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.
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
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