by Dick Snyder, courtesy of City Bites
We don’t have a culture of wine bars in Toronto. In fact, it’s possibly a poor business decision to put the words “wine bar” in the name of a restaurant or bar. (Put “sports” or “bar and grill” in there instead and you’re gold!) That said, the level of attention devoted to wine at the establishments listed below is top notch. Some specialize in local wines, others range far and wide looking for tasty and exotic treats. From casual to pedantic, we welcome all approaches. And the more the merrier.
Pizzeria Libretto and Enoteca Sociale
Lesa LaPointe (our cover girl for this month’s City Bites) reigns over the wine list at Pizzeria Libretto and the soon-to-open Enoteca Sociale, backed by the same folks. An approachable, affordable and ever-changing list at Libretto (20 wines, most available by the glass for $7 to $13) pAves the way for a similar but expanded approach at Enoteca Sociale. LaPointe lived in Spain for four years, where she discovered that just a few Euros could buy excellent wine. She’s trying to replicate that experience at Sociale, which will feature 80 international wines under $80. Between 20 and 40 wines will be offered by the glass, with a state-of-the-art Enomatic machine and Vinfinity system maintaining freshness in the open bottles. The list will represent each region of Italy, as well as a strong showing of Ontario wines. Food at the Enoteca will be traditional Roman-style. “Classic nonna-inspired dishes,” LaPointe says. “Don’t be surprised if you see Rocco’s mom preparing pasta herself!” Enoteca Sociale is slated to open by the end of May.
Pizzeria Libretto, 221 Ossington Ave., Enoteca Sociale, 1288 Dundas St. W.
A resolute focus on all things local, with inspiration from Parisienne bistros, Union provides an easy entry into sophisticated yet easy-to-approach wines. The list lies in the hands of Christopher Sealy, who brings a decidedly non-pretentious attitude to the VQA-focused list, which is rounded out by European classics. Union hosts affordable winemaker’s dinners, as well as Laissez-Faire Union Saturdays (noon to 5:30 p.m.), with specials on oysters, charcuterie, cheese and, of course, wine.
Union, 72 ossington Ave., union72.ca
The new College Street hotspot by (vegetarian) chef Howard Dubrovsky and (carnivore) partner and co-chef Chris Scott is hip, eclectic and a great place to hang. The wine menu is sparse in a good way. You won’t get lost, but you will be inspired.
L.A.B. 651 College St. (@Grace)
Says Jeremy Day, owner and self-described wine geek, at this cozy Parkdale destination: “When you’re in France you drink French wines, in Italy you drink Italian wines, the same for journeying to Spain, Australia, Chile. Why would anyone not drink Ontario wines whilst in Ontario?” Day makes it easy for patrons to see his point of view. The café’s third annual Ontario Wine Fair takes place June 19, and it’s always a popular (and value-filled) affair, with dozens of Ontario’s smaller boutique wineries pouring their treasures. Tickets are $55 in advance; $65 at the door.
Café Taste 1330 Queen street West
A stellar international selection and a respectful showing of Canadian labels—all at very fair prices—make this business-district restaurant a great choice for both showing off and kicking back. Monthly themed dinners explore global cuisine and wine with prix fixe menus starting at $45 (or $65 with wine pairings). May’s theme is the Marche region of Italy, and June explores the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, California and Washington). At least 20 by-the-glass choices, and generous 6 oz. pours!
Vertical, 100 King St. W.
Crush Wine Bar
Under new management and the astute wine direction of sommelier and manager Mark Moffat, Crush continues its mandate to offer an extensive by-the-glass selection, and they have a gorgeous long bar and more relaxed seating area at the front, perfect for an after-work tasting. Moffat is working closely with new chef Michael Wilson to create wonderful pairings. Flights of wines (2 oz. pours) start at $15, and the extensive by-the-glass list can be downloaded from their website. And they have a patio!
Crush Wine Bar, 455 King St. W.
Reds Bistro and Wine Bar
Some of the most educated wine servers in the city (go on, quiz them!) and a massive by-the-glass selection (as many as 100), a long bar with comfy seats and some of the best charcuterie around (courtesy chef Michael Steh). That’s Reds.
Reds Bistro and Wine Bar, 77 Adelaide St. W.
A casual vibe and wine tastings that include beer and a wine-friendly chef—David Chrystian—and one of Toronto’s most experienced sommeliers—Michael Sullivan—keep it lively at Victor in the Le Germain Hotel. An easy-to-browse list (see it online) is organized by grape, with about 20 selections by the glass. But anything on the list is fair game: buy at least two glasses and they will open any bottle.
Chez Victor, 30 Mercer St.
Owner/sommelier Tom Lexovsky makes it easy: his by-the-glass list is organized under headings like “Sassy,” “Sophisticated” and “Round and Elegant.” Ontario wines get star billing on a list that ranges around the world, and 3 oz. pours start at just $5.
Superior Restaurant, 253 Yonge St.
Resolutely French in approach, yet with a contemporary sensibility, chef/owner Didier Leroy presides over a large room, with a dedicated bar area perfect for sipping through the extensive list of French and VQA gems.
Didier Restaurant, 1496 Yonge St.
The Dupont location of this coffee house turns into a wine bar from 6:30 p.m. till “late” Wednesday to Saturday, with unique wine finds, Ontario and Quebec cheeses, house-made pate and desserts. How very European!
Ezras Pound, 238 Dupont St.
Frenetic and inventive chef/owner Nathan Isberg teams up with Krysta Oben to offer a small, intelligent selection of a dozen or so gems, marked up a very reasonable $20 or so.
Atlantic, 1597 Dundas St. W. (@Brock)
For an out-of-town getaway with a wine focus, Langdon Hall provides a deep cellar and a dining room that’s often populated with local wine producers (so you can hAve a chat). Chef Jonathan Gushue’s attention to wine makes his tasting menu one of the best around.
Langdon Hall, 1 Langdon Drive, Cambridge
Dick Snyder is the Editor of City Bites, where this article was originally published. Find City Bites on facebook by clicking here.