The Imbiber's Report

Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter with Product Reviews and Much More!


July 23, 2016


sueannstaffHave you seen the new advertisement for Ontario called ‘Where am I?’.  It gave us goose bumps…

Click here and watch the YouTube video.

If you live in the GTA/Golden Horseshoe, there are few better daytrips than a visit to the Niagara Region. We save Niagara-on-the-Lake for the off-season and instead, explore some of the other quiet towns and hamlets that dot the Niagara Peninsula. Fruit and veggie stands await you around every corner and most of the small towns have a café or bakery where you can get a butter tart.

If you’re planning a daytrip this weekend, make sure you visit the Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery.  Start your day with breakfast in Port Dalhousie, then drive along the lake to Jordon Harbour.  On your way to the charming Jordan Village, stop at the Upper Canada Cheese Company (it’s a good idea to take a cooler with you to store all the goodies you’ll find). Explore a few of the other wineries as well: Flat Rock Cellar has an amazing view of Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline from their tasting room and is across the road from Sue-Ann’s winery. The Bruce Trail runs along the Niagara Escarpment here and skirts many of the area’s vineyards Fancy Farm Girl Bannerand is well worth exploring. Try to arrive at Sue-Ann’s ‘good and hungry’ between noon and 4:00 p.m. for some authentic southern barbecue from Susannah’s Smokehouse. Here’s the menu: They are serving barbecue every weekend until Thanksgiving.

Here is a link to explore other parts of Niagara:

Speaking of Sue-Ann Staff, have you tried her Fancy Farm Girl Frivolous White, Foxy Pink Rosé or Flamboyant Red? They are all quintessentially Niagara in style.  The white is bright, refreshing and will make your mouth water. The rosé is light, zippy and perfect for the patio. The red is bursting with fruit and spice and would make the perfect picnic wine (chill it down just a tad).

The white and red have been in the VQA section of LCBO stores for a while and are pretty easy to find. The rosé was released into the Ontario ‘Wines to Watch’ program earlier this month and can be found at these locations:

Pour a glass of any of Sue-Ann’s wines (or any Niagara VQA wine if you don’t have a Fancy Farm Girl on hand) and toast to summer exploration!




Castle Rock Russian River PN 2013Castle Rock Winery
Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2013
Sonoma County, California, USA
456707 $28.95
112 (12 pack) cases available

Vintages Panel: “Heavily influenced by fogs rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, the Russian River Valley is renowned for its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, which tend to offer a finer elegance and a leaner, more precise style than many sites in California. This 2013 from Castle Rock lives up to this billing in spades. Ripe and fresh with cherry and strawberry notes and additional layers of beets and wood spice, it's simply delicious. Elegant and savoury, it's like enjoying a bowl of fresh cherries”.

The Russian River Valley (a smaller AVA within Sonoma County) has a characteristically cool climate by virtue of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The climate here is heavily influenced by the cooling effect of the fog flowing in from the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away to the west. The fog can drop temperatures by up to 40F degrees over a day, allowing full grape maturity over an extended period of time, while at the same time preserving crucial natural acidity. Mild weather and the famous Goldridge loam soils create a phenomenal region particularly for the cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Castle Rock’s Pinot Noir perfectly exemplifies the Russian River Valley style of Pinot Noir at a really terrific price. Supple and complex, with layers of fruit and spice and solid acidity, this is a very versatile food wine. Try it with everything from grilled salmon to lamb.

How do they do it? Here’s the story from their website:

Our Story: Since its inception in 1994, Castle Rock Winery has built an enviable reputation for producing high quality wines at affordable prices. This winning formula has been highly successful, as proven by an increasing number of customers and members of the wine press who have given the wines glowing reviews.

Castle Rock buys grapes from approximately 40 grape growers, all renowned for their expertise and consistency. In each case, vineyard practices are carried out under the guidance and instruction of Castle Rock’s winemaker, Eric Laumann, all to ensure that quality standards are maintained from start to finish.

After the harvest, the wines are made in accordance with Castle Rock’s winemaking standards, and are bottled at wineries, boasting state-of-the-art equipment, located in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Washington’s Columbia Valley.

Castle Rock’s business model aims to please, lovely on the palate, easy on the wallet. By virtue of having a low overhead, (no nagging real estate mortgages, no marketing teams or large staff to employ, and no elaborate facilities) Castle Rock is able to funnel all their capital into making the best possible wine for the best possible price.


Cigarzin 2014Cigar Zin
California Old Vine Zinfandel 2014
California, USA
269340 $21.95
672 (12 pack) cases available

Winemaker’s Notes: “This is a powerful Zinfandel that exudes confidence and elegance while balancing rich, ripe fruit. Cigar Zin is deep and alluring with aromas of white pepper spice, coffee and nutmeg. The palate is rich and voluptuous with flavours of brown spice, coffee and cocoa. It is balanced with a long and lingering finish”.

Cigar Zin is a blend of 84% Zinfandel, 12% Syrah, 3% Malbec and 1% Carignane which has been released through Vintages in the past and which usually sells out quickly. The fruit is picked separately, cold soaked and fermented to extract maximum flavour and colour. Portions of the final blend are aged for eight months in French oak barrels before final blending. The result is a dark, brambly wine with plenty of Zinfandel character. It would be fantastic with barbecue, slow cooked pork belly, pizza or ribs.





dArrys Originald'Arenberg
d'Arry's Original Shiraz Grenache 2013
McLaren Vale, Australia
942904 $19.95
512 (12 pack) cases available

92 Points – Bob Campbell MW,
“Chewy red with plenty of flavour and a solid structure of ripe tannins. Classic plum and raspberry Shiraz flavours, with a touch of spicy Grenache. The combination works well. Great now but no rush. Drink 2015 to 2020”

4 ½ Stars – Vic Harradine,
“A perennial favourite that seldom disappoints, this 2013 is a dandy. It’s rich, ripe and delicious with the required tangy acidity providing balance and charm along with soft tannin for structure. A full-bodied, creamy smooth wash of spiced black plum and black juicy cherry entwined with red raspberry tang coats the palate persisting through the lip-smacking finish. It’s good value, as well”.

90 Points - David Lawrason, Wine Align
“This has long been one the great values from McLaren Vale, a blend with considerable complexity, richness yet decent balance at the same time. It pours quite deep black purple. The nose is nicely lifted with florals, ripe black cherry, mocha, pepper and a touch of menthol. Some graphite on the finish as well. Very good to excellent length.”

The 2013 Vintage in McLaren Vale was a little drier, a little hotter and a little shorter than usual. Most of the red grapes were harvested throughout late March and into early April. The fruit had fully ripened by then but because of the lack of moisture, the amount of grapes harvested was down. From a quality perspective, the conditions produced wines of incredible colour and flavour. The 2013 d’Arry’s Original is dark, brooding and full of chewy tannin and fruit. Winemaker Chester Osborn advises to open up the bottle and decant it for at least an hour or two before imbibing, ‘to allow the Grenache to impose its charm upon the more brooding, quintessentially McLaren Vale Shiraz’. Match with grilled red meat, especially lamb or beef.

Winemaker’s Notes: “This wine is named in honour of d’Arenberg principal Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, who is universally known as d’Arry. There is a big plummy nose full of black fruits and sweet licorice. The wine displays a dense and varied array of fruit characters, from bright lifted purple plums and rhubarb through to more spice and herbal notes such as sage and cardamom, into even more complex earthy flavours of beetroot and soot. 50/50 blend of Shiraz and Grenache, this is a consistent performer that is always great value.

The Winemaking: Small batches of grapes are gently crushed and then transferred to five tonne headed down open fermenters. These batches remain separate until final blending. Foot treading is undertaken two thirds of the way through fermentation. The wine is then basket pressed and transferred to a mixture of new and used French and old American oak barriques to complete fermentation. The barrel ferments are aged on lees, and there is no racking until final blending. This wine does not undertake fining or filtration prior to bottling”.




carte-noire-roseRosés to Rave About
Carolyn Evans Hammond – Toronto Star
St. Tropez Carte Noire
219384 $17.95
“Offers aromas of rose, wet stones, sea salt, bitter orange and grapefruit zest”.










The concerts at Wente





The Concerts at Wente Vineyards in California showcase world-renowned entertainers in the winery’s picturesque natural amphitheater in Livermore, about 60 minutes east of San Francisco.  Although not all the shows have been announced, this year's lineup includes:

Wednesday, August 10th – HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS
Tuesday, August 16th – LYNYRD SKYNYRD
Tuesday, September 13th – CHRIS ISAAK

For all the details, visit
If you plan to visit California over the summer, this is a great way to spend an evening. For tickets, go to or call them at 1-800-745-3000.











Our JazzFM.91 appearance with Brad Barker is now posted as a podcast on their website. You’ll find it here:





The following promotions are available now until August 13, 2016 at the LCBO:

Earn 4 Bonus Air Miles on Casal Thaulero Pinot Grigio IGT (#73163)

Earn 6 Bonus Air Miles on Marqués De Riscal White Rueda (#36822)

Earn 6 Bonus Air Miles on Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon (#301507)

Earn 8 Bonus Air Miles on Vodka Mudshake Orange Cream (#448175)

Save $1.50 on Vodka Mudshake French Vanilla (#4606)

Save $2.00 on Pisse-Dru Beaujolais (#2881)

Save $2.00 on Gran Feudo Reserva (#479014)

Receive a free Tin Cup (where applied) with the purchase of Chic Choc Spiced Rum (#402867). While supplies Last.

Receive a free Bleu Lavande Coupon (where applied) with the purchase of Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider (#94094). While supplies Last.

Find the following wines chilling in the Wine Fridge in Select Stores:
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (216960)

Sprucewood Shores Estate Riesling VQA (326249)






Coffee and Herb Rubbed Lamb Chops

It turns out that coffee and lamb like each other and the combined flavours are a super match for all three red wines featured above. Serve the chops with your favourite seasonal veggies and a variety of gently sautéed mushrooms.

Use a meat thermometer and remove the lamb chops from the oven when they reach an internal temperature of 125 degrees. The lamb will reach 130 degrees while it rests and the meat will be cooked perfectly to medium-rare.

coffee rubbed lamb chopsFor the Lamb Chops:

•    2 lamb racks, frenched
•    1/4 cup coffee, finely ground
•    2 tablespoons paprika
•    1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
•    1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
•    1 tablespoon brown sugar
•    1/2 tablespoon dry mustard
•    1/2 tablespoon coriander, ground
•    1/2 tablespoon black pepper, ground
•    1 pinch cayenne pepper
•    salt, to taste
•    1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine coffee, paprika, oregano, thyme, brown sugar, mustard, pepper, coriander, cayenne and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle generously over the lamb racks.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon reserved oil and the lamb racks. Cook over medium heat to brown all over, being careful not to burn the spices. Place the seasoned meat on a rack in the preheated oven. Cook until an instant-read meat thermometer reaches 125 degrees F. Transfer to a platter, tent with foil to keep hot and let rest for 10 minutes until ready to serve.

Cheers! - Mark Donaldson, Editor and Factotum






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