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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 194 (June 23, 2008)

Monday, June 16: A lunch at Chez Victor with Norm Beal, Chair of the Wine Council of Ontario, on the first day of Ontario Wine Week. He tells us that this is the first time Ontario wine sales have topped more than $500 million. This figure must include off-shore blends, as VQA sales are $160 million, up from $128 million over last year. We start with Peller Ice Cuvée, sparkling wine with a dosage of Icewine. With the Roasted Red Pepper Bisque, Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007. I ordered the Seared Tuna Loin. The accompanying wine: Henry of Pelham Cabernet Merlot Reserve 2005. With dessert, Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2006.

Then Frank Baldock drove three of us over to the Summerhill liquor store, where Harry Drug was holding a tasting for Clark Smith, the controversial winemaker of GrapeCraft Wines in California. According to his press kit, "GrapeCraft is a post modern winemaking philosophy, a school of methodology which instructs winemakers in their selection of tools and methods necessary to guide a wine's development towards soulfulness and longevity." Clark begins by telling us, "Winemakers want to do one of three things. Make you smile, blow your ears off or make you think." He is an advocate of dealcoholizing wines, micro-oxygenation and removing tannins. He scoffs at what he calls California's "puranoia" – that wines must be totally free of Brettanomyces. He's also given to talking in sound bites: "We don't have vintage years these days (in California); we have expiration dates." His idea is to use French principles of winemaking and applying them to California wine. The first of his wines was a 2003 Napa "Faux Chablis' Chardonnay Student Vineyard Napa Valley College. It started out at 14.8% alcohol and was reduced to 2.9% by reverse osmosis. It was the most un-Napa-like Chardonnay I have ever tasted with its lemony acidity and yet creamy mouth-feel. ****

2005 Surly Chenin Blanc Clarksburg AVA: pale colour; minerally, quince nose; crisp and oily with lanolin, orange peel flavours and great length. Definitely ageable. ****

Skinflint California Dry Rosé N/V: deep orange-pink colour; dry, wild strawberry nose; viscous, dry cherry flavour, full-bodied with lively acidity. **** (Clark Smith says, "I don't think I'm going to make a vintage rosé again.")

2005 Cheapskate California "Miser" Meritage: deep ruby with a cedar, blackcurrant, black olive nose with a herbal note; sweet blackcurrant fruit with a hint of violets, firmly structured with lively acidity and easy tannins. Finishes very dry and savoury with a banana skin note. **** (Clark says it's a wine for dark chocolate, not milk chocolate.)

2005 Winesmith California Cabernet Sauvignon: dense ruby colour; floral, pencil lead, cinnamon and white pepper bouquet; good fruit – red berry and dark chocolate flavours; very soft tannins. Medium to full-bodied and savoury, very un-Californian. ****½

2005 Winesmith California Cabernet Franc: deep ruby; coffee been and green pepper nose; dry, cherry flavour, well-balanced and soft on the palate. ****

2005 Winesmith Second Fiddle Pinot Noir: light ruby; tight, cherry, wet earth and chocolate notes on the nose; dry, thick on the palate; needs time. ***½

2004 Winesmith Crucible Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: dense ruby; earthy, blueberry and cedar nose; well extracted fruit, clean red berry flavour, dry and firmly structured with a chocolate and vanilla oak finish. ****½

Following the tasting, Clark expounded his theory on matching wine to music. "Our research indicates that the brain processes wine similarly to music." Using a Glen Ellen Chardonnay, a Rombauer Chardonnay and his own Faux Chablis, he played short snatches of the Beach boys, Ella Fitzgerald, Gerry Mulligan and Bruce Springsteen. We tasted the wines to each piece and, damn me, if each of the wines tasted best with different music.

Tuesday, June 17: Wrote my 680News reviews and then down to the Fermenting Cellar at the Distillery District with Deborah for Sip & Savour Ontario, the trade and consumer show for the Ontario Wine Awards. I conducted a wine and food tasting with Chef Stephen Treadwell who was preparing a duck breast finger food dish. I showed Vineland Estate Semi Dry Riesling 2006 and Cattail Creek Off-Dry Riesling 2006. The event was sold out and looked very impressive.

Wednesday, June 18: Recorded my 680News reviews and then over to Jacobs & Co Steak House to go over arrangements for next Monday's steak and wine fundraiser for the Merry Go Round Children's Foundation with its director Jules Graham-Hood and the restaurant staff. Then on to a Grand Cru board meeting.

Thursday, June 19: Had to postpone a meeting with Jeff Lyons for Grapes for Humanity's October 20th Jadot dinner because of a doctor's appointment. Mysterious itchy red spots on my lower body. Thought it might be shingles but the doctor, a dermatologist, says it's insect bites. Could be bed bugs, she said. Deborah was horrified when I told her. I probably picked it up from the hotel bed in Sacramento. In the evening, a tasting for my real estate agent, Faith Goldman, at her house for some of her clients.

Friday, June 20: Dropped more wine books off at George Brown, part of the downsizing prior to moving to the condo. Then on to the LCBO to put in the paperwork for Special Occasion permits for Grapes For Humanity's events at the Miller Tavern (September 8th) and the Four Seasons Hotel (October 20th). A meeting with Bessie Seyffert at my local Starbucks to discuss the logistics of the Miller Tavern event. The Santé International Wine Festival has donated 115 cases of wine to Grapes for Humanity which we are disposing of at The Miller Tavern.

Saturday, June 21: A Costco run to pick up stuff for tonight's dinner. This evening it's our turn to host the Saintsbury Society. As host I get to chose the couple who will join Tony and Diane Hirons, Irvin and Carol Wolkoff for the dinner. They are our neighbours Al and Linda. The theme I've chosen is white Burgundy and red Bordeaux and the other couples bring bottles. We're hoping the weather holds, as we'd like to sit out on the deck.

With the Funk Premier Cuvée 2002 sparkler and Trius Brut, I'm serving smoked salmon, home-made hummus and tapenade.

First course (at the dining table): foie gras pâté (which we brought back from France) and fresh figs with two sweet wines – Château des Charmes Riesling Icewine 2006 and Clos St-Denis Ice Cider.

Shrimps on a bed of arugula with Simmonet Febvre Chablis Montmains 2005 and Roger Belland Criots Batard-Montrachet 2005

Veal chop (bbq-ed) with sweet corn and French beans and a mixed rice dish with Château Cossieu-Coutelin 2003 (St. Estephe) and Château La Vieille Cure 2000 (Fronsac)

A selection of cheeses with Château Cheval Blanc 1986 and Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 1982 (from my cellar, unfortunately mildly corked)

Pears poached in red wine with Dow 1997 Vintage Port

Al and Linda, since they just had to cross the street, stayed for a cognac, Courvoisier XO.

Left the forest of glasses till the morning.




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