Midfield Wine Bar & Tavern
Midfield Wine Bar and Tavern is the type of place that Toronto wine lovers have been hoping would open for a long time. With a few exceptions — notably Swirl and Mavrik — this city just hasn't embraced what many would consider the true ethos of the wine bar. The majority of our establishments that go by this name would be better described as restaurants that offer unique or extensive wine programs with ample by-the-glass options. Places like Enoteca Sociale, Crush and Reds fit this bill, as does the Local to a lesser extent. They're great places to drink wine, just not at midnight on a Saturday.
Midfield, which recently opened at the northwest corner of Dundas and Gladstone, on the other hand, is very much a bar — one at which patrons can be content to focus solely on the wine, whether this be in the form of a couple glasses in the early evening or a more extended session over the course of the night. I suspect that this will remain the case, even as the bar phases in more extensive food options than the meats and cheeses currently on offer. A Mediterranean-inspired tapas menu is on the way in about a month or so, but one that co-owner and sommelier Christopher Sealy assures me "will be engineered to complement the wine rather than the other way around." To maintain the tavern vibe, the plan is to offer the menu all the way to last call.
For now, Midfield's selection of meats and cheeses (three for $14, five for $22) hints at what's to come. Sourced mostly from Italy (meats) and France (cheeses), as a spread, they're the perfect accompaniment to the fruit-forward wines that make up the bulk of the wine list. The highlights of my sample are the almost candied Chorizo, the perfectly thin Bresaola and the Ossau-iraty, the latter of which is one of the best sheep's milk cheeses I've ever tasted. Surprisingly creamy, it also has nutty character that defies its light colouration. Not surprisingly, Sealy later tells me that it's one of his all-time favourites.
So what about that wine? As good as everything else is — and the warmly lit, unfussy room is pitch perfect — the wine is the pillar upon which this whole operation is perched. Toward that end, I'd say Midfield hits all the right notes as well. Not a place where you'll find a wide array of Bordeaux, Chianti or even Côtes du Rhône, the focus here is on lesser known regions and varietals. I'm thinking of wines from J & J Eger in Hungary, a variety of small producers in the Languedoc region, and apparent oddities like New Zealand Rieslings.
When it comes to cost, the list is broken down into three main price points — $35/$9, $45/$12 and $55/$14 (glass prices approximate) — with featured wines thrown into the mix on a nightly basis. There's also some reserve stuff hanging around, but there's no dedicated menu for these yet, and they make up a fraction of what's on site. Everything is available by the glass, so the menu beckons for exploration without asking for a full-bottle of commitment.
"I can recommend each of the wines on the list, but I like it when the customers make the choice," Sealy tells me during a chat we have on my second visit to Midfield. True to this commitment, it's common to see him pour tastes of wine to those labouring over their decision. In fact, he seems to do this with almost everyone, which I suspect has as much to do with his desire to get to know his clientele as his obvious enthusiasm for wine.
This highly engaged service is something that he and partner Giuseppe Anile hope will come to define Midfield, which is named after the all-important position in soccer. "The midfielder is the one who orchestrates the game," Sealy explains. Similarly, he and Anile hope to foster a lively scene in which wine and well-paired food bring people together. Based on my early visits, they're already ahead of the game when it comes to this goal.
Midfield is open Tuesday to Saturday 5 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Photos by Jesse Milns and the author