Manhattan trick or treat: A foodie's guide to what's an avenue and what's a street

The best thing about Manhattan has to be its neighbourhoods. They are what make visits so stimulating, whether you are sightseeing, windowshopping or just walking around. No two are alike yet each one seems to be totally vibrant and alive in its own right.

Since I like shopping for wine, I have now begun to associate wine shops with certain neighbourhoods, like Martin Brothers Wine & Spirits with the Upper West Side or Chamber Street Wines with Tribeca. And as I've been getting to know them both the shop and the block it's on have become a little anthropomorphized in my mind. All human like, you know?

On Hallowe'en, it's particularly fun to let your wires get crossed and transpose Manhattan 'hoods. Swap the personality of, say, Murray Hill with the Meatpacking District. Hmmm. Interesting disguise.

Here's one that's veh-ry scah-ry!Try it yourself:

Instead of hitting Madison Avenue's Sherry-Lehmann (where I recently was thoroughly pampered at a Bordeaux tasting)...
wine as art madison avenue bottle window displays cheri lehman
...end up at the Lower East Side's Madison Liquor on Madison Street. Whoops! Hey where's that map? It's like walking into a vegan dinner party with Ronald McDonald.
brooklyn guy shops here madison licker
Clash. And so I found out that Manhattan's got two Madisons, both on the east side. But the Upper East Side and Lower East Side could not be more different, and not just when it comes to wine shopping. So I felt it appropriate that I would dress up each one in the other's costume today. The theme, as always, is "wining and dining." Can you tell which Madison is which?

Atangine dreams and stewing spices Moroccan cuisine
cherri nails mon sherri
This first duo shown above is especially tricky. Those bell peppers seem a little too perfect to be real don't you think? And a Cherry Nail only looks juicy enough to slurp up -- so you've been warned. (Who says it's only Madison Avenue where the admen play?)

Bnesquick milk beverage chocolate
marshay madison fruits and vegetables
Only one is labelled here as Madison but actually they both are! To figure out which is "avenue" and which is "street" look to the other writing on the wall: One says Nesquik and one says Marché. Yes, that's French and that's about as big of a hint as you're going to get.

Cnectar on 82nd street madison avenue
madison street corner deli
Can you separate these two twin green awnings and get to who's really behind the disguise?

Djunk food junkie on madison street in chinatown
whitnet museum of american art basement cafeteria
"Madisons under glass"


Onion Square

cipollini onions union square greenmarket

pumpkins up broadway union square greenmarketUnion Square greenmarket. Monday. Half past ten. The square looked more like a pumpkin patch than anything else but it was a display of gourmet onions -- including its smart cipollini onions -- that caught my eye.

(Actually the woman using her baby stroller to balance a giant pumpkin was quite eye-catching too... don't be alarmed, there was no child in the stroller at the time -- it was 100% pumpkin buggy and up to the task.)

I love onions. Many cooks say garlic is the most indispensable ingredient in the kitchen but something about garlicky cooking draws me away from wine and toward cognac (its ability to act as a breath freshener maybe?). This happens especially after I've just finished a garlic-heavy dinner and usually calls for my favourite alternative to Cognac: St-Vivant V.S. Armagnac, with its lovable wonky bottle. Onions, on the other hand, make me a better wine lover. Don't ask me why. All I know is please don't make me eat them raw.

pumpkins baby stroller union square greenmarketCaramelized or blanched, roasted or stewed. Anything but raw.

* * *

A.O.C. Bedford. Moving SW to Houston and 6th Ave. Ten hours later. My New York hosts Frances and James and I made a wise choice to dine at A.O.C. Bedford. Mondays are corkage-free BYOW night (maximum one bottle of your own -- the restaurant remains fully licensed for additional drinks, should you desire them). But not only was it Monday; it was October. And you could really tell, in a good way. The chefs presented us distinctive seasonal dishes. Harvest time at the greenmarket was particularly evident in their butternut squash soup. It was made with 100% fresh squash and no cream. Amazing! It was richly and deeply flavoured -- the essence of squash with only a dab of garnish added to the centre of the bowl.

union square greenmarketswan's neck gourds union square greenmarket...I wonder if swan neck gourds have a similar culinary claim-to-fame or whether their interesting physiology is their best contribution to autumn. That's what the schoolchildren touring the greenmarket early in the day had thought. They grabbed one after the other by the goose neck and flung it about their heads. Or at least until the swan neck gourd farmer noticed...

clos del masThe wines we drank seemed suitably autumnal as well. The bottle I brought was a rather light-ish Cahors and I rushed through it to get to Clos Del Mas Priorat 2003, a Grenache-Carignan blend on the wine list that really embraces fall fare like rack of lamb, duck breast and suckling pig, which were the three dishes we ordered.

This was my first taste of Priorat. It lived up to all the hype. Full, gripping flavour profile, extracted, not flabby at all. But it'll be A.O.C. Bedford that will have so much to live up to when I return for more at the next possible opportunity.


Last Monday, in a New York Minute

An "Oxford Companion to Win": the Gods of wine are currently smiling on me.

a companion in wine

bottlerocket wine and spiritWhen I arrived home from New York last night, I was carrying back with me a quite a haul. I scored myself an autographed Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd edition from the Jancis Robinson, wine writer extraordinaire, in the flesh.

Jancis is one marvelous individual -- the kind of person for whom the phrase down to earth seems to be invented.

At dusk on Monday she sauntered into Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit on West 19th St, near Union Square, and proceeded to chat with the wine lovers who had flocked to the wine shop for her appearance. After a brief talk followed by a Q & A period, she took to signing copies of her big and heavy new release. It's an enormous tome and she announced that her children had christened it her fourth child. Her kids must be as sharp as she is to toss around keen analogies like finishing a book and giving birth. Too bad they were not there. Nick Lander, her husband and restaurant critic, was also absent, though in the environs on assignment.


Advice to the author-hungry at book launches like these: Always purchase the book you're taking to the signing table before you ask to have it signed. (It's poor form to get an author to deface a volume that you do not yet rightfully own.) Unfortunately, a wine-and-cheese reception like the one at Bottlerocket and an 800-page hardcover make for odd bedfellows. It's not exactly the best venue for hoisting around double-layered shopping bags that seemingly contain bowling balls.

jancis robinson oxford companion to wine signing new yorkSo it's three kilograms suspended from one hand, and it's a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the other. You cope. You schlep. What's more is that you have to be sure to purchase your book early on. You do it especially if you don't feel like waiting in the unavoidably long signing line that snakes up to a worldly writer like Jancis Robinson (I suppose I should say wordy writer in the instance of the Oxford) who politely receives reader after gushing reader.

I say get the business part out of the way and pay for the book early on. I did and I was third in line to get my book autographed and meet the author. But that's only because I got my copy at around 6:30 pm, which was about 30 minutes ahead of the signing -- my sales receipt says so.


At precisely 6:29 pm, New York wine lovers who weren't at the launch in Chelsea were reading Basic Juice -- what else? -- which had at that moment published to the world the results from Wine Blogging Wednesday's first contest called WBW #26: Where's Wino? which I won.

Takes one to know one I guess.

Watch out Jancis here I come. (Too bad I didn't ask for an autograph made out to Winning Wino WBW #26.) Out of 19 wines from six different countries, I used tasting notes to correctly identify the provenance of 14 of them. That's 74%. Not exactly at a Master of Wine level but not bad for a boy from Niagara who had landed in the big city.



Oktoberfest: a wine and a dish (J & S Selbach Kabinett 2003 and Sauerkraut)

I wish to dine and have wine with my dish. Even though it's Oktoberfest season, beer is not a mandatory drink should you feel like getting festive. It's especially not required when serving a francisized regional recipe for sauerkraut, known as choucroute, which calls for a nice northern white wine for simmering.

That's what got me to uncork the 2003 J & S Selbach Kabinett Riesling. It opens with white flowers and honeydew on nose. There's melon and apple on palate with interesting smoky notes, perhaps flint-based. Very delicate overall with some depth and a smidge of effervescence. It's a balanced and enjoyable wine and only 10% alcohol, which is quite traditional for a German Riesling.

For such a stately representative, try making an equally alluring artefact from the region. Like I said, it not only pairs well, it also calls for the wine in the recipe.

Choucroute recipe

8 slices bacon, roughly diced
3 onions
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
2 apples, cored and sliced
1 head cabbage, shredded as finely as you can
3/4 cup Riesling
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, approximate
1/4 cup gin
12 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
6 cloves

choucrouteHeat a six-to-eight-quart enameled cast-iron casserole (do not use aluminum or black iron) and sauté the bacon until clear.

Add the onions and garlic and lightly brown them. Add the apples, sauerkraut, vegetable stock and wine. Also add the juniper berries (I've substituted this traditional ingredient with just gin as you can see from the list above), peppercorns, and bay leaves into the pot. Optionally, add a some cloves.

Cook for 2 hours on medium-low heat, keeping the pot just at a simmer.

Serve with a local Riesling or a white Alsatian wine, perhaps a Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris.

Weingut Tyrell Karthauserhof, Zeltinger, Himmelreich, Deutschland. 10%.



"Look What’s Growing in Our Own Backyard"

Look What's Growing in Our Own Backyard is an exhaustive introduction to Quebec wine for local oenophiles. The cold climate here in Canada's largest province (Quebec is more than twice the size of Texas) demonstrates now more than ever that quality wine can be produced, especially in the regions south of Montreal and the St. Lawrence river.

And who better to present the situation than Montreal-area-based Bill Zacharkiw, once skeptical but now encouraged by the current situation. If you haven't read his report yet, I would say that it is required reading for both local wine drinkers in the region as well as curious explorers and enthusiasts of sustainable agriculture (I'm thinking primarily of how Quebec wine can eliminate the need for transportation, which I always thought was a given when enjoying a good bottle in this province).

Take a look at what Bill discovered, which was orginally published last month in the Gazette but now appears on Bill's blog. The piece is packed with vintner profiles, wine reviews and some history too. I think it's pretty fascinating...


A wine to sip by the fire? Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label 2005

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label Pinot Noir 2005
Here's my review of an American wine from Monterey County. This moment has been a long time coming as over the past year I have posted on wines from all over the world, but never a Californian wine or anything from the U.S. at all. Seriously, it's true!


Other than America, only Austria and South Africa have been notably absent from these pages, and even that's about to change for South Africa as I have a Western Cape white that's ready for tasting. So U.S.A. -- it's about time.

Here are my notes and label notes from this bottle:

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label Pinot Noir 2005
Diamond collection wines are made from grapes selected throughout California's unique and diverse viticultural regions. Precise winemaking techniques and aging methods which best showcase the grapes' characteristics culminate in complex and robust wines... with hints of smoke!

Silver Label Pinot Noir has a bright ruby colour and an alluring perfume of red plums, sweet spices, and French vanilla. Profuse flavours of black charry, dark currant, and strawberry fill the palate while notes of sandalwood continue into the soft elegant finish. Enjoy this wine on its own or serve with seared duck breast or herbed pork roast. Try dishes in which you turn your kitchen into a smoker...
It turns out that a small kitchen fire would interrupt my analysis of the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label Pinot Noir 2005.

My toaster oven had burst into flames, but not before I jotted down my reactions to the wine. Luckily for you dear reader, my tasting was unaffected by the heavy smoke that was about to permeate my apartment.

I got a clean nose of herbal or eucalyptus tincture. It was reminiscent of cherry medicine, but with time it softened into notes of strawberry, raspberry, lush tomato. It was redolent and bright, reflecting the remarkable red hues described on the bottle's label.

On the palate, Coppola's Silver Diamond was smooth and fruity -- red currant notes with a light body. A bit one-dimensional with a short finish but thoroughly flavourful and enjoyable. Some nice acid added more brightness to the overall package. And true to the varietal, there were some lovely 'shroomy Pinot Noir echoes. This was an interesting expression that possessed earthiness and a vivid character. More complex than I originally had noted.

fire hazard unattended toaster ovenAnd it was at that point the smoke detector went off. I switched from wine tasting to fire fighting (as one so often does). Fortunately my tasting notes were at the other side of the room. They survived. The toaster oven and four slices of brioche did not. Neither did the Ralph Lauren bath towel I used to smother the flames. Then I waited about an hour while my windows stood agape in order to disperse the particulate and fumes. Whatever dinner I was in process of making on top of the stove (yes, I had something on the go on the stove too) turned out to be a flop. All I recall is that it was a poor pairing for the wine anyway.


This Pinot is not corsé, as they would say in French. It is smooth, not coarse, so I would have it alongside a hummus salad with fully ripened and sweet-ish vegetables, like roasted peppers, zucchini, olives, cucumbers, and sundried tomato.

It is perhaps a bad sign for Weingolb that disaster would ensue after the uncorking of this (inaugural) American bottle. Up until now, the dearth of wines from the United States on these pages was simply because my province-wide wine monopoly didn't do a good job relaying the value-price ratio from coastal vintners to Quebec consumers (this bottle was in fact a gift from a friend and is not available in Quebec). I have hope that fire and brimstone will not prevent further explorations south of the 49th parallel.

Oakville, California, U.S.A. 13.5%.


WBW #26 Where's Wino? Domaine Le Galantin 2001

spiegelau decanter carafe mystery red wine[Post updated with answers to Where Wino? contest]

Where's Wino? is "Basic Juice" Beau's innovative theme for this month's WBW installment. Check out the growing line up of nameless wines and placeless provenances on his site because this WBW is also a contest.

This time, winos need to figure out where's a wine coming from, which is quite a departure from the usual show and tell format of WBWs. Here it's the reader, not the writer, who is to determine which of six possible origins best fits the wine based only on its description. What follows is the description of the wine shown at left, my entry in Beau's roundup.

In order to figure out my where's wino, you probably need to pinpoint what wine I'm drinking. Start with the picture of it and then work you way down my notes to figure out the style or varietal, and then guess where the wine comes from. Good luck!

The uncorking: My first thought is wow. Immensely buzzy mouthfeel produced from what seems to be fruit and a ton of alcohol. I think this wine is lacking balance, unfortunately. A lot of heat, soupy on the nose and scorching on the palate. (Yes, indeed, the label says 15% -- am I allowed to reveal that?) I've already emptied this bottle into a decanter (check out how it looks sitting in a carafe in the photo I took -- it might get you closer to Beau's prize) because decanting these wines is definitely something you are likely to want to do. And so I now choose to wait a bit.

A half-hour later: Dinner, something I've paired to match the wine, is now on the table: merguez and couscous with vegetables. The wine shows some signs of yielding slightly to the hyper-sweet stewed raisins in the harissa-scented couscous and the flavourful garlic and spiced meat of the lamb sausage also try to tame this beast in a bottle. Gamier food would be more ideal but the lamb is pretty pungent. Yet the wine still comes off for the most part as a kind of very berry cocktail made primarily of cranberry vodka. But there is some echo of bramble going down, an interesting hint of clove and maybe some of that storied barnyard I am eager to experience. So this means I have hope that further aeration dials this red wine down a bit. Meanwhile it is medium-bodied, dry, with some length on the finish but more tannin and acid are needed for greater structure. The wine was about $20 and I wouldn't go out and purchase more of it.

5 hours later...: It has gotten rounder with more softened fruit flavours like cherries or even strawberries, but the alcohol is still too hot.


The day after: It's been more than 24 hours since I first tasted this wine. I sent my notes to Beau but now return to the remainder of this wine for a deluxe bacon double hamburger and shoestring potatoes dinner. The wine shows more complexity on the second night -- I get black fruits and olives this time -- but essentially remains on the outer edge of a wine I would open again. That's mostly because I find the alcohol not only interferes with dinner but also because it kills the subtler savouriness within the wine. I'm also not sure about what it does to the wine's structure. But it does seem to be a wine capable of evolving as I've seen somewhat, so perhaps when to uncork is a more significant question than if ever to uncork it again. I think I have seen how time plays out here. I wonder what five years or more would have done to this wine, and where it would've taken it, especially its heady alcohol. Perhaps its bouquet could've achieved balance with its power.


Shiraz razzmatazz: Old world magic comes together for Château Cabrières 2001

Château Cabrières Coteaux-du-Languedoc 2001
I picked up this bottle at a "Solde du directeur" sale virtually sight unseen. Château Cabrières Coteaux du Languedoc (rouge) 2001 possessed three fairly ordinary qualities that when put together create a truly winning combination:

  • Coteaux du Languedoc provenance

  • red blend from the 2001 vintage (great for Midi, especially the Languedoc)

  • 25% off the regular retail price

Château Cabrières corkUnless the bottle turned out to be corked, you would have to be a fairly perverse individual not to love the wine that features each of the above attributes.

I rushed out to buy replacement bottles of this wine. The sale had ended but I didn't care. Because even at $21 (I had discovered it for only $15) this stuff totally turns my crank. In the best words I can muster, here's how that works:

This wine is nearly the end of its design life, but so much the better. There's an orange rim around a very dark purple robe. Deep notes of leather and animal make me want to inhale the aroma of this wine continously. There's even a hint of bacon. Awesome!

Echoes of spice and garrigue pervade. But after greater analysis, I get rust and raisin and chocolate. Château Cabrières Rouge has a generous body on it and after five years, I suspect it is at its most limber. There is integrated and well-proportioned acid and a beautifully soft tannic presence.

I guess if nothing else I would have to call this wine complex. I end up tasting and pondering the stuff all through dinner, which by the way, was a lamb chop -- the magical 4th item to the list above if ever there was one. But back to the wine's complexity: It's got pomegranate and molasses and burnt sugar. And did I mention fruit? Perfectly savoury and delicious fruit -- what you'd expect from any Midi red -- is well represented in this shimmering and multifaceted gem of a wine.

Château Cabrières doesn't need food but if you are at the dinner table I would definitely recommend that you give it the little lamb that it deserves. With some quick grilling, your meat will complement the wine magnificently.

Cave de Cabrières, Cabrières, France. 14%.


Versatile Rhône white saves the day: Château de Nages Réserve 2004

Château de Nages Réserve 2004 (blanc)
Just a straight-ahead tasting note today. I used a standard notation to assess this wine, as explained on Steve De Long’s resourceful site.

(At the time, I couldn’t restrain myself from jotting down a note that read: “This is the kind of wine for bad days.” I can’t remember what exactly that referred to -- a poor tennis result, an nasty bill in the mail or a botched effort in the kitchen for dinner. It doesn't really matter. Based on my findings below, you don’t require a spectacular fumble to enjoy this pick-me-up.)


9-08-06 at Montreal
Château de Nages 2004 - Réserve blanc
A.O.C. Costières-de-Nîmes
R. Gassier, winemaker
60% Grenche Blanc, 40% Roussanne

- Estate bottled
- Stoppered with plastic cork (that could’ve almost ruined my day!)
- 2004 vintage bottled in Burgundy bottles (or perhaps I should say those standard Rhône bottles with the sloping shoulders -- in any case definitely not the Bordeaux-type bottle pictured above)
- $14.30 (on sale at 25% off, I paid $10 and change... a real bargain)

Eye: In the glass, it’s pale yellow with a greenish tint.

Nose: On the nose, there’s honey, white flowers, some exotic fruit suggestion, like litchi. Quite alluring aromatics.

Mouth: Citrusy taste -- predominantly lime, pear, with a very long finish, especially for any of the whites that I’ve tasted recently. Full mid-palate highlighted by mineral elements. Pervasive freshness and a lovely body to this wine -- there’s a certain smoothness added by a silky viscosity. Balanced alcohol.

Table: I’m not sure this cuvée features much acidity yet it manages alongside different dishes quite well. I'm tempted to say anything goes with this supple and agreeable bottle. It will have a softening affect on the palate when paired with anything sharp and pungent, such as a highly seasoned pasta dish with kalamata olives and capers. If that makes the wine come off a tad flabby, unhitch its super-charged pear flavours by serving it with an appetizer course of cheddar cheese on slices of walnut bread.

Caissargues, France. 14%.



lentil salad tuna barbara toivanen



Simple Sauvignon, for about a sawbuck: Château des Matards 2005

Château des Matards Premières Côtes de Blaye 2005
This is very nice example of strong, vibrant acidity regulated by minerality and a musky centre. Château des Matards Premières Côtes de Blaye 2005 offers lovely fruit and it offers some depth too, but what I most like about it is how it penetrates the palate as much as the acid seems to coat and tantalize it. Balance is perhaps the expression I'm searching for.

As an aperatif, the refreshment value is clear. Add some starch -- potatoes and garlic sautéed in butter and green onions, for instance -- and a second dimension of this wine comes out. This type of food, I'm guessing, acts to coat the mouth more, subduing the bracing mouthfeel this wine provides. Instead the minerality and slight muskiness that lies at the core of this cuvée is accentuated. With food or without, take it either way. The blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle is winning.

The 2005 vintage is a very pleasing year for so many wines, especially Bordeaux whites. Château des Matards is the second one that has stood out to me. From the more storied expanses of Graves, (which is just downstream from the Côtes) Château Roquetaillade La Grange also convinces.

After yesterday's Marlborough argument, I needed some convincing and, in this, indeed there is quite a bit.

Terrigeol et fils "Le Pas D'Ozelle" St-Ciers-sur-Gironde, France. 12.5%.


Musings on what a Kiwi cost me

isabel estate cloudy bay babich west brook sauvignon blanc 2005 marlborough
Usually my reviews look at one particular bottle. Not this review though. It has four.

Since the Quebec market is quite deficient in Marlborough Sauvignons, I'm doing this in an effort to get myself up to speed. So to get a better handle on New Zealand's most famous bottled export, I went toe to toe with four bottles. All Marlborough 2005. All Sauvignon Blanc.

Could it be that they're all overpriced too? Or at least the high cost of drinking these trendy bottles was what struck me time and again. Except for the best-of-field Isabel Estate cuvée, which soundly delivered what I would call a $20 experience, the three others clearly fell short in terms of the price to value ratio.

That's not to say the Cloudy Bay isn't a remarkable wine. It is delicate, integrated, and wonderfully vinous in a way that recalls fine French winemaking. But at prices reaching up to and exceeding $30 CDN, I wonder what exactly is going on.

Blind to the pricetag, I actually preferred the Isabel bottle anyway. I favoured it if only for the fact that it is brilliantly complex: showcasing the celebrated Kiwi flavour profile of exotic fruits while maintaining strong mineral underpinnings. Isabel best approaches the Loire touchstone of Henri Bourgeois or Château de Sancerre with green reed, grass and herbal components. Delicious. I will likely seek out more. The 2005 should be able to gracefully face a little ageing.

West Brook makes an entry in the same price range as the above but is entirely missing complexity. It's all pineapple and citrus zing. The difference is like night and day yet the pricetag doesn't flinch. To me, this was even more confounding than the Cloudy Bay.

Babich produces the bottle that cost the least. You won't do too badly with it. It's a fairly good Marlborough example but doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. Very quaffable though; I quite enjoyed it as an aperatif.

Bottom line: Not including Isabel, I can think of many interesting Sauvignon blends from Bordeaux that more reward your palate for less money (actually, I'll be talking more about that in this space tomorrow). In my mind, Marlborough at its best can successfully substitute for Sancerre, but it's at such steep price that I'm not sure the charms of those exotic fruity flavours convince enough for me to stray from the Hexagon.

Isabel Estate Vineyard, West Brook, Babich, and Cloudy Bay. 12.5 - 14%.


What a bottle of wine can tell you about a person

list of red organic wine saq searchIt was that red wine from Provence again. The one with the unassuming label in hues of gold and red. And it was in Eric's hands, yet again. What on earth is this fellow trying to say?

People gravitate to a certain wines for various reasons. I wondered why my friend here had gotten in the habit of buying Château La Lieue, but its affordable price and wide distribution in shops across the city -- not to mention the way it tastes -- made for easy answers to the question. Until one day, when Eric led me to the agrobiologique section of the wine store:

"Which ones of these are good?" he asked me.

I recognized some bottles standing before me and tried to be of some practical use, but the real recognition that washed over me at that moment was that Eric purchases wine based on its status as an organic product. Wine sleuth am I.

Well, of course! Eric had shown me and my friends quite the sustainable summer, eating crate-loads of organic vegetables delivered each week from a nearby farm. I wrote about the appeal of it twice: Once in a post about a quick-fix dinner and then again in another post about a full-on feast for vegetarians. Why wouldn't Eric's wine of choice be biologique, as they say in French?

From Coteaux-Varois, Château La Lieue 2005 is a nice light and fruity expression, but even someone who's concerned about the planet needs to switch it up now and then. So I want to help more than I did that afternoon in the organic wine section. I've determined that the SAQ carries 56 items deemed organic. Use their advanced search to generate the list.

Of those listed, some are quite out of the everyday price range for me and my friends, and Eric much prefers red than white, so I've pared down the full SAQ listing to a dozen reds coming in at or under $18. It turns out that over the past year or so, I've tried all but three brands, which I've indicated below with a question mark. Of all that I tried, there wasn't one that I wouldn't take a gamble on in vintages to come, and I can even produce notes on some of these bottles like Domaine de Petit Roubié as well as Château Gaillard and Dominio del Arenal. (In fact, tomorrow I'm looking forward to uncorking the 2004 vintage of a past fave -- Domaine de Torraccia -- and will comment back on it in the space below.)

P.S. Not available widely -- though I know it once was in Ontario -- is the Domaine Les Grandes Vignes "L'Aubinaie" that I wrote about here. It bears the Terra Vitis designation and is certainly worth keeping an eye out for.

Affordable organic reds available in Quebec

Château La Lieue coteaux-varois 2005

Les Cigales l'Esprit de la Terre Leroisier réserve rouge (?)

Dominio del Arenal utiel-requena 2005
$13.30 NOTES

Pont Neuf vin de pays du gard 2005 (?)

Château Gaillard touraine-mesland 2005
$14.85 NOTES

Dominio del Arenal utiel-requena Espagne 2004

Château Roubia minervois 2002

Château Le Barradis côtes-de-bergerac 2004 (?)

Syrah vin de pays de l'hérault Domaine de Petit Roubié 2003
$16.20 NOTES

Clos de La Briderie touraine-mesland 2005

Domaine de Torraccia vin-de-corse porto-vecchio 2004
$17.65 NOTES

Château Lionel Faivre Prestige corbières 2001


Favourite BYOW Restaurants in Montreal

list of best restaurants montreal byow les meilleurs restaurants sur le plateau format apportez votre vin à MontréalWho wrote "Top 3 restos" on that ardoise (that's French for blackboard) propped up over there?

The establishments I'm about to profile are indeed at the top of my list -- and should be on yours -- but there are so many great bring your own wine restaurants in Montreal that I'll hold back from calling them the Top 3 or the best in the city. In these Jan Wong'ed times, a contention like that calls for some serious journalistic research to back it up.

No broad strokes here.

No extensive study either. It's just that when I go out to eat I almost always choose one of the city's plethora of BYOW options. So suffice to say that the restaurants mentioned below have been consistently good over the past years, always quite affordable, and I can't ever remember not enjoying myself over the course of repeated visits and various food orders.

Here are my "favourite" three places to bring a bottle to (all you out-of-towners should remember that Montreal's BYOW scene is strictly corkage-fee-free, another big plus!)...

Note: Restaurants are listed below are in no particular order.

  1. Pizzeria Napoletana

    In the heart of Little Italy, there is real authentic pizza -- the best I have had in the city. The Napoletana menu also includes pastas and salads but most folks order themselves one of the thirty-something different four-slice pizzas. Check out the full menu on Napoletana's new web site. Extremely noisy room, no reservations taken, cash only and don't even think of asking for a wine bucket, but despite all that this pizzeria still is a must-visit BYOW resto because it has reliably got the best plates at the lowest prices. There are two SAQ outlets selling copious amounts of Italian wine that are quite close by: St. Laurent, corner Danté or Marché Jean-Talon North. Go for a Rocca Delle Macie Vernaiolo Chianti (the 2004 is delicious) which, at $13-and-change, will cost about as much as your pizza. Share both with friends.

  2. La Raclette

    It's less noisy than the above, but no less colourful or fun. La Raclette is a wonderful neigbourhood restaurant nestled onto a quaint residential street in Plateau Mont-Royal. Always competent seasonal cooking loosely based around Franco-Swiss specialties. And the people-watching is a good as the eating making this a great place to relax. A beautiful green-hemmed terrasse is perhaps the prime spot to dine in all of Montreal during the summer months. You can't reserve a table outside, but you can inside, and indoors the restaurant is laid out in a congenial way that maximizes the camaraderie. And unlike the above, there's always an ice bucket waiting for you. Take a reasonably priced Chablis from an outstanding vintage like 2002. Saint-Martin from Michel Laroche for instance. The SAQ Express is a block south at Mont-Royal.

  3. La Colombe

    Save your better bottles for the refined menu at "The Dove" -- a restaurant that celebrates the subtle fusion of French and more exotic near-Orient cuisines. Reservations are a must for the cozy groundfloor dining room of La Colombe, though the second level welcomes larger groups. Stylish, well-heeled, and conscientious for much less than you'd think you would have to pay. You wouldn't be wasting a $40 bottle if you uncorked it here. I suggest a Pinot Noir to accentuate the dishes that often feature rare and delicious mushrooms -- perhaps the nicely aged Coldstream Hills Pinot you've been saving in your cellar for some time. It's worth it. This is a gem near the end of the Duluth BYOW restaurant strip. SAQ Express, with an admirable selection of reserve wines, is just steps west at St-Denis, corner Duluth.