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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 78 (March 13, 2006)

Monday, March 6: Spent most of the day working on entries for the Ontario Wine Awards. In the late afternoon I went downtown to the National Club to meet David John Bate, a Canadian who is making wines for Leopard Frog Vineyards in Stellenbosch. He was showing three wines. The first two were Kiss & Tell Reserve 2003 and 2004, an intriguing blend of Shiraz, Merlot, Malbec and Mourvèdre. They come across as a kind of marriage of Bordeaux and the Rhône, very polished wines with lots of flavour, great balance and character. The third wine was called Tantra, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, very minty and smoky with a liquorice, blackcurrant and oak flavour. The wines, all at $37.95, are imported by Colio Estate Wines. I was invited to join a group of restaurateurs and LCBO consultants for dinner at Scaramouche by Jim Savona of Brunello Imports. John Matta, the proprietor of Castello Vicchiomaggio, is in town to promote his Wine of the month at Vintages. His family bought the 32-hectare estate near Greve in Tuscany in 1964 and he moved from London in 1982 to live there. He was meant to sign bottles at the Summerhill store on Saturday but a snow storm in Germany had him grounded at Frankfurt Airport for 25 hours. John has brought along seven vintages of Ripa della More for us to try with the meal.

We start with the 1999 vintage (Sangiovese with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) accompanied by a warm mushroom salad cooked with Vicchiomaggio olive oil. It's a wonderfully rich wine with a nose of coffee beans, black cherries, vanilla oak, leather with an engaging floral note; very elegant, dry and savoury with good length. Next came the 1998 with a dish of chicken liver pâté. This wine, very deep in colour, had a bouquet of licorice and bitter chocolate; it was lean with grainy tannins, acidic and somewhat short but worked nicely with the dish.

The 1990 vintage followed (with quail in a delicate tomato sauce with white beans). Garnet-ruby colour, it had a nose of almonds and cherries with a light, lean flavour of pomegranates, again a little short with a hard finish. Next, the magnificent 1997 – the wine of the night for me – elegant with rich black cherry and minerally flavour; great balance with ripe, soft tannins. This was served with a filet steak. Three vintages were served with a selection of cheeses: 1995, deeply coloured with a vanilla, black cherry and pencil lead nose; the flavours were interesting – blueberry and cocoa-like tannins, tarry and youthful with lively acidity; 2000 (20% Cabernet Sauvignon), firmly structured and youthful in New World style, very plush and fruit-driven; 2002: (60% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot) elegant, well extracted fruit; rich blackcurrant flavours, sweet on the palate, firm and full; a juicy wine but it did not speak to the Tuscan soil. It could have been from Sonoma. Give me the 1997 all-Sangiovese wine any day.

Tuesday, March 7: Am beginning to get concerned. The deadline for wine entries for the Ontario Wine Awards is March 15th. Only a dozen or so winemakers have sent in their entry forms. I know it will be all right on the night but for my peace of mind I'd like to see at least 60% of the wines by this time. It happens every year and I know I don't have to panic but this year is the first time the wineries can enter on line. I hope this isn't deterring them. Dropped into the South African tasting at Hart House, which seems to be the favourite venue of many trade commissions these days. Nearly fifty producers were represented. I was surprised how good the 2005 Sauvignon Blancs were – Saxenburg Private Collection and Springfield Estate Life from Stone, particularly. My top wines were Ernie Els 2003 (Bordeaux blend), Kanonkop Pinotage 2003, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2005, Meerlust Rubicon 2000, Saxenburg Shiraz Select 2001 and Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2004, a Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier blend. Best value wine there: Fairview's Goats Do Roam 2004 at $12.95, a Vintages Essential. For dinner: lasagne with a bottle of Peter Lehmann Shiraz Grenache 2004.

Thursday, March 8: Doug Towers and David Lawrason are here for another tasting. We went through 23 VQA Ontario wines and the general level was very good. This evening Deborah and I are having dinner with John Sambrook. John was one of the Founders of the Opimian Society and my boss when I was editing Wine Tidings magazine for six years. He also founded Black Prince Winery in Prince Edward County and brought along a couple of Chardonnays as well as an Opimian offering, Chateau Vignelaure in Provence. We dined at Mammina's on Wellesley at Yonge. They have a very enlightened corkage philosophy. Five dollars for imports and nothing for Ontario VQA wines.

Friday, March 9: A Vintages tasting, the second half of the release for April. There were 110 wines put out and Zoltan Szabo, who tastes with me for the website, is off to Greece. I was wiped after making notes on all of these wines. Didn't get home until 4:30 pm. Walked Pinot and began inputting the data. A lost day.




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