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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 124 (February 12, 2007)

Saturday, February 4: Driving to Guelph this afternoon to conduct a tasting for the Edward Johnson Music Foundation. This is the fourth year I've done this gig. The venue moves around a lot. This year it's at the River Centre. The wines were chosen by a local LCBO consultant:

  • Cave Spring Riesling Reserve 2005
  • Yering Station Chardonnay 2005
  • Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages 2003
  • Zenato Valpolicella Ripassa 2003
  • Clos de los Siete 2005

The weather wasn't too bad so I drove home. Last year there was a bad snow storm and I was forced to stay over.

Bonhomme et moi

Sunday, February 5: Flew to Quebec City at 11:20 am for the Sélections Monidales des Vins competition. When I got to the airport they told me that I was booked on the flight but had no seat and the flight was full! But I got on eventually. The aircraft was virtually taken over by employees of a drug company who were gathering in Quebec for a weeklong sales convention. A taxi was waiting to take me to the Palace Royal Hotel. My room was not ready. The judging had already started that morning and I arrived just as the wines that had been judged were being set up for tasting on a table outside the judging room. The first wine I tried was corked. Lunch at 2 pm in the hotel's restaurant, Le Belfroi Steak House. Sat at a table with Malcolm Anderson, my old wine writer friend from Montreal, and John Salvi MW, whom I have met in various wine regions around the world several times. At lunch we are served Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc 2006 and La Preceptoire Ecrits de Lumière, a Roussanne/Marsanne blend. The afternoon is free so I watch a Montreal Canadiens/Pittsburgh Penguins game with Malcolm, then take a brief nap before tuning into the Super Bowl. A bus takes us – 56 judges – at 7:30 pm to a Thai restaurant called Apsara. Bonhomme du Carnival makes an entrance and everyone is photographed with him. The wines with the Thai dinner are Bott-Geyl Riesling 2002 and Jadot Combe aux Jacques Beaujolais villages 2005, both well chosen for the spicy meal. Back to the hotel by 10:30 pm.

A typical bedroom in the Hôtel de Glace

Monday, February 5: Up at 7 am and down to a full breakfast. I am on a panel of five. John Salvi; Roger Liégeois, a Belgian wine merchant; Charles-Henri de Coussergues, the winemaker at L'Orpailleur; and our panel captain, Maria-Isabel Mijares Garcia y Pelayo from Madrid, who has bathed in perfume (and I am sitting next to her). We start with a white wine to calibrate our palates. We have to mark out of 100, up to 15 points for colour and limpidity, 30 points for the nose (intensity, cleaniness/typicity and quality), 44 for taste (intensity, cleanliness/typicity, quality, persistence) and 11 for harmony. On the other side of the sheet is al ist of adjectives describing the nose, taste, structure style, evolution and faults that we have to tick off. Our first flight of 13 wines is dry whites under $20. This is followed by 13 reds under $20 and then 13 reds between $20 and $40. I find that my scores are most in line with the perfumed lady from Spain, who hectors the panel when their marks don't approximate hers. We give four gold medals in the morning session. Lunch in Le Belfroi Steak House. An Italian dish of canneloni de canard and fettuccini with Vincent Pouilly-Fuissé 2004 and Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon Max Reserva 2005. After lunch I go walking on rue St. Jean to buy a present for Deborah. The temperature with the wind chill factor is minus 39. Make a hurried retreat back to the hotel. I am suffering from a "crise de froid." At 6:15 pm a bus takes us to the Hôtel de Glace at Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques Cartiner about a 40 minute drive from the hotel. The ice hotel, within a walled compound, is magnificent – a labyrinth of thirty-six bedrooms that meet at a central room with a bar. There are paintings of rural scenes by Quebec artists that are frozen into the walls. The beds in the rooms are covered with skins or Hudson Bay blankets (the rooms cost $400 a night, which includes use of the sauna and hot tub and breakfast.) The toilets are mercifully in a separate, heated room but sufficiently far from many of the rooms to suggest that overnight guests might bring their own potty. The ambient temperature is about –5°C. We are offered cider in a square glass made of ice (no washing up) and a mediocre Gros Marsang, well chilled, and a nondescript red anything but chambré. We dine standing up – pea soup in paper cups, tourtière and scalloped potatoes, pasta with a tomato or cream sauce, shishkebab and wild rice off paper plates. For dessert, crepes with sugar syrup. Everyone dances to rock music, mainly to keep their feet warm. Before leaving we all congregate in the chapel for a group photo. Back at the hotel by 10:15 pm, grateful to be in the warm again.

Tuesday, February 6: Up at 6:55 am. The television says most of Canada is gripped in freezing temperatures and will be so for several weeks. Three sessions of tastings this morning, adding up to 44 wines. We gave one double gold, a couple of golds and a few silver medals. After lunch, a bus tour of old Quebec. I sat next to Champlain Charest and we both fell asleep. Dinner at Le 47 Parallèle. The wines have been supplied by Vincor: Mondavi and Osoyoos Larose 2003. First, a video about Mondavi wines which still features Robert, Michael and Tim as if they are still making wine together. We begin with Woodbridge Chardonnay 2005 and Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2005 served with a salmon and frog's leg dish. Then Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir 2005 with three different styles of lamb – thin slices of smoked lamb, rillettes and a spring roll filled with shredded lamb. The main dish is a Cornish hen with a bizarre crust of hazelnuts and cocoa powder, served with Woodbridge Zinfandel 2005 and Mondavi Private Selection Zinfandel 2004. Before the dessert we are treated to a taste of Osoyoos Larose 2003, which is still somewhat closed but shows class. Veronique Rivest, who won the competition as "The Best Sommelier in Canada," spoke to the wines. There was some controversy over this competition, since several of the Ontario contenders were not properly informed that the presentation had to be in French. Waifro Cavaliere and I took a taxi back to the hotel before the dessert was served – a chocolate soufflé.

Wednesday, February 7: Today is my final day of tasting at Sélections Mondiales, as I have to fly back to Toronto this afternoon. Isabel, our panel caption, is getting very frustrated with Roger and John, who are marking low. She calls them "‘les artistes" and hectors them into raising their points to come in line with the three of us. Charles-Henri gives me a bottle of L'Orpailleur Icewine which, regretfully, I have to give to the attendant at the check-in desk since they will not allow me on the plane with it. If I had checked my back they would have let it on, but not if I drop the bag off at the sky check to be put in the hold. The flight is half an hour late which means I get into Toronto in time for the rush hour.

Thursday, February 8: Another tasting with David Lawrason and Doug Towers at the house. Before we started tasting the wines Doug brought, Natalie Reynolds, the winemaker at Thirty Bench, and her assistant (who will take over from her when Natalie goes on maternity leave), Emma Garner, arrived with some wines they wanted David and me to taste.

Thirty Bench Riesling 2005: Pale straw, already beginning to develop petrol notes with honey, lime and mineral aromas; elegant, light and crisp, like a Mosel on steroids.

"Riesling," says Natalie, "is my favourite wine to drink and my favourite wine to make."

She is a very assured young winemaker.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard 2005: Pale straw colour with a lime tint; minerally, lime, floral, honey, tropical fruit notes; broader on the palate than the previous wine with a touch of residual sugar; lovely mouth feel with a grapefruit and apple flavour on the finish.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2005: Medium straw colour; Burgundian style nose; mineral, undergrowth and apple with a touch of oak; lively and fresh on the palate with well integrated oak and a fresh, crisp, toasty finish; medium-bodied, with a melon-peachy flavour and spicy mid-palate.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2005: Light ruby colour; minerally, raspberry and white pepper nose with a note of rust; plummy on the palate, dry and tannic and a little short.

Thirty Bench Red 2005 (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot): dense purple-ruby; pencil lead, vanilla oak, chocolate and red berries on the nose; dry, medium-bodied, petit château style; form structure, well made, tannic finish.

In addition, Darryl Brooker, the winemaker for Hillebrand, had sent over a series of Chardonnays all made from grapes from the Oliveira Vineyard but aged in different oaks.

Hillebrand Showcase Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard Barrel No. 1070 Ermitage Allier Barrique 2005 (276 bottles)
Colour: straw
Nose: Burgundian nose, earthy, apple
Taste: rich, ripe and spicy with apple and sweet pear flavours; mouth-filling; well integrated oak, long finish
Style: white, dry, full-bodied
Drinkability: now

Hillebrand Showcase Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard Barrel No. 5051 D & J French Barrique 2005 (298 bottles)
Colour: straw
Nose: minerally, apple
Taste: soft velvety mouth feel, lively acidity that carries the toasty, caramel and citrus flavours, tobacco leaf note with a tangerine finish
Style: white, dry, full-bodied
Drinkability: now–2009

Hillebrand Showcase Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard Barrel No. 5053 Damy Vosges Barrique 2005 (298 bottles)
Colour: deeply coloured
Nose: nutty, toasty, vanilla
Taste: broader mouth feel than the previous two wines, slightly oily, ripe, tangerine and caramel flavours, nutty, warm finish
Style: white, dry, full-bodied
Drinkability: now–2009

Hillebrand Showcase Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard Barrel No. 5050 Radoux French Puncheon 2005
Colour: straw
Nose: corked
Taste: apple, unctuous, soft mouth feel
Style: white, dry, full-bodied

Hillebrand Showcase Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard Barrel No. 5052 Cadus Vosges Barrique 2005 (298 bottles)
Colour: straw
Nose: not as expressive as others in the series: minerally, floral, sweet note
Taste: lively, smoky, toasty, oak dominant, full on the palate, toasty finish
Style: white, dry, full-bodied
Drinkability: now–2009

Hillebrand Showcase Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard Barrel No. 5049 Rousseau French Barrique 2005 (264 bottles)
Colour: straw
Nose: Burgundian style nose, spicy, minerally, apple with a vanilla top note
Taste: elegant, citrus, melon, full on the palate, well balanced, lovely mouth feel, good length
Style: white, dry, full-bodied
Drinkability: now–2009

Hillebrand Showcase Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard Barrel No. 2392 Berthomieu Nevers Barrique 2005 (276 bottles)
Colour: straw
Nose: spicy, minerally, barnyard note
Taste: full on the palate, leaner, more sinewy than the previous wines; spicy, citrus flavours, warm finish
Style: white, dry, full-bodied
Drinkability: now - 2009

Dinner at Centro with my old friend Luiz Conceiçao with Cristophe Fouquet from Amorim and José Antonio Remoaldo from Champcork in Portugal to discuss a possible trip to see what efforts the Portuguese cork producers are making to combat the cork taint problem.

Friday, February 9: Spent most of the day responding to emails that had arrived in my absence and Grapes for Humanity business. This evening is the Ontario Imported Wine Spirit and Beer Association's annual dinner at the National Club. Since this year is the fiftieth anniversary of the European Union, the theme is European wine – 15 in all served with different courses from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany. I also get to present my blind tasting award to Aaron Shaw of Lifford Wine Agency. Except he has to leave before the presentation. The OIWSBA Achievement Award was presented to Peter Mielzynski to a standing ovation, richly deserved.

The wines and the menu:

Reception wines: Mumm Cordon Rouge, Warre Fine Selected White Port, Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino, Radeberger Lager

Atlantic Salmon Wellington with Chateau de Sancerre and Balthasar Ress Riesling Trocken 2004

Mushroom Risotto with Anselmi San Vincenzo 2005 and Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages "Combes aux Jacques" 2004

Roaster Quail stuffed with wild rice with Miguel Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2005 and Schloss Schönborn Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Riesling Kabinett 2004

Pine Nut Crusted Loin of Lamb with Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella 2003 and Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional

Artisan Cheese Platter with the same wines

Amaretto Cheesecake, dark Madeira Chocolate Torte, Crème Brûlée with Taylor 20 Year Old Tawny, Carpene Malvolti Finissima Grappa Bianca and Gran Duque de Alba Solera Gran Reserva brandy




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