Tag Archives: wine

How to pick a good bottle of wine from your local LCBO with Decanter and one simple trick


I have a rule of thumb when it comes to choosing a bottle of wine for the first time: any wine highly rated by Decanter is good. If you are unsure what to get, look for bottles with a round Decanter sticker on them and you can be confident in your purchase. And  good news: most LCBO stores will have quite a few such bottles.

Alas, not all such wines rated by Decanter bear their sticker. And yes it can be a lot of work trying to find them at all.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could easily find them in the store near you?

Well there is a way you can do that: with your browser. To do this, first go to the LCBO website (lcbo.com) and pick your local store (or a store you plan to go to).

Once you do that, enter the following URL in your browser (from https all the way to [true]):

https://www.lcbo.com/en/catalogsearch/result/#q=decanter%20world&t=Products&sort=relevancy&layout=card&f:@stores_stock=[true]

What you will get back are wines in your local LCBO store rated highly by Decanter magazine. With bigger stores like the one at Yonge and Summerhill in Toronto I got over 30 results back, with many around the $20 price point.

If you are cost conscious, enter this version in your browser:

https://www.lcbo.com/en/catalogsearch/result/#q=decanter%20world&t=Products&sort=%40ec_price%20ascending&layout=card&f:@stores_stock=[true]

It will return the same list but sorted with the lower cost ones listed first.

There are lots of ratings and plenty of ways to find a good wine at the LCBO. I find this way works great for me. Perhaps you find the same thing for you.

P.S. You can play around with other rating groups. For example, Wine Enthusiast is also associated with wine in the LCBO and many of them are at an attractive lower price point. To see what I mean, enter this:


https://www.lcbo.com/en/catalogsearch/result/#q=wine%20enthusiast&t=Products&sort=%40ec_price%20ascending&layout=card

On starter wines, or how to go about learning about wine (if that’s what you want to do)

Wine is like art or food or fashion: you can devote a lot of your time and attention to it and you will get a lot from it. Like many topics, though, not everyone wants to do that. Some people just want to know the basics and leave it there. Both approaches are valid.

If you do want to learn more about wine, one thing to do is pick a starter wine. A starter wine should be one that you can afford and that’s easy to drink and ideally goes well with the food you like to eat. Of course it should also be fairly well made and worth drinking for more than just the fact it contains alcohol. 🙂

If you want to pick a starter wine, I recommend two things: one, this list from Food and Wine to get going: 50 Affordable Wines You Can Always Trust. Two, this book, Wine Simple, by Aldo Sohm, the sommelier at Le Bernardin in NYC.

Both the wine list and the book will get you get started on the path to drinking better wine. For example, let’s say you try some of the listed cabernet sauvignons and  you prefer the first one: the Beringer. That’s a good start. From there you might try more expensive Cabernets from Beringer to see if you can determine what distinguishes them from each other. Maybe you find you prefer one more expensive (or maybe you can’t tell the difference in taste). Or you can compare it to other cab sauvs on the list, like the Penfolds. Perhaps the Californian wine goes better with the food you like and has a taste that you like. While you are considering the wines you try, dip into the book. The book will give you more insight into the wines you are drinking and why you might like it and what types of wine you want to try next.

Wine is something enjoyable, and something you can learn much about. That said, you should enjoy it at the level you want. Just like some people just want to wear jeans and T shirts all the time, other people just want to drink the same thing all the time. And that’s ok. But if you want to learn more about wine, pick a starter wine you are comfortable with and enjoy them and then go from there.

Cheers!

P.S. One thing I like about the list of 50 wines is that they are very easy to find. Most of them can be found all across Canada and certainly in the LCBO.

Also, Food & Wine has a list of affordable whites. Some people have problems with red wine due to tannins (though there are low tannic reds). If that is you, that list is a keeper.

P.S.S. I’ve been meaning to write this after reading this critique of starter wines that I read some time now: The Myth of So-Called “Starter Wine”. It’s written by someone knowledgeable and passionate about wine. I respect that. I don’t agree with it, but I respect it. I recommend you read it and think for yourself.

Friday Night Cocktails: some very good ones and a few not so much

Rather than recommend just one, I have a few cocktails for you to consider:

Those all sound good. As for the not so good, here’s two articles to consider:

Cheers!

On Fred Franzia, the creator of Two Buck Chuck wines

Fred Franzia, the creator of two-buck Chuck, has died. He was quite the maverick in the wine industry. Heck, his company was called Bronco Wines. While he did much to strengthen the idea that wine should be more affordable and accessible, I tend to agree with Eric Asimov in his assessment of his product. I think there is a better middle ground, and his Charles Shaw wine did not occupy it. But like all things, taste is subjective.

For more on the man and his wine, here’s a good piece by Priya Krishna on him. And here’s Eric on Fred Franzia and the Legacy of Two-Buck Chuck.

P.S Speaking of Eric, here’s a good piece of his on riesling. Like him and others, I wish more people would discover this grape and grow a liking to it.

Also, this piece on a maker of orange wine was a great read.

 

On the great Billy Munnelly and what he can still teach us about buying wine at the LCBO in 2022


Since the 1980s I’ve been getting expert advice from Billy on how to buy wine at the LCBO. So I was shocked to see he had moved away and he won’t be offering LCBO wine buying tips anymore. It’s great for him, but not so great for folks looking to know what to buy and what to avoid at the LCBO.

But here’s a tip. Go to his blog Billy’s Best Bottles, and with a pen and paper take notes on what wines he likes and what he likes about them. Do you feel like a good summer wine? He has posts on them. Do you feel like a good bistro red to go with your steak frites? He has a wine for that! It doesn’t matter too much about the year (most of the time). Go and seek out those wines he recommends. The prices will have gone up, but most times the quality will be consistent year over year.

There are wines from the 80s he recommended that are still good and recommended today. (I know because I’ve been drinking them all this time.) There are many newer and better ones since then: the LCBO has improved considerably in the last few decades. There is still lots of not so great wine, though, and Billy can help you avoid those.

There are a great many people writing about wine at the LCBO these days. But back in the 1980s such info was rare. Billy had put out a small comic book back then on how to buy wine at the LCBO, and it was my mainstay for many years whenever I needed something for dinner or a special occasion. He eventually moved to the web like the rest of us, but the spirit of that little comic book lives on at Billy’s Best Bottles, Go check it out, then go get some wine.

 

On buying cheap wine at the LCBO, 2022

 

 

Annually various publications in Toronto will publish articles on how to buy cheap wine at the LCBO. BlogTo takes a stab at it here: The top 10 cheap wines at the LCBO.

 

 

 

 

If you want to buy cheap wine at the LCBO, here’s some things to consider:

  • the wines that appear on these lists often tend to be the same year after year. The price changes, but the wines listed more or less are the same. The wines themselves are consistent too. Hey, these are not handcrafted wine! So a cheap wine list published in 2015 will likely have a list of wines you can still buy now, just with a different price and a different date.
  • Once these wine lists used to be “best wines under $10”, but that price ceiling is outdated now. Most cheap wines are over $10. There are still a few good ones, as the Toronto Star argues, but not many.
  • Once you get up into the $14-15 price point, head over to the Vintages section instead. Wines there generally are good at any price point, and you’ll get something better than the general section, imho.
  • These wine lists will hype up these cheap wines. Note: most of them are limited in quality. Not too much wine in the LCBO is Bad anymore. None of these will be Great either. Most cheap wine is pleasant and drinkable. Something to have at dinner or on an outing. They are not sophisticated. If you can’t taste all the notes of “peaches, nectarines, pears” mentioned in the lists, there’s a reason for that.
  • The “cheap” wines I’ve been drinking lately (under $15) have been Ontario Riesling. They go great with so many foods and are good value, I believe. If you want red, consider a Baco Noir. Many of them are fine and under $15.
  • If you have to go closer to $10, the best bets tend to still be Portugal, Italian and South African.

(Image linked to LCBO.com of a Californian Chard that just slips under $10)

Some thoughts on wine in Ontario after shopping for it in the US

Recently I have spent some time in Charleston, S.C. and enjoying many things about that city, including their wine options. These options have given me some insight into wine options in Ontario and has reshaped my thinking of what I am getting.

Before the pandemic, the  way I bought wine was through the LCBO. If I wanted something special, I’d buy it from LCBO’s Vintages section vs the general section. When the pandemic hit, I could buy wine from nearby restaurants as well as other local distributors.  I was glad to have wines options that were varied and weren’t too expensive.

However, as restaurants have been allowed to open,  I’ve noticed their bottle prices outside the LCBO have increased. During the pandemic, I could find such wines for 20-40 dollars easily. Now the prices have all shot back up to what you pay in a restaurant. That may be good for the restaurants, but it’s disappointing for me.

That’s Ontario. Really, Toronto. In contrast, when in Charleston I could visit a number of wine shops that had lots of great wine around $20. Even with exchange rates, that was good. And these shops were as common as LCBOs in Toronto.

The other thing I noticed was that much of the US wine in the Vintages section of the LCBO is “supermarket” wine. I was under the impression that American wine in the LCBO was hard to find wine, but really it is stuff you can find in any store.

That got me thinking: is most of the wine in Vintages simply basic wine made everywhere in the world? Perhaps it is. That doesn’t make it bad: it just makes it everyday.

I think the LCBO still has a great selection in many ways. But I also wish there was another retail option like those in Charleston where I could get small scale wine that is good and affordable.

 

How to easily buy wine as a gift at the LCBO


You want to buy wine for a gift at the LCBO. Maybe you know nothing about wine. Maybe you only know a little bit. Unless you know a lot, here’s what I recommend. It’s simple.

Go into your local LCBO. Ask for where the Wines of the Month are. Buy as many of those as your budget allows. That’s it.

You can also go to the web site and look for Vintages New Releases. Once on that page, look for Explore our featured products and click on it. Then look for Wines of the Month. Easy peasy.

What’s great about this is you can be sure those wines are very good and carefully selected by staff at the LCBO. Not only that, but most of the time they are around twenty bucks. Want to spent $40? Buy two bottles.  If you want to spend over a $100, you can consider getting a half case or more. Or mix in a bottle of champagne: you can’t go wrong with that.

If you know what the person likes, then you can buy that. If you know wine, then you should pick what you think is best. Otherwise, follow this and you won’t go wrong.

 

On the pleasures of darker tinted rosé (with a bonus recipe :))

I was surprised to read this and discover that many fans of rosé prefer the lighter coloured version: A Rosé by Any Other Color – The New York Times.

I like lighter coloured rosés, but I find the darker ones have more substance and are more interesting. If you need convincing, I recommend you read that. Heck, read it regardless: it’s a good piece.

After you do that, I recommend  you head out to your local wine shop and pick up a bottle or two. Maybe your favorite pale pink number combined with something darker. And if you do, why not pick up the ingredients to make a nice niçoise salad to go with it. I think they may be a perfect meal combo. If you want a minimal version of niçoise salad, I recommend this 5 ingredient version from Cup of Jo. Purists may disagree, but that is a fine dinner salad whatever you call it.

(Photo by Dennis Vinther on Unsplash )

 

On wine: what you should expect at each price point


I recently read this and I thought it was a great examination of what you should expect at each price point of wine: How to find the sweet spot in the cost of a bottle of wine | The Hub. It’s really aimed at Canadians, but it can apply elsewhere.

I am still a fan of cheap wine, but I find myself drinking closer to the $20 price point now. In Ontario at least, that seems to be the price at which wines are consistently good. There’s nothing wrong with buying wine at all sorts of price points. You should just know what to expect.

Speaking of cheaper wine, this is worth a read: The Science Behind Your Cheap Wine

(Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash )

Piquette: your new summer quaffable drink


I remember when rose used to be a hard sell in Ontario. It took years before people started drinking it in the summer.

Now people adopt new approaches to wine as fast as they can. In the last few years I’ve seen cremants, orange wines and pet nats all become hugely successful. (Though you wouldn’t know it at the LCBO).  The latest thing to catch my fancy are piquettes. This write up of them in Toronto Life describes them better than I can. As they say, piquette is a …

…low-alcohol wine is made by fermenting the pomace—leftover skins and dregs of the winemaking process—and diluting it with water. What results is a wine lover’s answer to summer-y spiked seltzers. It’s zippy, sessionable, slightly bubbly and certainly affordable—you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bottle over $20. Traditionally, piquette was reserved for farmhands and winemakers to sip while working the fields, when wine may have been easier to come by than clean drinking water. And it’s low enough in alcohol (typically, 5-9 per cent ABV) to not impact productivity. “Vineyard work is very tough, physical work, and your body gets sore and full of aches and pains,” says Mike Traynor, of Prince Edward County’s Traynor Vineyard. “Piquette takes that edge off without putting you out.”  There’s also a huge sustainability appeal to piquette. Once nothing more than compost, discarded wine skins can be a thirst-quenching source of revenue. “This actually allows me to bring down the prices on a lot of my wines because I’m getting a better yield from the grapes,” Traynor says.

A few additional thoughts:

  • piquettes are fun, but the taste of them vary widely. If you get an apple cider or a glass of sauvignon blanc, you know what to expect. With piquettes, I have not found that to be the case. The taste of one brand of piquette can be very different from another. They are like pet nats in that way.
  • I can see why winemakers like them: they can squeeze another product out of their harvest. Good for them.
  • I can’t see piquettes reaching a large audience like pinot grigio or moscato did. They will have to compete with beer and cider, which already have a huge part of the summer beverage market. But I am a bad predictor, so who knows.
  • a bottle of piquette can also be good at the end of the evening if you have a big group over for a dinner party. Try it sometime.
  • I’ve had a few piquettes now and I really like the one from Leaning Post. Indeed I like much of the wine from them. Good people, great wine.
  • The wine pictured above is from Leaning Post. It has a great punk rock vibe to it, which perfectly describes a piquette.

A good American list of wines that Canadians can use

Most of the time, I find that wine recommendations for Americans are useless for Canadians to adopt, because most of the wines recommended are not available in Canada. This list of wine recommendations is different:  50 Affordable Wines You Can Always Trust | Food & Wine.

A majority of the wines are available, at least in Ontario. And needless to say, the wines are good. If you are looking for some new wine ideas, check the list.

 

Save this for your Zoom wine and cheese get togethers this holiday season….


If you are planning to have a Zoom get together over the holidays and you are look for ways to jazz it up with a wine (bourbon?) and cheese pairing, check this out: The Best Spirits and Cheese Pairings According to the Experts | The Manual

Or you can go to the site that provided the fine poster above.

Merry Christmas Eve!

You are running out of time and you are thinking of regifting something. Consider this

It’s tough shopping in this pandemic. If you are stuck trying to find a gift and you are thinking of regifting, then read this first: Best Regifting Ideas — 5 Things That Are OK to Regift, and 5 That Aren’t | Apartment Therapy.

Yes, wine is a good choice (assuming the person getting the gift likes wine). For other Dos and Don’ts, check out that article.

(Image Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash)

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COVID comes for the French Wine Industry


And the result, if you are a fan of French wines, is tragic: Of Wine, Hand Sanitizer and Heartbreak – The New York Times.

You can read it straight up, but it’s worth pondering what it tells us about our values right now, and what they were before. Times are tough in the pandemic era, for winemakers in particular as well as all of us in general.

(Image thanks to Sven Wilhelm).

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The limits of wine bars in North America cities as compared to Paris and why this is interesting


We have tons of upscale coffee shops, and wine is more popular than ever in North America, so Eater asks what seems to be a simple question: Natural Wine Is Everywhere in America. Where Are the Wine Bars?

I say “seems” because the answer is long and fascinating for a number of reasons: economic, cultural, and gastronomical. It’s a smart piece. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a snippet of what I mean:

It’s sad to see something so ostensibly simple become another exclusive pleasure, so I keep looking for the neighborhood wine bar of my dreams — which is honestly just a cramped room with bottles of interesting, affordable wine on the wall and, like, a cheese plate? Yet this seemingly simple thing is stupidly hard to find. It’d be sort of funny that cosseted American wine bars struggle to attain the loose charm of Paris, given that France is stereotyped as the place that’s snooty, rules-bound, and tradition-obsessed, if the result wasn’t such a bummer. While yes, there are a lot of rules, France also has a more open culture of public life; you don’t need to make plans to go out to drink wine. And though wine signifies many things in French culture, an air of sophistication because you drink it is not one of them. The appeal of enjoying wine in France, at least as the kind of person who’s moved by wine but still needs bolds on the list, is that French wine culture feels so much less precious than in America.

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Friday night cocktails from Alison Roman


You might argue that spritzers and shandies are not cocktails, but that is just classist nonsense! 🙂 Besides, not everything needs to be prepared by a fancy mixologist. These cheap and cheerful mixes may be some of the best things to drink during these late great summer days.

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The Best Walmart and Trader Joe’s Wines to Buy. Really!


No, it’s not two buck Chuck, and they aren’t necessarily the cheapest wines you can find, but if you are looking for good value and your local Walmart of Trader Joe’s sell wine, then you will want to read this:
via Taste-Testing Walmart and Trader Joe’s Wines: Whose Are Better? – Bloomberg

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New ideas for summer wine drinkers

For those of you looking to branch out beyond whites, roses, and heavy reds (for BBQ), here’s a good list: Chilled Red Wines to Drink All Summer – Bon Appétit.

Beaujolais is the obvious choice for Gamay, but lots of new world producers make wine with that grape. For Carignan, you may have to look around: if you can find a place that stocks a good selection of French wine, look in the Midi section. Also check out the Spanish wine section. The challenge there is it can sometimes (often times?) be blended with heavier reds. Ask the staff for help if you want something lighter. As for Zweigelt, the challenge there is finding it at all. If you can, get some.

If you want to know more about carignan, check out this from Winefolly.com:

Stop drinking pinot grigio! Drink this instead


I love this: Why You Love Pinot Grigio So Much — And Why You Need To Move On because I am very much against Pinot Grigio. There is so much good wine in the world, and if you are a pinot grigio fan, it’s time for you to move on. Now you may think: but I like Pinot Grigio! If you do, read this article so you can make baby steps away from that wine to some better varietals like Vermentino.

Once you’ve done that, consider other whites that deliver more taste. If you hate Chardonnay (some do), then try shift to Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Fume Blanc or one of the greatest whites of all: Riesling.

How to pair Italian wines with pizza

Over at HisAndHerWine.com they have two great infographics on how to pair wines with pizza. I picked the one above because it focuses on specific Italian wines, but the other infographic and alot more info can be found here: 16 Best Wines to Drink with Pizza.

The best wine to drink with pizza may be the one open nearest to you, but if you want to be precise and have a better pairing, check out that site.

Going out this weekend? Here’s a list of 5 restaurants with cheap wine in Toronto

If you plan to go out wine drinking this weekend — or any day next week — then head over to blog.to and see what they have to say on 5 restaurants with cheap wine in Toronto.

Of the restos on the list, I have known about Le Paradis for along time. Whenever I went, I’d  remark how reasonable wine prices were here compared to other places. (The food and ambiance of the place is also not bad.)  If the other places are comparable, then this is a very good list indeed.

Great white wines under $10: Fuzion Alta Torrontés/Pinot Grigio, Argentina

The site Wine of the Weekend has a great description of a delicious wine that is also great value (which is not surprising given it is part of the Fuzion line of wines). It is a superb summer wine, great for sipping by itself or paired with many dishes found in fusion cooking. Pinot Grigio fans should note, however, that is has alot of flavour, including “opulent peach, pear and citrus flavours on the palate”/ I love it, but fans of very subtle wines might find it too much.

See Wine of the Weekend for more information.

Oh, and the price: $8.95 at the LCBO in Ontario.

Good “cheap” Bordeaux at the LCBO this month

One of the Wines of the Month at the LCBO in Ontario is CHÂTEAU D’ARGADENS 2004.

Paul Gregutt of The Seattle Times says:

‘ It’s a joy to find a wellmade, affordable bottle of Bordeaux, from a classic vintage, at a modest price. Granted, this won’t bump the Mouton off the table, but at roughly 2 percent of the cost, it delivers fine flavors of red currant and cranberry, spice and truffle. It’s supple and bright, and soundly made at just 13 percent alcohol.’

It has a nice nose and a good finish. Well worth it for $18.95. Folks (like me) used to the stuff under $10 should treat themselves to this. It’s perfect for those upcoming winter nights.

What’s wrong with wine by the glass, and pinot grigio

Beppi Crosariol has a good article in the Globe and Mail arguing against ordering wine by the glass. I know what he means: once, I ordered a glass of red from a good restaurant and it was warm because the bottle was sitting on the bar fridge! Ugh! That went back.

If you want to order by the glass, see and order what was recently opened, and try and stick with fresh whites. (What is true for glasses also goes for 1/2 litres and anything that comes from an opened bottle. Although in some cases, if it’s a recently opened red, you may get the benefit of the wine opening up a bit.)

See for yourself by reading this: Wine by the glass? I’ll pass

P.S. He also had a nice, snarky comment (on this varietal) that I love:

“(Hey, if you’d wanted a white wine with no flavour, you’d have ordered a pinot grigio.)”

There are some pinot grigios that do have flavour, but why chase them around when there are so many other white varietals that do have taste?

(flickr photo from sunnyUK photostream)

Ironstone’s Obsession Symphony – great cheap wine at the LCBO


This is a delightful wine, especially for summer. And it’s cool too: made 100% from the Symphony grape, making it rather rare indeed (imho). It has a lovely bouquet — very floral — and wonderful to taste. No oak.

You can have it with spicy food, but it’s a treat to drink it by itself. It’s the kind of wine that, after you have a glass, you think: hmmmm, I think I need another glass of that.

If you are lucky enough to live in the US, it’s only $8/bottle. Here in Ontario, it is $14.95 in the Vintages section, which is pretty good for that part of your local LCBO.

What else? It won the Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronical Wine Competion, January 2007. And it’s perfect sipping wine on a warm summer night. You owe it to yourself to get some. 🙂

For more on this delicious wine, click here.