Everything to know about drinking wine in Toronto
Drinking wine in Toronto takes many different forms, from an easy-drinking glass at home with dinner to a pimped out Bordeaux at one of the city's finest steakhouses. Beer culture has tended to hog the spotlight in this city for the last few years as a full-scale craft brewing movement has taken shape, but the city's wine options deserve plenty of attention as well.
The world of wine can be intimidating for novice drinkers. Staring at a sprawling 20 page wine list or aimlessly wandering the aisles at the LCBO without a few go-to options is unnecessarily stressful and often leads to us all spending more than we need to.
With that in mind, here's a guide to drinking wine in Toronto.
As much as we might love to drink wine out, most of us buy the majority of our wine at the LCBO. Given that this is the case, it's worth knowing which locations are the best and which products offer the most bang for the buck.
In terms of selection, the best LCBO locations for purchasing wine are those with the largest VINTAGES sections. These would be Summerhill, Queens Quay, the Manulife Centre, Leaside, Bloor and Royal York, Bayview Village Mall, and Avenue Rd. (south of Wilson).
If you're buying from regular stock and not looking to spend a lot of money, this list of 10 wines under $11 at the LCBO might serve as your go-to buying guide. Each of the bottles on the list is an excellent value.
One thing that tends to burn wine buyers at the LCBO are the company's business hours. The majority of locations close by 9 p.m. even on Friday and Saturday nights. It's worth noting, then, that the LCBO at Weston and the 401 is open until 11 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Wine education in Toronto isn't reduced to classes for burgeoning sommeliers. There's plenty of opportunities for newbie wine fans to learn a little while also having fun in a social setting. These are the top wine classes and programs in the city to help you get started.
The wine bar trend never caught on in Toronto to the same degree that it did in a city like New York, but that's not to say that we don't have some excellent spots. Two in particular stand out: Midfield Wine Bar and Archive Wine Bar, both of which are on Dundas West. The former has a more European vibe, while the latter features lots of local wines.
The best of the rest tend to be less bar-like, but still have superb wine lists and extensive by-the-glass options. Recent addition Chez Nous is also worth mentioning for its Ontario focus and east side location. Ditto for Good Cheese, which doubles as a wine bar (it's a match made in heaven).
There are two ways to drink wine on the cheap in Toronto - by knowing which restaurants have standardly well-priced wine lists, which ones do day-of-the-week discounts, and which offer free or low-fee BYOB.
In terms of the first category, Le Paridis has the best value-driven French wine list in the city while Nodo takes the crown in terms of Italian wines. Cactus Club also has surprisingly inexpensive offerings by the glass. Gusto 101 is also worth a visit for its buck an ounce deal on draught wine.
Wine specials are harder to keep track of because restaurants and bars tend to change them often. There are, however, some longstanding half-price specials that are exceptions.
BYOB policies and pricing are also notorious for changing often, but there is a site dedicated to corkage specials and fees in Toronto that does a decent job of keeping up with the various deals around the city.
Not all of the best wine lists in Toronto are ridiculously expensive, but if you're looking to play big spender or are celebrating a special occasion, there are a few cellars that standout. For sheer selection, you could spend hours reading the wine lists at Via Allegro, Barberian's, Le Select, and Opus.
If you've become a fanatical wine collector whose condo just can't contain all of your bottles at the proper temperature, you might be a candidate for the Fine Wine Reserve, a sprawling private cellar near King and Spadina that rents locker space. It's not cheap, but your wine will also be safe and properly stored.
Those looking to start a home cellar will do well to visit the Enostore, which sells everything from ice buckets and stemware to ridiculously expensive oxygen-controlled serving machines (a.k.a. the Enomatic).
If it's just top quality wine glasses you're after, the William Ashley Warehouse Sale is always a god way to stock up on Riedel products for cheap. Otherwise the Bay and other department stores are a good bet. And, yes, good glasses really do make the wine taste better.
Given the proximity of the province's largest wine growing region to Toronto, there are some amazing winery experiences to have within a comfortable drive of the city. For quick trips, your best best is to head to the Beamsville Bench, while Prince Edward County is more of a weekend getaway destination.
Jesse Milns at Cactus Club
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