It’s been some time since I last put together a wine list. In fact, now I think about it, it has been a hell of a long time.

After almost six years at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar I honestly felt that I had done as much as I could ever do with regards to managing wine programs, and so I happily hung up my Sommelier spurs and wandered off into the beautiful sunset that was Good Food Revolution. Despite a couple of little dalliances helping to create lists for friends’ places here and there, it had never occurred to me that one day I’d once again be getting terribly excited about curating a restaurant’s wine program.

I first met Mr. Flamingo‘s Mikey Apples eight or so years ago, when he had been brought into JKWB for dinner by James Murphy (ex-LCD Soundsystem), as if I recall correctly, the two were DJ-ing together later that night. Over the years we kept in touch, as his rather superb (and fascinatingly covert) micro-club Bambi’s happened to be right around the corner from my place, hence I had spend a few nights drinking and dancing in said establishment. Just a few weeks back, as I was strolling by, he asked if I would be at all interested in putting together a very small wine list for his new venture.

Mikey had taken over the old O Lagar Portuguese restaurant right above Bambi’s, and, along with Fan Halen AKA Fan Zhang (ex-Happy Child/The Drake/Niagara Street Café) in the kitchen, was planning to open a small (34 seat), six-nights-a-week restaurant. After some thought I decided that it would be a great little project to attach myself to, especially seeing as the spot is literally two minutes from my home/office/family.

The first night of Mr. Flamingo's soft opening drew a sizeable crowd.

The first night of Mr. Flamingo’s soft opening drew a sizeable crowd.

And so I found myself attempting to craft a witty three white/three red list, a much greater challenge than one may at first think. I’ve never been of the philosophy that one has to have certain components on a list, as in “We just have to have a Pinot Grigio… we really need to have a Californian Cabernet”, as I feel that plan of attack invariably leads to a generic and flaccid list… and we already have more than enough of those across the city. So what to do?

Well, accessibility is key here, so I chose to offer six varied glasses of wine that range from $9 to $15. Don’t expect to see any Grand Cru Burgundy poured at Mr. Flamingo, well, at least not in the first few weeks… who knows? If we choose to invest in a Coravin at some point…

Much of my inspiration for this teeny list comes from the many small bars and cafés I visited in French Catalonia last year. Places where one would feel comfortable ordering the house wine, as it was always a solid option, nothing to deeply philosophise over, but really, really enjoyable juice all the same.

Usually the wines there were simple country wines, Vin De Pays de Cötes Catalanes for the most part, and oh boy did they go down well. While you’ll certainly see a few wines from that particular VDP on this list, as they tend to be terrific value, you’ll also see wines from all over the globe, but all at what I hope are wallet/purse-friendly prices. I strongly believe that even the seasoned wine lover should feel no guilt nor shame whatsoever in the pure enjoyment of good, drinkable, affordable wines.

Jacob Wharton-Shukster (Chantecler) and Bernard Stramwasser (Le Sommelier) popped in on the soft opening to see what happens to an old man if he has to be on his feet for four hours.

Jacob Wharton-Shukster (Chantecler) and Bernard Stramwasser (Le Sommelier) popped in on the soft opening to see what happens to a retired Sommelier if he has to be on his feet for four hours.

With a nod to both the neighbourhood and the previous tenants of the space, I decided to go Portuguese for the opening entry-level pours… and so we have a crackingly vibrant Vinho Verde from Vilacetinho that is completely new to this market. It’s nice and low in alcohol too, weighing in at only 10.5%. This is coupled with a remarkable juicy, young red blend (traditional Trincadeira and Aragonez augmented with with a squirt of interloper Syrah) named “Ágile” from Mouro, a smashing little Alentejano Vinho Regionale. Both of these come in at $9 a glass, and have aromatic/flavour/texture profiles that do the opposite of tire the palate.

Drawing upon the bounty of great “drinking” wine we produce today in Ontario, I chose to include a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County’s Keint-He winery.  These two bottlings from their “Voyageur” series utilise fruit sourced from around three Niagara Escarpment vineyards, and New Zealand Winemaker Ross Wise certainly knows some good fruit when he sees it, as both of these wines punch well above their weight, showing some truly exceptional value.

The Chardonnay is generous and balanced, with a good measure of warm oak spice, the Pinot an exceptional example of what Niagara can do with this grape when the stars align… and astonishingly really does nose/taste of delicious Pinot Noir, an accomplishment in itself, as I have tasted many a bottle at this pricepoint that has been positively moribund. So congratulations to Ross Wise on this one!

Next up we have one of Fred Loimer‘s Grüner Veltliners from Lower Austria, his approachable, and organically farmed, “Lois“, a crisp and refreshing glass that shows its inherent versatility alongside Zhang’s eclectic menu. It sits perfectly with his Vichyssoise with cured trout, and does a more than admirable job paired with his platter of artichoke barigoule, a real challenge when one considers the components: wine poached artichokes, fried eggplant, pickled lobster mushrooms, and pickled cauliflower in aioli.

Finally, to mess with people’s olfactory expectations, we have Luigi Giusti‘s Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a veritable floral explosion of violets and roses, with a dry, tight, and structured palate, a long time personal favourite from Le Marche in east-central Italy… a wine that works so damn well with Mr. Flamingo’s duck papardelle, but also drinks well solo.

Upon the night of Mr. Flamingo’s soft opening I was curious to see if the clientele would be at all interested in my wee selection of wines, or be seduced by the admittedly delightful cocktails of the talented Tommie Cheng (ex-Black Hoof and now also at Woodlot).

As the night unfolded I was most pleased to discover that it was a fair bit of both, and with the list being genuinely kinetic, changing and evolving from one week to the next, let’s hope that we can get that Mr. Flamingo’s crowd drinking more great juice.

I have to admit that it feels pretty good to be (partly) back in the saddle once again.

Viva la Revolution and the democratisation of wine!

Mr. Flamingo is located at 1265 Dundas West, above Bambi’s at Dundas/Dovercourt. It just went through its gentle soft opening and will be open this Friday and Saturday from 6pm until 2am, with the kitchen closing around 11pm. Regular hours will begin as of next Wednesday. Just tell FOH maven Aina Maleko (ex-Black Hoof) or any of her enthusiastic young staff that I sent you…

For more information click here.

Jamie DrummondEdinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And on certain nights you’ll possibly find him at the bar of Mr. Flamingo, glass in hand.