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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 79 (March 20, 2006)

Monday, March 13: Last night I received an email from Larry Patterson with a copy of the February issue of the Grape Growers of Ontario Newsletter. He drew my attention to this item on page 5:

So the petition worked!

A pre-tasting of wines at Far Niente restaurant for the California Wine Fair next month. The flights are divided into varietals and served blind. They served the Tandem Pinot Noir 2003, which was delicious. Other favourites were Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Morgan Syrah 2003. Spent the afternoon inputting entries for the Ontario Wine Awards. The deadline is Wednesday but less than a third of the wineries have entered yet. Deborah tells me not to panic and reminds me it's like this every year. For dinner: pork roast with Santa Rosalia Freisa 2004 from Langhe.

Tuesday, March 14: Consulting on a fire insurance claim. A vandal set fire to a house in Rexdale in the early hours of the morning. The family escaped with their lives but the owner's wine cellar was damaged by smoke. The labels were besmirched. The question was, had the heat of the fire and the smoke compromised the condition of the wines? The only way to find out was to taste three bottles from different parts of the cellar. But the owner's son did not want the bottles opened as they were a collection. The claim is in limbo until he decides whether to claim for some 15% of the estimated value because of the condition of the labels or to have three bottles opened to see if there was damage to the wines. In the afternoon I attended a cognac tasting at the King Eddie. A family company I had not heard of before – Audry. Five cognacs were poured when we arrived and I was blown away by the quality.

  • Audry XO Fine Champagne: deeply coloured amber; vanilla, toffee and black pepper nose; rich and full on the palate with a sweet, toasty, creamy flavour. ($149)
  • Réserve Spéciale Champagne (a blend of 15–30 year cognacs): Vanilla, caramel and citrus peel nose with a note of Calvados; very smooth, coats the tongue, rich and fruity as it opens on the palate; great length. ($189)
  • Mémorial Fine Champagne: again deeply coloured with a nose of apples, vanilla and a rancio note; spicy, rich and toasty with a coffee bean and honey flavour. Lovely mouth feel ($315).
  • Exception Fine Champagne (30–40 year old blend): Crème Brûlée nose; rich and spicy with a coffee bean flavour, very elegant ($535).
  • Réserve Aristide Grande Champagne (bottled straight from the barrel, more than 50 years old): Amber with an olive green rim; alcohol on the nose (50%!) which is floral and spicy with a vanilla top note; amazing flavours of baked apple, chocolate, clove with a marine note. Rich and mouth-filling ($819).

My favourite: Mémorial Fine Champagne. Which is a good thing, given the price of the older cognacs. They're imported by Solarus Brands. The owner, Bernard Boisson, quoted a review from the New York Times which referred to his products as "the best cognac that no-one ever heard about."

In the evening I took part in a wine and cheese tasting put on by the Ontario Wine Society, featuring the wines of Pillitteri, Willow Springs and Sandbanks.

Wednesday, March 14: Recorded eight reviews for 680 News and am now having them posted on the site because listeners are usually driving and can't make a note of the wine names. Spent the day furiously entering wines for the Ontario Wine Awards. Tomorrow is the deadline for entering the competition and now they're starting to pour in. The number of entries is down from last year because of the short harvest. Dinner: Chinese pork dumplings with a bottle of Caves des Papes Côtes du Ventoux 2004.

Thursday, March 16: Up early to fly to Montreal to visit Geloso, a wine bottler in Laval. I first visited them in 1982 when I was researching the first edition of Vintage Canada. Geloso has the distinction of holding the first winemaking license in Quebec (#001). The enterprise is huge now. We tasted a range of Geloso wines imported from Italy alongside those bottled by Vincor and the SAQ. For dinner, opened a bottle of Stratus Cabernet Franc 2002, a real blockbuster of a wine.

Friday, March 17 (St. Patrick's Day): Forgot to dress in something green. Another tasting day in the LCBO lab for the April 29th Vintages release. There were 100 wines out on the counters. I took a break halfway through and had lunch at the Toronto Star canteen across the road. Went home and did not want to see another bottle of wine at dinner. So Deborah opened a tetrapak of Vendange Chardonnay for herself.

Saturday, March 18: Deborah and I had dinner with Irv and Carol Wolkoff at Avalon, the last dinner that Chris McDonald is cooking in the restaurant. He's closing down and opening a small place in Delisle Court, where he used to cook when Steve Campbell owned the restaurant there. He's not going to call it McDonald's, I guess. Chris says there'll be a lot of smoked meats. The dinner was a tasting menu and we brought our own wines. Irv, Tinel-Blondelet Pouilly-Fuissé 2002 and Elio Grasso Barolo 1996 (which turned out to be corked). I brought Chile's Tabali Sauvignon Blanc 2005 and Ampeleia 2003, a blend of Cabernet franc, Merlot and Sangiovese from Maremma in Tuscany. To make up for the Barolo we ordered a bottle of Rodney Strong Pinot nOir 2001 (which was very good). The food was amazing – a small dab of caviar on sour cream perched on a blini, smoked artic char wrapped in bok choy in a carrot coulis, duck consommé that was wonderfully concentrated, then sweetbreads, followed by filet and braised beef rib that fell off the bone. For dessert a coffee mocha custard flavoured with passion fruit served in an egg shell and then a plate of several different desserts. We arrived at the restaurant at 7:30 pm and rose from the table just before midnight. One of the best meals I've had in Toronto. My credit card is going to have a headache in the morning.




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