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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 1 (September 20, 2004)

I haven't kept a diary since I was fourteen years old. Now here I am starting one. Why? To share with you the fruits of my ongoing journey in search of Dionysus, and perhaps to give you some insight into what the life of a wine writer is really like (or perhaps not).

It takes a lot of discipline and time to keep a diary. On both accounts I have little, so the entries here will be mercifully short. I plan to update it weekly.

So to begin...

Monday, September 13: Finished my October column for Post City Magazines. The issue is all about Hallowe'en, so I was asked to come up with a Hallowe'en column. This happens to wine writers. So I decided to take a leaf from the Mel Brooks' Frankenstein movie. "If a mob of diminutive villagers wielding pitchforks and flaming torches comes banging at your door on October 31st, don't be alarmed. They're not really interested in what you've got in your cellar..."

Lunch at Crush with my former squash partner and French horn-player Scott Wilson (who also imports wine). His company represents Brokenwood in Australia's Hunter Valley. The winery's general manager, Geoff Krieger, had brought along some of his wines for my wine writer colleague David Lawrason and me to try.

Brokenwood Semillon 2004 (which had won a major prize in London recently): very pale colour, minerally, lemony nose; light and lively with green pear and lemon flavours and a long finish (****½).

Chardonnay 2000: straw colour, with a buttery, caramel and apple nose; full-bodied, mature, toffee and citrus flavours. Really mouthfilling. ****½

Shiraz 2001:a blend of Mclaren Vale and Padthaway fruit. Deep ruby colour; leather, mushroom, smoke, tar and blackberry nose; sweet, jammy blackberry fruit with a floral note; medium-full-bodied with soft tannins. ****

Rayner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 (Mclaren Vale): dense purple ruby; concentrated, spicy blackberry nose; very elegant with sweet fruit. Great balance. ****½

The Graveyard 2002; That's all it says on the front label but it's a Shiraz, their top red. Deep ruby-purple, slightly medicinal nose, minerally, Rhone style; very elegant and surprisingly lean with a firm finish. Needs time. **** (+* in two years or so). Scott tells me that the French horn is the only left-handed musical instrument. At our table three of the four were left-handed. Does this mean that left-handed wine writers are potential French horn players?

Tuesday, September 14: My monthly "Tasting with Tony" at Grano restaurant. The theme was Washington State wines. Washington is making some fine Syrahs now. Went immediately over to Flow where Marchese Piero Antinori was hosting a party to celebrate 30 years of his seminal Super-Tuscan red, Tignanello. Seven vintages were available for tasting: 1986, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001. What an extraordinary wine this is – my favourites were 1997 and 2000. I guess having tasted a lot of Washington wines I needed some bold, concentrated wines to make an impression. (That's the tyranny of competitions – the big wines dominate the palate and anything elegant gets lost.)

Wednesday, September 15: Write up my three Wines of the Week to go on this site on Thursday. Lunch at Xacutti for a launch of the new vintage of Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame. It's hot outside and we are served water until everyone has arrived for a stand-up tasting of four vintages, conduced by the winemaker Frederic Panaiotis – served from youngest to oldest, 1996, 1995, 1989. The blend varies from 60% to 65% Pinot noir, the rest Chardonnay. The grapes come for 8 Grands Crus vineyards. First made in 1962 to honour the eponymous founder, it was commercialized only after the 1966 vintage.

1996 is spare and lean as a catwalk model – green apple, lemony, very refreshing. 1995, a hot year, was rounder with almond and caramel, toast and citrus fruit; rich and creamier. 1989: bready, white pepper nose, yeasty and toasty flavour. 1998: toasty, nutty, lemon peel nose; mature with a racy lemon spine and lovely rich mouthfeel – my favourite.

La Grande Dame has a magnificently designed carrying case (black outside, corporate orange inside). It opens like a Bird of Paradise and has magnets in the side panels to ensure it won't open prematurely. A great package. The accompanying lunch with highly spiced dishes was meant to show that champagne goes with everything. Frankly, I would have preferred the wines with less aggressively flavoured dishes.

Dashed over to Crush where Steve Thurlow, wine writer/educator, was presenting a seminar on the wines of the Loire Valley. I'm not a great fan of Muscadet. It's fine with very salty fish dishes but it doesn't do a lot for me. I prefer the Chenins from Vouvray and the Sauvignons from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume that are highly versatile food wines. The reds of the Loire are very much like Ontario reds – especially the Cabernet Franc. I like the Paul Buisse 2001 Chinon. And the Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Les Baronnes has always been a favourite. What came out of this tasting is how the 2003 wines are completely different from previous vintages. The heat in 2003 has changed the style completely. The acids are low and the wines are sweetish.

Thursday, September 16: Dinner with Andrew Hendry, proprietor of Cooper's Creek in New Zealand (he of the Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush). I had some concerns when his former winemaker Kin Crawford left to start his own company (which was bought last year by Vincor). But a tasting of the wines by Simon Nunns (who took over from Crawford in 1998) allayed my fears that no-one could take the place of this talented and colourful (wardrobe-wise) winemaker. Nunns has made a terrific Coopers Creek Viognier 2004. His Haupai Merlot "The Gardner" 2002 is no slouch either, sweet blueberry with a medicinal note. Wasn't crazy about the Pinot noir 2002, which I found a little short, but the Swamp reserve Chardonnay from that vintage (caramel, butter, toast, sweet spicy fruit with an orange flavour) is worth searching out. We had these wines over dinner at Reds – some of the best wine service in town here and the wine prices are more than fair.

Friday, September 17: Tasting day at Vintages. October is a huge release so there were 80 plus wines to taste. I come home exhausted, thinking of all the inputting I'll have to do for the website.

Saturday, September 18: Deborah and I drive to St. Catharines for the annual Grape and Wine Festival event in the park. I'm there to sell copies of my wine murder mysteries. My table is in the pavilion with Niagara College, their chefs and teaching winery (the only one in Canada). I get to taste the 2003 Meritage made under the supervision of Jim Warren, and the individual varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot – which were used in the blend.

It will be a very good wine when it settles down from bottle shock.

Sunday, September 19: No wine. Except with dinner. Inniskillin Founders' Reserve Pinot Noir 2000. Very Burgundian in style, even better than the 1999 Montague Pinot Noir.

Come back next week for the next thrilling episode of A Wine Lover's Diary...




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