I couldn’t agree more. I also agree with the widespread sentiment that Gusto 101 — that newish restaurant in Toronto — is a testament to the quality of the city’s casual dining scene.
I like it there. The people are young, but not too young — 35 to 40-ish. Stylish. Urban. None of the “Get off my lawn!” set. But no 20-something, straight-from-the-mall bling-dongs with that “I’m not looking at you; you’re looking at me” demeanour either. The vibe is cool. The food fabulous. And the service just invisible enough.
The beef tartare is the best raw meat I’ve had the pleasure of pressing against the roof of my mouth. It’s a mix of cow, fig, ricotta cream and truffle oil. Clearly there’s more than a trifle of truffle, given that each bite tastes more potent than Ryan Gosling, George Clooney and Channing Tatum put together.
I’ll leave you for a moment with that thought. Done? Okay. Let’s carry on.
Gusto! Right. My friend swears by the Brick Chicken with Moroccan spices. The bird is cooked sous-vide then finished on the grill, so I imagine its texture is probably more tender than a baby’s gluteus maximus. Anyway, he raves about it and orders it every time he goes there. No idea how it actually tastes. Never had it myself or even asked for a bite. To me, chicken is the bland, in-between thing to turn to when there’s nothing enticing on the menu. And at Gusto 101, there’s no reason to call fowl.
But the last time I went it wasn’t for the food but the wine. I was intent on tasting the buck-an-ounce house-made vino recommended by a colleague in the wine industry. Apparently, he says, the guy who makes it knows what he’s doing, gets the juice from an excellent source and treats the whole process with the appropriate tender loving care, so I shouldn’t expect the usual brew-your-own swill.
So, off I went and ordered a glass of the Gusto Bianco Pinot Grigio. Vile. Oxidized. The kind of wine where upon tasting it you think, they should be paying me to drink this swill.
Instead of tasting lovely, delicate and perhaps a tad floral and gently mineral, it was like a bottle of cheap wine that had been left open on the counter overnight — slightly sharp with that telltale aroma suggestive of vinegar. All around unpleasant. The moral of the paragraph?
If you’re at Gusto 101 and want a nice, light white that’s dry, crisp and refreshing, go for the Prosecco Santomé. It’s not exactly a steal at $9.95 for five ounces, but it’s pure, pear-scented pleasure, teeming with extract. And Prosecco with extract is a beautiful thing.
Extract — the other word for concentration — is what good wine boils down to. And I mean that quite literally. Extract is what would be left after boiling. And it is one of the three keys of quality wine.
I remember chatting with a fellow wine writer about 10 years ago in London. Tim Atkin is his name. He said to me over a fine fish lunch and a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, “Concentration, complexity and length: Those are the three hallmarks of quality wine. Simple as that, really.” That snapshot truth has always stuck with me.
Concentration is not to be confused with tannins or fruit forwardness. Tannins are felt around the gums as a drying sensation, often described as similar in mouthfeel to walnut skins or strong black tea; it’s not about concentration at all. And fruit forward means the wine tastes fruity regardless of its concentration. For instance, Chablis can be very restrained and mineral — showing very few primary fruit characteristics — yet it can teem with extract and thus be incredibly concentrated. Felt mid-palate, concentration is the power of a wine.
Like so much of wine appreciation, the best way to learn is through tasting. So I’ve put together a list of some delicious winter wines that do indeed brim with concentration. The whites on the list are all trade favourites from Ontario — serious world-class bottlings. The reds are a mixed bag of fun.
Closson Chase Vineyard South Clos Chardonnay 2009, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($39)
This intense wine is a prime example of rich in extract yet not fruit forward. It reminds me of a grand cru Chablis from the Les Clos region, where that intriguing dichotomy of sly restraint and plunging power play on the palate. The nose is gently saline, while the palate is focused and hints at smoke, granite, steel, nutmeg, flint and damp herbs; nods toward grapefruit and lemon pith; then elongates toward a riveting stony finish. Quite a serious wine.
Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard Unfiltered Chardonnay 2008, Wellington, Ontario ($35)
Ms Jancis Robinson MW, one of the world’s most respected wine critics, called this wine “Really very Burgundian” when she tasted it in the summer of 2012. And when I tasted it in September of this year, that sentiment still held true; the wine remained well balanced and developed beautifully. Rich aromas of buttered toast, crème brûlée and lemon custard lead to tightly wound flavours layered with white grapefruit, warm brazil nut and crushed granite. A long, generous finish gives this silky, slinky wine elegance and finesse. It’s not fruity but indeed quite rich in extract. Get it?
Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2009, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($50)
This biodynamic and organic beauty is slightly tropical on the nose, then hits the palate briskly before centring mid-palate and expanding exponentially. Understated flavours of lime purée, grapefruit and orange zest resonate beautifully, then turn to white pepper and a long cinnamon finish. A delish and stylish choice.
Le Clos Jordanne Talon Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($40)
Another wine modelled on the Burgundian form, this graceful and seamless yet concentrated gem shows no garish fruit whatsoever. Polished and poised with notes of pear, wet stones, toasted coconut, freshly rolled pastry and the slightest suggestion of toffee and sea salt. Fabulous stuff.
Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia ($30)
Serious concentration here. Think blockbuster red brimming with puréed plum, chocolate-covered black cherries, milky coffee, liquorice and pepper. It’s certainly fruit forward but also quite savoury.
Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon Yellow Label 2010, Australia ($17)
This wine yields the complexity and structure that makes it drink like a bottle worth twice the price. Clean aromas of cassis and macerated berries lead to articulate flavours of ripe cherries, Black Forest fruit, nutty oak, white pepper, mocha and a sassy little note of mint. Finely grained tannins give it poise, finesse and a certain gravitas — very appealing.
Vistalba Corte Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, Argentina ($20)
This stunning wine offers the richness of Malbec with the noble charm of Cabernet Sauvignon to grand effect. Mouth-coating flavours of macerated Black Forest fruits with a good crank of black pepper, cinnamon, espresso, dark chocolate, smoke, cassis and a long smoked black cherry finish. Full-bodied with 14.5% alcohol. Thrilling $20 bottle that drinks like a $40 one — at least.