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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 186 (April 28, 2008)

Saturday, April 19: My British Air flight to London is delayed two and a half hours. I arrive two hours before the appointed departure time and am faced with a five-hour wait. Mechanical trouble on the in-coming aircraft apparently. Manage to wangle a pass into the lounge. The wines look dreadful so I opt for a Stella Artois and pretzels. Finally leave at 11 pm and forego dinner.

Sunday. April 20: Arrive in London and take the tube to Hammersmith, where I am staying at a B&B, the same place I stayed last year. The neighbouring house belongs to Rosemary George MW and her husband Chris. She is also a Regional Chair of a judging panel at the Decanter International Wine Challenge, which begins tomorrow. Rosemary has the key for me and offers lunch. She and Chris have just arrived back from the house in the Languedoc and have brought back pâté, cheeses (Salers and Vovée – both of which are new to me), tomatoes and pears. We accompany these with Domaine de Ribonnet Chenin 2005 and Domaine de Nizas Carignan Vieilles Vignes 2006, a Vin de pays de Caux (rustic, chunky, blackberry, earthy).

After lunch Chris suggests we visit his allotment, a three-mile walk along the Thames, via Chiswick Mall. The river is very high and at one point near Fuller's Brewery the water has risen into the street and a swan is swimming on the tide. The walk is exhausting on only two hours sleep but at least I'm awake. A cup of tea before heading next door for a glass of Argentinian Viognier with my landlady, Vicki Sexsmith, and her husband, Edmund. Then take the tube to Kentish Town for dinner with my old friends David and Carole Goldberg. David is a rabbi and since it's Passover the wine he serves is kosher – Château Bazignan 2003, a Bordeaux. This with matzo ball soup, coq au vin and flourless chocolate cake. Get back to the B&B by 10:45 pm.

Monday, April 21: Up at 7:15 am after a night of fitful sleep. Rosemary and I walk over to the tasting room at Parson's Green, a healthy 35-minute stroll. Good to see a lot of old friends who are judging. Our Canadian panel is Steve Thurlow, Joel Butler MW from Ste. Michelle in Washington and Barbara Philip, a newly minted MW from Vancouver. In the morning we taste 6 Pinot Noirs, 7 Meritages, 3 Cabernet Francs, 4 Merlots, 6 Cabernet Sauvignons and 5 Syrahs. We give one gold medal for a Syrah. After a banger-and-mash lunch, we're into sweet wines: 10 Riesling Icewines and 1 Gewürztraminer Icewine, 5 Late Harvest Vidals, 3 Cabernet Franc Icewines, 9 Vidal Icewines and 2 sparkling Vidal Icewines. Then over to The White Horse for a pint of Hooky's Bitter. Too tired to do anything this evening. Pick up some cheese, crackers and salami from Sainsbury's and a half a bottle of Sainsbury's Australian Shiraz (no vintage declared) and retire to my room to watch TV.

Tuesday, April 22: Started the morning with a flight of sparkling wines, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay. We gave one gold to a Pinot Blanc. Then we retasted the gold medal wines for the regional trophies. After lunch I sat in on an Italian panel with Steven Spurrier and Joel Butler – a flight of 11 Morellino di Scansano, followed by a Tuscan Meritage, 3 Montescudio (a region I had not heard of before), and 4 Monteregio di Massa Marittima (ditto). Then 9 wines from Sicily, a mix of Nero d'Avola, Syrah, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. Came up with a pun: "not Tannat, Josephine." A pint of beer at The White Horse (Sussex Pride) and then to dinner with Tom Stevenson, Nico Manessis and Tony Jordan at Tom's Kitchen on Cale Street. The sommelier sent us over four glasses of champagne. Tom S. ordered a bottle of Sybille Kuntz Riesling 2006 from the Mosel, followed by Meo Camouzet Bourgogne 2005 and Au Bon Climat 2003. I ordered a salad and lamb.

Tony, Filippo and Richard judging Italian whites

Wednesday, March 23: Woke up to rain, which doesn't augur well for the walk to the tasting room. In fact, I took the tube this morning. Today I am judging Italian wines with two women who import Italian wines to Britain, Michele Shah and Luciana Lynch. The first 34 wines are all Sicilian whites – flight one is a mixed bag of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay. Flight two, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Inzolia. Flight three, Catarratto, Fiano and Graciano (one gold here for a Fiano under £5). Flight four, ten Grillo (a couple of silver medals). Flight 5, 15 Valpolicella (a couple of silvers) then we break for lunch. After lunch a flight of 13 Chianti Classico Riserva 2005, very tannic, followed by 8 Chianti Classico Riserva 2004 and finally two flights of Nero d'Avola 2005 and a range of 2005 to 2003. Then over to the pub for a pint of Adnams before attending the champagne reception for the judges (Laurent Perrier) and back to Rosemary George's for dinner with Bob and Marion Campbell from New Zealand. Bob, an MW whom I had met in New Zealand ten years ago, is judging at the rival International Wine Competition and has brought back some wines for us to taste: Vesevo Sannio Falanghina 2004, Via Collina Barbera d'Asti 2007, Ben Glaetzer "Bishop" Barossa Shiraz 2006 and Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravel 2005. Marion has cooked dinner, chicken, couscous (very spicy with paprika) that went well with the Bishop.

Thursday, April 24: A beautiful morning that started out sunny and then turned to rain. But luckily Rosemary and I reach the tasting room before the rain starts. Today I'm tasting with Richard Baudains, the Regional Chair for Italy, and my friend Filipo Bartolotti. Towards the end of the afternoon we are joined by Walter Speller, the sommelier at Le Pont de la Tour restaurant at Tower Bridge. The morning begins with 18 whites from Trentino-Alto Adige (Nosiola, 2 Muller-Thurgau. Pinot Blanc and 5 Pinot Grigio in the first flight and 2 Pinot Bianco, 2 Pinot Grigio, 2 Chardonnays and 2 Sauvignon Blancs in the second flight). Next 16 reds from Umbria – 8 Sagrantinos, 4 Merlots, 3 Sangioveses, 2 Pinot Noir and a Montepulciano.

For lunch I meet my old friend and London literary agent Michael Motley at The White Horse and catch-up on the news of mutual friends. After lunch, 15 Brunellos, most 2003 with two 2001s. A tough slog this. Tannin overload, compounded by the 12 wines from Emilia-Romagna that followed, mainly Sangioveses and Sangiovese blends. Finished around 3:30 pm and headed over for a quick pint of Hooky's at The White Horse.

A trio of MWs: Rosemary, Anne and Bob

Dinner tonight at Rosemary and Chris' next door. I gave Rosemary copies of Blood Is Thicker Than Beaujolais and The Beast of Barbaresco and she returned the favour with her latest book, Treading Grapes – Walking Through the Vineyards of Tuscany. Also invited, Margaret Harvey, an New Zealand MW who lives in London and imports New Zealand wine, Anne, an MW who was once lived in Toronto, Bob & Marion Campbell and Neal Martin who writes for Robert Parker's newsletter. Rosemary opens an excellent English sparkling wine, Ridgeview Merrett "Grosvenor" 2001 (100% Chardonnay), followed by a bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvée. The first course is pickled anchovies that Rosemary had bought back from France served with marinated red peppers, which we ate with Vaques L'Exception 2002, a Roussanne. With the roast beef that followed Chris had generously decanted four clarets, which were served blind and we had to guess what they were. The first was Pichon Baron 1982 followed by Beychevelle 1982, then Léoville Las Cases 1975 and finally Lafite 1966 (which Chris said cost him £5 a bottle in 1974!). The Léoville was marginally corked and Bob wanted to show us a way of ridding the wine of TCA taint, an Australian technique. He wrapped a spoon in a plastic bag and stirred the wine vigorously in the glass. He maintained that the TCA bonded to the plastic. Neal was skeptical so Bob held an impromptu triangular tasting – three glasses of the same wine with one given the plastic treatment. Neal was not convinced. With a dessert of fresh berries with an interesting cream sauce (baked Scottish oats, whisky and whipping cream), Chris serve Rieussec 1983, which went around the table like port. Anne talked about a great Roussillon red, Château Gauby, which I shall have to track down.

Friday, April 25: Rosemary and I walked to the tasting room at Parsons Green for the last time this year. This morning we are tasting the gold medal wines for the international trophies. I'm tasting with Richard Baudains, Nico Mannesis, Richard Mayson and Lynne Sherriff MW. Our first wine, one only in the flight, is a Dry Aromatic White Over £10. It tastes like a Botrytisised Gewürz from Zind-Humbrecht. We pass it for a trophy. Next a Dry Aromatic White under £10 – not sure what this is but it doesn't get a trophy, although it maintains its gold medal. Next a flight of seven Red Rhône Varietals over £10. A great flight and there wasn't much consensus around the table as to which was the best wine, so we each gave our three top wines and retasted these. A single wine next in the Sweet Under £10 category. A good wine but not international trophy standard. Finally, a flight of ten Sweet Wine Over £10. A tough thing to judge since they came from all over. The one we finally picked I think was a Sélection de Grains Nobles Gewürztraminer from Alsace. I believe we had an Ontario Icewine in this flight which came second.

Following the tasting we took cabs to Enoteca Turi, an Italian Restaurant on Putney High Street, for our farewell lunch. Dom Perignon 1999 was served, though Tom Stevenson said it was corked. I think the rest of us were past caring. Before lunch, Sarah Kemp, the publisher of Decanter magazine and organizer of the competition, gave out joke prizes to some of the judges. I got the "new boy" prize, as this is my first year as a Regional Chair – a blue school cap. Lunch: Antipasto with Smith & Shaw Chardonnay M3 Vineyard 2006 from the Adelaide Hills. Then fillet of gurnard in its own stock with fresh peas and fregola, with Vajra Barbera d'Alba 2005. Dessert, blood orange tart with mascarpone cream.

Walked back over Putney Bridge to take the tube back to the B&B to pack and change before heading back downtown to shop and go on to dinner at Galvin's, a French bistro on Baker Street. My daughter, Annabel, meets me at the restaurant. I have not seen her since she ran the London marathon last Sunday and then went to Paris, Monaco and Venice to recuperate. She texted me from the restaurant at the first level of the Eiffel Tower and told me she had ordered a Mouton Cadet 2005 with her fish. The sommelier needs a refresher course. I've invited my nephew Jeffery who lives in London and my old school friend Mike Prior and his wife Livia to join us. I order a bottle of Inama Soave 2006 and a bottle of Brouilly 2006 since some of us are having duck confit or liver and the rest sea bream. Then downstairs to the bar with Annabel and Jeffrey to wait for Annabel's Vancouver friends, Katrina and Dan. I order a bottle of Innocent Bystander 2006, a Shiraz Viognier blend from the Yarra Valley.

Saturday, April 26: Up at 5:30 am because Annabel misreads the clock, thinking it's 6:30. Pack and take the tube to Heathrow. Annabel leaves for Vancouver from Terminal Three. I take her to breakfast and she shows me her photos from her European holiday. Then to Terminal Four for my flight to Toronto. Deborah meets me at the airport and we drive straight to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the gala dinner of the Ontario Wine Awards at Queens Landing. Am going on adrenalin. The hosts are Angela Aiello and Paxton Allewell of iYellow Wine Club, who bring youthful enthusiasm and energy to the event. I get to bed at 10:30 pm having been up for nearly 24 hours. Here are the results:

2008 Ontario Wine Awards – Results

Flight 1 – Sparkling Wine

  • Gold: The Thirteenth Street Wine Company 2000 Blanc De Noir
  • Silver: Peller Estates Winery NV Peller Estates Ice Cuvée
  • Bronze: Konzelmann Estate Winery 2004 Old Cellar Door Traditional Method

Flight 2 – Riesling Dry

  • Gold: Château des Charmes 2006 Riesling
  • Silver: Flatrock Cellars 2006 Nadja's Vineyard Riesling
  • Bronze: Hillebrand Estates Winery 2006 Trius Riesling
  • Bronze: Henry of Pelham Estate Winery 2006 Dry Riesling
  • Bronze: Hillebrand Estates Winery 2006 Showcase Riesling

Flight 3 – Riesling Semi-Dry

  • Gold: Cattail Creek Estate Winery 2006 Off-Dry Riesling
  • Silver: Thirty Bench Vineyards 2006 Small Lot Riesling Wood Post Vineyard
  • Bronze: Vineland Estates Winery 2007 Semi-Dry Riesling

Flight 4 – Dry White Varietals

  • Gold: Fielding Estate Winery 2006 Viognier
  • Silver: Coyote's Run Estate Winery 2007 Pinot Blanc
  • Bronze: Smith & Wilson Estate 2006 Viognier

Flight 5 – Pinot Gris

  • Gold: Rosewood Estates Winery 2007 Pinot Gris
  • Silver: Fielding Estate Winery 2007 Rock Pile Pinot Gris
  • Bronze: Magnotta Winery 2006 Pinot Gris Special Reserve

Flight 6 – Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon

  • Gold: Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery 2006 Fumé Blanc
  • Silver: Château des Charmes 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Estate Bottled
  • Silver: Creekside Estate Winery 2006 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
  • Silver: Jackson Triggs 2006 Proprietors' Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Flight 7 – Cabernet Franc

  • Gold: Kacaba Vineyards 2004 Reserve Cabernet Franc
  • Silver: Stoney Ridge Cellars 2005 Cabernet Franc Reserve
  • Bronze: Niagara College Teaching Winery 2005 Cabernet Franc

Flight 8 – Merlot

  • Gold: Rosewood Estates Winery 2006 Merlot
  • Silver: Jackson Triggs 2005 Proprietors' Grand Reserve Merlot
  • Bronze: Colio Estate Wines 2005 CEV Merlot Reserve

Flight 9 – Pinot Noir

  • Gold: Ridgepoint Wines 2005 Pinot Noir
  • Silver: Tawse Winery 2006 Pinot Noir
  • Bronze: Angels Gate Winery 2006 Pinot Noir

Flight 10 – Select & Special Select Late Harvest Whites

  • Gold: Lailey Vineyards 2006 Riesling Select Late Harvest
  • Silver: Henry of Pelham Estate Winery 2006 Select Late Harvest Vidal
  • Bronze: Riverview Cellars Winery 2006 Vidal Special Select Late Harvest

Flight 11 – Oaked Chardonnay, Over $20

  • Gold: Niagara College Teaching Winery 2006 Dean's List Chardonnay
  • Silver: Peller Estates Winery 2006 Andrew Peller Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie
  • Bronze: Inniskillin Wines 2006 Founders' Reserve Chardonnay

Flight 12 – Gewürztraminer

  • Gold: Malivoire Wine Company 2006 Gewürztraminer
  • Silver: Stonechurch Winery 2007 Gewürztraminer
  • Bronze: Thirty Bench Vineyards 2007 Small Lot Gewürztraminer

Flight 13 – Oaked Chardonnay, Under $20

  • Gold: EastDell Estates 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
  • Silver: Jackson Triggs 2006 Proprietors' Grand Reserve Chardonnay
  • Bronze: Mountain Road Wine Company 2004 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Flight 14 – Rosé/Blanc de Noir

  • Gold: Château des Charmes 2006 Rosé Cuvee d'Andrée
  • Silver: Niagara College Teaching Winery 2006 College Rosé
  • Bronze: Stonechurch Winery 2006 Cabernet Franc Rosé

Flight 15 – Unoaked Chardonnay

  • Gold: Colchester Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Chardonnay
  • Silver: Château des Charmes 2006 Chardonnay Musqué, Estate Bottled
  • Silver: Vineland Estates Winery 2006 Chardonnay

Flight 16 – Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Gold: Magnotta Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve
  • Silver: Pelee Island Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Bronze: Kacaba Vineyards 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Flight 17 – Syrah/Shiraz

  • Gold: Jackson Triggs 2005 Delaine Vineyard Syrah
  • Silver: Pelee Island Winery 2005 Shiraz
  • Bronze: Smith & Wilson Estate 2006 Syrah

Flight 18 – Hybrid Reds

  • Gold: Featherstone Estate Winery 2007 Gemstone
  • Silver: Caroline Cellars Winery 2006 Baco Noir
  • Bronze: Waupoos Estate Winery 2006 Baco Noir

Flight 19 – Meritage and Cabernet/Merlot blends

  • Gold: Fielding Estate Winery 2005 Meritage
  • Silver: Magnotta Winery 2004 Enotrium
  • Bronze: Jackson Triggs 2005 Delaine Vineyard Cabernet-Merlot

Flight 20 – Gamay

  • Gold: The Thirteenth Street Wine Company 2006 Gamay Noir – Old Vines
  • Silver: Inniskillin Wines 2006 Gamay Noir
  • Bronze: Malivoire Wine Company 2005 Gamay

Flight 21 – Hybrid Whites – No medals awarded

Flight 22 – Late Harvest Whites

  • Gold: Legends Estates Winery 2006 Vidal Late Harvest
  • Silver: Inniskillin Wines 2006 Select Late Harvest Vidal
  • Bronze: Hillebrand Estates Winery 2006 Late Harvest Vidal

Flight 23 – Icewine – Vidal

  • Gold: Dan Aykroyd Winery 2005 Signature Reserve Vidal Icewine
  • Silver: Reif Estate Winery 2005 Vidal Icewine
  • Bronze: Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery 2006 Vidal Icewine

Flight 24 – Icewine – Vinifera

  • Gold: Magnotta Winery 2004 Riesling Icewine Limited Edition
  • Silver: Peller Estates Winery 2006 Peller Estates Cabernet Franc Icewine
  • Bronze: Coyote's Run Estate Winery 2006 Riesling Icewine
  • Bronze: Tawse Winery 2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Icewine

Flight 25 – Best Blended Red Award

  • Mike Weir Estate Cabernet Shiraz 2005

Flight 26 – Best Blended White Award

  • Hillebrand Estates Winery 2006 Trius White

Wine of the Year: Dan Aykroyd Winery 2005 Signature Reserve Vidal Icewine

Winemaker of the Year: Craig MacDonald & Rob Power, Creekside Estate

Sommelier Blind Tasting Award: Jeannie Dubois, Angels Gate Winery

Journalism Award: David Lawrason (Toronto Life)

Best Label Award: Megalomaniac




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