Posted in distilleries, spirits

The next hot trend – Ontario about to burst forth with micro-distilleries


Spirits Start To Emerge in My Consciousness

I’ve been a wine aficionado for a long time. But I haven’t been able to resist the lure of spirits either. They’ve gradually tugged at my attention and they’re winning me over. They’re fascinating and equally full of culture and lore. So with this post, I am embarking on an undiluted journey into the wonderful world of spirits.

My first notice of distilled liquor was of Single Malt Scotch. I remember working on a major project and going to the neighbourhood bar after hours. They had a display of Scotches set up on the counter. I decided to order one of each over the next several days. I liked the different flavours, personalities and histories. From there I branched into blended whisky, Irish whiskey, gin, and absinthe, among others. Ah, so many to encounter. A delightful quest!

Dramatic Growth in the U.S. – Emerging Now in Ontario

As reported at a recent American Distilling Institute (ADI) conference, micro-distilleries have grown from 50 in 2005 to around 300 today (in the US), and that number could grow to 1,000 in less than 10 years. “The renaissance has happened to wine, beer, bread and vegetables,” ADI President Bill Owens says of the craft revolution. Now, he says, is simply the time for spirits. The industry is set to enjoy similar growth to that of craft beer in the ’90′s. There is no similar organization in Canada. The boom is just starting in the Great White North. There are a few micro distilleries in Ontario right now, but according to one industry proprietor, he’s hearing of 2 or 3 potential startups per week. The trend is rising rapidly!

There are many types of spirits to explore. Visit your local micro-distillery to discover. According to Time, whiskey is the quickest growing micro category in production in the US and that seems to be the initial trend in Ontario as well. The range of products made by craft distilleries goes far beyond standard spirits. There are so many different types a craft distillery can make, so many creatively cool ingredients to add for personality, and a myriad of techniques that can be tried to add to products’ artisanal appeal. They’re making pear-based eau de vie in Pennsylvania, artisanal moonshine in Arkansas, and brandies in Napa Valley. Ontario’s doing some very innovative stuff too.

Here’s a list of the better known craft/micro distilleries in Ontario:

66 Gilead, Bloomfield –
Dillon’s, Beamsville –
Magnotta Distillery, Vaughan –
Mill Street, Toronto –
Still Waters, Concord –
Toronto Distillery Company –
Vieni, Beamsville –
Waverley Spirits, Perth –

I visited 3 of these craft distilleries to see what’s going on. Here are my findings:

Still Waters Distillery, Concord, Ontario

Barry and Barry of Still Waters
Barry and Barry of Still Waters

Still Waters Barrels lovingly aging whisky
Still Waters Barrels lovingly aging whisky
Launched in January 2009, this is Ontario’s first micro-distillery, founded by Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein. They make everything by hand in small batches with a beautiful custom made pot still from Germany. Every batch is hand made right from the grain to the bottle. They proudly produce whisky, vodka, gin and brandy. Each product has that distinctively clean and characterful taste that you can only get from a small producer. Excellent products! You can find some of them in LCBO, but most of them are available only from the distillery in Concord Ontario or via their online shop. I particularly enjoyed their Single Malt, Rye, and Cask Strength Whisky.

And it’s great that they now have true 3 year aged Canadian whiskies. Their patience has paid off (and their barrel cellar is expanding rapidly).

Dillon’s, Beamsville, Ontario

Geoff Dillon
Geoff Dillon

sampling of Dillon's products
Sampling of Dillon’s products
Dillon’s is a cool place to visit, even on a hot day! The people here are cool, the products are gorgeous, and they’re here to make an impact in the enjoyment of spirits. Going to Wine Country? Then add Dillon’s to your itinerary.

Geoff Dillon gives a terrific distillery tour. Lauren Huggins and her co-workers will look after you at the tasting bar. Everyone at Dillon’s will make you feel welcome.

The vodka (essentially Grappa, because it’s made from Niagara wine grapes) has far more interesting flavour than regular vodka. This is a great spirit.

The gin is the best I’ve ever had to this point. It makes the perfect Gin and Tonic.

And here are my notes for “The White Rye”.

dillonryesm THE WHITE RYEColour: perfectly clear

Nose: Grain mash, Asian pear, rock candy, white pepper, hint of licorice and an almost wisp of ginger

Flavour: same, with hint of vanilla

Finish: lingering

Overall Impression: A beautifully crafted white rye that’s a delight to enjoy straight or as base for a cocktail

Vieni Estates

Vieni Wine and Spirits from Wine Baron on Vimeo.

Vieni opened in 2013. Situated on 175 acres, 190 meters above sea-level on the brow of the Niagara Escarpment, Vieni combines centuries of tradition with modern technology. As well as offering a large range of whites, reds and icewines, winemaker Mauro Salvador will be releasing a selection of Charmat Method sparkling wines. And the big news is that Vieni is the first craft winery in Ontario to make Grappa and other spirits distilled from local fruit. Visitors can taste the range at the winery, picnic in the vineyard, hike the property’s section of the Bruce Trail and enjoy a stay in the beautifully updated B&B where every room has a stunning view of the vineyard.

Concluding Thoughts:

So get out there people, and discover the wonderful world of craft distilleries. You thought you knew spirits from going to the liquor store? There’s so much more. The small producers are the ones that will welcome you warmly, educate you, provide innovative and highly interesting products, and they’re nearby. Drop me a line and let me know how you make out … @thewinebaron

Posted in French wine, Travel, Wine Regions

Rhone Valley wine region in 7 days

Visiting the Rhone Valley wine region

I had the good fortune to visit the various Rhone valley wine regions for seven days. The areas within are visually beautiful. The wines of the North can best be described as elegant and delicate. In contrast, the wines of the South are rustic and full of personality. Probably my favourite wines of Planet Earth.

This has been one of the great experiences of my life. Share it with me.

The Rhône valley produces a host of exciting wines under various Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designations. The major appellation in production volume is Côtes du Rhône AOC.

The Rhône is usually divided into two sub-regions, each with its own vinicultural traditions. The Northern Rhône (Rhône septentrional) and the Southern Rhône (in French Rhône méridional). The northern region makes red wines from the Syrah variety, sometimes blended with white wine grapes, and white wines from Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier grapes. The southern sub-region produces a large range of red, white and rosé wines, often blends of several grapes. The most famous  appellation is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Here are the links to the wonderful experiences of all seven days. Enjoy!


Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four and Day Four continued

Day Five

Day Six

Day Seven

Thanks for experiencing it with me,

The Wine Baron

Posted in Cooking and baking

Individual Tiramisu

A recipe worth trying. And oh the reward when it’s time to taste it.


Although tiramisu is a relatively common dessert nowadays, I have to say it is one of my favourite desserts and probably one of the easiest to make. With these handy individual desserts, which are perfect for parties, hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I do!


  • 200g sponge fingers
  • 2tbsp instant coffee, or 4tbsp fresh coffee
  • 300ml double cream
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 2tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3tbsp sugar


  1. Add the double cream, mascarpone, 1tbsp cocoa powder and the sugar to a mixing bowl
  2. Whisk until the mixture has the appearance of whipped cream
  3. In a jug, add the instant coffee and add 300ml boiling water – make sure the coffee is fully dissolved; if using fresh coffee, make 300ml coffee in a cafetiere
  4. In another bowl, cut the sponge fingers into 1cm x 1cm x 1cm chunks and then slowly add the coffee, mixing gently with a wooden spoon
  5. After…

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Posted in Austrian Wine, French wine, italian wine, Wine, Wine Regions

On the lookout for truly great red wines? Look into this one. Structure, balance, and very impressive

What do we have to do to get truly great wines?

I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m not impressed often enough with the red wines people bring to the house when I’m entertaining.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for the gift, and even more thankful that they’ve come so I can enjoy their company. That means a lot to me. But let’s face it, there are a lot of just so-so wines out there, especially reds. Part of the reason is that it costs more for the winery to make a decent wine than many of us are willing to pay. We should up our budget a bit.

We should up our wine budget.

This is the single most effective way to acquire better wines. Buy less often if you have to, at least your purchase will be enjoyable.

That said, I don’t want to necessarily place the burden on my guests to buy more expensive wines. Not cool. But maybe I can drop a few hints on great wine regions, eh? Yeah, I think I’m on to something.

Go for Wine Regions that Deliver!

Ok, so now for a little list of lesser-chosen wine regions that generally produce truly great wines (with one or two varietal suggestions from each). Some of these come at a slight premium, but won’t break the bank:

  • Kremstal, Kamptal, Südsteiermark, Austria (grüner veltliner, riesling, sauvignon blanc)
  • Abruzzo, Italy (montepulciano d’abruzzo)
  • Southern Rhône, France (Côtes du Rhône Villages, usually with multiple varietals, including grenache)
  • Languedoc-Roussillon, France (just about any type, especially grenache based blends, but don’t get the cheapest)

And now here’s an example of a Côtes du Rhône Villages that a dear family member brought over during the holidays. A delightful wine that impressed me immensely.

Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages
Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages

Domaine Grande Bellane Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages 2010

A blend of 30% grenache and 70% syrah, this wine speaks volumes to the palate. My first impression is that it has a gorgeous palate, with complexity and balance. Not too much of any particular flavour nuance, not too intense with tannins. Just right. The deep colour and aromatic bouquet lead to wonderful flavours of dark cherry, plum and subtle spice within an elegant, yet slightly rustic overall presentation. It pairs beautifully with red meat, game, and a wide variety of other foods.

Posted in spirits

Scotch tastings and whisky introduction at The Briars resort

tumblr_nqopkuxZHZ1tfwglto1_500Scotch and Whisky Introduction

Among my many other roles in a wide variety of places, I am the in-house wine and scotch tasting host for The Briars resort in Jackson’s Point, Ontario, on the south end of Lake Simcoe.

Here’s the basic outline of what I cover. You are most welcome to book your own corporate or personal event through the resort, or contact me and I’ll help set it up.

The Whisky Basics

WHISKY – is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from grain mash.

SCOTCH – there are five kinds; the most common are blended and single malt. We discussed the merits of each.

SINGLE MALT – whisky from one distillery and a single malted grain (usually barley).

We go over how whisky is made and single malts in particular.

I invite attendees to visit my Whisky 101 blog which goes into these glorious matters in more detail:

Examples of the Single Malt Scotches We Taste

  • Glenkinchie (lowland)
  • Dalwhinnie (highland)
  • Talisker 10 yr (Skye)
  • Lagavulin 16 yr (Islay)

Glenkinchie: an award winning example of the often overlooked lowland single malts. Our groups generally find it to be delicate and light, with a bit of a soapy finish.

Dalwhinnie: this highlander was my favourite when I first discovered scotch 20 years ago. It is balanced, smooth and just right for most palates. Usually one of two “winners” of the evening. A little more intense than the Glen.

Talisker: from the island of Skye, the nose and flavours evoke intense seaweed, iodine, and medicine chest. A highly distinctive premium single malt.

Lagavulin: this single malt from Islay is usually the other winner of the evening. Full bodied, distinctive personality, and layers of elegant complexity.

We conclude our warm and pleasant evening at The Briars by going over the big picture of Scottish whisky regions.

Whisky Regions of Scotland

1. Highland
2. Lowland
3. Speyside
4. Islands
5. Islay
6. Campbeltown

Recent tastings:

February 4, 2015 … Guildcrest Homes

June 28, 2015 … Briars Contest winners

Posted in Cooking and baking

Beef Bourguignon recipe and video

Beef Bourguignon recipe by The Wine Baron with inspiration from Julia Child, this is my Chateauneuf du Pape variation, with ideas from the French and Austrian kitchens.


One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 ½ tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds marbled stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 large carrots, sliced
1 medium leek, diced
1 large Spanish onion, diced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, full-bodied (like Cotes du Rhone or Bordeaux)
1 litre brown beef stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves crushed garlic
½ teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
16 to 20 red pearl onions, small
3 ½ tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons black peppercorns (tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, (half quartered, half of them full)

Cooking Directions

Cut bacon into lardons (sticks ¼-inch thick and 1 ½ inches long). Simmer lardons for 10 minutes in a bit of water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a casserole or large stainless steel Dutch Oven over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels. Heat fat in casserole until very hot. Sauté beef and diced onion separately until onion is golden brown and beef is browned on all sides; sprinkle on the flour to coat the beef. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced carrots. Pour out the excess fat.

Return the beef, bacon and onion to the casserole on stove element, medium heat, with the browned carrots and toss with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Pour the beef broth into the casserole slowly to allow the heat to maintain the cooking process. Do the same slowly with most of the bottle of wine, just enough of both so that the meat is just covered. Add the tomato paste, diced leek and crushed garlic as well.

Allow the whole thing to cook about 45 minutes on the element for some reduction to take place. Then place covered casserole in middle position of preheated oven. Reduce oven temp to 325 degrees. Cook for three to four hours, checking frequently after the 3 hour mark to make sure there is still enough liquid to keep it from getting too dry. Add the peppercorns in cheesecloth for the last hour or two and fish it out at the end or earlier if the stew tastes sufficiently peppery (which should be subtle).

While the beef is cooking (about an hour before it’s done) prepare the onions and mushrooms. Heat 1 ½ tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.

Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown evenly. Do the same with the mushrooms, but they will require only 4 to 5 minutes in the frying pan. Transfer both to a saucepan. Add ½ cup of the stock and salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has become thick.

When the casserole meat is tender, skim fat off the top. Skim fat from the onion/mushroom pan as well. On the stovetop, Pour the contents of this pan into the casserole.

You should have about 2 ½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If sauce and fat separate too much, you can add a bit of flour. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with roasted or boiled potatoes, noodles or rice, and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

Posted in Greek wine, Wine

Kir-Yianni Estate redefines the level of greatness the wines of Greece can possess. Here are 2 outstanding reds! 

Two Greek wines you should know

You may know the lovely Paranga red blend from Kir-Yianni, available in LCBO. A very nice wine at a price that’ll make you happy. Here are two more …

Yesterday I had the chance to taste two upscale wines from the estate with Lambros Papadimitriou.

Two Olives 2010

A dark beauty with ripe cherry, jammy red plum and blackberry/currant. Firm sweet tannins. This is an enthusiast’s wine. Complex, big and exciting! A blend of Syrah, Merlot, and Xinomavro from their Naousa vineyards.Available only from LCBO store #4, 200 Danforth Ave, Toronto or (about $35)

Diaporos 2011

A deep red blockbuster with aromas of leather, plum, blackberry and smoke. Flavours follow through similarly with additional notes of black tea and earthiness found in some of the world’s great reds. Very firm tannins. This is truly a spectacular wine; you’re in the presence of greatness with this one. Its personality makes it oh so fitting for Autumn enjoyment (but I’ll gladly drink it any Season). If you open it now (vs cellaring it), give it a lot of air and it will sweep you off your feet.

Diaporos is “single vineyard” from block #5 of the Yianakohori vineyard; 92% Xinomavro, 8% Syrah. 22 months in French oak barrels. Aging potential: 10 + years. You’ll thank me if you do this, but please send me an invitation when you open it!

Available from (about $50)

Thanks to Steve Kriaris of Kolonaki Group for hosting the tasting and to Lambros Papadimitriou for walking us through the wines.

Posted in Cooking and baking

Sachertorte recipe

  Ah Sacher Torte! The fairytale chocolate cake.

I was born in Vienna. Among so many other cultural gems, this city is also the home of Sachertorte. This cake is an Austrian classic. It’s coated in chocolate and layered with apricot jam. This version employs the jam as a filling between the layers and as a glaze to coat the cake before covering it with chocolate. This cake has quite the storied history. there was a lawsuit between Hotel Sacher and Demel bakery over the secret recipe. And now here’s the (improved) secret recipe.



  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted, then cooled a bit
  • 1 1/2 sticks softened unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 ounces ground blanched almonds (1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • 1 3/4 cups apricot jam
  • 2/3 cup corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 10 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • Unsweetened whipped cream, for serving (if desired)


The Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, whip the egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour with the almond flour and salt. In another large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the yolks, one at a time, and beat until fluffy. Beat in the chocolate, then beat in the flours. Beat in one-fourth of the whites, then, using a spatula, fold in the rest of the whites until no streaks remain.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then remove the ring and let the cake cool completely. Invert the cake onto a plate and peel off the parchment. Turn the cake right side up. Using a long serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally into 3 even layers.

The Filling and Glaze

  1. In the oven, whisk 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the apricot preserves with 1/4 cup of water and melt on low heat.
  2. Place the bottom of the springform pan on a wire rack and set the rack on a baking sheet. Arrange the top layer of the cake, cut side up, on the springform pan. Brush the cake with 1/3 of the melted apricot jam. Spread 1/2 cup of the unmelted apricot jam on top and then cover with the middle cake layer. Brush the surface with another third of the melted jam and spread another 1/2 cup of the unmelted jam on top. Brush the cut side of the last layer with the remaining melted jam and set it cut side down on the cake. Trim the cake edges with a sharp knife if necessary to make it even.
  3. In the oven, heat the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the apricot jam just until melted. Press the jam through a strainer to remove solids. Brush the jam over the cake until completely coated. Refrigerate for 20 minutes until set.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk the corn syrup with the rum and 2 tablespoons of water and bring to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, approximately 1 minute. Put the chocolate into a bowl and pour the hot mixture on top. Let stand until melted, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in another tablespoon of hot water if the chocolate glaze is too thick to pour. Let cool until just warm.
  5. Use an offset spatula to scrape off any excess jam from the cake so that it is lightly coated. Slowly pour half of the warm chocolate glaze in the center of the cake, allowing it to gently coat the top and spread down the side. Spread the glaze to evenly coat the cake. Heat the remaining glaze for a few seconds and repeat pouring and spreading. Scrape away any excess glaze. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to congeal the glaze, then cut the finished torte into wedge slices and optionally serve with the whipped cream (which is about as authentic as it gets, Austrian style).

And a Beverage to go with this you ask (well, our reader Lillian asked): 1. Coffee of course. Preferably a Vienna style coffee or Italian roast. And Wine? Why an Austrian St. Laurent of course. The pairing is perfect. This is a delicate Austrian red varietal that’s like Pinot Noir only usually better!