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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 4 (October 12, 2004)

Monday October 4: This afternoon is the annual Sonoma Wine Affair – 32 wineries strutting their stuff at the Royal Ontario Museum. I was late for the seminar on Sonoma whites being held upstairs for restaurateurs and wine writers before the actual tasting. I hate being late. My English upbringing, I guess; punctuality is a mark of respect, I was taught. I arrived as Nick Frey, the executive director of the Sonoma WineGrowers Association, was already talking about the first wine, a Gallo Pinot Gris grown at the MacMurray Ranch, a property they purchased a few years ago. I had visited the ranch a couple of years ago and tasted the first vintage made from that vineyard. I liked it then and I like it now. But the best wine was the following one: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2003 with its lovely grassy, gooseberry and nettle nose and ripe melon and elderberry flavour.

The main event was held in a large room on the ground floor where the Australian tasting had been held last week. It's an ideal room for such events, although I don't really enjoy these stand-up table top tastings. I'd rather sit down and write my notes quietly. But this one was well organized and there was enough room so that you weren't bumping into people and having shoes shoes splattered with wine. The white walls and good natural light from large windows help.

My two favourite wines (I restricted myself to red, concentrating mainly on Pinot Noir and Cabernets) were both from Chalk Hill Road in Healdsburg. Chateau Felice, a new name to me, produced a wonderful Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, remarkably elegant and restrained, like claret. (My license plate is CLARET, which betrays my predilection.) Even more gob-smacking was the self-deprecatingly named Lancaster Estate Red 1999, the only wine they make. It's a Bordeaux blend, 59% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc. If I'd been served it blind I would have pegged it as a Saint-Julien of a warm year. It was gorgeous – but out of my league at $123 a bottle. The Pinot Noirs from the 2001 vintage in Sonoma seemed less oaked and not the over-extracted wines from previous vintages, much more in Burgundian style with the emphasis on finesse and balance. Which, as Martha would say, is a good thing. (I wonder what her house wine will be? Bonny Doon's Big House Red?)

That evening, my old squash partner, Scott Wilson, dropped off some Oregon wines he represents for the Tuesday tasting at Grano next week. Scott single-handedly created the market for Oregon wines. At one time his company, Du Chasse, represented seventeen Oregon wineries. Ontario used to be the largest export market for Oregon wines, thanks to Scott. They should put up a statue to him in McMinnville. We opened a bottle of Italian red Ca' del Bosco.

Tuesday, October 5: A quiet day at home working on the Canadian wine atlas and gathering information on the presenters at the Banff Food and Wine Festival later this month.

Wednesday, October 6: A 9:30 am meeting at the Hart House cafeteria with members of the Santé advisory board. Santé is the week-long festival that used to be sponsored by Toronto Life. Learned that they have now sold the event back to the Bloor-Yorkville business association. The magazine has stopped all its food and wine events as a cost-cutting measure, apparently. Our responsibility as board members is to encourage overseas wineries to participate in Santé and to select the wines (10) for the gala dinner. My wine-writing colleagues David Lawrason, Gordon Stimmell, James Chatto and Steve Thurlow are all involved. This meeting was prior to a tasting held in the South Dining Room at the U of T of products from the Freixenet Group. I had no idea how extensive the Spanish company's holding were – apart from Segura Viudas, they own Fra Guerau, Conde de Caralt, Vega Riaza (who do a dynamite red wine in Ribiera del Duero, made from 100% Tempranillo) Vionta and Valdubon.

The annual Spanish tasting, this year called "Spain: Old Vines, New Wines," is held traditionally in the great hall of Hart House. Twenty-nine tables were set out along the walls with a food buffet in the middle. You could, if you had the stamina, taste 235 wines and sherries. I managed 40 before I took the subway home. Spain is producing some lovely wines in new regions like Bierzo, Toro and Monstant. Best wines I tasted: Bodegas Estefania Tilenus Reserva 2000, Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial 2000 and Palacio de Villachica Treserva 5T.

Thursday, October 7: Another day in front of the computer, trying a order a new laptop on the internet from Dell. It got so complicated I gave up after an hour and phoned the order in. My PC must have got wind of the transaction because it started acting up in protest. Who says machines don't get jealous? Worked on my monthly article for Post City Magazines. They asked me to write about Table Wines. Now that term really has no meaning. The LCBO refers in the general release catalogue to all its red and white still wines that are not fortified as table wines irrespective of price. In Europe table wine has a more limited definition: table wine is a level below quality wine, i.e. wine that comes from a designated region. In France this is a vin de pays. It's rather like the meaning of Reserve. The term has no legal definition and is used with abandon. I think I'll write my next Commentary for Tidings magazine on the subject of the misuse of Reserve.

Friday, October 8th: My son Guy cleaned up my computer last night and now it's running really slow so I'm typing this on my old laptop while running the virus scan on the PC. Today there are no tastings but I have a pile of wines that have arrived, so this evening I will get down to them. For dinner Deborah made a mushroom risotto and I opened the 2001 Jadot Chateau des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent, my favourite Beaujolais. It has so much extract it tastes more like a Burgundy.




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