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You’re sitting in a large, private room at a local restaurant surrounded by people you’ve never met before, but somehow you feel like you’ve known them for years. It’s probably the social lubricating effect of the wine you’ve been sipping on for an hour now – well, not wine, but wines plural. But more than that, the camaraderie of drinking wine with people seems far more personal than having a soda or a beer. What is it about wine that just seems… intimate? Is it the association between wine and romance or the picturesque landscapes that come to mind when you think of a winery?

Tonight We Drink California Wine

On reflection, it’s the entire process. Today’s wineries are able to mass produce wine thanks to advances in science, automation and optimization but despite that fact, there remains a deeply personal connection to the process. The care that the vines themselves receive, the testing of the grapes to find the perfect sugar content, the sampling of each batch to ensure the proper taste, alcohol content and smoothness. It really does require a personal touch – and it’s why, despite their best attempts, no two years of wine are exactly the same. There’s love that goes into making wine, a time honoured tradition on vineyards that have been owned by a single family for decades or longer. Those single family vineyards are now large corporations, but the roots remain the same – much like the vines themselves.

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The passion that goes into making wine is reflected by the people at the table tonight. Directly in front of you is Scott, a Toronto native who represents Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel – he’s like your funny uncle who always has a story to tell, like how he can’t eat a combination of pork and asparagus or about how comfortable his basement couch is – not because he’s in the doghouse with the wife, but because he gets in late and doesn’t want to wake her. To your right is Pete, the national account manager for Don Sebastiani and Sons, who has great comedic timing and routinely comes out with memorable lines like “It takes many pints of beer, to make a little great wine,” when discussing his appreciation for beer (but simultaneously expressing his passion for wine).

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Tonight’s locale is The Carbon Bar, a Toronto restaurant well known for their incredible meats and unique environment. The main floor is always packed, and the noise levels are rather high – but tonight, you’re up in a private room that’s significantly more quiet which makes this experience much better than it would have been among the crowds. You look at the menu, six California wines paired with seven courses:

Sebastiani Chardonnay Wine
$20 – Paired with Hamachi Ceviche with avocado, pepper berries, coriander, chili, tomatillo and lime granita.
Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon Wine
$38 – Paired with Heirloom Beet Salad with goat cheese foam, hibiscus jelly, aji amarillo and citrus vinaigrette.
Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel Wine
$14 – Paired with Duck Taco with achiote tortilla, guacamole, pineapple salsa, coriander and pickled red onion.
Aquinas Pinot Noir Wine
$19 – Paired with Octopus a la Plancha with black beans, fired egg, crispy okra and charred pablano salsa.
Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel Wine
$18 – Paired with Dry Aged Hanger Steak with fried yuca, pico de gallo and chimichurri.
Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon Wine
$15 – Paired with Ribs, Brisket and Buttermilk Fried Chicken. There are a variety of BBQ sauces and it follows shortly afterwards with Rhubarb Sorbet as a dessert.

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When it comes to the food, it’s hard to find any complaint. Each bite is as tasty as the previous. That experience is mimicked with the wine, as each sip is as enjoyable as the one that came before it. If there’s any issue, it’s that you wish you were able to eat more of the starter courses but resist the temptation knowing that more food is coming.

As the night progresses, the conversation becomes much more relaxed. That feeling you had initially of knowing everyone in the room, despite having only just recently met them – has evolved. There’s a fellowship with the people at the table thanks in part to the food and California wine. As the conversation drifts from industry talk into something much more casual, it’s then that you put away your phone and just enjoy the people, stories and wine as the hours slip by.

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As the night comes to an end, you say goodbye to your newfound friends – most of which you’ll probably never see again. It almost feels medieval in nature – meet strangers, share a meal and wine, tell stories and then depart the tavern on your own path in opposite directions. Perhaps that’s the reason one feels such closeness with people they drink wine with? Whatever the reason, the final quote from the night, whom you can’t recall who said it summed it up perfectly: “The wine was fine, the food divine, and the people, truly fantastic.”

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