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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 208 (September 29, 2008)

Friday, September 19: An overnight flight to London on Air Canada. The in-flight movie system doesn't work, neither does my reading light. Arrive at Heathrow at 8:30 am. It takes us 45 minutes to clear immigration. There are only three officers on duty for two large flights that arrive together. It's 11 am by the time Deborah and I get to the Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly, overlooking Green Park. The weather is gorgeous. An older gentleman is counting his change at the reception desk. He wears an Order of Canada pin. I introduce myself and it turns out to be Peter Lougheed, the former premier of Alberta.

A two-hour nap and the lunch in Citrus, one of the restaurants in the hotel. I order a crab pasta and a bottle of Marques de Riscal Rueda 2007 at £6.50 a glass. The exchange rate is the lowest it's been in some time, just under $2 to the pound. We walk along Bond Street and drop in on my old friend Bernard Jacobson, who owns a galley on Cork Street. He's in New York (we're never in the same city at the same time – the same thing happened in April). The gallery has a William Tillyer exhibition. In the late 1970s I had bought two Tillyer prints from the gallery. We walk by Claridges and check out Gordon Ramsay's menu.

The closest we got to eating Gordon Ramsay's food

At Jeroboam, an excellent chain of off-licenses, I buy a bottle of Lecomte Quincy 2006 for the room. We sleep another two hours before joining David Gleave M.W. and his wife for dinner at Café Anglais for dinner. The chef/owner Rowley Leigh took over a former McDonald's site in Whitley's department store in the Queensway – a 7,000-square-foot restaurant on the second floor, seating 170. Leigh specializes in roast game and was voted the best new restaurant in London by Wine & Spirit Magazine. David, a Canadian living in London, had already opened a bottle of Roederer Champagne, which we follow with a Brigit Eichinger Grüner Veltliner 2006. I order the grouse; Deborah, the partridge. David has a bottle of Heathcote Greenstone Shiraz 2006 (a wine he makes in collaboration with Mark Walpole and Italian winemaker Alberto Antonini). For dessert he orders a bottle of Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Auslese 1989.

Saturday , September 20: We meet my nephew Jeffrey at Eros in Piccadilly Circus and walk to a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown for lunch. There is a massive demonstration against violence in progress. In the afternoon Deborah and I make our way down to the London Eye and queue for 45 minutes to get on. A great experience seeing London from that height. The weather is perfect.

At the top of the London Eye

Back at the hotel we prepare for the real purpose of our trip: to surprise my old school friend Michael Prior at his 70th birthday party at his house in Hampstead. His wife Livia has asked everyone to come in masks, which is perfect for us. Mike doesn't know we're coming although he and I have celebrated significant occasions in our lives together, invariably over bottles of champagne.

Deborah and Tony, masked

We put on our masks at the door and Mike doesn't recognize us. He is completely lost for words, a rare situation for him. And the champagne flows tonight along with Mendard Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and Château Fourcas-Hosten 2002. We leave the party at 1:30 am and make for the tube only to find that it no longer operates at this hour. We think of returning to the party but get into conversation with a woman who has ordered a taxi and is willing to share it with us. We get back to the hotel at 2 am.

Sunday, September 21: Sleep late. My old friend Bernard Silver – we were in the Boy Scouts together and subsequently shared a flat in London in the late '60s – is meeting us for lunch. We walk in Green Park to see the Canada war memorial.

Canadian War Memorial, Green Park

Then lunch at citrus in the hotel with a bottle of Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc 2007. We make our way back to Hampstead to spend some time with Mike and Livia. He tells us his 100 guests went through 60 bottles of champagne, and two cases each of the Touraine and Fourcas-Hosten.

Monday, September 22: Lunch with our friends Ashley and Lucy Pover. Ashley works in the city and Lucy has taken the train from their home in Leicestershire. We ordered the house Chardonnay, which tasted just fine. In the afternoon we take the tube to Victoria Station and then the train to Herne Hill to see the house I grew up in on Dorchester Drive. I knock on the door and two young people answer it. They call their mother, who is a bit dubious at first but inviters us in. We spend an hour talking about the house that my father had had built in 1935, complete with an air raid shelter behind the garage. As a kid I used to smoke there. The father arrives and tells me that he is great friends with the man who used to own Il Posto in Yorkville. A very nostalgic journey.

Dinner this evening with Jeff and Sandy Lyons, who are en route back to Toronto from Spain and visiting their daughter and son-in-law. They have booked to eat in Café Anglais (!) but we don't mind because the food was so good. I order a bottle of Domaine Frederic Mochel Pinot Gris 2005 from Alsace and Becker B Spätburgunder 2006 from the Pfalz (which is delicious). We take a taxi to the Heathrow Sheraton for our flight tomorrow

Tuesday, September 23: We are upgraded to Business Class. What a blessing. Drappier Champagne, Strathbogie Ranges Seven Sisters Verdelho 2006, Domaine d'Astruc Syrah 2006 from Limoux and Dow's Port. Guy, who left for Vancouver on Saturday, has parked our car at the airport so we can drive back home ourselves. Pinot the Wonder Dog gives us a rapturous welcome.

Wednesday, September 24: Spent the day catching up on emails and phone messages. A Grand Cru meeting at 4:30 pm and then to the storage locker on Adelaide to pick up bid sheets and clipboards for the Grapes for Humanity dinner on October 20th. Then to Le Select for a tasting of wines imported by Vinexx. Start with a lovely sparkler, Bailly Lapierre Crémant Blanc de Noir from St. Bris Le Vineux.

Thursday, September 25: This evening a charity event for Serve Canada. I'm leading a tasting of Super Tuscans and assisting Steve Ranger of Ritchie's for the live auction (I play Vanna White and hold up the bottles.) The wines for the tasting are:

  • 1996 Ornellaia
  • 1995 Ornellaia
  • 1998 Ornellaia Masseto
  • 1997 Isole e Olena Cepparello
  • 1985 Antinori Tignanello

Unfortunately, there is a breakdown on the Yonge subway during rush hour and attendance is down. Last year there was a terrible storm on the evening of the event.

Friday, September 26: Drive down to Niagara with Vincent Hannah to taste some bulk wines at Pillitteri. Am surprised by the quality for the price. We lunch at a new place opposite Stratus called Old Winery Restaurant. They have a wood-burning oven to make pizzas, which are excellent. For dinner, lamb chops with Chakana Malbec 2007 from Argentina, a great buy at $13.95.




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