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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 238 (April 27, 2009)

Saturday, April 18: Deborah drove me to the airport to catch the 6:30 pm Air Canada flight to London. Only it was delayed an hour because they had to take baggage off belonging to people who had not turned up for the flight. The good news was that I was kicked up to Executive Class. Had glass of Drappier Carte d'Or Brut Champagne before we took off. With dinner, smoked salmon with Icardi Cortese 2008 and veal with Château Cluzau 2006. With the cheese plate, a Dow's LBV Port. Watched the Nixon/Frost movie and got about two and a half hours sleep.

My B&B

Sunday April 19: The plane arrived in London at 7 am. Took the tube into Hammersmith to the B&B where I'm staying (the third consecutive year I've booked in here). The room wasn't ready when I arrived at 9am so I dropped my bags and took the tube to Piccadilly in order to see the Kuniyoshi exhibit at the Royal Academy. Then walked up Bond Street and took the tube from Oxford Circus to Baker Street to have lunch with my old friend Bernie Silver. We had a glass of Glenlivet and then Bernie took me to Glavin's on Baker Street. I ordered an endive salad with blue cheese and walnuts and a red mullet. We drank a bottle of Domaine Champalou Vouvray 2007. Bernie is the honorary consul for the Seychelles and drives an old Rolls Royce. We were in the Boy Scouts together in London more years ago than I care to remember. He drove me back to the B&B, where I slept for two hours and then took the tube to Kentish Town to have dinner with other old friends, David and Carol Goldberg. David opened a bottle of Château Laucasse St. Martin 2006 which he wasn't happy with so he fetched a bottle of Château Cadet-Peychez 2000 (neither of the wines I'd had before, or even heard of). Got to bed at 10 pm.

Monday, April 20: Awoke in a panic thinking I had overslept. I am to walk to the venue where we have the tastings for the Decanter International Wine Competition with Rosemary George MW who lives next door to the B&B. The walk takes about 35 minutes. (This is a custom Rosemary and I have followed for the last three years.) I had intended to sleep to 7:30 am in order to knock on Rosemary's door at 8:30 am. But I misread my watch – it was 6:30 am. Rosemary and I walked for 35 minutes to The Worx (a photo studio in Parsons Green where the tastings take place). Sarah Kemp, the publisher of Decanter, tells us that this year there are 10,245 wine entries to the competition and nearly 200 judges to assess them, 60 coming from abroad. It's great to meet a lot of old friends who judge here every year. I am on the Bordeaux panel for the next two days. James Lawther MW, who is the chair of the panel, lives in Bordeaux. The other panelists are Nicola Archecdeckne-Butler MW (her name is pronounced Archdeacon) and Stephane Sorel, who is a sommelier from France working in New Delhi. Our first flight is Bordeaux AC 2008 under ₤10 (8 wines), followed by Under ₤10 2007 Merlot-based AC Bordeaux (10), Premières Côtes de Bordeaux (7), Côtes de Bourg 2007 and 2006 (5), Haut –Médoc 2007 (7), Haut –Médoc 2006 (12). Then we broke for lunch. After lunch, Bordeaux Blanc 2008 (12), a flight of a single sparkling rosé and 2008 rosés (10) and finally Bordeaux Rosé (10). Then off to The White Horse pub for pint of bitter before heading home. Picked up a sandwich and a portion of fries from MacDonald's and flopped into bed at 8:30 pm exhausted.

The White horse, a great pub

Tuesday, April 21: Slept till 7:40 am! Gave my landlady the rent and she informs me that she has me booked in only till Thursday. I leave London on Saturday morning. Rosemary and I walked to The Worx again. This time I took my cell phone that records the number of paces you take. We measured 4938 door to door. Today I'm on the Bordeaux panel again. My panel members are wine writer Margaret Rand and Alison Buchanan, who works for Corney & Barrow wine merchants. In the morning we tasted 2007 AC Bordeaux Red (8 wines), 2006 Merlot-based AC Bordeaux Red (8), Médoc 2007 Red (19), Haut-Médoc Red (13), Haut-Médoc Red by vintage (6). Then we broke for lunch: beef bourguignon and rice. After lunch, Margaux by vintage (11), Saint-Estephe by vintage (8) and then a flight Bordeaux Blanc (13). We gave two gold medals for Margaux and Haut-Médoc and a couple of silvers for Haut-Médoc and Bordeaux Blanc. Finished by 5:30 pm and then took the tube to West Kensington to meet Fiona Holman, the acquisitions editor (wine) for Avona Books. There is a book project that she wants me to get involved in that sounds interesting. Picked up some food from Sainsbury's and retired to my room to watch television. Fascinated by a show about humans living as pigs – literally. Two young people shared the lives of pigs for four days, sleeping in the sties, eating their food, wallowing in their mud.

The Canadian panel: Joel Butler MW, Steve Thurlow (standing), Barbara Philip MW and Tony

Wednesday, April 22: Today I begin judging Canadian wines. I'm chairing the panel that consists of my fellow Toronto wine writer Steve Thurlow, Barbara Philip MW from BC and Joel Butler MW, who works for Château Ste. Michelle in Washington – the same panel as last year for Canadian wines. In the morning we started with a flight of Pinot Noir from Ontario (3 wines) followed by Merlot from Ontario and BC (7), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Ontario and BC (6), Syrah/Shiraz and Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon (Ontario and BC) (7 wines), Meritage (BC and Ontario) (9), and one flight a sweet Vidal from Quebec and Ontario (6). Lunch was roast chicken with tarragon sauce, boiled potatoes and salad. After lunch, another flight of sweet Vidal from Ontario and BC (7), then a flight of Gewürztraminer and Riesling Icewines 2007 followed by Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz Icewine 2007 (6). At the end of the day we had given two golds for red wines (Shiraz and a Shiraz blend, both from BC) and two Cabernet Franc Icewines both from Ontario.

After the tasting, had a pint of bitter at The White Horse and returned to the B&B to change for the judges' party. The party is held in the courtyard at The Worx and is sponsored by Laurent Perrier, whose champagne flows liberally. Waiters pass around BBQ-ed kebabs. Steve Thurlow suggests we go for a pizza at a restaurant he had discovered on a previous visit called Rossopomodoro on the Fulham Road. Tom Stevenson, the champagne guru, joins us and we taxi over at 9:30 pm. We don't get served till 10 pm. Order a bottle of Antica Hirpinia Alianico del Samico 2006, a barely adequate pizza wine. As we end the meal fans are streaming out of the Chelsea v. Everton match looking glum (a 0–0 draw). I take the tube home and arrive at 11:30 pm.

Thursday, April 23 (St. George's Day): A second day of judging Canadian wines. We started off with two sparkling wines both of which got silver medals. Then a flight of Sauvignon Blanc (5), one silver here. Followed by Chardonnay (14), one gold medal and three silvers; Other white varietals (6), one gold, one silver; and finally a flight of Aromatic whites (10), four silvers. We then broke for lunch – lasagna, couscous salad and green salad – before returning to taste three sets of gold medal wines to determine the national trophy winners, which will go into tomorrow's tasting by all the Regional Chairmen to decide the best overall wine in each price category.

When we had finished I went over to the White Horse for a pint of beer with Steve and Barbara while waiting for Rosemary George, who had invited me to a tasting of English wines. The tasting was held at Chelsea Football ground, a table top affair featuring 13 wineries, one as far north as Leeds (Leventhorpe Vineyard). I tasted many sparkling wines and was impressed by the quality and the price – Nyetimber, Hush Heath, Ridgeview, Chapel Down and Balfour, with prices ranging from £22 to £35 a bottle. Talked with Cherie Spriggs, the winemaker at Nyetimber, who is Canadian. She poured Nyetimber 2003 for me as well as the 1998 vintage which was served at the G20 conference. Took the tube back to the B&B to pack (I move into Rosemary and Christopher's next door tomorrow for one night) and to change for dinner at Hix Oyster & Chop House in the Smithfield Market area.

Took the tube to Farringdon Street and arrived early for the 7:30 pm reservation so I walked around the area, which is now very trendy with lots of bars, gastro-pubs and shops. Mike Prior, a friend from schooldays at Epsom College, and his wife Livia are taking me to dinner to celebrate my birthday next month. Mike orders a bottle of Touraine Sauvignon La Treilles d'Angeline Oisly 2007 (to go with six Colchester oysters) and Amisfield Pinot Noir 2006 from Central Otago (with my steak and chips). The 65-seat restaurant has a French bistro feeling. You wouldn't know there's a recession in Britain – the place is packed and noisy. Jason, the Scottish manager, tells us they are opening a 200-seat restaurant in Soho and one in Selfridges. The bathrooms downstairs are identified by large coloured photos of a male and female orifice. On the tube back to the B&B at 11 pm a group of four young people get on at Kings Cross. One of the girls is loudly drunk and pestering the two male passengers on either side of her. Binge drinking is apparently a big problem in Britain, especially among young women.

Friday, April 24: Up at 6 am, as I have to pack and get down to The Worx for 8:45 am to have my photo taken for Decanter's October awards issue. Today all the jury chairs judge the trophy wines for the top prize in each category. Our panel of four is judging White Blends Over £10 (one wine in this flight which we didn't give a trophy to), Riesling Under £10 (a lovely wine worthy of a trophy), Bordeaux Varietal Under £10 (two wines we thought should get a trophy but only one is allowed; they were both New World wines) and Sweet Wines Over £10 (eleven wines to taste; the one we picked – three of us put it overall first – was absolutely delicious. Can't wait for the results to find out what it was). After the tasting we taxied to a restaurant across Putney Bridge for the Regional Chairmen's annual lunch. It took place in the same Italian resto as last year – Enoteca Turi. We began with Dom Pérignon 2000 and then sat down for Vegetarian Antipasto Pugliese with Pieropan Soave 2008 (I usually like Pieropan but this vintage was disappointing) followed by a choice of Risotto Primavera, Fillet of John Dory or Roasted and Braised Rabbit Sanremese with Crushed Cauliflower (I chose the latter) served with G. D. Vajra Barbera d'Alba 2005. For dessert, Strawberry Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream. Unfortunately someone in the kitchen had sliced the tart with a knife they'd been chopping unions with. During the lunch Sarah Kemp presented the joke awards. Marina Gaya, the Argentinean specialist, had three male judges on her panel; she was awarded a plastic bullwhip for keeping them in order.

Marina Gaya and her bullwhip prize

After lunch Rosemary George and I walked back to her house along the Thames. A lovely hour in the sunshine. We were wondering what the collective noun for wine writers is. I suggested "an ego of wine writers." Rosemary told me that our mutual friend in New Zealand, Bob Campbell, came up with the best one – "a sponge of wine writers." In the evening Rosemary had invited two friends with whom she worked over twenty years ago at H. Sichel & Söhne in London – Shona Maclean and Julia Wilkinson. Rosemary's husband, Christopher, opened a bottle of Weingut Erhen Stephan Whalen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese 1995. Rosemary wrote the book on Chablis, so the first three wines we had were all Chablis. We sat down to hummus and pita with Raveneau Chablis "Chapelot" 1988, Daniel-Etienne Defaux Chablis Vaillon 1996 and Jean-Paul Droin Chablis Les Clos 1992, wines that covered both the first course and the salmon with sorrel sauce. Christopher had grown the sorrel in his allotment and picked it that afternoon. With the cheese course, he served the wine I had brought over with me – Inniskillin Pinot Noir Montague Vineyard 2003, which showed very well and everyone was suitably impressed. For dessert, fresh pineapple.

The dinner Chablis

Saturday, April 25: Slept till almost 9 am. My flight leaves at 3 pm. I left the house at 12:15 pm and took the tube to Heathrow. Just as we are on our descent to Toronto the pilot says that because of rain storms in the area we are being diverted to Ottawa, where we have to refuel before continuing our journey to Toronto. Oh, the joys of air travel. Arrived home three hours late.




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