- Located at 88 Harbord Street in downtown Toronto, Splendido's wine list is looked after by dynamic sommelier Carlo Catallo, who most certainly knows his stuff, judging by his selection of wines by the glass, which, though not huge, is quite meticulous concerning quality (if not price); I would be pleased to glug down a few glasses here --- website: www.splendido.ca
  • Via Allegro Ristorante --- one of Canada's top destinations for wine enthusiasts out for a world-class eat-and-drink experience; boasting over 60 wines by the glass alone and a gargantuan bottle list (not to mention Scotch, Grappa, and Cognac), this is the place for someone like me! Located at 1750 The Queensway, the place is not exactly situated in downtown Toronto, but is wholly worth the drive (I also hear the food is good); prices, all things considered, are right where they should be --- website: www.viaallegroristorante.com

TORONTO WINE SOCIETIES

On the whole, Toronto is home to around ten prominent wine clubs/societies of sorts. Each of them have their own set fees for both actual membership and pre-arranged tastings. Depending on the organization, Toronto wine societies generally operate on a casual basis --- in other words, one does not have to wear a tuxedo to a tasting (at least not usually).

HERE IS A LIST OF TORONTO WINE SOCIETIES:
  • Australian Wine Society of Toronto --- one of the most casual and non-pretentious Toronto wine societies; holds monthly tasting events, featuring (not surprisingly) fine-quality Aussie wines; most wines normally procured through L.C.B.O. outlets; membership fees very decent; the cost for a non-member to attend a wine tasting is about $10.00 more than what it costs an actual member --- personally, I have not been to one of their events, but I plan on doing so in the future --- website: www.aws.ca
  • Granite Club Wine Society --- wine society that exists within the prestigious Granite Club of North Toronto; in order to participate in any of the wine-related events, it appears one must be an actual member of the club, itself --- website: www.graniteclub.com
  • Hart House Wine Club --- unpretentious wine society administered by the University of Toronto; more of a private agency than a full-fledged club, it does hold several tasting events throughout the year, which are not very expensive --- website: www.harthousewineclub.com
  • iYellow Wine Club --- a 'club' geared towards young people founded by Angela Aiello and Paxton Allewell (now solely run by the former), it has become extremely popular, offering various tours and tastings throughout the year to its members --- website: www.iyellowwineclub.com
  • Ontario Wine Society --- sixteen-year-old wine club that holds about eight-to-ten tasting events per year; features high-end Canadian wines, which are often compared with similar wines made in other winegrowing regions throughout the world; membership fees are very reasonable, as are tasting events --- website: www.ontariowinesociety.com
  • The Society for American Wines --- respected, good-for-fun wine club that has been operating for around a quarter of a century; features different wines made throughout the United States, as well as offers actual tours to various regions; holds about eight-to-ten tasting events per year; membership fees are reasonable --- website: www.americanwine.ca
  • South African Wine Society --- sixteen-year-old wine club that holds monthly tasting events, featuring good-quality South African wines; their website is not clear on the question if one has to be an actual member in order to attend any of their events; in any case, prices for tastings are pretty reasonable --- website: www.southafricanwinesociety.com
  • Toronto Vintners Club Inc. --- thirty-year-old wine club that offers monthly tasting events; quality of wines featured is notably high (they are procured from the club's own cellar collection, thus allowing the society to feature older vintages at its tastings); membership fees are quite fair for what is offered; the cost for a non-member to attend a wine tasting is about $10.00 more than what it costs an actual member --- website: www.torontovintners.org
  • University Club 'Wine Circle' --- wine society that exists within the prestigious University Club; holds monthly tasting events (except in July and August); participation is generally difficult unless one is a member; prices are not cheap for most tastings, which is to be expected --- website: www.universitycluboftoronto.com
  • Wine Spectator 'Online Toronto Wine Club' --- Ever been to The Wine Spectator website? If you haven't, go to the FORUMS section of the site, and you will find an inordinate number of people based in Toronto posting all sorts of interesting information, as well as exchanging a wide variety of ideas --- I like to call it the unofficial 'Online Toronto Wine Club,' whose 'members' (from time to time) also hold 'offline' tasting events in our fair city, under which people bring their own bottles and chip in for any extraneous costs.
  • Winetasters Society of Toronto --- twenty-nine-year-old wine club that holds monthly tasting events, as well as several dinners throughout the year; though quality of wines featured at tastings is usually extremely high, the atmosphere remains quite relaxed and inviting; all wines featured at tastings are procured from the club's own impressive cellar; membership fees are not unreasonable, but credit cards are not accepted --- website: www.winetasters.ca

TORONTO WINE EVENTS

Throughout the year (excepting the summer months), Toronto is home to a fine assortment of annual wine-related events. As a good sign of Torontonians' interest in wine, many of these events are extremely popular, and the more upscale ones usually sell out several days before they even begin.

Regrettably however, for several Toronto wine events, guests are often unfairly overcharged for tickets. While most wine events in Toronto really do offer an excellent variety of wines from which to sample, many of the larger festivals are really out to extract as much money from the consumer as possible (ex. The Gourmet Food & Wine Show). Thus, if you value your money, the list I have provided below ought to prove especially useful of which wine shows to attend and which ones to avoid.

Another regrettable feature about most Toronto wine events are the time limits imposed on the guests. For some odd reason or another, most wine events never seem to last more than three hours, giving true wine enthusiasts (who usually take full advantage of spitting buckets, rather than get sloshed after just six samples) hardly enough time to sample all the items available. Just another little quirk of provincial regulations would be my guess!


HERE IS A LIST OF TORONTO WINE EVENTS:

  • Australian Wine Fair --- annual wine-tasting event, usually held sometime in September; features a very large number of Australian wineries, along with a pretty good selection of food accompaniments; tickets (which normally cost around $60.00, quite a fair price for all the fine wines one gets to sample) are not sold at the door, and must be ordered by phone or on the Internet; this event sells out every year, and can be very crowded (even when it just begins) --- still, the quality of the wines shown is usually superb, making this one of the premier wine events in Toronto for wine lovers to attend.
  • California Wine Fair --- annual wine-tasting event, usually held sometime in April or May, and normally takes place at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto; tickets are $65.00 per person (they are not sold at the door and must be purchased in advance by phone or on the Internet); the California Wine Fair features many wineries of varying quality (though, for the past several years, the show seems to be placing more emphasis on better items) --- a worthwhile event to attend. It is usually held at the Fairmount Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto.
  • Chilean Wine & Food Festival --- annual wine-tasting event, usually held sometime in October; featuring a growing number of estates and a fantastic array of Chilean culinary delights (in 2006, it was around thirty), this is one of the best wine tasting events held in our fair city; tickets (which normally cost around $50.00, an exceptionally reasonable price) are not sold at the door, and must be ordered by phone or on the Internet --- for true wine enthusiasts, this event is quickly becoming a fan-favourite. It is usually held at the Distillery District in downtown Toronto.
  • German Wine Fair --- annual wine-tasting event, usually held in late-March or early-April at Roy Thomson Hall; featuring over one undred German wines and all sorts of interesting foods, this is a really fun event to attend; tickets (which normally cost around $70.00, a very decent price for what is offered at the tasting) are not sold at the door, and must be ordered by phone or on the Internet; this event usually sells out, so expect to find it very crowded.
  • Gourmet Food and Wine Expo --- annual Toronto wine-tasting event, usually held in late-November for four days at the Metro Convention Centre; in terms of size, this is a very big event, featuring hundreds of different wines - at all levels of quality - from which to sample; it is also one of the most 'price-gouging' of Toronto wine-related events; in addition to paying an entrance fee at the door of $15.00, one must purchase tickets in order to try any wines or food, something that I (as both a public consumer and wine enthusiast) personally resent.
  • New Zealand Wine Fair --- annual wine-tasting event, usually held sometime in the month of May; for lovers of NZ wine, this is usually an absolutely marvelous event, with dozens and dozens of high-quality estates in attendance; tickets (which normally cost around $70.00, and is worth every penny) are not sold at the door, and must be ordered by phone or on the Internet --- this is one of my most favourite wine tasting events of the year, and should truly not be missed. It is usually held at The Design Exchange in downtown Toronto.
  • Santé: The Bloor-Yorkville Wine Festival --- week-long wine-tasting festival, held annually; usually occurs at the beginning of May; features a good number of wineries from around the world (albeit of varying quality); ticket prices (some of which are not entirely reasonable) generally depend on the size of the event; from what I have found, it is simply best to attend only one of the larger events (which are usually held at the Carlu), instead of going to several smaller ones, as each of the large events pretty much feature all the participating wineries of the festival; the Santé events are usually pretty crowded, so it is best to arrive early.
  • Toronto Wine and Cheese Show --- three-day wine-tasting event, usually held (annually) in late-March at The International Centre; like the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo, this is a rather large, costly event, featuring hundreds of different wines to sample and many different foods to try (and pay for); entrance fee is $18.00, and tickets must be purchased in order to sample any wines --- word to the wise: it pretty much features the same wines (and foods) as the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo!

IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE TORONTO WINE SCENE

As the fifth-largest city in North America, it should not come as a great surprise that Toronto is home to a good number of highly-regarded experts of wine.

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