Malcolm Jolley is overwhelmed at The Living Vine portfolio tasting.
No, this post isn’t about taking LSD, but it is about a vision. The vision of a young man from Newfoundland who found himself working in the fine dining restaurants of Toronto and found a passion for wine. But not just any old wine, that young man thought future of wine was in its past, in organic, bio-dynamic and sustainable practices in the vineyards and in the cellars. The vision was sustained and the young began an agency to import only those kind of wines. At first, it was hard: was there a big enough market for organic wines to sustain an agency that did nothing else? Even if there was, were there enough producers out there making wine that was both good for the planet and thoroughly delicious? But he kept with it, and a dozen odd years later, on a pleasant fall afternoon, the fruits of Mark Cuff’s labour were evident and bountiful at The Living Vine’s portfolio tasting as Toronto’s sommelier elite crowded the tables stacked with bottles of organic, bio-dynamic and natural wines. Here are some photos and notes from a lucky journalist they let sneak in and taste a few wines…
Here Mark Cuff pops in on Living Viner Danielle Nichols who presided over an ice bin full of French whites. Danielle was particularly popular as she was pouring two bottles of Nicholas Joly’s Clos de la Bergerie: the 2016 (available now for a cool $98.95 a bottle) and the 2008. They were good. Very good and the ’08 was as alive and kicking as the ’16.
Among the wineratti at the tasting were sommleirs Brittany O’Rourke and Christopher Sealy of Alo, and now Alo Bar. It is generally a good idea to follow these two around at tastings, as they reliably know what’s worth a pour and what might not. But there was really no need to at The Acid Trip. As the name of the show suggests, all of the wines being poured, no matter how different the terroir or grape that made them, shared a brightness and vivacity from Camille Rossi Chauvenet’s Massimago Amarone to Millton Vinyard’s New Zealand Chenin Blanc. Actually, this was a bit of a problem. After a while I could tell who had recently arrived to the tasting because, like me, they had a bewildered look as tried to figure out where to start.
Alessandro Pietropaulo of Bar Isabel confers with Living Viner Tim Reed Manessy, whose corner of the Italian table included the respective wines of Occhipinti padre (Giusto for COS) and figlia (Arianna for Occhipinti) as well as those of Giulio Armani, rock star winemaker of Emilia-Romagna at La Stoppa and his own boutique Denavolo.
It wasn’t all sommeliers on The Acid Trip, on the bus was Chef Chris McDonald whose wine knowledge is only rivaled by his culinary. Here he shares his insights with restaurateur and sommelier Jacob Wharton Shukster (Chantecler) and sommelir Jascha Baroness (CN Tower).
I very nearly missed the Spanish corner, as the crowd obscured its view between Italy and Australia. But I am glad I didn’t as reaching it gave me the opportunity to meet Mark’s charming wife Aleks Cuff and tasted some lovely Iberian whites, reds and orange wines, including the Menade Verdejo from Rueda, a region I’m not sure I was aware of before the tasting.
As much fun as it is to virtually jetset around room filled with wines from all over the world, it’s also very nice to touch down at home. Southbrook Vineyard’s story parallel’s The Living Vine’s nicely as Marylin and Bill Redelmieir’s vision to create a fully, vertically organic and biodynamic winery in Niagara. Bill and his son, Andrew, joined winemaker Ann Sperling at a very full table, pouring their estate wines as well as the wines they source from organic Niagara growers. Just as the Living Vine has helped create new markets for their organic procuders, so Southbrook has been an important driving force in creating a market for their organic wine growers. One grower that Ann was championing at The Acid Trip is Heather Laundry, from whose family’s vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore she makes a fantastic Gamay: the 2017 was alive and full of fruit. Ann and the Redelmieirs were also pouring Southbrook’s 2017 Wild Ferment Cider which is great fun and contrasts starkly to most domestic ciders in its tart and ever so slightly funky complexity.
Witness the work of a pro who pours one punter’s glass while taking a request from another. Zinta Steprans rose high in the sommelier world before becoming a Living Viner a few years ago. Her table, in a room full of quirky and eccentric wines, was one of the more interesting and included a couple of bottles from the Czech producer Milan Nestarec.
After more than two hours of solid tasting, and a little socializing, I had to leave The Acid Trip to get to my next appointment. I did so reluctantly and with the full knowledge that I hadn’t come anywhere near to tasting all the wines on show. I hope I can get back to it next year.