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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 135 (April 30, 2007)

Saturday, April 21: Packed for London and then Deborah and I drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Ontario Wine Awards dinner. The host is Deacon Dr. Fresh, the gansta rapper wine writer who makes an entrance to a recorded tape, dressed in a kilt, AC/DC T-shirt, Blues Brothers hat, sun glasses and lace-up Bovver Boy boots. I wonder how the audience will respond. But the Deacon's humour wins them over, even with an ear-shattering guitar riff that he uses to introduce The Winemaker of the Year Award. There is a fault in the plaques for the gold medal winners and these have to be taken back after the presentations and redone. The results of the competition can be found in the Ontario Wine Awards section of this site. Deborah and I have to leave at 10 am, as I have an early flight to London in the morning.

Sunday, April 22: Up at 6 am to finish packing and drive to the airport. Try to get upgraded to Business Class but the Air Canada flight is full. Arrive in London at 9:30 pm local time and take the tube to Hammersmith, where I have booked a B&B for four nights. It's a finished flat in the basement of a terrace house and costs 60 pounds a night. Rosemary George, a Master of Wine, found it for me; she lives next door and tomorrow she and I will walk to Parsons Green for the first day of the Decanter World Wine Competition.

Monday, April 23: Awake at 6 am. Make myself breakfast of toast and coffee to line my stomach for a day of wine. I'm on the Bordeaux panel this year. I asked Stephen Spurrier, the Chief Judge, if I could move from the North American panel, which I have been on for the past two years. Rosemary and I walked through the back streets of Fulham to the Worx in Parsons Green, where the tastings are held for the competition. Sarah Kemp, whi is the publisher of Decanter, and Stephen Spurrier brief us on the entries. This year they have 21% more, at 7,700 wines. My Bordeaux panel (one of two) is led by James Lawther MW, with Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler MW and Clive Barlow, both wine merchants. Ninety-six wines, all under £10. We gave one silver and several bronzes all day. Spoke to Stephen Spurrier about the movie they are making of the Paris tasting he put on in 1976, pitting the top Bordeaux chateaux and white Burgundies against California Cabernets and Chardonnays. He isn't happy that Hugh Grant is cast as him. "Far too old," says Spurrier. He was in his twenties when he arranged the tastings and it was only the presence of an American journalist from Time that led to the story ever seeing the light of day. After the tasting, over to The White Horse for a pint of beer with Oz Clark. Then back to Hammersmith by tube. Dinner at a local Indian restaurant. To bed early, exhausted.

Tuesday, April 24: Rosemary George and I walked to the Worx again this morning. My panel is now headed by Richard Bampfield MW with the other member being Tim Marson, a wine buyer for Bibendum. This morning we are tasting white Bordeaux (25). Again a meager medal count, no golds, and our server is being teased by his peers because of our medal count. The on to the reds, 66 altogether. At the end of the day we had still not given a gold medal (but we did award 26 bronze and six silver). Back at the B&B I asked to take Tiger, the wire-haired Border Terrier, for a walk, as I miss Pinot the Wonder Dog. Dinner tonight at Theo Randall in the Inter-Continental Hotel at Hyde Park with David Gleave MW, a London wine merchant, Tim Atkin, Michael Hill-Smith, Huon Hooke and Bill Baker. We started with a couple of bottles of Roederer Champagne before we sat down. I asked Tim Atkin about his acceptance speech at Vinitaly in which he lambasted North American wine writers for not visiting the wine regions they write about. He said that he really meant Robert Parker. He should have said so, because he ruffled a lot of feathers on the other side of the pond. The first wine was Shaw & Smith Chardonnay 2006, followed by Pieropan La Rocca 2004. I had calamari as a first course. Second course, tagilatelle in a cream sauce with asparagus. Next wine Hatter's Hill Pinot Noir 2005. For my main course, roast pigeon (absolutely delicious) with Domain Clusel-Roch Cote Rotie 2001 followed by D'Alessandro Il Bosco Syrah 2001, Quintarelli Amarone 1986. Michael Hill Smith told the story of a Melbourne Vintners Association who held a press dinner and no-one showed up. The next year they sent out an invitation with only the address of the venue and no name. It turned out to be a McDonald's.

Wednesday, April 25: Today we gave a gold medal to a Pessac-Léognan 2005 white – a gorgeous wine. A long day of tasting and then over to the White Horse for a pint. The pub was filled with Chelsea supporters. This evening is the Decanter Awards' party for the judges. Lashings of Laurent-Perrier Champagne and good finger food.

Thursday, April 26: A relatively easy day of tasting beginning with rosés (not more than Bronze medal level) and a bunch of St. Emilion. No golds. We then judged three flights of sweet white Bordeaux and the best we could do was a silver medal. A dry Sauternes which had found its way into the last flight came as something of a shock. Our combined panels then retasted the three gold medals we had given. Two for red, one for white. We demoted one of the reds to silver. Took the tube to Pimlico, where I am staying tonight with my cousins Naomi and Bruce Gornick. They live in a four-storey terrace house just around the corner from the Tate Gallery. We catch up on family news and dine on roast chicken and wild rice with a bottle of Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon with no vintage on the label.

Friday, April 27: There is a Hogarth exhibition at the Tate which I try to get into, but by 10:20 am the queue is too long and I wouldn't be able to get in until 1 pm. So I have a look at the British portrait collection, Gainsborough et al. There is a very disturbing exhibition of anti-Blair and Bush protest placards and banners in the hallway, reminiscent of anti-Israeli propaganda in Syria and Iraq. I head over to Baker Street to have lunch with my oldest friend, Bernie Silver, who runs a translation service. We were in the boy scouts together in Willesden. (Everything I needed to know about life I learned in the Boy Scouts – except how to pick up women.) We lunch in a new Spanish tapas restaurant on Chilton Street with a bottle of Marques de Riscal Reserva 2002. We walk around my old neighbourhood of Marylebone High Street, where I used to work at the BBC's Radio Times. Then a tube over to Charing Cross to keep an appointment with Frank Gray, a financial journalist, at the Coal Hole pub, next to the Savoy Hotel. I have been corresponding with Frank about Brendan Behan, whom I knew in Dublin and had brought up from New York to appear in Montreal. My first novel, The Streets of Askelon, was based on that disastrous week in December 1960. I had sent Frank my only remaining copy of the book and was going to retrieve it from him. Frank is writing a book about Behan and we spent a couple of pleasant hours over a bottle of Concha y Toro Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 exchanging Brendan Behan stories. Then took the tube to Hampstead where I'm staying a couple of nights with an old school chum, Michael Prior, who owns a lovely Queen Anne house in Church Row. Mike has a great wine cellar that you access through a trap door in the sunroom off the kitchen, down a precipitous steel ladder. He brings up a bottle of Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Château Latour 1978 (that opens up beautifully) and Château Vieux Telegraph Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1997, which we consumed with roast chicken, roast potatoes, salad and a selection of cheeses, rounding off with a glass of 1970 Rarete Calvados. Mike is a Francophile, having studied in Paris. We reminisce about our time at Epsom College and our families.

Saturday, April 28: The Cork Street art galleries off Bond Street are having open house today and I want to see if my friend Bernard Jacobson will be at his gallery. He is not, but his brother Monty (I was in the Boy Scouts with him too) is there with his son Michael. I have not see Monty since I left London in 1976 but we recognize each other immediately and head off to the Royal Academy for a cup of coffee and a catch-up. I take in the Monet exhibition there and then head back to Hampstead. On the way I drop into Fortnum and Mason to see if I can find any high bake biscuits, which are unavailable in Canada. No luck. Fortnum's is undergoing a massive renovation in time for the store's tercentenary in October. In the wine department and I see a boxed set of Fortnum & Mason 10 Year old Tawny Port and an LBV 2000. Looking more closely I see that they were make by Dirk Niepoort (£45). They also sell Inniskillin Oak Aged Vidal Icewine 2004 for £51.50 and their Riesling Icewine 2004 for £65.50 (over twice the price in Ontario). On the way out I see Tony Bennett in a track suit. Later Mike tells me he exhibits his paintings in a local Hampstead gallery. Tube to Hampstead to watch the final of the cricket World Cup with Mike. (A sensational innings of 149 by Adam Gilchrist, which makes me homesick for London.) Mike and his wife Livia take me to dinner at Almeida in Islington. I ordered a bottle of Domaine Felice Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet 2006 (I had a goat cheese and red onion tart) and Mas Champard Saint Chinian 2001 (with pork chop).

Sunday, April 29: Mike drops me at Holborn station and I take the tube to Heathrow. Pick up a couple of jars of jam from Harrod's at the airport. Use my upgrade certificate on the flight. The new Air Canada Boeing 767 is magnificent. You have your own little cubicle in Executive Class that opens up to a bed. There are individual seats set at forty-five degrees to the aisle. I have a glass of Drappier Carte d'Or Brut Champagne, Colio Aged Without Oak Chardonnay 2005, Chateau Souverain Merlot 2002 and Mont Gras Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. Not impressed by the Martell Noblige Cognac – very spirity. Pinot the Wonder Dog, whom I have not seen for two weeks, gave me a rapturous welcome. Dinner tonight, chicken and pasta with a bottle of Peter Lehmann The Mentor 2001, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz – very minty Barossa style with great extract.




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