By Warren Porter for Iron Gate Cellars, A Certified Good Food Fighter
In part 1 we talked about wine clubs where the primary intent is to purchase wine. In this article we’ll focus on a few of the major clubs in Toronto where the goal is to taste in a social setting.
For those who want to learn about wine through tasting instead of reading (the only way in my opinion) joining a local wine tasting club can be a great experience and a fun night out. The key is to find the crowd that you would best suit and the wines that you would most like.
Tasting clubs are designed to bring people together for a structured tasting often on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Some are designed around a region (Australia, America’s, Ontario) and some have a broad depth exploring many different wines from cellars they have built up over the years (Toronto Vintners, Winetasters). Most of these clubs have their own collection of wine (often upwards of 1000-2000 bottles) and are managed by a volunteer group of enthusiasts. Tasting clubs are a great way for novice and oenophile alike to taste back vintages, learn about particular regions, hear guest speakers educate during tastings, and make new friends with a common interest. Below are a few of the most popular.
Australian Wine Society – As the name would suggest the AWS focus is strictly on the wines of Australia and they have built up a substantial number of bottles over the years that crosses all regions and varietals from this important wine country. Events are typically held monthly all over Toronto at locations including the Boulevard Club, Toronto Lawn and Tennis and Albany Club. Those looking for a “serious” wine tasting may want to look elsewhere. While the group will teach you a lot about wine each event is in typical Aussie style of lightheartedness and fun.
Cost: $35 initiation and $65 average/event – www.aws.ca
Society for American Wines – SAW stages events at local restaurants almost every month showcasing wines from North and South America. Halfway between social and technical in style, if your palate swings mostly to new world wines and upcoming regions of South America it’s a good option.
Cost: $45 initiation and $60 average/event – www.americanwine.ca
Ontario Wine Society – Supported by Ontario wineries the OWS also stages events with a focus on Ontario wines often at the wineries themselves. With a Toronto chapter and an Oakville chapter they hold events at restaurants, wineries and even have one coming up at Woodbine Racetrack.
People who are into the slow food movement and consuming local products should really look to the OWS to learn more about Ontario wine. The fact is, Ontario makes some amazing world class wines but like many other regions we have our share of plonk. By tasting through what’s local you may be more inclined to get your next Riesling from Niagara instead of Alsace.
Cost: $40 initiation and $35 average/event – www.ontariowinesociety.com
South African Wine Society – This club holds 8-10 events per year always with dinner and wine together. Each event features 8 different South African wines and pairs with the appropriate food. At each tasting they host an industry expert such as a winemaker or wine writer to add some education to the evening.
Cost: $27 initiation and $85 average/event – www.southafricanwinesociety.ca
Unless you’re a huge fan of specific regions then I would steer toward clubs like the ones below which have wines from all over the world.
Winetasters – Winetasters has a deep cellar and stages tastings with numerous themes including “California Pinot”, “1997 Barolo” and “White Varietals – New World vs. Old World”. I even attended a Mouton Rothschild tasting with vintages from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s for less than $100! This is one of the best educational clubs in the city with the only downside (if you live in the city) being the tasting location which is at Yonge and Sheppard.
Cost: $40 initiation and $60 average/event – www.winetasters.ca
iYellow Wine Club – Angie Aiello (pronounced “iyellow) is a very accomplished promoter and has done a great job job getting the iYellow name into the media. iYellow is very social centered and steers toward a younger crowd of people who are new to wine boasting a membership (albeit with no barrier to entry or cost) of 5000 people.
Events are everything from casual restaurant tastings, to winery tours to the iYellow wine school. While I haven’t personally attended any events the focus appears to be on fun and lighthearted education.
Cost: Free and cost per event varies greatly – www.iyellowwineclub.com
Toronto Vintners Club – TVC, like Winetasters, has a deep cellar of over 100 cases of wine (that they store at Iron Gate – Private Wine Management I’m proud to say!) that they have acquired over the years and holds tasting based on themes, not regions. Each tasting event has a guest speaker and they are a great way to learn about wine and try vintages that may be in your cellar which you’re unsure whether or not to open yet. Themes coming up this year include Chianti Classico, Rhone Reds and 2000 Bordeaux. The tasting locations are usually downtown at either the Faculty Club or Board of Trade so it’s handy for those working or living in the core. There is however a fairly serious focus on the wine within the members at the event so don’t look for a lot of socializing.
Cost: $50 initiation and $70 average/event – www.torontovintners.org
Warren Porter is President of Iron Gate – Private Wine Management, an offsite wine storage facility and collector services company located in downtown Toronto. Warren opened Iron Gate in 2003 following a 20 year career in technology and telecommunications. The segue into this completely new industry came following an epiphany that wine was far more interesting then technology and would therefore be a much more fun business. In its short time Iron Gate has grown to service collector clients around North America, store over 70,000 bottles of wine, and manages the wine club, SommelierService.com, which is a ‘Certified Good Food Fighter‘