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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 105 (September 25, 2006)

Saturday, September 16: Am flying to Winnipeg for the Cuisine Canada National Culinary Conference at the Delta Hotel. At the airport I run into Rose Murray, whom I haven't seen for years. Rose and I collaborated on a food and wine book, Cellar and Silver, years ago. She's off to the conference too. On the flight I start Natalie Maclean's new book, Red, White and Drunk All Over. I am always curious about the Road to Damascus wine - that singular wine experience that knocks you sideways and sets you off on the lifelong quest of wine. For Nat it was a bottle of Brunello, although she doesn't identify the wine or the vintage, just that she and her future husband Andrew were served it at a local Italian restaurant by the owner, who recommended it. (For me, it was a bottle of Lafite 1959, served at my Uncle Louis' dinner table in 1964 – far too young, but that was my Uncle Louis.) Nat writes well; there is something implicitly sexual about her approach to wine writing. Maybe I'm missing the boat, having been schooled in the English tradition of wine writing. Anyway, I'm enjoying reading her account of visiting DRC, Leroy and Leflaive. My non-smoking room at the hotel is anything but; it reeks of stale smoke. Looking over the participant list for the conference I see a lot of old friends are registered – Marion Kane, who used to edit my column at the Toronto Star, Serge Simard of Fairmont Hotels, Elizabeth Baird of Canadian Living, David Brown, an expert on meat, and Anita Stewart, who founded Cuisine Canada. So I'm going to enjoy my three days here. I speak on Monday. My theme is "What's So Great About Canadian Wine?" Plus a tasting of BC and Ontario wines. At 6 pm there's a reception with a cash bar before we go in for the gala dinner, at which the culinary book awards will be presented. The meal is prepared by Delta Inn chefs from Atlantic Canada, Quebec, British Colombia, the Prairies and Ontario.

We start with Nova Scotia cold water lobster risotto, hana nori sea frond, lobster roe and butter foam, served with Inniskillin Pinot Noir 2004 (Inniskillin donated much of the wine we are having tonight). Next, Eastern Townships red meat trout, two ways: Tartar with pickled cattail hearts and wild Quebec ginger and Maple-smoked with Abitibi caviar, served with Inniskillin Chardonnay 2004. Third course: Thistle Farm organic pumpkin silk volute, Fraser Valley pheasant confit, West Coast juniper, toasted pumpkin seed crisp and grand fir oil (the dish of the night). Then what was called on the menu a Canadian Painter's Palette Granité – four granites the size of thumb nails served on a dish shaped like a palette with a paint brush as decoration: the four flavours: Huron County ruby beet and lavender honey, Inuit crowberry tea, Alberta wild rose and Okanagan spirit gewürztraminer grappa. Meat course: Stonewood elk tenderloin, Alberta mustard seed and Manitoba hemp crust, Milk River double-roasted barley, Oxtail and sweetgrass glace de Vinande, served with Inniskillin Cabernet Franc 2003. Dessert:Niagara pear brûlée, Inniskillin Icewine and walnut chocolate pâté, Sesame wafer, Prince Edward County micro-brewed cider syrup, served with Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2004. During the meal the awards were made Oscar-style ("The envelope, please"), presented in both languages by Elizabeth Baird.

Sunday, September 17: Breakfast at 7:30 am and then the opening address for the conference by Harold Magee, on food science. He talked a lot about the philosopher chef Feran Arien of El Bullí. A question and answer session followed during which he debunked the notion of a flavour map of the tongue – something that I have been using for years. Have to change my lecture notes! After the coffee break I attended a seminar by Chef David Adjey of the TV show Restaurant Makeover. His theme was "The Recipe for a Successful Restaurant." He suggests a co-op approach to gratuities – the dishwasher should get an equal share of the waiters' tips. Lunch is a walk-around grazing event at the Manitoba Marketplace in the MTS Centre. Lots of local producers with their wares, including fruit wines. Like the Berkshire pork shish kabobs. In the afternoon I attended the seminar by Emily Morgan, VP of Programming at the Food Network. Her topic, "TV and Our Taste Buds," turned out to be one long promo for the Food Network's fall season, complete with lengthy clips from the shows. One interesting thing – a new show called This Food, That Wine, about matching food and wine, shows visuals to illustrate winespeak. When the sommelier talks about silky mouth feel you see silk wafting in a breeze or a spoon of jam about to be applied to toast when she mentions "jammy." The final session of the day was a conversation with the seven Delta Hotels chefs who prepared last night's meal. They were surprisingly articulate and passionate about their professional. All of them had started in the kitchen at 15 or 16 and several confessed that they had not been taught wine. I asked if there was one federal food regulation they would like changed and spontaneously they all answered that they'd like to see tougher regulations about organic produce labeling. The consumer is being ripped off, they contend.

We then got on buses to visit FortWhyte Alive, a remarkable 640-acre wildlife sanctuary on the outskirts of Winnipeg. On arrival we were offered a glass of D.D. Leobard Birch wine, made from the sap of the birch tree. Then we were shown how they grow lettuces acquaponically along with tilapia. The water in the fish tank is filtered through stones (similar to those used in BBQs). The bacteria on these rocks eats the ammonia in the fishes' waste and turns it first into nitrite and then into nitrate, which is then pumped onto the lettuces as fertilizer. They get a crop of lettuce in six weeks. Then we were shown how they compost with worms, then moved to a field station for Bison skewers served with Crown Royal Martini (the rye with maple syrup) and then on to demonstration of how the aboriginal people smoke Goldeye (with a glass of a local microbrewery's beer: Half Pint little Grasshopper IPA). Under a huge white tent to a chorus of honking Canadian geese we sat down to another huge meal, which was called "Wild Prairie Sunset Dinner." Before the meal was served we were entertained by an aboriginal dance accompanied by a chanting drummer. The dancer used up to fourteen hoops to wrap around his body in different patterns as he danced – amazing the dexterity and the complexity of the patterns, changed by moving the hoops around his legs and torso. First course: split pea soup with smoked goose and linden tree leaves with spruce cone ice cream served with Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut (served in old-style saucers – I thought they had gone the way of the dodo). Salad course: Naked (peeled!) cherry tomatoes dressed in cold-pressed canola with fresh jalapeño yoghurt cheese cone and arugula greens, served with a Manitoba Martini – Iceberg vodka and Rigby blackcurrant fruit wine. Fish course: Lake Kisseynew whitefish with Manitoba maple cure, crème frâiche, golden caviar and organic parsley-infused canola oil; Sautèed northern pike à la forestière with Gleanlea shiitake mushrooms and wild boar bacon; Pickerel cheek in smoky misto broth with local edamame (in an oyster shell), served with Malivoire Gamay 2004. Sorbet: Mossberry and cold pressed canola sorbet (in a cube of ice, served with D.D. Leobard Wild Chockberry Wine). Meat course: Braised Bison short ribs with Great Northern Beans, smoky braised pork and rosemary-scented lamb sausage with sun-dried blueberries, served with Jackson-Triggs Proprietors Grand Reserve Merlot 2003 (BC). Dessert: Butternut squash tart with cinnamon wild rice ice cream, served with La Face Cachée Neige Iced Apple Wine. Scott McTaggart, owner of the Fusion Grill restaurant in Winnipeg, was honoured with the Edna Staebler Award for his services to regional cuisine. He gave an hilarious speech, telling us when he got the news he had to google Edna Staebler to find out who she was and when he phoned his father, he was congratulated on receiving the Dame Edna Award and what was he going to wear at the presentation?

Monday, September 18: This morning I am to give my seminar on "What's So Great About Canadian Wine?" The organizers tell me that 45 people have signed up for the session. When I go looking for the wines I find that the three wines from BC are there but the three I had ordered from Ontario have not arrived. Panic while I speak to the hotel to see what they have. I find two I can substitute but it means the presentation will be top-heavy with Inniskillin product. The session before mine ends at 10:15 am and mine starts at 10:30 am. The hotel has fifteen minutes to turn the room around, set up five glasses and pour 46 sets of five wines. The staff is terrific – they do it. But only six or seven people turn up. The room is on the third floor and participants can't find it. We wait for ten minutes and when fifteen or so people are present I start. The wines: Sumac Ridge White Meritage 2004, Inniskillin Chardonnay Reserve 2002, Inniskillin Pinotage 2005 (BC), Inniskillin Merlot 2002 (Ontario), Jackson-Triggs Shiraz 2003 (BC). Lunch and then a cab to the airport. Deborah was working late so I opened a bottle of Murphy-Goode Chardonnay 2002 (minerally, butter and apple nose, rich and spicy with a velvety mouth feel; melon and oak flavour, full-bodied, good length) and waited for her.

Tuesday, September 19: David Lawrason and Doug towers are here for a tasting of Ontario wines for Forty-eight wines. The 2005 Rieslings are really very good. Dinner with Toby and Martine O'Brien at grano. They introduced me to Paul Turnbull, the sales and marketing manager for Tapestry Winery and Vineyard in McLaren Vale. We started at my house and I opened a bottle of Thirteenth Street Gamay Reserve 2002, which has begun to taste like a mature Burgundy.

Wednesday, September 20: A 9 am interview at the Random House offices for their audio website and then lunch at the Miller Tavern with Hugh Thompson, an expert in e-marketing, who advised me on how to generate income from my site. Then a meeting with Esther Sarick, who is kindly hosting a special party for the launch of The Wine Atlas of Canada. At 4 pm Michel Couttolenc of Errazuriz came over to explain about the Berlin Tasting – Errazuriz wines served blind against first-growth Bordeaux and some Super Tuscans. Stephen Spurrier had chaired this event in Berlin and now it's to be restaged next month in Toronto. At 6:30 pm, down to Epic in the Royal York Hotel for a winemaker's dinner with James Sichel, whose family own Château d'Angludet and are one-third owners of Château Palmer. We started with Maison Sichel Sirius 2005, a blend of 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc (minerally, apple, rhubarb and grassy nose, well extracted fruit – the best vintage of this wine I've tried). This wine was served with sea scallop and butter poached Nova Scotia lobster. Next came Château du Glana 2003, an under-appreciated Cru Bourgeois from St. Julien (dense ruby colour, blackcurrant, cedar, cigar leaf with a floral note; firm structure, delightful violets and cherries on the palate.) Served with Truffle Glazed "Charlesbourg" Quail with morel, angel hair pasta and sweet pea coulis. This was followed by 2001 Château d'Angludet (minty blackcurrant with a lavender note) with pistachio-crusted Ontario Rack of Lamb. The dessert wine was Maison Sichel Sauternes 2003, which we were told was a declassified wine from a very famous house (no names, no pack drill: quite forward, though light with honey and dried peach flavours, good acidity), served with Cranberry Crème Brûlée, pear black peppercorn tatin and Pistachio ice cream.

Thursday, September 21: Sandy Kurbis and David Rose picked me up at 8:30 am to drive down to St. Catharines for a meeting of the advisory board for the Ontario Wine Awards at the Ontario Wine Council offices. I always miss the turn-off to get there; the building is visible from the highway but somehow I overshoot the exit. Useful to hear what the winemakers need from the Ontario Wine Awards. Dinner: pork loin with a bottle of Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 – great match.

Friday, September 22: A tasting of new items on the LCBO's general list plus the 2001 Barolos that were not put out last Friday. Paul Boutinot Agency produces a cat sitting on an egg. There's one called Bin 15a Shiraz that sends up the Australian Bin number fetish – a garbage can outside the steps of a house labeled Bin 15a. Lunch at Le Select Bistro to taste Baron Philippe de Rothschild wines from their various properties:

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2005 from the Pays d'Oc – spicy, lemony, grassy, decent length.
  • Viognier 2005, Pays d'Oc – floral, honeysuckle flavour, good value.
  • Pinot Noir 2005, Pays d'Oc – dry, raspberry, earthy, acidic.
  • Domaine de Baron Arques 2003, Limoux Rouge, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc with 30% blend of Grenache, Malbec and Syrah – a kind of mix of claret and Rhône – vanilla, cedar, raspberry, spicy with chocolate notes. Really very good.
  • Escudo Rojo 2003, from Chile: blackcurrant, smoky sweet fruit, firm structure. I've always liked this wine.
  • Almaviva 2003, from Chile – Cabernet Sauvignon (68%), Carmenere (28%), Cabernet Franc (4%) - (tobacco leaf, spicy, vanilla and currant flavours, full-bodied, elegant, soft tannins).
  • Almaviva 1999. What a fabulous wine – lovely ripe blackcurrant and cedar flavours with a lavender note, great structure.
  • Mouton-Cadet Blanc 2005, Bordeaux. This wine speaks to the vintage in its ripeness – peachy, grassy, soft mid-palate. Very drinkable.
  • Mouton-Cadet Rouge 2004 – rather lean and insipid.
  • Château d'Armailac 1999 – mature ruby colour; tobacco leaf, toast, blackcurrant nose; medium-bodied, elegant, firm red currant flavour. Lovely.
  • Château Clerc Milon 2002 – rather closed, very dry, old-style English wine trade claret.
  • Château Mouton-Rothschild 2003 – deep ruby colour; cedar and currant on the nose; beautifully balanced, not overpowering but very elegant, like slipping on a kid glove.
  • Château Mouton-Rothschild 2000 – ruby colour; pencil lead, floral, cedar, vanilla nose; lean and closed down, going through a dumb phase but all the elements are there. Try in five years' time.
  • Château Mouton-Rothschild 1998 – smoky, cedar, surprisingly dry and aged.




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