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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 289 (May 3, 2010)

Saturday, April 24: Flying to London this evening. It's a full flight because of the backlog since the Icelandic volcano disrupted European air travel. Decided to forego dinner and try to sleep. Should have watched movies – a very uncomfortable night.

Sunday, April 25: Arrived at Heathrow at 8:45 am. Took the tube directly to Green Park station, the nearest stop to the Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly. Lunch with my nephew Jeffrey in Citrus, the hotel's restaurant – smoked chicken and mushroom risotto. Then walked to Hatchard's book store to pick up a copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

At 4 pm I am meant to meet David and Carole Goldberg at the hotel for tea. By 4:55 pm I am about to give up on them when they call my room. They were delayed because of the London Marathon. A quick cup of tea and I'm off to Hammersmith to have dinner with my old friends Rosemary George MW and her husband Chris. I bring along a bottle of Rosewood Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 from Niagara. Rosemary has also invited Barbara Philip MW (who is a member of my Canadian panel at the Decanter World Wine Awards), her sister Margaret and mother Ishbel. We start with a bottle of Ridgeview Cavendish Sparkling Wine 2005 (an excellent English bubbly). At the table, a bottle of Dauvissat Chablis 2005 with smoked salmon. (Rosemary wrote a book on the wines of Chablis and knows her stuff.) With the chicken and mushroom dish we have two vintages of Bald Hills Pinot Noir (2007 and 2006) as well as the Rosewood (which is very well received). With the cheese course (Salers) Rosemary opens a bottle of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2006.

Monday, April 26: Catch the tube down to Palmers Green, changing at Earls Court. The Decanter World Wine Competition is held, historically, at The Worx, a large complex of photographers' studios with great natural light. Decanter provides a breakfast of croissants and other baked goods, tea and coffee. Today, I'm on a South African panel with John Avery, Jane Macquitty who writes on wines for The Times, and Fiona Robertson from South Africa. At the briefing, Sarah Kemp, the publisher of Decanter, tells us how happy she is to see us all. Only ten of her 150-odd judges didn't make it because of air traffic imbroglio. There are just shy of 11,000 entries this year from 2,500 companies, a record. We will be tasting an average of 80 wines a day.

Our panel starts with 13 Bordeaux blends that sell for under £10. This is followed by three flights before lunch: 7 Cabernet Sauvignon under £10, 9 Bordeaux Blends over £10 and 10 Bordeaux Blends over £10. Lunch is bangers and mash and cheeses – solid comfort food. After lunch, 12 Chardonnay over £10, 14 Chenin Blanc under £10, 6 Miscellaneous White Aromatics under £10 and 8 White Rhônes under £10. At the end of the day it is traditional for the judges to foregather at the nearest pub, The White Horse on the village green, for a pint of real ale (they give us a beer ticket for this). Picked up a tuna sandwich and a bag of crisps for dinner back at the hotel in my room.

The barmaid at The White Horse

Tuesday, April 27: No judging for me today so I walked up to Bond Street to drop in on my old friend Bernie Jacobson, who owns a gallery off Cork Street. We reminisced about old friends. Then surprised my oldest friend in London, Bernie Silver, by dropping in at his office on Baker Street. Bernie is the honorary consul for the Seychelles as well as running a translation business. We lunch at a nearby restaurant called Colony on Paddington Street that offers a menu of dishes from the British Raj. We both order kedgeree and a glass of Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2009. Drop into Fortnum and Mason to pick up a house gift for the Goldbergs, with whom I'm dining tonight. At dinner, David opens a bottle of Casisano-Colombaio Brunello di Montalcino 2004.

Wednesday, April 28: A wretched night's sleep. Woke up at 2:15 am and didn't fall back to sleep till nearly 6 am. Finally awoke to an alarm call at 7:30 am. My panel (the same for the last four years) is Barbara Philip MW from Vancouver, Steve Thurlow from Toronto and Joel Butler MW from Seattle. Today we begin tasting Canadian wines.

The Canadian panel: Tony, Joel Butler, Steve Thurlow and Barbara Philip

We start the morning with Sparkling (2 wines) and Rosés (2), followed by a flight of 6 BC Chardonnays, then 8 Ontario Chardonnays and finally 10 Bordeaux Blends from both provinces and 5 Cabernet Francs. During this session we have awarded one Gold medal and five Silvers. A break for lunch (lasagna, rice, salad and cheeses), then back to a light of 9 Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by four flights of Icewines totalling 34. Medal count: one Gold and 7 Silvers. The pint of Sussex real ale at The White Horse was very welcome.

Tonight is the Decanter party for the judges at The Worx sponsored by Laurent Perrier, whose rosé champagne flows freely. Amy Wislocki, Decanter's managing editor, has invited four of us to dinner at a Chinese restaurant within walking distance on King's Road called Mao Tai. I order Szechwan duck and on the table are a bottle of Schloss Gobelsburg Gobelsburger Riesling 2009 and Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba. I can hardly keep my eyes open. Taxi back to the hotel by midnight.

Thursday, April 29: Today our Canadian panel begins the morning with 9 Aromatic whites (1 Silver), followed by 6 Sauvignon Blanc (2 Silvers), 10 Off-Dry Whites (3 Golds, 1 Silver), 4 Pinot Noir (3 Silvers) and 9 Syrah (6 Silvers). Lunch: chicken, potatoes, salad, cheeses. After lunch, a flight of 13 Merlots (2 Silvers). Looking back over the two days, the most successful flights in terms of overall quality were Riesling and Syrah.

Steven Spurrier, Decanter's Chief Judge

Finally we had to determine the Regional Trophies by retasting the Gold Medal winners. The only contention was over the Riesling flight. We were deadlocked between two wines and Stephen Spurrier, the chief judge, had to cast the winning vote.

Back to the White Horse for a pint of bitter, then checked out of my hotel. This evening I'm sleeping at my old friend Michael Prior's in Hampstead. We're meeting up with a mutual friend from school days at Epsom, Tim Coltart, who is an a retired gynecological surgeon. I haven't seen Tim in 54 years. We all meet in the bar of the Park Lane Hotel over a bottle of Taittinger Brut and reminisce over our days at Epsom. Then we walk over to Amaya, an Indian restaurant off Motcomb Street. I order a bottle of Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling 2008.

An email from Deborah telling me that Pinot the Wonder Dog is feeling better after having thrown up and is obviously not missing me as much as I'm, missing her (Pinot that is). Deborah writes, "Tony who?"

Friday, April 30: Took the tube to Hammersmith to visit Fiona Holman, my editor on the North American Wine Routes at Anova Books. Then walked from there to Putney Bridge, which was longer than I thought and took 50 minutes. I was early for Enoteca Turi, where all the Regional Chairs from the competition have a farewell lunch. So I dropped into the Flue & Whistle for a half pint of Fuller's London Pride.

Enoteca Turi in Putney High Street
Jim Budd and his new Hawaiian shirt
The lunch red

At the restaurant we had an aperitif of Dom Pérignon 2000 before the meal. I was seated next to Jim Budd of the luxuriant moustache, who has a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, and Rosemary Gorge; opposite me was Guy Woodward, the editor of Decanter, and Richard Mason, a Portugal specialist. The first wine was Pieropan Soave 2009 served with salad of charred artichokes, rocket and wild garlic with bruschetta and stracciatella. Then roasted and braised rabbit Sanremese with barba di frate, olives and pine nuts, with Vajra Barbera d'Alba 2007. For dessert, chocolate cake and blood orange ice cream. During the meal Sarah Kemp handed out the joke awards (e.g., pajamas for the judges who were perennially late and kept the red-shirted elves waiting). It was 4:15 pm before we got up from the table.

I took the tube to Sloane Square to drop into Peter Jones. I wanted to pick up some Riedel glasses for Michael and Livia as a house gift. Then took the tube up to Hampstead. Before dinner Mike opened a bottle of Gosset Grande Réserve Brut. Livia prepared a delicious meal of asparagus, served with Constantia Uitsig Sauvignon Blanc 2008 and roast duck, potatoes and baby peas, served with Château Giscours 1975. Dessert – stewed plums. The conversation was mostly about the upcoming British election, which looks like a victory for the Conservatives but could be a hung parliament with the Liberal Democrats as kingmakers.

Saturday, May 1: Mike and I had an English breakfast at a local restaurant in Hampstead and then went for a long walk on the Heath before my trek to Heathrow and the plane home. Pinot the Wonder Dog gave me a rapturous welcome. And Deborah was pleased to see me too.




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