A meal without wine is called breakfast (or so the joke goes). But wine is a drink that many don't joke about. With the care and attention it takes to cultivate the grapes and create a memorable experience, these Toronto wine bars pay tribute to the nectar of the gods. Whether you are an oenophile or someone looking to shake off a bad day, these are the places to park. With mood lighting and careful pours, the air seems perfumed by cork and everyone seems a little happier. Or maybe that's just us after a glass or seven.
Although wine is meant to be the star of the show, Toronto is a city for food lovers and the food pairings available at our wine bar choices are sublime. Midfield Wine Bar has short ribs to wash down with your bold red. Or go to Tappo Wine Bar to slurp some egg ribbon pasta tossed in a white wine garlic butter sauce. The extensive wine list is a great read on a cold winter's day. Complement the heavier dishes with a bright white, like a Pinot Grigio.
If wine isn't the answer, we don't know what the question is. Let's drink our antioxidants in their preferred form: one sip at at time.
CIBO Wine Bar
CIBO Wine Bar is as much a restaurant as a wine bar, but we will let it slide. It also works hard to bring the entertainment factor, living on the vibrant King Street West and being run by the Liberty Entertainment Group. It seems to be working, as during the Toronto International Film Festival, CIBO becomes a hot spot for celebrities. The impressive glass walled wine cellar will certainly rev your thirst and wine is treated with the utmost respect. Don't expect to get any bonus ounces by generous bartenders: pours are perfectly to the ounce. There is a long list of wines by the glass and bottle, and even if you just order a glass it will be served at the optimal temperature. Appetizers, pizzas and pasta are made fresh in house and are incredibly tasty. (416-504-3939)
Skin + Bones
Skin + Bones places great importance on the art of eating and drinking. In fact, the dishes are created with a special wine in mind (although they won't judge if you decide to do more wine than food). Oak tables and minimal decor let the spotlight shine on the gastronomic experience. The extensive wine list includes wines from all over the world at all price points. If the aroma of excellent food wafting in your direction convinces you to do a pairing, you can even have a surprise menu, where you are at the whim of the chef, Luca Gatti and the sous-chef, Lauren Brown. Your tastebuds are safe with them. (416-524-5209)
Reds Wine Tavern
Given its location inside First Canadian Place (Canada's tallest skyscraper) in Toronto's financial district, one would expect Reds to be an exclusive dining spot for those with expense accounts. But while the bistro and wine bar's clientele skew toward high-powered business people in designer suits, the food is approachable in both style and price. Appetizers include a butcher board with charcuterie, pickled vegetables and fresh bread. For mains, none of which top the $40 mark, choose from a classic steak with truffled frites, crispy roasted chicken or a simple Mediterranean lamb shank. It's clear that all menu items, as well as the selection of 15 cheeses from Canada and around the world, are meant to pair well with wines from the 350-bottle cellar, or the more than 24 wines offered by the glass. Stop by Monday through Friday starting at 4 p.m. for select bottles at special prices. ((416) 862-7337)
Once run by Jamie Kennedy, the Toronto-based celebrity chef sold Wine Bar in 2009. But while he's no longer manning the stoves, the St. Lawrence Market area restaurant is still a popular choice among diners looking for great food and an inspired wine selection. Jars of preserves and bottles of wine line the walls, giving patrons visual cues about Wine Bar's ethos. Chef Bryan Burke put an Ontario spin on the small plates concept. The food is naturally and locally raised by Ontario farmers and artisans. Bryan has trained in different locations around the world and his global experience speaks through his tapas dishes even with their local influence. Try grilled Ontario asparagus with herbed hollandaise, confit pork tacos or a simple heirloom tomato salad. Nothing on the menu tops the $20 mark, and suggested wine pairings are listed alongside each dish, available in 3 oz. and 5 oz. pours.
With lightly stained wood decor and affordable pours, Archive is the kind of bar that doesn't need to be special occasion only. It is devoid of snobbery yet dedicated to delightful pours and has a giant wine list to tickle any grape lover's fancy. There is a focus on local Ontario offerings but there are a nice amount of international offerings. Glasses can run for under $10 but the good stuff can climb to over $20 per glass. Small plates help to quash any rumblings of hunger and keep you drinking longer. Indulge in meats and cheeses, or get bread coated in delicious toppings like gorgonzla and speck. We gobbled up the proscuitto wrapped dates with manchego like they were going out of style. (647-748-0909)
Tappo Wine Bar
Tappo Wine bar is situated in the historic Distillery District and has kept the bones of the Stone Distillery building. With a wooden interior and stone walls, it feels like you have stepped into another time that is romantic and distinct (luckily they served wine during that time). Tappo is the creation of restauranteur Armando Russo and NHL player Shayne Carson. Tappo means "corked" in Italian and with bottles rising up to the ceiling, you can see where the inspiration originates. Italian fare is hearty and well crafted, with antipasti hitting the spot if you want small bites. We particularly found the baked goat cheese in phyllo served with saffron poached pears to be, well, as good as it sounds. Imbibe in their phenomenal wine list with over 130 worlds from around the world. (647-430-0992)
Local Kitchen & Wine Bar
2009 was a memorable year for restaurant openings in Toronto, and Local Kitchen and Wine Bar was among the notable debuts. Childhood friends Fabio Bondi and Michael Sangregorio teamed up to open the space. It's tiny and decorated in an unpretentious style, resembling a hole-in-the-wall you might find while wandering around Florence. But don't judge a book by its cover, because chef Bondi's food packs this place on a nightly basis. The small menu of locally sourced ingredients features a selection of cheeses and meats, including the fresh house-made mozzarella, served warm with tomatoes and basil. Three or four pastas and two protein-based mains are served each day. The former might be smoked potato gnocchi with rapini and taleggio cheese, while locally sourced fish and beef are paired with vegetables in season. Wine is lovely and corkage is free on Monday nights. ((416) 534-6700)
Midfield Wine Bar & Tavern
Midfield Wine Bar fits the first (and most important) characteristic of a wine bar: it is a great place to drink wine. With a rustic coziness and wines that slant on shelves behind the bar, you want to stay awhile. Emprisoned wine sits behind bars asking to be freed and offering a nostalgic edge when paired with curly corded telephones. There is bistro fare which arrives on wooden boards and can be as light as charcuterie or as heavy as braised short ribs. Tuscan reds and small European producers make the wine list as interesting as it is drinkable. Glasses range from $9 to $14 and bottles from $35 to $55. Absolutely everything is available by the glass. (647-345-7005)
Glas Wine Bar
Chef Danny Pantano worked in Italy and Michelin starred restaurants before settling into Glas Wine Bar. The spelling is not incorrect, but rather German, as Danny worked in Tyrol, where Austria meets Italy. His cooking is confident and inventive, with creative, seasonal and locally sourced dishes. The menu changes weekly, with a 4 course tasting menu available for vegetarians and omnivores for $40-45. Wine pairings can be added for only $25. Chef Pantano always jazzes up dishes in unexpected ways, such as a kale salad that brightens with the addition of a quail egg. The Tuscan red wine cake for dessert with Merlot sauce is a lovely way to cap off a meal paired with excellent wines. Expect local wines at the peak of their game for affordable pricetags. (647-351-4527)
Bar Buca is the kind of place that understands that you may need a little upper with your downer. Equally interested in the coffee scene as much as wine and cocktails, it is a casual place to grab a snack and shoot the breeze. Italy's aperitivo tradition is held in place daily from 4pm to 7pm, in an industrial chic Toronto kind of way. This means you get a free snack with each drink, which we are surprised works in North American culture. We would say assaggini are like "tapas" but that has lately become synonymous with pretension and this is great, approachable food. Just 38 seats which are often filled with foodies and conversation. Try one of the 17 by-the-glass wine options. (416-599-2822)
About Courtney Sunday
Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned the true meaning of the statement: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life."
Courtney now divides her time between Philadelphia and Toronto. She loves the cafe culture of both cities and the ever-expanding group of foodies. When not leading small yoga teacher trainings around the globe she explores her cities by foot: www.courtneysunday.com.
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