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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 155 (September 24, 2007)

Monday, September 17: Up at 5:30 am, although my alarm is set for 6 am. I fly to San Francisco this morning to conduct a tasting dinner for a financial company at Rubicon Estate in Rutherford, Napa Valley. The group is staying at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. I am met at the airport by a car and driver. His name is Johnny and he is an Armenian who left Russia in 1976 with a medical degree and a knowledge of acupuncture he learned in Beijing. His father is still in St. Petersburg, a retired professor in medicine whom he talks to every week from his home in San Francisco. All of this, and a lot more, I learned about Johnny on the drive up to Sonoma. He didn't stop talking from the moment he picked me up to the moment he dropped me at the Inn. A fascinating character. Spent the afternoon writing a piece on Canadian Icewine for Lexpert magazine.

Representatives from Kendall-Jackson were holding a tasting in the lobby of the hotel for the guests – wines that are only available in the winery's tasting room: Highland Estates Camelot Highlands Chardonnay 2005 (as printed on a tasting sheet – is that really the name of the wine?); Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir 2005; Highland Estates Taylor Peak Merlot 2005; Stature Red 2002 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot): Grand Reserve Late Harvest Chardonnay 2006. All very much in K-J house style – fruit forward, sweet, soft mouth-feel. Liked the Pinot Noir best. The first sample of the Merlot was corked. A lift from the Inn to Rubicon by Ferris Suer, who has a transport company responsible for ferrying the guests of the financial company around wine country. Ferris is very knowledgeable about the Napa wineries and filled me in on the latest openings. As we drove the winding mountain roads of the Oakville Grade he recommended I see Jarvis, Black Stallion and Katherine Hudson.

The dinner tasting is being held in Rubicon's old barrel room. (Last year Francis Ford Coppola changed the estate's name from Niebaum-Coppola to Rubicon after the winery's flagship product.) I am given a tasting of the reception wines by David Gates (Captain's Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2005 and Captain's Reserve Zinfandel 2004 – only available at the winery) and the three wines I am to introduce at dinner: Rubicon Estate Blancaneaux 2005, an interesting blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier – full-bodied, honeysuckle and peach with a mineral note; Rubicon Estate Cabernet Franc 2004 – deep ruby colour; cedar, spicy black cherry and white pepper nose; creamy, vanilla oak, mouth-filling, soft tannins; and Rubicon 2003. This vintage is virtually all Cabernet Sauvignon with only five per cent made up of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. A really elegant wine, restrained and charming with bright blackcurrant and sour cherry fruit, beautifully balanced with a rose petal note on the finish. David Gates gave me his wine invention, a glass straw with a hole for air that aerates the wine as you sip it. He tells me that his 4-year-old son asked him why he doesn't drink wine through a straw as he does his milk. David replied that the wine had to have air. Then why not put a hole in the straw, responded his son? Out of the mouths of babes.

The dinner menu: Salad of "Little Gem" lettuce, Barrel Stave smoked salmon, creamy parmesan vinaigrette and crisp Sunchokes (with Blancaneaux); a choice between lamb and salmon as a main course. I opted for the salmon because I'm reading a book about the health benefits of Omega-3 and apparently I am not eating enough fish. The salmon was perfectly grilled ("Tasmanian King Salmon"); I had it with Cabernet Franc and Rubicon to no ill effect, although I would have preferred a Pinot Noir. For dessert, Frangipane Peach Tarte, Gratin of Summer Berries and Sweet Crème Fraiche. A lovely meal. The chef was Kelly McGowan.

Tuesday, September 18: A "champagne breakfast" with the group. The wines were supplied by Gloria Ferrer. A spokesman for the company introduced the wines and then proceeded to show the group how to saber a bottle of sparkling wine. After about ten attempts the bottle shattered in his hand. Not a pretty sight. A slow drive on a bus to the airport, stuck in San Francisco traffic. Got to the airport on time and used a voucher to upgrade to Business class for the flight to Toronto. There was no Champagne on board, so I ordered a glass of Wente Sauvignon Blanc 2005 before lunch, which I drank with the meal (chicken). Got home about 8:30 pm to a rapturous greeting from Pinot the Wonder Dog.

Wednesday, September 19: A meeting for the Santé advisory board at Steve Thurlow's condo, which overlooks Lake Ontario, a magnificent view. We hear about plans for the tenth anniversary of Santé, which promises to be the best yet. They will be donating the proceeds from the silent auction at the gala dinner to Grapes for Humanity as well as left-over wine from the week-long event that we will auction for the foundation. Spent the rest of the day working on material for Grapes for Humanity's annual general meeting on Monday. For dinner, braised beef with Barefoot Shiraz 2006.

Thursday, September 20: An early meeting with Marc Cohan to talk about his concept for a Barbecue University and culinary experiences as travel rewards. Then on to the dentist for a cleaning. He tells me that my teeth are stained from wine but the enamel is no worse than someone suffering from anorexia or someone who habitually sucks lemons. Am much relieved to hear it. Philip Mirabelli of noble Estates has invited me to dinner at the National Club to meet Noel Richard, who represents Borie-Manoux Grands Vins de Bordeaux. There are thirteen clarets to taste from 2001 to 2004. My taste must be in sync with Noel Richard's because the wines he chose to accompany the dinner were my top five.

  • 2003 Chateau Pontac Lynch: cedar, cherry nose; firm structure, elegant, lovely middle fruit, ripe tannins.
  • 2004 Chateau Haut-Bages Monpelou: deeply coloured; cedar, blackcurrant, ripe fruit with a pencil lead note and fine cocoa-like tannins.
  • 2003 Chateau Beau Site: dense colour, cedar, red and blackcurrant nose; lovely balance, firm structure, chocolate flavour.
  • 2004 Chateau Lynch-Moussas: dry, great structure, very elegant and silky.
  • 2003 Chateau Haut-Bages Monpelou: dry, firm, tight, tobacco and currant flavours.
  • 2001 Chateau Batailley: dense purple black, well extracted fruit, great balance, very elegant (my favourite).

Friday, September 21: A Vintages release tasting this morning. 68 wines. Not as many wines out as last week. Dinner, cod with Peller Estates Heritage Series Pinot Blanc 2006 for BC – perfect match.




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