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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 144 (July 9, 2007)

Friday, June 29: Flying to San Francisco on a 12:33 pm flight. But because of the "Day of Action" by Mohawk Indian bands over land claims – they are blockading the 401 and VIA Rail has cancelled trains between Montreal and Toronto – I decided to get to the airport early. No problem on the roads. My United Airlines flight to Chicago was cancelled and I was put on an earlier flight. The larger plane ferried up to carry more passengers arrived without food and drink. They did manage to board canned drinks but there was no ice and no coffee. In Chicago I ate some very greasy Chinese food because there would be no meal service on the flight. You can buy snack packs but my stomach called for something more substantial. Bad move. The box of six Flat Rock Gravity Feed Pinot Noir 2004 I'm carrying with me arrive intact and the bottle of Coyote's Run Black Paw Pinot Noir 2004 in my luggage likewise. A taxi from the airport to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on Powell Street. The doorman, an African American, is dressed like a Beefeater Gin ad. My room is small and reminds me of many bargain New York hotels I've stayed in. Walk over to 1 Sutter Street, the office of, to see Roger Dial and his son Adam. I have known Roger for 26 years, since when I first interviewed him for Vintage Canada. He started Grand Pré, the first domestic winery in Nova Scotia. Roger and Adam had been conducting a tasting of eastern American 2006 Rieslings this morning and they poured me a few.

  • Persimmon Creek, from Georgia, that tasted as if it had Seyval Blanc added
  • Lamoreaux Landing Semi Dry (Finger Lakes) – crab apple, passion fruit and grapefruit flavours
  • Lamoreaux Landing Reserve – very spare and tart
  • McGregor Vineyard (Finger Lakes) – a touch of oxidation on the finish
  • Ravines Dry Riesling – minerally, odd flavours

Ontario's Rieslings, by comparison, are much more defined and have truer varietal character.

Then Roger poured me three California wines blind and asked me to name the variety. He had put on a more extensive tasting like this earlier in the day for a dozen local wine writers. Collectively, they could only get 30% right. I did even worse. Roger's point was that varietal character is being lost in California because of high alcohol and overextraction. Then he poured me a South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, which I could identify.

A cab to Max's Opera Café, staffed by out-of-work singers. When we walked in a waiter in his seventies was belting out a show tune. We brought our own wine – Branfield High Serenity Ranch Pinot Gris 2005 and Okanogan (sic) Estate Bench Rock Red 2003 – an inexpensive and delicious blend of 56% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot from Washington. I wasn't very hungry and ordered an appetizer portion of chopped liver. It arrived on a large oval plate, a mountain of the stuff with a halved boiled egg and six slices of thickly-cut whole wheat bread – enough for all three of us.

Saturday, June 30: Breakfast at Starbucks on the way to see Roger and Adam at the office. We're waiting to hear from Thomas Bachelder, Le Clos Jordanne's winemaker, who is flying in this morning. Thomas and I have tickets to an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir tasting at 1 pm. His plane is meant to land at 11:30 am but we don't hear from him even though his plane is recorded on the internet as having landed on time. So I take a taxi alone to Fort Mason, the Pinot Days venue. I arrive at 1 pm and they are still pouring the wines. Each table has a seat reserved for a winemaker whose wines are being shown. I sit next to Mary Elke of Elke Vineyards. There are fifteen tables of six but the room is only 60% full. We have a list of the wines in alphabetical order; sixteen in all but one is a no show. The wines are served blind in one-and-a-quarter-ounce pours in large Burgundy-style glasses. There are four flights. The sommelier leading the tasting talks about the perceived difference between the two ends of the 12-mile Anderson Valley, described as the Deep end and the Shallow end. The fog that rolls in from the ocean lasts longer in the Deep end, which makes for more delicate, feminine wines with higher acidities. The Shallow end gets more sun, therefore more ripeness, and produces more masculine wines. That's the theory we have to test, although Mary Elke thinks it's nonsense. Domaine Chandon, she says, has vineyards at both ends and their research shows that the heat units in both places are identical. We taste the first flight and I like the second wine the best – purple colour with a nose of rose petals and cherries; very elegant with a silky mouth feel, beautifully balanced with a chocolate finish; ready for drinking. Mary Elke beams. It turns out to be her wine. I've made a friend.

Flight one:

  • Bink Weir Vineyard 2004
  • Elke Donnelly Creek 2005
  • Harmonique "The Noble One" 2003
  • Philo Ridge Anderson Valley 2004 (my second favourite – minty, vanilla nose, firm, well balanced)

Flight two:

  • Handley Cellars Reserve 2004
  • Raye's Hill Vineyard 2005
  • Goldeneye Winery 2004 (the best of this flight – sweet spicy cherry flavour, chunky)
  • Estralina Vineyards 2004

Flight three:

  • Claudia Springs Klindt Vineyard 2004
  • Breggo Cellars Ferrington Vineyard 2005
  • Husch Estate 2004 (a bargain: the least expensive at $21; others in the $40–54 range)
  • Navarro Methode à l'Ancienne 2005 (best of this flight – minty, floral, raspberry, elegant and clean with great length)

Flight four: (the best flight in terms of overall quality)

  • Dain Savage Juliet, Hein Vineyard 2005 (the best wine of the event: very elegant Burgundian style with raspberry and violet flavours; great balance and poise)
  • Arista Ferrington Vineyard 2005
  • Standish Wine Company Estate 2005

Difficulty finding a taxi at Fort Mason, so I walked for about a mile before I could flag one down. San Francisco is not an easy city to find cabs. Back at Appellationamerica's office we still have not been able to make contact with Thomas. So we (Adam and I) open a bottle of wine and wait – Justlyn Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 from Spring Mountain (a monster Cab with black licorice and lavender notes). We walk back to my hotel where there is a message waiting from Thomas. He had called Deborah in Toronto to get my hotel number. We arrange to meet in First Crush Wine Bar on Cyril Magnin Street. While we wait we order a bottle of Navarro Gewürztraminer 2004 (Dan Berger says this is the best Gewürz produced in California. It's fine but not outstanding) and some appetizers. When Thomas finally arrives we walk over to The Pot Sticker in Chinatown for dinner (150 Waverly). No wine, just Tsing Tao beer. We should have eaten around the corner at Sam Wo's.

Sunday, July 1: Roger Dial drives me to Fort Mason, where Pinot Days is happening. The event is being held in the same hall as ZAP (the annual monster Zinfandel tasting). There are 185 booths in alphabetical order, all serving Pinot Noir – California, Oregon, Washington, with occasional New Zealand and red Burgundies from importers. Louis Latour has its own booth. Each booth is pouring between two and five Pinot Noirs. So if I'm up to it I can taste roughly 400 wines. Fat chance.'s booth is showing wines from other North American regions, changing the line-up every hour. They have three Ontario wineries – Le Clos Jordanne, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2004 and Coyote's Run Black Paw 2004. At noon Adam Dial and I are giving a seminar on eastern Pinot Noir, sampling four wines: Chaddsford Barrel Select 2005 from Pennsylvania, Fox Run Vineyards 2005 from the Finger Lakes, Flat Rock Gravity 2004 and Bys Estate 2005 from Michigan. We only have 35 minutes to talk about the regions and taste the wines. The participants remain in their seats for the next seminar, dumping their glasses. I move into another room to conduct another seminar on Le Clos Jordanne with Thomas Bachelder. Thomas does a magnificent job in the allotted time, expounding on terroir. He makes the point that blending kills nuance of place. We taste Village Reserve 2005, Claystone Vineyard 2005, Le Clos Jordanne 2005, ending with the Grand Clos 2005 (from the best block of the Clos). The participants are very impressed with the wines. Back to the hall for two hours'of tastings. The highlights:

  • Calera Mt. Harlan Selleck 1998 (still very much alive, tasting of raspberry jam with minerality)
  • Alma Rosa La Encantada 2005 from Santa Rita Hills
  • Davis Bynum Russian River Valley 2005
  • De La Montanya Christine's Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2005, De Loach Sonoma Stage 2005
  • Joseph Swan Russian River Trenton View 2005
  • Ken Brown Cargasacchi Vineyard 2005
  • Michaud Vineyard Chalone Appellation 2001
  • Siduri Sapphire Hill Russian River 2005
  • Tandem Winery Silver Pines Sonoma Mountain 2005

After the tasting, Roger takes us all to dinner in the Presidio, a new restaurant called Pres A Vis where we drink Nosis Bril & Giué Verdejo 2005, Bekisch Albarino 2005 and Monticello Vineyards Lonely Ranch Pinot Noir 2005.

Monday, July 2: Woke up at 5:25 am before my alarm call. My flight is at 9 am but there is extra security at American airports because of the bomb attempt at Glasgow Airport and the abortive bombing attempts in London. Decide to pay the upgrade of $150 to fly First Class to Toronto from Phoenix. The temperature in Phoenix is 98°F.

Tuesday, July 3: Why is it other people's newspapers are so interesting while other people's music is awful. My neighbour is building a cedar deck and the contractor has his radio on loud. Finished off my monthly article for Post City Magazines on five Ontario new wineries. Also finished the piece for Pure Canada magazine on my five top Canadian wines. A hard job to choose five wines from three regions. Sorry Quebec. For dinner, pasta with a bottle of Michele Chiarlo Gavi 2006.

Wednesday, July 4: Worked on a proposal for a book about wine cellars – how to build them, how to stock them, how to manage them. So far it's about 10,000 words. There was a time when you could do a two-page outline for a new book but now you have to convince the sales department that they have something to sell. Our friends Joanne Durst and Sam Paradiso are coming to dinner. Deborah has made gazpacho and I'm barbecuing steak. We'll finish with a cheese course. The wines: Mount Riley Chardonnay 2005 from Marlborough, New Zealand, Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2005 from British Columbia and Errazuriz Carmenere 2006 (all delicious).

Thursday, July 5: Working on the book proposal, which I hope will be finished today. David Lawrason is picking me up at three to drive to Doug Tower's house for a tasting of Ontario wines for Doug's wife Judy cooked a Thai meal with three different spicy salads, which we accompanied with wines we had tasted earlier: Château des Charmes Estate Gewürztraminer 2006, Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué 2006, Peller Private Reserve Riesling 2006. With dessert, Magnotta Cabernet Franc Icewine 2004.

Friday, July 6: A tasting for Vintages' August release, over 100 wines. Zoltan Szabo was there to share the load. After these big tastings I can't do much work so I took Pinot the Wonder Dog to the park.




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