Although I’m not usually one for listicles, I felt that the end of 2019 was a good a time as any to put together a nice/naughty list of what I have been tasting through over the past 12 months… and trust me, although most of it was fantasic, it wasn’t all a bed of roses!
Most Memorable Wine of 2019 : 2018 Damascene Semillion, Franschhoek, South Africa
Taking the title at the 11th hour, this South African old vine Semillon is one of the most exciting wines I have tasted in a long time, prompting me to write one of the most thorough tasting notes I have composed in many a year.
The Damascene Semillon is a bit of an outlier, being produced from two veteran blocks of vines from 1942 and 1962, and wildly fermented first in stainless steel and then, one third of the way through the ferment, finished off in older barrels. There is no lees stirring and malolactic fermentation is arrested in order to preserve the wine’s natural acidity.
The wine’s bouquet is so massively complex I just don’t know where to begin : honey, toasted hazelnuts, fragrant wild flowers, poached and spiced pear, orange blossom, wet wool, beeswax, sandalwood, as as it warms up those aromatics simply explode. This is by no means a shy wine, but a wine full of myriad subtleties. The palate is stunningly textural and mouth-filling, almost verging on creamy, medium bodied but with a definite weight to it. Crisp acidity makes it juicy and lip-smackingly drinkable. And WHAT an extended mineral/riverstone finish that appears to go on and on… and on. Okay, I’ll stop with the superlatives.
Fun Fact : Over time around 15% of the old Semillon bush vines have slowly mutated into Semillon Gris (Yes, that was a new one for me too), adding another fascinating layer of complexity to this truly spellbinding wine.
I get the feeling that this could last for a good few years, perhaps up to a decade, getting only better with its time in bottle. Although it was only bottled in February of this year, it was showing simply gorgeously.
It’s pretty crazy when you understand that they only made a mere 700 bottles of this, and when I had polished it off I’ll admit that I felt slightly sad that I had finished one of those 700.
Available exclusively via private order from Noble Estates for $50 per 750ml bottle. Tell them that I sent you!
Honourable Mention : 2018 Malivoire “Small Lot” Gamay, Niagara Escarpment VQA, Ontario, Canada (Alcohol 12%, Residual Sugar 2g/l) Winery and Online $44.95 (1.5l Magnum bottle)
It’s very interesting that all three of these came in around the $50 mark.
Best-Forgotten Wine of 2019 :
While I have tasted some absolute stinkers and complete howlers over the past year, I’m feeling rather festive, jolly, and charitable ; I actually don’t think that anyone deserves a real bashing for their winemaking at this time of year.
Krampus knows who you are though… and he’s not much of a fan of skin contact white wines either.
Most Memorable Beer of 2019 : Beau’s Wag-The-Wolf White IPA, Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada
I first fell in love with this at Beau’s wünderbar Oktoberfest a few months back, and it has become quite a regular purchase ever since. On paper it’s a bit of an odd hybrid of wheat beer and IPA, but in practice it is really quite delicious. I get loads of peach, guava, cloves and other warm spices on the nose, whilst on the palate it is satisfyingly juicy and thirst quenching.
At 5% it falls into my own personal “session” zone, so I can happily wolf through a six pack of these without causing too much damage internally.
Runner Up : Courage Director’s Bitter Cask Ale enjoyed at The Bailie Bar, Stockbridge, Edinburgh.
Best-Forgotten Beer of 2019 : Spaten, Ontario, Canada
Ah yes, yet another go-to German beer bites the dust. I was quite upset about this one, as Spaten had become a bit of a staple for the cabin, but then they decided to go and brew it in Canada. Why they keep on doing this with $2.25-a-can everyday German München beers I just don’t know. Drives me absolutely crazy. And they always make the cans smaller too!
Runner Up : My much missed Lowenbrau… *sigh*
Best Alcohol Free Beer of 2019 : Big Drop Brewing, Stout, London, UK
This stuff really blew my mind back in November when I first tasted it before interviewing the owner/founder Rob Fink. Now, I am by no means Dry-Curious, just in case you were wondering, but I actually really enjoy the taste of this, and have had really great fun pouring it blind for unsuspecting boozehounds. The looks on their faces when I explain that it is non-alcoholic are priceless.
I’ve been pushing this beer so hard that it’s getting increasingly hard to track down in the LCBO until the next shipment arrives. I suppose that’s a good thing though?
Okay… I’m getting thirsty for one of these right now…
Runner Up : Well that would have to be Big Drop’s Pale Ale! A worthy sidekick to the Stout.
Honourable Mention : Partake Brewing “Pale”, Toronto, Canada
Sorely lacking the body and flavour of the Big Drop brews, but really rather exceptional with a spicier Indian curry.
Best-Forgotten Alcohol Free Beer of 2019 : Hoegaarden 0.0 “Non-Alcoholic Wheat Beer”, Belgium
Absolute otiose muck. What more can I say? Another truly awful beverage from multinational InBev.
With any luck my old friend Krampus will be visiting your breweries this Xmas, although any naughty “additions” he makes to the tanks could only make your beers taste better than they do at present.
Favourite Artisanal Bread of 2019 : Prairie Boy, Double Fermented Multigrain
Grant MacPherson has been doing a superb job at his bakery up on College just west of Dovercourt, and personally I think that the 100% organic bread just gets better and better as he really hones his craft.
Sometimes I just sit back with some of that super pricey (salted) French butter and rip one of these loaves apart, devouring it piece by chewy piece, until it has all gone. For me that is pure, unfettered indulgence.
Favourite Commercial Bread of 2019 : Dave’s “Killer” Bread, 21 Whole Grains And Seeds
I picked this up as a novelty a few months back and the family absolutely adored it as it was just so damn tasty. The only thing was, I couldn’t remember where I had picked it up, and so I spent a few weeks looking for it somewhere in our neighbourhood. Eventually I discovered that it was carried by our local Butcher, Nosso Talho (see below.) It tastes a touch sweet and malty, but it is the best commercial/supermarket bread by far, and simply great for sandwiches and although it is certified organic, you’d be really surprised just how long this stuff stays fresh. We regularly grab some of this when Prairie Boy is sold out of our favourite bread.
Fun Fact : We used the story of Dave (not actually a killer BTW) to teach our five year old son all about the potential for rehabilitation of prisoners.
Favourite Butcher of 2019 : Nosso Talho, 1326 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When our local Nosso Talho on Dundas had a serious fire last year the construction/renovations seemed to drag on forever, and I was quietly worried that they would never open again. But when they finally reopened their doors they had completely revamped the store, expanding upon the produce section, and building in a Portuguese “hot table” of prepared food to go. Whilst I think that the hot table is still a bit of a work in progress, the rest of the store is a really fantastic upgrade.
The staff are much friendlier and helpful than the store’s previous incarnation, a necessary improvement as I know for a fact that the gruffness that many friends experienced previously may have put them off ever returning. I’m delighted to report that you’ll now find the invigorated and enthusiastic staff bending over backwards to address your every need.
They have greatly increased the selection on the expanded meat counter, the now Ontario-focused produce section, in the fridges and freezers, and on the shelves in general.
High points for me are my beloved free-range chickens at $2.99 a lb, the Azorean blood sausage with rice (sweet or spicy), thick smoked pork chops that just need a bit of crisping up in a pan, and the many different fresh sausages made inhouse.
An excellent re-addition to the Dundas West strip.
Most Memorable Meal of 2019 : Nobelhart & Schmutzig, Friedrichstraße 218, 10969 Berlin, Germany
We weren’t allowed to take photographs in this place, so I had to dig one up from the interwebs.
The name translates as Classy & Dirty, and that’s succinctly explains exactly what one gets here. It really was quite the place, and one of the most fascinating multi-course meals I have had quite some years (I’m looking at you just-shuttered Fäviken.)
The veritable cornucopia of exquisite aromatics, flavours, and textures that they presented from a palette of extremely locally-sourced ingredients was truly admirable. These are not complex dishes ingredient-wise, and nor do they need to be; a focus upon a single high quality ingredient with a simple dressing or accompanying vegetable or fruit is par for the course here.
Whilst the wines were all decidedly on the natural spectrum they complemented the dishes quite marvelously, and the service, whilst deliberately louche and rakish, was slyly attentive and extremely efficient ; a nice touch.
The attention to detail here was quite something, from the controversial stickers on the exterior window, through the traditional pig’s blood soap in the bathrooms, to the music, all played on vinyl from a turntable right in the middle of the kitchen. David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time never sounded so perfectly placed.
Runner Up : The Big Heurigen Party, Vienna, with Wines Of Austria and, of course, the wonderful Willi Klinger
Best-Forgotten Meal of 2019 : Robo Sushi, 865 York Mills Rd #9, North York, Ontario, Canada
I’d say that words could not express my disappointment with this sad place, but then I did go on to pen a 1,537 word article about our time there. It’s simply not really as advertised, and the sushi manages to both suck and blow at the same time, which I really didn’t think was scientifically possible until that fated day. Avoid.
Runner Up : Maxx’s Kitchen, X Hotel, Toronto
Best Breakfast of 2019 : Fatty Owls, “The Big Yin Breakfast”, 33 Bread Street, Edinburgh, Scotland
I’m looking at the picture above and trying to work out just how many calories I consumed that morning after my 30th high school reunion. Having had more than my fair share of ales the previous evening I scoured the city’s perma-drizzle-soaked streets for a good old Scottish breakfast, and I most certainly found one.
From left to right: two fried eggs, baked beans, haggis, black pudding (read: blood sausage/boudin noir/morcilla), Lorne sliced “square” sausage, friend mushrooms, two slices of back bacon, pork sausage, potato scone, grilled tomato, served with two slices of wholewheat toast and butter, and a pot of Earl Grey tea. Perfection. And it sorted my hangover right out.
And congratulations if you picked up the Fawlty Towers reference in the establishment’s name.
Best-Forgotten Breakfast of 2019 : Tim Horton’s Breakfast Muffin
Low hanging fruit, for sure, but it’s just utter rubbish; I just don’t get the Canadian love affair with Timmy’s. Why is it seen as sacrilege to say a word against anything these franchises churn out? I mean, even the coffee is terrible according to most coffee drinkers I know. Can someone explain this phenomenon to me? I just stopped in to pick something up on a journey up north as I was terribly hungry… never again.
Best Burger of 2019 : Aloette, 163 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Aloette burger and fries (or salad!) with Beaufort cheese from the Savoie, onion, lettuce, and pickle truly is a thing of beauty.
I’ve visited Aloette a few times since they opened, and each and every time I’ve plumped for the burger as it never disappoints. Burgers are such simple dishes, but so easy to do wrong and be completely uninspiring. This, on the other hand, is so juicy and delicious that I find it actually lifts the soul.
Pro Tip: It goes down particularly well with the equally juicy Alpha Box and Dice “Tarot” Grenache which they served by the glass last Saturday. Great stuff.
Best-Forgotten Burger of 2019 : Cheeseburger In A Can, Trekking-Mahlzeiten, Germany
The worst burger I had this year was a simply terribly sad fairground burger in Wiarton, but as I didn’t have a picture of that (I wasn’t thinking of shooting it for posterity at the time) I went for this canned burger that I came across earlier this year. I mean, I’m all for the specially preserved foods for camping, prepping, survival and the like, but this just takes it one step too far. No thank you.
Best Pizza of 2019 : Giulietta, Toronto, L’ Apuliano (with fennel sausage, grilled rapini, smoked scamorza & garlic)
I’ve eaten a lot of very good pizza this year, but for me there is none better than this gorgeous L’Apuliano pizza at Chef Rob Rossi and restaurateur David Minucci. It helps that the staff are so accommodating when it comes to hosting our family there, and keeping our restaurant-feral son entertained. And with one of our first Young Blood Sommeliers, Jordan Alessi, now at the helm of the wine and FOH, it has become one of my favourite spots in the city.
Best Oysters of 2019 : Oyster Boy, 872 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Full disclosure here, Adam “Oyster Boy” Colquhoun is a good friend, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel Oyster Boy provides the best oyster experience in the city.
I’ll let you in on a little secret too… tomorrow, Friday the 20th of December, Oyster Boy will have an exclusive offering of some of the first Oysters to be grown in Newfoundland.
Fisherman Juan Roberts has been growing mussels in Placentia Bay for over 30 years and eight years ago he started experimenting with Oysters.
Tomorrow Oyster Boy will be the first Oyster distributor in Toronto to buy and sell these new Merasheen Bay Oysters.
The perfect way to celebrate the holidays!
Best Bar/Pub of 2019 : The Hand In Hand, 33 Upper St. James Street, Brighton, England
Brighton’s Hand In Hand brewpub is everything I ever wanted in a pub. It’s really small, cosy, and has an incredible offering of craft beers, as well as some highly rated pies. The staff are especially friendly, as are the regulars, who appear to invite random conversation at the bar, something I discovered personally the few nights I visited solo. I was made to feel right at home almost immediately, the place is so welcoming. The clientele is extremely varied demographically, especially in age range, but it does seem to attract an arts and culture crowd, something I’m very much drawn towards. I can’t wait to return here.
Runner Up : Paris Paris, 1161 Dundas West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Kind of my Dundas West office over the past 12 months, as it is great for meeting up with suppliers, and Johnny and Krysta are kind enough to let me use the back room for interviews in the late afternoons.
Honourable Mention : The Communist’s Daughter, 1149 Dundas St West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A perennial favourite of mine, although I don’t get there all that often these days ; this is a great pity as it’s just as marvellous as it ever was.
Best-Forgotten Recipe of 2019 (User error) : Gingerbread People, Jamie Oliver
Poor Jamie Oliver has had a less than stellar year, so I don’t want to come on here and poo all over one of his recipes, especially when the disaster was all my fault!
My original plan had been to make Gingerbread Beaver Scouts, replete with icing neckers, for our son’s Beaver Scout colony. Discovering that our digital scale had broken led to me guessing all the ingredients by eye (never a good thing with baking, as I bake so little.) When I got to the icing part of the process I discovered that my wife had disposed of all the plastic icing tips for the prepackaged icing tubes. Nevertheless I persevered, smudging great clots of blue icing all over the necks of the poor little fellows.
They looked simply terrible (see above), but actually tasted not so bad according to the family… but I think that they were humouring me as they could see how upset I was with the whole situation. They never made it to Beaver Scouts that evening as I was so embarrassed.
Favourite Food Book of 2019 : Meat Planet – Artificial Flesh And The Future Of Food by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft (University Of California Press)
Although the whole topic of lab-grown meat turns the stomach of my colleague Malcolm Jolley, I’ve always been completely fascinated by the concept of cultured beef as a sustainable protein alternative. This book looks at the socio-economic and moral aspects of lab-grown beef and analizes many of the challenging questions regarding both its production and distribution. An engrossing read for anyone curious about the future of our planet’s food.
Favourite Dinner Party Music of 2019 : VA – Screamers, Bangers, and Cosmic Synths Vol. 2. (Triassic Tusk)
Scotland’s Triassic Tusk label come up with a worthy follow-up to their first volume, with Screamers, Bangers, and Cosmic Synths Vol. 2. It’s another exploration into some of the stranger fringes of danceable music that make their much-celebrated Moon Hop party nights the thing of legend.
From Liberian disco, through some of the strangest funky out-there things ever put to vinyl, to Librarian disco (sic), this is certain to add a bit of swagger and boogie to your festive gathering. Just don’t expect to have ever heard any of this stuff previously…
- 1. Tecumsay Roberts – It Makes Me Dance and Sing
- 2. Monad & the Electrons – Foam Song
- 3. Geri Baird – Backside Of The Desert
- 4. Road Runners – Pretty Me
- 5. Bush Telegraph – Lazy Day
- 6. Ocean – The Jesus Pill
- 7. Enzo Del Re – Il Banditore
- 8. Commy Bassey – We Want Togetherness
- 9. Sunny Boy – Love Affaire
- 10. The Weeden Family Singers – In The Kingdom Of The Lord
- 11. Mike Slaughter – In Time
- 12. Lotte Kaerså – Prøv Og Gør Li’Som Jeg
- 13. Trio Ternura – A Gira
Favourite Food Website of 2019 : The Glutton Life
A good-looking and regularly updated food/recipe blog from a Dutch gourmande living in Athens, Greece. I often visit here if I am seeking some inspiration for a family supper or a dinner party with friends. A thoroughly enjoyable browse.
Best Advent Calendar of 2019 : Ilchester Cheese Advent Calendar, UK
I reviewed this back in November and could not believe how appreciated it was by our little fellow. I cannot recommend this highly enough for next year.
Favourite GFR Video Interviews of 2019 :
There were so many to choose from I’ve come up with a list of three (with all being two-parters), in no particular order:
My interview with Donna Dooher gets in here not only because she is a simply wonderful human being, but because we had been talking about recording this for the longest time, and when the time did come for us to shoot it Donna wasn’t too fond of the first video, so we did it over again the next week. This was all well and good, as I had the opportunity to sit down with her three times in as many weeks, which is always a good thing!
My interview with Whisky guru Jim Murray makes this list because the man entertained me so much during the recording. And I wasn’t even tasting the whisky on the day in question.
And last, but by no means least, is my interview with Italian Winemaker Michelle Manelli, not only because he was so interesting to speak with, but because this was my very first successful online video interview, and I think it went rather well, don’t you?
Biggest Letdown of 2019 : UK General Election
When I look at what happened here I am glad that I made the decision to move to Canada almost a quarter of a century ago. I just feel simply terrible for all of my friends and family who will have to live with what Brexit brings, although looking at the Scottish results, with any luck Scotland will somehow get the independence that they deserve and be able to rejoin the EU at some point in the future. Here’s hoping, but with a Boris Johnson majority government it’s going to be a battle to get an Indyref 2.
Well, that’s it for now.
That ended up being a lot longer than I had first imagined it to be… 3,500 words later…
Have a lovely festive season and we’ll be seeing you again in 2020!
And let’s just hope that Krampus doesn’t pay you a visit…
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And 2019 was quite a year.