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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 77 (March 6, 2006)

Monday, February 27: I should be in Argentina but I'm here in Toronto and it's freezing. I have cleared my desk of work for the week so I have decided to go back to the novel I put aside two years ago. I had written about 8,000 words but since I had not got a publisher for it, I concentrated on books that had been commissioned. It's the fourth in the series of Ezra Brant wine murder mysteries, entitled Nightmare In Napa Valley. I had forgotten what a rush it is to write fiction. I get lost in the story and the characters. And what a great tool the internet is for research. I had to find out how many Lisa Silvermans (the name of a fictional character) live along the Silverado Trail. It turns out there are three, and I even got their ages! That's scary when you think how easy it is to gather information about perfect strangers with a few key strokes.

For dinner, chicken stirfry with a bottle of Trentacinquesimo Parallelo Primitivo de Manduria 2004.

Tuesday, February 28: Another brutally cold day, but Pinot doesn't seem to mind, even though she has been shaved down to her skin because of matting. She makes a game about putting her coat on, running away when I pick it up and having me chase her around the house. Spent the day working on the novel. The time seems to fly by writing fiction and I have to remember to have lunch and to walk the dog. This evening, an invitation to meet Christine and Eric Saurel, proprietors of Domaine Montirius, a biodynamic winery in Sarrians, near Orange. It's a winemaker dinner at George restaurant in the Verity Club. We start with their white Vacqueyras 2004, made from white Grenache and Roussanne – a lovely wine with an interesting flavour of wet stones, honey and peaches. With a dish of Ricotta Gnocchi we tasted Montirius Gigondas 2003 and 2002, a real contrast in styles. The hot vintage of 2003 made a big, mouth-filling prune-plum flavoured wine. The 2002 was austere by comparison but elegant with raspberry and floral tones, minerally with a hint of pine needles (my preference of the two). With the veal tenderloin with had Vacqueyras Clos Montirius 2001, a bold, spicy, peppery wine with a rich blackberry flavour and soft tannins. A great match for the veal. With the dessert – Bittersweet Chocolate Brûlé, Roasted Pear and Coffee Meringue – they served a Lakeview Vidal Icewine 2004. I was seated next to Lakeview's winemaker Tom Green and I urged him to get his entries in for the Ontario Wine Awards.

Wednesday, March 1: The weather is still well below zero. Today is the day we pick up our new car, an Acura CSX in blue. Very sexy but not as peppy as the TL and without the bells and whistles. Another day of working on Nightmare In Napa Valley. For dinner, lasagne with a bottle of Beringer Stone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, an easy drinking California Cab with lots of jammy blackcurrant fruit. Well priced at $13.95.

Thursday, March 2: I spoke to my sister Shirley in Florida. She says the weather is gorgeous. It is still well below zero here. Worked on the novel, trying to transport myself to Napa Valley. Deborah and I went to see Capote. We had to see at least one of the movies that's up for an Oscar. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance is outstanding. If he doesn't get Best Actor there ain't no justice. No wine for dinner as we gulped down a hamburger for dinner prior to the movie. Deborah was upset because I smoked up the kitchen with the French fries and browning the hamburger. The smell of grease was in our clothes throughout the movie. If I had been sitting next to me I would have moved away. Very cold walking the mile home from the movie. So we had a restorative Hine Rare & Delicate cognac before giving Pinot her nightly walk.

Friday, March 3: A Vintages release tasting day for April. The release is on April 1st. I wondered if they were playing a joke on us with the number of wines they put out (88). Dinner, Chinese pork dumplings and broccoli – Carmen Merlot Reserva 2004, a bit light for a Reserva.

Saturday, March 4: Drove to Niagara to participate in the Cuvée gala. I am to present my award, the Cuvée Award of Excellence, to Bill Lenko, a long-time grape grower. But first I drop into Malivoire to taste their 2004 Old Vine Foch, a lovely wine (smoky, black cherry, toasty finish; comes on like a Côtes du Rhône), and their 2004 Courtney Vineyard Gamay (very intense, stylish, more pinot noir than Gamay, high toned, inky and floral). Then dropped in to see the Tawse winery, a magnificent six-level gravity-feed winery in Vineland, making some of the best wines in the province. Maury Tawse and winemaker Deborah Paskus gave me a barrel tasting of their 2004 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Deborah's Chardonnays are immense, mouth-filling wines with concentrated preach, apricot and tropical fruit flavours. The colour of the Pinot Noir was light but belied the intensity of the minerally, cherry and raspberry flavours. I have always thought that Deborah's Cabernet Franc was a fabulous wine and the tasting of the new vintage confirmed it. Charles and Margaret Grieco and their son Paul joined us. Paul owns Hearth in New York, a fine restaurant with an amazing wine program. We tasted the 2002 Riesling and the 2003 Chardonnay. Across the portfolio, these are very good wines. At the gala I was seated between the new chair of the LCBO, Philip Olsen, and the consort of the Governor General, Jean-Daniel Lafond. The latter spoke very self-deprecatingly about his visit to the wineries. He suggested that Rideau Hall might introduce a Governor General's Award for Canadian cuisine (which would include wine). Since I had to drive back to Toronto I was reticent to taste too much at the gala, but the best wines I had were Status Cabernet Franc 2002, Konzelmann cabernet Merlot 1998 (like an mature claret), Peninsula Ridge Merlot Reserve 2002 and Vineland Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004.

At the awards presentation, I introduced my award with these remarks:

"This award was created in 2000 to celebrate my 25th year of wine writing. I have been following the Ontario wine industry all that time and I wanted to honour those who had furthered the aims and aspirations of the industry. Previous winners have been Peter Gamble, former Executive Director of VQA, Donald Triggs, CEO and Chairman of Vincor, John Ralston Saul, consort to the former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Karl Kaiser, co-founder of Inniskillin, Paul Bosc of Château des Charmes and Carlo Negri of Colio.

Most of these deserving winners are winemakers. This year the award goes to a wine grower.

He has been growing grapes in Beamsville since 1947. He was crowned Grape King in 1990. In 1975, against all the popular wisdom of the time, he planted Merlot, and he has one of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards in Canada. Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner of the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence for 2006 is... Bill Lenko."

The audience gave Bill a standing ovation.

Here is a list of the wine awards that were presented:

RED WINE – Sponsored by Scott Laboratories
Pillitteri Estates Winery Cabernet Franc Family Reserve 2002 GOLD

LIMITED EDITION RED WINE – Sponsored by Osprey Media Group
Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Merlot 2002 GOLD

WHITE WINE – Sponsored by Scott Laboratories
Peller Estates Winery Andrew Peller Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2004 GOLD

Niagara College Teaching Winery Chardonnay Warren Classic 2003 GOLD

GENERAL LIST RED WINE – Andrew S. Brandt Award
Creekside Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2002 GOLD CSPC #669424

GENERAL LIST WHITE WINE – Andrew S. Brandt Award
Colio Estate Wines Estate Pinot Grigio 2004 GOLD CSPC #503391

SPARKLING – Sponsored by Metro Label
Hillebrand Estates Winery Trius Brut NV GOLD

SWEET WINE – Sponsored by Bruni Glass Packaging Canada
Peller Estates Winery Andrew Peller Signature Series Vidal Icewine Oak Aged 2004 GOLD

EastDell Estates Vidal Icewine 2004 GOLD

Mike Weir Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2002 GOLD

Kacaba Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 GOLD

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Reserve Baco 2004 GOLD

Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2002 GOLD

Niagara College Teaching Winery Pinot Noir Reserve 2004 GOLD

Angels Gate Winery Süssreserve Riesling 2002 GOLD

Vineland Estates Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2004 GOLD

Malivoire Wine Company Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2004 GOLD

Bill Lenko, wine grower

The GOLD refers to a question put to the judges while they were tasting: "Would this wine win a gold medal in international competitions?" Other wines that did not finish first were also accorded gold medals:

Birchwood Estate Wines Cabernet Franc Icewine 2004
Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2004
Coyote's Run Estate Winery Riesling Icewine 2004
Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cuvee Catherine Brut NV
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002
Hillebrand Estates Winery Showcase Cabernet Franc Icewine 2004
Hillebrand Estates Winery Showcase Chardonnay Unfiltered 2004
Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Winery Proprietor's Grand Reserve Meritage 2002
Lailey Vineyard Vidal Icewine 2004
Mike Weir Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2002
Pelee Island Winery Gewürztraminer Reserve 2004
Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2002
Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery Vintners Private Reserve Chardonnay 2003
Pillitteri Estates Winery Vidal Icewine 2004
Reif Estate Winery Vidal Icewine 2003
Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Founder's Signature Collection Meritage 2002




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