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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 173 (January 28, 2008)

Monday, January 21: This information arrived by email today from

Restaurants charging inflated prices for wine could be doing their customers a favour. A study has found that people who pay more for a product do enjoy it more.

The researchers discovered that people given two identical red wines to drink said they got much more pleasure from the one they were told had cost more. Brain scans confirmed that their pleasure centres were activated far more by the higher-priced wine.

The findings could help to explain why rich diners are often willing to pay thousands of pounds for a bottle of fine wine. It seems much of the real pleasure is generated by the high price paid rather than by the quality of the vintage.

Apparently, researchers at the California Institute of Technology found that the brain's medial orbito-frontal cortex that registers pleasure became more activated by the wine that was perceived to be more expensive.

Laird from The Wine Establishment came by with estimates to build the wine cellar in the new condo. May have to rethink the whole enterprise if it's running into the thousands of dollars. Would rather put the money into wine and store it off site in rental facilities. He's coming back to me with revised figures.

Tuesday, January 22: A morning tasting at Crush of Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey – four vintages 2002–2005. My favourite was the 2002, which was not as unctuous as the others but had a fresher flavour thanks to better acidity.

  • 2002: old gold colour, evolved; marmalade and barley sugar nose with dried apricot and almond notes; rich, medium-sweet, well balanced tangerine and almond flavours. *****
  • 2003: deeply coloured; minerally, honeyed grapefruit, dried peach nose; rich, full-bodied, unctuous, burnt sugar flavour; great length with a marmalade finish. Could do with a touch more acid. ****½
  • 2004: corked
  • 2005: straw colour; honey and peach; very ripe fruit, evident oak, creamy, spicy toffee flavour. ****½

This was a prelude to this afternoon's Bordeaux tasting of the fabled 2005 vintage. There were 103 wines out for tasting but we only has two hours to taste. I managed to taste 50 at a gallop. My top scoring wines were Châteaux Clinet, Beychevelle, Branaire-Ducru, Léoville-Barton, followed by Brane-Cantenac, d'Angludet, Gazin, Léoville-Poyferré, Croizet-Bages, Labégorce, Lascombes, Giscours and Carbonnieux. There were no first growths put out for tasting. Best values, of those I tasted, Croizet-Bages and Labégorce. The prices of the 2005s are putting them out of the reach of many wine lovers. For dinner, pork loin with Creekside Basket Press Shiraz 2005.

Wednesday, January 23: Drove down to Niagara in the afternoon so that I could be ready to judge at the Cuvée competition at 9 am tomorrow. Stopped in at Peninsula Ridge to taste some wines with Jean-Pierre Colas and his Quebec agent Alain Belanger. We started with Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from the tank. This is Jean-Pierre's general list Sauvignon. The 2007 has good fruit expression – grapefruit and green plum, lovely and fresh. Then the single-vineyard Lepp Sauvignon Blanc, deeper in colour, much richer with gooseberry and mineral flavours, full on the palate. Jean-Pierre has made his first Riesling and Gewürztraminer in 2007. The Riesling has green apple and cut grass flavours, very dry. A decent first effort but not as good as the Gewürz, which has real varietal character. Then we moved on to the 2007 Viognier, very ripe and peachy. Next to Chardonnay. Note to buy the Inox Reserve 2007 when it's bottled and the Viognier Reserve. At the tasting bar, Jean-Pierre opened a 2006 Fumé Blanc, which is terrific. It will be interesting to see how this wine fares in the competition tomorrow. I'm staying at the Quality Hotel Parkway Convention Centre and have arranged for Ilya Senchuk, Daniel Lenko's winemaker, to bring over some of his wines to taste. We are joined by David Johnson of Featherstone with his wines.

  • Lenko Riesling Reserve 2006: pale straw, minerally, lemon sherbet nose; grapefruit, orange peel and mineral flavours on the palate ; good length with a little residual sweetness. ***½
  • Lenko Unoaked Chardonnay 2006: pale straw; minerally apple and citrus nose; rich mouth-feel, fat mid-palate, yellow apple flavour, dry with racy acidity. ****
  • Lenko Viognier 2006: pale straw colour; honey, peach and lemon blossom nose; crisp but fragrant; clean and full on the palate with a long nectarine finish. ****
  • Lenko Signature Chardonnay 2005 (from the oldest block on the estate, only made in good years): light straw colour; developing barnyard notes, spicy apple; rich, concentrated apple and macadamia nut flavours balanced by lively acidity; great length with a nutty finish. *****
  • Lenko Old Vines Merlot 2005: ruby; cedar, red berry nose; firm, medium-bodied, still tight but lots of flavour. Better in two years. ****
  • Lenko Meritage 2005: ruby; cedar, red berry with a floral note; medium-bodied, sturdy blackcurrant and redcurrant flavours; firmly structured. A lovely wine. ****½

Then we started to taste Featherstone's wines, leaving the Lenko sweet wines till later.

  • Featherstone Old Vines Riesling 2007: pale straw, elegant tangerine nose; light-bodied, spicy and clean with good length. ****
  • Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2007: similar in style to the Old Vines but with more intensity and concentration. ****½ (A good story here: David Johnson set five lambs loose in the vineyard to leaf pull. "They have to be 22 inches at the shoulder," he says. "Any taller and they strip more leaves than we want." They grazed in the vineyard fro July 15 to September 1, then they went to market. Now that's a tough employer. David learned the technique in New Zealand. "This year we're getting 40 lambs." Incidentally, one of the five in 2007 was black, hence the name of the wine.)
  • Featherstone Unoaked Chardonnay 2007: pale straw with a flavour of bananas and pear; some residual sweetness. ***½
  • Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2007: pale straw, sweet grapefruit, easy drinking. ***½
  • Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2007: pale straw; lychee and cabbage leaf nose with a smoky note; well made with a touch of sweetness. ****
  • Featherstone Gamay Rosé 2007: pale pink with a blue tint; leafy, red berry nose; fresh, dry, cherry flavour ("Rosés," says David, "don't get much respect." They're the Rodney Dangerfield of wines.)
  • Featherstone Merlot 2006: ruby; smoky, bacony nose; firm, spicy blueberry, oak-driven with a tannic finish. ****

Then back to Lenko's sweet wine. Danny is getting out of the sweet wine business and his selling off his stock by the case at bargain prices.

  • Lenko Late Harvest Vidal 2004: intense, honeyed peach, spicy with good acidity. ****½ ($12.95 per half bottle, by the case of twelve)
  • Lenko Vidal Icewine 2002: old gold colour, full-bodied, rich, spicy, honey and peach flavours. ***** ($19.95 per half by the case)

Had a Boston Pizza with the rest of the Lenko Signature Chardonnay and Featherstone Merlot.

Thursday, January 24: spent the day tasting wines that 55 winemakers had rejected as not worthy of being shown at Cuvée. My fellow panelists were Linda Bramble, sommeliers Jennifer Huether and John Szabo, Chris Waters, editor of Vines magazine, and Dr. Gary Pickering from COOVI. Actually it wasn't all bad because we got to taste the wines the winemakers had selected for the medals as well. This took from 9 am to 5:30 pm. A long day.

Friday, January 25: Another tasting day at Vintages for the March release. I've decided that I am only going to review wines on this site that I can recommend. That is, wines that I score **** or more, or those ***½ wines that are really good value for the price. Dinner: spaghetti Bolognese with MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2006 from Sonoma.




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