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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 180 (March 17, 2008)

Monday, March 10: Lunch with Wendy Cheropita at Pangea, catching up on industry gossip. Finished my piece on Grappa for Lexpert magazine. Dinner at Avli on the Danforth with Dino Souchleris, Mr. Import Export. Dino and his son Peter brought along a series of wines which were served with a typically Greek meal.

We started off with Amyntaion Sparkling Xynomavro. My least favourite wine in the world is Sparkling Shiraz so I wasn't looking forward to it, but it turned out to be quite pleasant (interesting, off-dry raspberry flavour). Then Vassiliou Retsina 2006, quite the best retsina I have tasted – very fruity with enough resin to make it unmistakably retsina but not like sucking on a pine tree. The next wine, Alpha Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2005 before a series of red wines.

  • Glinavos Estate Red Velvet (Agiorgitiko)
  • Nemion Estate Agiorgitiko 2004
  • Hgemon Sovereign Grand Reserve 2004
  • Avantis Estate Syrah 2006 (the wine of the night – richly extracted, sweet blackberry fruit; very New World)

We ended the meal with a non-vintage Avantis Muscat. Avli's owner, Lambros Vassilou, showed me the wine bar he has opened next door to the restaurant. He said he came to Toronto in 1970 as a singer.

Tuesday, March 11: Spoke to my friend Paul Uys at Loblaws about PC Sticky Toffee Pudding. I'm not able to find it at my local Loblaws (St. Clair & Bathurst). It's a great dessert with vanilla ice cream. For dinner, Pillitteri Pinot Grigio 2006 with tilapia.

Wednesday, March 12: Tomorrow is the deadline for entries to the Ontario Wine Awards and I'm getting frantic calls from winemakers who have left it to the last possible minute. It looks as if we'll have a record number of entries this year. Lunch at Oro with Bernard Sparr of Pierre Sparr, the company that produces the best value wines for their quality in Alsace. I'm sitting next to the importers (Barrique), whose principals – Scott Wilson and Frank Romantini – are both left-handed; so our side of the table is all lefty, confirming my theory that the number of left-handers in the wine trade is out of all proportion to the number of left-handers there are in the world (a good 30% of the Wine Writers Circle is left handed). We start with Pierre Sparr Saignée Crémant Brut Rosé made from 100% Pinot Noir. Bernard points out that in Alsace a pink sparkler has to be 100% Pinot Noir, while in Champagne they blend white and red to get a rosé. The wine has a candied raspberry nose and a dry strawberry flavour (****). This is followed by 2004 Dynastie Crémant Brut, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc – an excellent sparkler for $19.95 with a smoky, nutty, toasty, lemony nose and flavour with the true champagne structure (****½). Pierre Sparr, Bernard tells us, was one of the first Alsace houses to make Crémant in 1972. (22% of Sparr's production is now Crémant. With the shortage of champagne they should do very well in the next few years.)

Then came the meal:

Potage of roasted sweet onion and parsley root, port poached pear, cabrales cheese, served with Pinot Gris Reserve 2005 and Pinot Gris Charisma 2007.

  • 2007 Pinot Gris Charisma: minerally, peach pit nose with citrus notes; medium-bodied, dry, pear flavour, fresh; well made. ***½
  • 2005 Pinot Gris Reserve: deeply coloured; high toned nose of grilled peach; mouth-filling flavours of sweet, spicy peach; well balanced. ****

Citrus glazed Alaskan black cod with prosecco butter and crab salsa, served with Altenbourg Riesling 2003 and Mambourg Grand Cru Riesling 2003.

  • Altenbourg Riesling 2003: minerally, honeyed lime nose; fresh grapefruit flavour, lovely balance and length. ****½ (A steal at $20.95.)
  • Mambourg Grand Cru 2003: minerally, peach and citrus flavours with a soft mouth-feel but still tightly wound. Needs time. ****

Grilled veal paillard with arugula, tomato confit and pedano salad, served with Altenbourg Riesling 2002, Mambourg Riesling 2000 and Schoenenbourg Riesling 1996.

  • Altenbourg Riesling 2002: show petrol notes, minerally, lime and honey; lively acidity with rich peach, orange and grapefruit flavours; great length. A lovely wine at a great price ($27.85) currently at Vintages. *****
  • Mambourg Riesling 2000: petrol nose, mature; very elegant and firm with an amazing spine of acidity. ****½
  • Schoenenbourg Riesling 1996: deeply coloured, mature, honeyed apricot and citrus nose; billowing flavours carried on lively acidity that go on and on. *****

Munster Géromé with Pear preserve, served with Gewürztraminer Reserve 2005 and Red Silk Pinot Noir 2006.

Munster and Gewürz is my favourite combination of all time but this Munster needed more age to show its real pungency.

  • Gewürztraminer Reserve 2005: spicy ripe lychee flavour with rose petal top notes; lovely balance. At $18.95, great value. ****½
  • Red Silk Pinot Noir 2006: ruby colour; black raspberry nose, fruity, cherry flavour but short on the finish. ***½

Port pear and raisin upside down cake, Nutmeg and ricotta gelato, served with 1989 Riesling Sélections de Grains Nobles: Tokaji-like flavours of dried apricot, marmalade and green tea, mouth-filling and still youthful. Medium sweet. *****

Raced home to pick up the wines for a tasting in a condo party room between the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre – a charity event for a car rental company rewarding their top salesmen. Fourteen of us in total. The wines:

  • Mountain Road Chardonnay Reserve 2003
  • Calamus Pinot Gris 2006
  • Inniskillin Pinot Noir Reserve 2003
  • Chateau Coucy 2003
  • Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon Meritage 2006
  • Colio CEV Merlot Reserve 2002
  • Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine 2004

Thursday, March 13: A mad last minute scramble to input all the entries for the Ontario Wine Awards into the database that will sort them into flights. Starfish tonight for an unusual tasting. Eric Asimov in the New York Times had written an article about matching red wine with oysters ("A rule waiting to be broken"). The irrepressible Zoltan Szabo organized a tasting this evening asking each of us to bring a red wine to be served blind that we think might go with oysters. Patrick McMurray, the proprietor of Starfish, graciously supplied a series of five different oysters and Sommelier Bruce Wallner of Splendido opened the bottles and poured the wine in flights of three. To set a benchmark we were served first the wine that Martin Malivoire created specifically for oysters – Malivoire Melon 2007 (a tart, mouth-puckering acidic, Muscadet-style white – perfect for oysters). Patrick served a plate of Malpecs first of all. The wines were unmasked after we had tasted them with the oysters, rated their compatibility and tried to guess their provenance.

Flight One:

  • Sohler La Pièce de la Chapelle Pinot Noir 2002 from Alsace
  • Channing Daughters Blaufrankisch 2006 from Long Island
  • Vietti Dolcetto d'Alba 2003

Best match for me was the Pinot Noir from Alsace.

With the next plate of three oysters (North American West Coast Pacific) we had:

  • La Margelle Saumur Red 1996
  • Rosehall Run Sullywicker Red 2006 from Prince Edward County
  • Juliénas Domaine Guy Voluet 2006

For me the Juliénas worked best.

The third plate was Kumamoto, a very small but deep and beautifully shaped Japanese oyster.

  • Henry of Pelham Gamay 2003
  • Anselmann St. Laurent Trocken 2003 from the Pfalz (my wine)
  • Lailey Pinot Noir 2004 (my wine)

The Henry of Pelham worked best.

The fourth plate was The Olympia, a native oyster to North America's West Coast.

  • Unger Göttweiger Berg Pinot Noir 2005 from Austria
  • Fennochio Barbera d'Alba 2005
  • MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River 2006

None of these worked for me.

The fifth plate featured European Flats, the Galway oyster that most sensible people match with Guinness or Brut champagne. But we tried them with:

  • Morogues Menetou Salon Les Cras Pinot Noir 2004
  • Saslov Adom Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 from Israel
  • Bergwater Rosé 2005 from South Africa

Curiously, the sweetness of the Bergwater Rosé worked well with the oysters for me.

Then the wines started appearing out of nowhere – well, first the champagne of beers, Deus Brut de Flanders ("the most expensive beer on the planet," says Zoltan, having just bought some at $40 a bottle).

Patrick passed around plates of Belgian-style French fries and scallops, which we tasted with:

  • Ascheri Barbera d'Alba 2005
  • Marotti Campi Orgiolo Lacrima di Morro d'Alba 2004
  • San Pietro Laghrein 2005 from Alto Adige

By this time the oysters and the wine had taken their effect. The conversation around the table got raunchy, as the question was posed, "What is the female equivalent of the adjective phallic?" Patrick MacMurray, crowned subsequently by Zoltan as "The King of the Oyster," came up with the best term: vulvalicious.

A fun evening was had by all. Conclusion: red wine with oysters is a bit of a stretch. Happy to try it once, but like garlic ice cream or foie gras crème brûlée, once is enough.

Friday, March 14: A Vintages tasting today for the April release. Some terrific wines. Then headed over to the Balzac Coffee Shop in the Distillery District for a meeting with Jeff Lyons, a director of Grapes for Humanity, and photographer Terry Asma and his partner Katrina Simmons. Terry and Katrina had been to Cambodia and Terry had taken a series of photos which we will try to integrate into our next Grapes for Humanity fund-raiser dinner in October. Raced down to the Convention Centre for Canada Blooms. On the presentation stage, chef Gurth Pretty and I are speaking about our cookbook while Gurth prepares a recipe for Cheese and Cider soup. Came home, ordered in Chinese food and opened a bottle of Jackson-Triggs Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from the Okanagan.




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