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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 2 (September 27, 2004)

Monday, Sept. 20: Westin Prince Hotel – a reception for the relaunch of that old warhorse, Mouton Cadet. This Bordeaux red and white wine used to appear on every Toronto wine list. But with the rising popularity of New World wines, Mouton Cadet began to disappear. Created in 1930 as a second wine for Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, it began life as a Pauillac appellation. Then, as its popularity grew, the source of grapes had to be widened. In 1932 it became a Medoc appellation and in 1947 enlarged– and downgraded – to a simple Bordeaux appellation. The white was created in 1942. By 1986 Mouton Cadet was selling 17 million bottles worldwide. In 1996 the company created a Reserve bottling (Medoc for red, Graves for white). But by 2002 sales figures were dropping to 15 million although it had a presence in 150 countries. Two years ago, facing fierce international competition, the company decided to make the product more supple, fruitier and more in tune with the New World style and to relaunch the brand globally. This meant controlling the vineyards from which they sourced fruit (mainly in the Entre-Deux-Mers) and giving up buying bulk wines on the open market. They changed the blend of red by going more heavily into Merlot (65%) supported by Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Cabernet Franc (15%). This makes for a rounder, more fruit-driven style. The white Mouton Cadet is a blend of 50% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Muscadelle.

The label has been made more contemporary (without drapes and other frou-frou). The ram (Mouton's symbol) is front and centre, bearded with a bunch of grapes. The company logo, a crown with five arrows representing the five Rothschild brothers who went their separate ways, is embossed on the punt of the bottles – to confound possible counterfeiters. Can't think why anyone would want to counterfeit a wine that sells millions of bottles.

The 2003 Mouton Cadet White is straw-coloured with a fresh pear and citrus nose; clean, easy drinking, no great length but worth the $12.40 price tag. The 2002 Mouton Cadet Red ($13.40) is a great improvement over past vintages, which I found lean and tired. This wine has a deep ruby colour with a spicy, slightly sweet plum and blueberry flavour; definitely New World in style but with sufficient acidity to give it structure and just a hint of tannin on the finish.

Tuesday, Sept. 21: A tasting of 36 Ontario wines for, a web-based home delivery service for Ontario wines that you can't get at the LCBO. My wine writer colleague David Lawrason and I write notes on the wines independently which appear on the winerytohome site.

Wednesday, September 22: Now this is a day from hell for wine writers. Two major tastings with hundreds of wines available. In the morning I wrote my notes for Wines of the Week for this site and then took the subway down to Roy Thomson Hall for the annual German wine fair. A great setting in the concert hall with several of the German winemakers or export directors pouring. Eighteen wineries were there and some magnificent Rieslings – especially those of Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler, St. Urbans-Hof and Gunderloch. Very few of them available in our market. The LCBO should open national stores dedicated to the wines of that country or region so that we can get a range of wines rather than the meagre selection of German wines currently available. If they aren't prepared to do it, let the trade commissioners have their own stores.

In the afternoon, after a quick plate of pasta at Prego della Pizza with Sheila Swerling-Puritt, president of the Wine Writers Circle of Canada (who contributes a monthly spirits column to this site), off to the ROM for the annual Australian wine fair. The place was mobbed but the organizers had the foresight to book a private room upstairs so that we wine hacks could taste a range of varietals in peace and quiet. Downstairs there were 90 different wineries pouring. Of those I tasted the stand-out wines were Bleasdale Vineyards Frank Potts Cabernet Blend 2002, Bremerton Verdelho 2004, d'Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier (I think d'Arenberg is my favourite Aussie winery for sheer enjoyment across their whole portfolio), Jeanneret Denis Shiraz 2002, Nepenthe Zinfadel 2002, Petaluma Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot 2001, Peter Lehmann Clancy's 2002 (for sheer value), Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 201 (real discovery, this) and Tamar Ridge Riesling 2003 from Tasmania.

An exhausting but enjoyable tasting, so I had to relax that evening over a bottle of Quails' Gate Pinot Noir Limited Release 2002 and old cheddar with my friend John Harrison Brown.

Thursday, September 23: Spent much of the morning answering emails and writing a story for about R.H. Phillips' new screwtop wines. The bottles are round-shouldered with short necks and will certainly stand out on the shelves. The have corks hanging from the bottle neck with a message, rather like a Chinese fortune cookie. "There are 101 great uses for cork – just not in a wine bottle..."' Dinner with Vito Candela, export director for Rocca delle Macie and his importing agents, Philip and Debra Mirabelli of Noble Estates, at the National Club. Unfortunately, Sergio Zingarelli, the owner of this Chianti house (the fourth largest in Tuscany), was delayed and could not attend. Deborah and I had spent three amazing days in May staying at Rocca's agri-tourismo property not far from the winery. The first wine served at dinner was Vernaiolo 2003, a very serviceable Chianti at around $12, with a Tuscan white bean soup. This was followed by the 2001 Chianti Classico 2001 with butternut squash ravioli; roast tenderloin of veal and sweetbreads with Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico 2001 (the home vineyard of the agri-tourismo hamlet) and Sant'Alfonso Chianti Classico Riserva 2001. The wine of the night was served with the cheese plate – Rocca delle Macie Roccato 2001 – a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. Very forward, richly extracted, cedar, vanilla and currant flavours.

Friday, September 24: A light day of tasting at the LCBO – new listings and some wines from LCBO's Classics Catalogue. Two of the wines I had last night were there as a Christmas gift pack – the Rocca delle Macie Orvieto and Vernaiolo. Orvieto doesn't do it for me as a white wine but the Vernaiolo was more impressive in the stark laboratory setting than it had been at dinner. A bargain at the price. Spent the afternoon devising a seminar for The Granite Club, entitled, "Wine Without Tears or How to Take Charge of the Wine List and Amaze Your Friends!" Tomorrow I leave at the crack of dawn for Quebec, to tour the wineries – research for The Atlas of Canadian Wines. (You'll probably hear a lot about this book in the coming months, as it's preoccupying my mind.)




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