Originally published July 2016.
Krista Lamb is emerging as an important commentator on Ontario's growing wine industry. You will find more of her insights on her blog: Upkeep: Wine Body and Soul.
Four Fabulous Places to Drink Wine in Toronto
Toronto is one of those cities where a wine lover’s glass can easily runneth over. There are thousands of restaurants, many of them with interesting and well-curated wine lists, placing options from affordable to bank-busting at your fingertips.
But what about something for the wino who wants an unusual or exotic wine experience? Toronto has you covered there too. Below are just a handful (well, almost a handful) of the intriguing wine experiences this foodie hub has to offer.
Pukka – Wine and Indian food done right
An Indian restaurant with a top-notch wine list and red wine options that enhance your meal? That’s just one of the ways Pukka, in Toronto’s St. Clair West district, is special. Owners Derek Valleau and Harsh Chawla hired one of the city’s top sommeliers, Peter Boyd, to develop a wine list that would stand up alongside the mixture of flavours and textures that are a staple of Indian cuisine. Then they took things a step further, by offering regular tasting events led by Boyd to help curious clients learn about unique wine options and how to successfully pair a wine with everything from butter chicken -- they offer one of the city’s best versions -- to okra fries and all points in between. This is high-end Indian food done oh-so-well alongside a wine list full of surprising twists.
Salt Wine Bar – Iberian tapas and wines that go well beyond Port
It’s no surprise that Salt Wine Bar, a staple on Toronto’s hot Ossington Avenue strip, is frequently featured on lists of the city’s best wine bars. General Manager Philp Carneiro knows his Portuguese and Spanish wines and has created a restaurant experience that highlights the best of those countries’ offerings. He’s also happy to brief wine-loving patrons on his latest finds and offer tips on what bottle or by-the-glass pour you should try.
“At Salt, I focus almost exclusively on the Iberian Peninsula,” explains Carneiro. “One of my priorities is a strong focus on the often misunderstood Vinho Verde region, as well as an emphasis on Port and Madeira. My philosophy is pretty simple, I want to showcase the best of what Portugal and Spain have to offer. Whether you’re a sparkling, white or red lover, we have something for you.”
Paired expertly with a flavourful and vin-friendly tapas menu, Salt offers a modern take on traditional Portuguese flavours in a friendly yet sophisticated space.
Little Sister – A wine list with an Indonesian twist
Wine and Indonesian food? When you have Master Sommelier John Szabo preparing the list, absolutely. This fun, hip spot in Toronto’s Yonge and Eglinton area offers delicious takes on savoury Indonesian classics next to an adventurous list of cocktails and an inspired wine list.
“Assembling a list for an Indonesian restaurant was a fun challenge,” says Szabo, “especially dealing with multiple dishes on the table at once, and the intense flavours and spice of the cuisine, authentically rendered. I threw out all of my preconceived notions, sat down with the owner and chef, and tasted through the menu with about 100 bottles to find the wines that converged at value, deliciousness, and compatibility with the greatest number of dishes. Clear winners emerged.”
Open late and busy often, this is a must-do stop for the adventurous wine taster.
Barque – Pairing barbeque and local wine on tap
Want to try some of Toronto’s best barbeque? Head to Barque on Roncesvalles for some fall-off-the-bone favourites and French fries worth splurging on. Barque is unusual for a barbecue joint in that it offers an impressive wine list—with a focus on local wines. Pouring several selections on tap, this is a restaurant adventurous enough to have listed an orange wine -- from Niagara’s Southbrook Vineyard -- alongside a host of Niagara and Prince Edward County options. Relaxed and friendly, there are often line-ups for this cool, laid back eatery. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
If you’re looking for a more traditional vinous venture, there’s no shortage of options in Toronto. Local oenophiles will send you off to Dundas Street to check out Archive and explore its extensive list, or to Midfield Wine Bar & Tavern, co-owned by sommelier Christopher Sealy, where you can find elegant pairing options as well as fun experiences like fried chicken and Champagne. Reds Wine Tavern on Adelaide Street, in the heart of the business district, provides great options for after-work wine, or take the Queen streetcar to Leslieville’s Skin + Bones to experience its lengthy by-the-glass menu alongside their Instagram-worthy food selections.
Whichever wine experience you choose, you’ll no doubt learn that Toronto is a city that embraces its wine culture and welcomes a wine-loving tourist with open arms and full glasses.