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A Wine Lover's Diary, Part 85  (May 1, 2006)

Monday, April 24: London. Arrived last night at 10 pm and took a taxi to our friends, Carole & David Goldberg in Kentish Town. Have to get up at 7 am tomorrow to get to the Decanter competition tasting. Take the tube from Kentish Town to Parsons Green. It takes almost an hour, having to change at the Embankment. From the tube stop you have to walk north past a new champagne bar called Amuse Bouche. The tasting is held in Heathmans Lane in a photographic studio called The Worx. There is Starbucks coffee and fresh pastries available. Sarah Kemp and Steven Spurrier give us our marching orders and then it's upstairs to a blindingly white room - white floor, white walls, lots of floor to ceiling windows and skylights. Our North American panel is chaired by Stephen Brook, as it has been for the past three years. There are four of us on this panel - Becky Murphy who runs the Dallas Morning News wine competition, Pierre Mansour who is a buyer for The Wine Society here and me. We have our own server who brings the bagged wines to the table, collects them and the tasting sheets when we have completed the flight. We taste six wines at a time from Riedel Chianti Classico glasses. There have been 6,250 wines entered into the competition to be judged by 150 judges from around the world. Sarah tells me that the entire stock of Riedel Chianti Classico glasses for Britain is here on loan. We are asked to score using the Australian system - 20 points with half points permissible. We begin with six sparkling wines from California, followed by two Pinot Gris from Oregon, a Washington Sauvignon, a Virginia Seyval, a Virginia Chardonnay, two New York Chardonnays, and two Washington Chardonnays. Eight California Pinot Gris/Grigio follow, then a Sonoma Chenin Blanc, followed by two Roussannes from California, a Riesling, then a run of seven Viogniers. Then 12 California Sauvignon Blanc. We break for lunch - real comfort food - shepherd's pie, pasta, and salad followed by cheese. The Starbucks people are there suggesting we match their Sumatra coffee with the cheese. After lunch we taste 36 California Zinfandel 2001 to 2005 and 14 Syrah/Shiraz from the same range of vintages. We gave one gold all day for a Zinfandel. After the tasting they give us a beer voucher for the pub on the green called The White Horse. But I have to get back to Kentish Town for dinner. Carole has cooked leg of lamb and David opens a bottle of Castello di Verrazzano Riserva 2001 (which is sadly a little corked).

Tuesday, April 25th: Today we begin tasting by 9:15 am. The first wine is a California blend, followed by a Semillon/Chardonnay and then a run of 48 California Chardonnays, a sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé, a Syrah Rosé, and a Zinfandel Rosé before breaking for lunch. The afternoon is taken up with reds - 7 Oregon Pinot Noirs, 27 California Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Franc from New York and Virginia, a Virginian Cabernet/Merlot blend, 3 Washington State Bordeaux-style blends, an Oregon Syrah, and a Washington Syrah. This last wine we awarded gold. Not out of desperation - it was a very good wine. Tonight is the book launch for David Goldberg's, "The Divided Self" - a controversial study of diaspora Jewry and Israel. The launch was held at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St. Johns Wood. Then Deborah and I went to dinner with Michael and Livia Prior at The Fish Works on Marylebone High Street. I used to live off Marylebone High Street in the 1960s so it was something of a nostalgic journey. Michael is one of my oldest friends whom I met in 1952 when we went to public school together at Epsom.

Wednesday, April 26th: Deborah is taking the train this morning to visit our friends Lucy and Ashley Pover in Market Harborough for a couple of days. Today it's a heavy tasting day of California Merlot (21 in all, 2001 - 2004) and 63 Cabernet blends. These were followed by a series of eleven odd single varietals and blends and four sweet whites. All we know about the wines are the grape variety (or blend with percentages), the vintage and the region or sub-region. Also the price band (below £5 a bottle, £5 - £7, £7 - £10, £10 - £20, or over £20). We gave one gold today for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a reception for the judges tonight at 6:30 pm which leaves me enough time to have a pint of beer at The White Horse. It's a traditional English pub with real ale on tap - Rooster's Yankee, Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter, Ottanlon's Wheat Beer, Adnam's Broadside, and Jeffrey Hudson Bitter, among others. At the stand-up reception in an art gallery next to The Worx they served Laurent-Perrier champagne and some delicious hors d'oeuvres. Somehow made it back to Kentish Town, exhausted.

Thursday, April 27th: My last day of tasting today and it's all Canadian wines. We start with 7 Chardonnay from Ontario and BC, then 4 Sauvignon Blancs from BC (one got a silver and impressed my fellow judges), a Gewurztraminer from Niagara and two Rieslings, one each from Ontario and BC. Then to red wines - a BC Cabernet Franc, five Bordeaux blends, four Merlots, a BC Cabernet Sauvignon, two Ontario Cabernet Francs and three BC Shiraz/Syrah. Then into the sweet wines. Nine Ontario Vidal Icewines, nine Riesling Icewines from both regions, a Gewurztraminer (badly positioned here since it was off-dry) and finally a series of red Icewines from Niagara. I couldn't convince my fellow judges to give gold medal but we did award three silvers. Had a pint of Rooster's Yankee in The White Horse (tasted rather like Gewurztraminer!) before heading back to Kentish Town. Dinner with Carole and Davbid, and Carole's cousin, Connie. David opened another bottle of Castello di Verrazzano which mercifully was not corked.

Friday, April 28th: Deborah arrives back from Market Harborough at lunch-time today. We pack and take a minicab to the Sheraton Belgravia Hotel. Then we take the tube to Leicester Square to visit the National Galley to see the Zurburans (there are three: two paintings of St. Francis, in meditation and prayer, and one of a young girl). We check out the Gentile Bellini and the East exhibition, and the National Portrait Galley next door before returning to the hotel for 6 pm and a drink in the lobby with Nicholas Faith. Before he arrives we have time to walk to Harrods - which we do. Buy lots of Harrod's biscuits and teas for gifts. Nicholas has just published a biography of the Bronfmans and is full of scurrilous stories of Sam and Edgar. We drop into a wine shop called Jeroboam very near the hotel to buy a bottle of wine for dinner in our room - Domaine Gerard Thomas Saint-Aubin Les Frionnes 2003, then to Waitrose to pick up salami, rolls, salads and cheeses. Time to economize. London is frightfully expensive.

Saturday, Aril 29th: The bed is very soft and neither of us has a good night's sleep. The weather looks gorgeous - the sunshine and blue skies which we have had for the last three days. We're up by 9:30 am. We're having lunch with my nephew Jeffrey who lives here, and dinner with my old friend, Bernie Silver, and his wife, Kati. Bernie owns a company that does translation. He was recently made Honorary Consul for the Seychelle Islands. We had lunch with Jeffrey at The Wolesley next to the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly. Shopped along Oxford Street and then took the tube to Sloane Square to walk along Kings Road, dropping in every shoe shop along the way it seemed. Stopped for a glass of Muga Rosé 2005 at Partridges. We would have gone to a pub but since smoking is still allowed in pubs we opted for this very elegant food store. Arrived at Bernie's flat in Baker Street at 8pm. Over a scotch we caught up on family news for an hour or so before sitting down to a light supper of smoked salmon and salad. Bernie keeps a kosher home so we had kosher wine - a Chardonnay from Chile made by Pablo Morandé which tasted odd, and Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon from California (didn't see the vintage). Bernie offered to drive us to our hotel near the airport. He drives an old Rolls Royce. His window got stuck in the open position and then we took a wrong turn near the airport and ended up on the motorway to Oxford. It took us two hours to get to the hotel.

Sunday, April 30th: A bus to Heathrow. Deborah left a Harrod's bag full of the biscuits and teas we had bought in the lounge. We only realized that it was missing as we got to the gate. Deborah explained to the attendant and asked her to phone the lounge. They found the bag and delivered it to our seat. Nice job, Air Canada.




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