Off to Wine Country in a Mercedes sport coupe

I contributed this article to the summer issue of Mercedes-Benz Club Canada‘s magazine. This is a reprint.

I’m dreaming! Dreaming of hopping into a gleaming white sport Coupe, with a few ponies under the hood, tooling through south of France wine country. In my fantasy, I’m negotiating winding roads through the dazzling countryside along the Rhône River.

This route passes through meticulously manicured vineyards, edged by the  mountains, and clustered with quaint historic villages. But with this experience currently not an option, I look a bit closer to home to design a similar adventure. After all, the weekend lies just ahead.

Mercedes AMG Coupe

A buddy of mine is about to take delivery of his brand new AMG CLS 53. The color? Gleaming white. Sweet. Dreams come true! We decide to leave early Saturday morning for a day in Niagara Wine country. We take back roads to get there.

Beyond the Burlington Skyway, we head East on a combination of Highway 81 and Ridge Road. The scenes are so beautiful this could be France! The sexy growl of the muscle under the hood of the Coupe add to the exhilaration of our journey. We stop at Peninsula Ridge winery in Beamsville for a cheese plate on the patio and wine. Great view of Toronto across the Lake. 

Another leisurely 30 minute drive and we are at our main destination, Pondview winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake. We settle in near the tasting bar and ask the sommelier, “What have you got in a white varietal that originates in the Rhône? We’re looking for a south of France experience in a wine,” we tell her. A couple of glasses of Viognier arrive soon. 

Tasting Notes: Pondview Viognier 2017

Pondview Viognier

The grape variety originates in the Rhône, south of France. This Ontario version is light daffodil-yellow/gold in the glass, with aromas of tree fruit and lychee when you swirl. Flavours of candied pear, honeysuckle, violets, and minerality follow. This is a lush, full bodied white wine. The viscosity is amazingly thick! Yet there’s also a softness to this wine. The character of this Viognier is winning our hearts. It’s a perfect summer sipper, pairs well with food, and paired extremely well with the AMG sport Coupe that got us there and back in style!

Food pairing: French stick hot out of the oven (sliced), Ripe French brie, rustic Provence style farmer paté, Carr’s table water crackers, Kalamata olives, Caesar salad.

Music pairing: “Hotel California” cover by the Mona Lisa Twins and several Beatles covers, also by the Mona Lisa Twins.

By Paul Singer
The Wine Baron

Mercedes-Benz Club Canada
Pondview Estate Winery

Wine 101 Step Two (the rest of the world’s top wine regions)

Wine Regions of Italy, Spain, the U.S., and more

Having covered the regions of France in Wine 101 Part 1, this Part 2 now covers additional exciting wine regions to round out your wine experience.


Historic and cultural, Italian wines are to be discovered and savoured.

Special wines


The Piedmont region in the northwest of Italy produces Barolo, the king of Italian red wines. Made from Nebbiolo, this small appellation’s wines are beautiful to experience. Whether it is saved for years, or consumed now, this is certainly one Italian red that benefits by aging.


Also from Piedmont, this wine is made with Nebbiolo and Barbaresco (which is the queen to Barolo’s king). Appreciated for its finesse and aromas, wines of Barbaresco are among Italy’s best.


Brunello di Montalcino is the best of wines made with Sangiovese. This Tuscan red wine gets its moniker from the local name for Sangiovese (Brunello) and Montalcino, a small medieval hill village overlooking the Tuscan countryside. Brunello’s can be complex wines with good aging potential.


Amarone from the Veneto region is a concentrated and robust dry red wine made from dried grapes. Made from native Italian grapes, Amarone is a wine that impresses the palate that is looking for an intense red wine.

Italian red wines for every day

Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico refers to the classic growing area of this well-known Italian red wine. Produced with slightly stricter regulations than regular Chianti, a Classico pairs easily with a wide variety of foods.

Barbera d’Asti

The red grape Barbera produces lovely wines with good acidity and soft tannins. From Piedmont, they please most every palate.

Dolcetto d’Alba

Another red from Piedmont. Bigger tannins than Barbera, but less than Nebbiolo, wines from Dolcetto achieve a nice balance.


Believe it or not, Prosecco is an every day bubbly, not necessarily about celebration. Have it often, it has relatively low alcohol and has a delightfully fruity and punchy experience. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region around the city of Treviso, north of Venice. Made with the grape of the same name, also called Glera.

Produced using an affordable technique called the Tank Method and is thus cheaper to produce than champagne.


We love Spanish wines. Try the wines of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, or one of the hot new regions!  Spain has the largest acreage of vineyards in the world, but lower wine production than France and Italy. The largely dry climate allows for easy organic farming of the grapes (whether certified or not), and is a winemaker’s dream for the making of truly fine wines.

Major Grapes:

  • Tempranillo
  • Garnacha
  • Monastrell


90% of wine from the United States is from California, which has thousands of wineries in such famous wine regions as Napa, Sonoma, and Central Coast.

Major Grapes:

Cabernet Sauvignon



Pinot Noir


Sauvignon Blanc

Argentina has become a powerhouse of wine producers. It relies heavily on wine exports and increases production dramatically every year.

Major Grapes:




Cabernet Sauvignon
Australia has consistently produced affordable and easy drinking wines for the past quarter century.
Major Grapes:

Shiraz (Syrah)

Germany is known for its aromatic white wines.

Major Grapes:


South Africa is known for its Chenin Blanc and produces the largest volume of Brandy in the world.
Major Grapes:

Chenin Blanc

Cabernet Sauvignon




Chile has an interesting and storied red wine varietal called Carmenere, known as the ‘lost varietal’ of Bordeaux.

Major Grapes:

Cabernet Sauvignon




Sauvignon Blanc

Portugal is well known for Port , a high alcohol dessert wine from northern Portugal made by blending several grape varieties, principally Touriga Nacional.
Major Grapes:

Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo)

Touriga Nacional

Touriga Franca


Alicante Bouschet

Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc and Merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot

stags_cabThe most famous trio of Bordeaux red wine varietals. Originally from the iconic wine region of Bordeaux, the three have arguably become the most famous red wines around the world. As a blend, either from the original region or elsewhere, these 3 exude robust, bold aromas and tasting notes, often with a pleasant earthy quality.

In Bordeaux, the varietals are generally blended together to create the perfect combination in a bold red wine. Two other varietals are also officially available for blending in Bordeaux: Petit Verdot and Malbec.

In most other countries, the first 3 are often bottled as a single varietal. Sometimes you’ll find a new world blend of two or three of these. For example a Cabernet Merlot, or a Meritage. And of course Argentina has made Malbec it’s own, having specialized in it as a single varietal for many years.

As single varietals, you’ll find the following characteristics …

Cabernet Sauvignon – the grape and the wine


Cabernet Sauvignon

(classic tasting notes of black currants, cassis, cherry, cedar and spice)

This is the principal red varietal in Bordeaux where it is usually blended with Merlot and sometimes Cabernet Franc.  It’s frequently bottled as a single varietal in the New World and is thus called simply “Cabernet Sauvignon.”  Often called the king of wine varietals, it is rich in tannins, full-bodied and provides the strength and complexity necessary to make a wine that’s good for aging in a cellar.

Tip: Remember, cabernet sauvignon is both the name of the grape variety when unfermented and also the varietal when it is made into wine.

It originates in Bordeaux & is now produced in many New World wine regions…


Cabernet Franc – the grape and the wine


Cabernet Franc

(Classic notes: herbal, tobacco; green pepper only when grapes were not sufficiently ripe when harvested)

Closely related to the familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, this grape is being vinified in the New World to make some very interesting wines. Ontario is making the best Cab Franc at this time. Try a Lake Erie North Shore version, for example, from Viewpointe Estate Winery.

It is traditionally used in Bordeaux as a blending partner in wines, particularly to modulate or soften the wine’s character.



Merlot – the grape and the wine



(classic tasting notes of plums, blueberries & cherries)

Merlot is a very popular wine of its own, though traditionally, it has been used for blending with other grapes to shape the character of a wine, particularly in Bordeaux. This is a wine that’s friendly to everyone’s palate, even a newcomer to the red wine scene. It can offer up some rich berry, honey, or mint, and is not as tannic as a Cabernet Sauvignon.

by The Wine Baron

Back to Wine 101



Sauvignon Blanc – about the wine and how to enjoy it (The Wine Baron’s Wine 101 series)

Sauvignon Blanc


(classic tasting notes of cut grass, lemon, herbs and a hint of gooseberry)

Sauvignon Blanc is a popular alternative to Chardonnay. It makes a crisp, light wine. It originated in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.

Tasting Notes: Herbal flavors, olive and a soft, smoky flavor. It can range from sweet to dry, but is typically quite light. American Sauvignon Blanc is often quite prominently “grassy” whereas the Canadian and New Zealand versions are often more balanced and pleasant. This is a principle variety in Sauternes, the elegant dessert wine from the area of the same name in Bordeaux. Frequent blending partners are Semillon and a bit of Muscadelle.

by The Wine Baron

Bordeaux Wine Region (king of them all)

Bordeaux is the top wine region in the world. Not just  legendary and cultural, it also produces the top wines. These wines serve as the benchmark for all others.

Bordeaux is an Eighteenth Century architectural and cultural gem. The city by that name has 600,000 residents and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the largest urban entity to be so honoured. But history and architecture are only the beginning. The city is attractive, cosmopolitan and vibrant. The Bordelaise know how to live! They have a passion for life, food and wine. Ah yes, the wine! The city is in the center of the wine region by the same name.

Make the city your home base as you launch out to visit the various wine appellations within it. Bordeaux is easily reached directly by high speed train or by air from Paris and about 20 other European cities. The fast train takes about 3 hours; the flight about 1 hour from Paris.

The Wine Region

Radiating out from the city are the wine regions. To the North lies the Médoc, to the east are Entre-deux-Mers and St. Emilion and to the south are Sauternes and Graves. These are among the most famous of the 57 wine appellations. Enjoy the photo albums at left to get a visual sense of the region.

The Wines

Bordeaux wines are delicious and oh-so-rewarding to discover, it’s worth it to spend some time understanding them. It’s simple, really. A good red Bordeaux is essentially a “Cabernet-Merlot” in a tuxedo. This varies by appellation, but they’re usually a blend.  Blending varietals could also include Cabernet Franc, Malbec or small amounts of Petit Verdot.

The photo is of Chateau Margaux, the most famous wine estate in Margaux Appellation.

The iconic Chateau Margaux

Left bank wines (as you face the mouth of the river) have higher concentrations of Cabernet Sauvignon, right bank wines have more Merlot…

There are also wonderful dry white wines (usually a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc). And for a liquid gold experience, enjoy the white dessert wines of Sauternes. They are rich, thick and complex. Across the river from there, you can also find rewarding counterparts in Sainte Croix du Mont and Cadillac.

by The Wine Baron



The following info is the “in depth” stuff …



In 1855 the leading brokers of Bordeaux created a rating system that identified the top wines.  The châteaux that made it into this exclusive list were from the Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac. And Château Haut-Brion from Graves was included because of its popularity.

The five rank levels were based on the market values of the wines.  Sauternes and Barsac received two tiers. Château d’Yquem was recognized as above the rest.  The classification system remains virtually the same as in 1855.

The ongoing pursuit of excellence in Bordeaux has led to the emergence of an informal new group called “Super-Seconds” which are châteaux that produce wines of such quality that they rival those off the First Growths.  They include Palmer, two Pichons, Lynch-Bages, Léoville-Las-Cases and Barton, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Cos, and Montrose.

Premier Crus Classés (First Growths)

Château Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac
Château Latour, Pauillac
Château Margaux, Margaux
Château Haut-Brion, Pessac, Graves
Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac (since 1973)

Deuxièmes Crus Classés (Second Growths)

Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux
Château Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux
Château Léoville-Las-Cases, St. Julien
Château Léoville-Poyferré, St. Julien
Château Léoville-Barton, St. Julien
Château Durfort-Vivens, Margaux
Château Lascombes, Margaux
Château Gruaud-Larose, St. Julien
Château Brane-Cantenac, Cantenac-Margaux
Château Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
Château Pichon Lalande, Pauillac
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, St. Julien
Château Cos d’Estournel, St. Estèphe
Château Montrose, St. Estèphe

Troisièmes Crus Classés (Third Growths)

Château Giscours, Labarde-Margaux
Château Kirwan, Cantenac-Margaux
Château d’Issan, Cantenac-Margaux
Château Lagrange, St. Julien
Château Langoa-Barton, St. Julien
Château Malescot St. Exupéry, Margaux
Château Cantenac-Brown, Cantenac-Margaux
Château Palmer, Cantenac-Margaux
Château La Lagune, Ludon-Haut-Médoc
Château Desmirail, Margaux
Château Calon-Ségur, St. Estèphe
Château Ferrière, Margaux
Château Marquis d’Alesme-Beker, Margaux
Château Boyd-Cantenac, Cantenac-Margaux

Quatrièmes Crus Classés (Fourth Growths)

Château St.Pierre, St. Julien
Château Branaire, St. Julien
Château Talbot, St. Julien
Château Duhart-Milon, Pauillac
Château Pouget, Cantenac-Margaux
Château La Tour-Carnet, St. Laurent-Haut-Médoc
Château Lafon-Rochet, St. Estèphe
Château Beychevelle, St. Julien
Château Prieuré-Lichine, Cantenac-Margaux
Château Marquis-de-Terme, Margaux

Cinquièmes Crus Classés (Fifth Growths)

Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac
Château Batailley, Pauillac
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Pauillac
Château Haut-Batailley, Pauillac
Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac
Château Lynch-Moussas, Pauillac
Château Dauzac, Labarde-Margaux
Château Mouton-Baronne-Philippe (now d’Armailhacq), Pauillac
Château du Tertre, Arsac-Margaux
Château Haut-Bages-Libéral, Pauillac
Château Pédesclaux, Pauillac
Château Belgrave, St. Laurent-Haut-Médoc
Château de Camensac, St. Laurent-Haut-Médoc
Château Cos Labory, St. Estèphe
Château Clerc-Milon-Rothschild, Pauillac
Château Croizet-Bages, Pauillac
Château Cantemerle, Macau-Haut-Médoc

Cru Bourgeois

The Crus Bourgeois are those châteaux in the Médoc that are ranked as not having quite the quality of the châteaux of the 1855 Classification.  This system identifies the châteaux that produce wines of proper local character and quality, but not necessarily with the finesse of their more lofty counterparts.

There are three categories: Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Cru Grand Bourgeois and Cru Bourgeois, but only the latter designation is acceptable on the label.


Premier Cru Supérieur (Superior First Growth )

Château d’Yquem

Premier Crus Classés (First Growths)

Château Guiraud
Clos Haut-Peyraguey
Château La Tour Blanche
Château Coutet
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey
Château Climens
Château de Rayne Vigneau
Château Suduiraut
Château Sigalas Rabaud
Château Rieussec
Château Rabaud-Promis

Deuxièmes Crus Classés (Second Growths)

Château d’Arche
Château Suau
Château Filhot
Château Broustet
Château Lamothe Guignard
Château Caillou
Château de Myrat
Château Nairac
Château Doisy-Védrines
Château de Malle
Château Doisy-Daëne
Château Romer


A one tier classification. Château Haut-Brion also appears on this list. Historical note: Haut-Brion was founded by the de Pontac family, but was lost to one of Napoleon’s ministers. All the wines are graded together and alphabetically.

Classified Red Wines of Graves

Château Bouscaut, Cadaujac
Château Haut-Bailly, Léognan
Château Carbonnieux, Léognan
Domaine de Chevalier, Léognan
Château de Fieuzal, Léognan
Château Olivier, Léognan
Malartic-Lagravière, Léognan
Château La Tour-Martillac, Martillac
Château Smith-Haute-Lafitte, Martillac
Château Haut-Brion, Pessac
Château La Mission-Haut-Brion, Talence
Château Pape-Clément, Pessac
Château Latour-Haut-Brion, Talence

Classified White Wines of Graves

Château Bouscaut, Cadaujac
Château Carbonnieux, Léognan
Domaine de Chevalier, Léognan
Château Olivier, Léognan
Malartic-Lagravière, Léognan
Château La Tour-Martillac, Martillac
Château Laville-Haut Brion, Talence
Château Couhins-Lurton, Vilenave d`Ornan
Château Couhins, Vilenave d`Ornan
Château Haut-Brion, Pessac (added in 1960)


Initially created in 1995, this system is regularly amended.

The Classifications:

There are two main classifications:

Premier Grands Cru Classés (A & B)
Grands Cru Classés

There is also a “Grand Cru” that is awarded to properties below Grand Cru Classés status – over 500 Châteaux

The St. Emilion list is revised every 10 years. The last change was in 2006.

Premiers Grands Crus Classés (A)

Château Ausone
Château Cheval Blanc

Premiers Grands Crus Classés (B)

Château Angélus
Château Beauséjour (Duffau-Lagarrosse)
Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot
Château Belair
Château Canon
Château Figeac
Château La Gaffelière
Château Magdelaine
Château Pavie
Château Pavie-Macquin
Château Troplong-Mondot
Château Trottevieille
Clos Fourtet

Grands Cru Classés

There are more than 50 properties.


Pomerol has no classification system.  But Château Pétrus from this appellation is popularly recognized as a First Growth in quality.

by The Wine Baron

Back to Wine 101

Canvas Brewing of Huntsville off to a great start with refreshingly delicious Kölsch

I just met up with Steven and Jeff of Canvas Brewing. Their significantly large brewery is being built now beside Boston Pizza in downtown Huntsville. The boys already have their first product up and running. Until the tanks are installed, the beer is lovingly brewed nearby by Jeff, who truly knows how to make a great craft beer.

Their Kölsch is an easy drinking lager style ale that is pleasant on the palate. Yet for a craft beer enthusiast, it packs some interesting complexity and delicate notes that place it in the category of award winning ales.

Canvas Brewing’s Kölsch is not yet available in LCBO or TBS, but you can find it in about 20 licensed on premise establishments north of Barrie, such as Moose Delaney’s Sports Bar in downtown Huntsville. And great things are to come… Be sure to visit Canvas’s upcoming brewpub summer of 2019. They’ll be open by then and will be a marvellous destination. As for retail availability? Check out selected TBS stores by spring of 2019. Worth planning for!!

The good life at Windermere House on Lake Rosseau, #Muskoka – Craft beer of course

Want to feel peaceful, away from it all, and in the lap of luxury? This spot does the trick. Lake Rosseau is one of the gems of cottage country north of Toronto. Windermere House does it right.

I’m dining here at the resort and enjoying a lager from @muskokabrewery . Refreshing and pure.

Ahhhhh, the good life. To be clear, I’m not trying to rub it in, rather, I want you to know about this great venue and region. Over a craft beer, of course.

Sablet. A sensuous Southern Rhone wine from one of the most romantic villages in France.

What a fine experience it was to have a vertical tasting of Sablet wines all the way back to 1990 here in Sablet. And great to meet Jean Autran from Domaine de Piaugier. Outstanding wines of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Rustic yet elegant, rich, yet sometimes delicate.  Sensuous flavours in the glass.

Sablet is a commune in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. It is a fortified Provençal village founded in the 800’s and rich in history.

Sablet received its Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation status in 1974. The 130 hectares of the region produce red wines from blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. They are full bodied, with flavours of blackberries, violets and candied fruit. White wines are fresh and delicious with excellent structure. Rosés are also well worth buying.

Great little drive back to our Bed and Breakfast in Cairrane through misty blackness punctuated by little galaxies of light. Each a village in the dark, nestled in the Alpine foothills here in the Southern Rhone.

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Gigondas means historic, beautiful wine!

I simply adore Gigondas, Rhône, France. The place. The wines.

Beautiful Gigondas village, in the Southern Rhône, is a setting of stone edifices, narrow lanes and ...I have pleasant memories of visiting a while back. Beautiful Gigondas village, in the Southern Rhône, is a cute and historic village with stone edifices, narrow lanes and steep hills. The wines are charming and iconic. Area wine regions include Gigondas, Vacqueyras, & Beaumes de Venise. A few recent additions to the Vintages section at LCBO has reminded me again to bring home these wines more often. They satisfy!

The further south you go in the Rhône, the more robust and serious the wines become.  Southern Rhône wines are big, fruit driven, and food friendly. This charming old village is presided over by 11th-century Ste. Catherine’s church, sitting up high, with its clock tower, belfry and old sundial. The complex of buildings and grounds are still in operation. The narrow cobblestone streets below are lined with stone houses and shops.

Beautiful Gigondas village, in the Southern Rhône, is a setting of stone edifices, narrow lanes and ...While in the village, be sure to dine at Carré Gourmand restaurant. I ordered a medley of appetizers and enjoyed them with La Syrah de Pénélope Gigondas. Dark ruby and exuding an earthy, leathery, dark berry bouquet with flavours of blackberries, vanilla bean & dark chocolate, & firm tannins. Yet the finish is soft satisfying. A wonderful example of the wines of Cotê du Rhone.

More about Gigondas, the village:

Spectacular photos of Gigondas:


by The Wine Baron


Astronomy is an awe-inspiring subject, highly recommended with a sparkling wine!

Enjoying the beauty of the heavens

Spiral Galaxy Pair NGC 4302 and NGC 4298

This is about the biggest stretch for a wine writer, but bear with me. It’s a leisure activity just like wine (sort of). But do let me bring wine into the picture. Enjoy a glass of sparkling wine as you peer into the heavens with binoculars, telescope or via high res photos on the web. Allow me to share a few good places to start.


Depending on your mood, try a Prosecco, Cava, or Champagne. Pour a glass, and settle in to the topic at hand.

Viewing Technique:

orion20x50binocsUnless you’re already an amateur astronomer with a telescope (lucky you), consider buying a pair of Orion 20X80 astronomy binoculars. You’ll need a tripod to steady them. Here’s a handy guide on how to enjoy sky-gazing from Sky & Telescope. Be sure to download the excellent PDF there.

Online Resources:

Another great way to star gaze is simply from your computer or smartphone. Consider them a portal to the best telescopes. Here are links to my favourite image galleries.

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 10.01.10 PM
The Messier Catalog of space objects (click link above)


by The Wine Baron

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