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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 6 (October 25, 2004)

Monday, October 18: Dentist at 9:30 am. My dentist makes grape juice, for God's sake. He has me at a real disadvantage with my mouth filled with equipment while he goes on about grape juice. I had an Italian barber in Spadina Village a few years ago who made his own wine and brought it into the shop around Christmas. He wanted me to critique it. I'm under the sheet and he's armed with scissors. What am I going to say?

One of those messy days spent making phone calls, answering emails and queries from the site. There was a portfolio tasting of Halpern wines at the Drake Hotel for the trade at 1 pm. Would have liked to have attended (Halpern brings in some stunning wines) and I haven't seen the Drake Hotel yet – but the piece on Recline Ridge (Canada's most northerly winery in British Columbia) I emailed to the Wine Spectator arrived with some weird formatting which I couldn't get rid of. I had to type the 1500 words over again which killed most of my afternoon. Then settled down to write some Christmas drink recipes for a Granite Club tasting in November.

Tuesday, October 19: A tasting of Chilean wines at Crush restaurant in the basement. They're preparing to shoot a movie upstairs. I spoke to a gaffer in the toilet and asked him what the movie was. He didn't know. Who's starring? He didn't know that either. He just puts up scaffolding, he says, and then leaves. I thought everyone on the movie business was crazy about the industry.

The Chilean tasting followed a pattern that the Californians started here – a blind tasting of several flights of wine served by varietal. The first flight was Sauvignon Blanc and the first wine was mildly corked. Not an auspicious start. But it got better. I liked the J. Bouchon Sauvignon 2004, which sells for $8.85, and the Santa Rita Reserva 2004 ($12.45). The Errazuriz 2003, usually my favourite Chilean Sauvignon on the general list, was a little off. Could have been cork taint. (After each flight they gave us a list of wines we had just tasted. I like that. No preconceptions about the wine you're tasting.)

The three Chardonnays that followed the Sauvignons were lacklustre. It's almost as if the Chileans are losing interest in making Chardonnay.

Flight three was a mix of reds – the best were Carmen Reserve Merlot 2001, a beautifully made wine at its peak now, deeply coloured, vanilla and blackcurrant nose, lovely pure fruit flavours, great balanced – you won't find a better wine for $17.95 in the New World, or the old one for that matter – and (a name new to me) Ventisquero Yali Carmenere Reserva 2002 (not yet in our market, projected price $11.95). Deep purple in colour, it had a smoky, eucalyptus nose that suggests Maipo Valley to me; sweet blackcurrant fruit, firm structure and well balanced.

Flight 4: Cabernet Sauvignon, the most successful flight in terms of overall quality. My top wines Perez Cruz Reserva 2003 (very elegant, floral, blackcurrant flavours, $13.95) and J. Bouchon Reserva 2002 (again that eucalyptus cassis nose, very fresh and lively fruit, a steal at $9.90).

The final flight was more Cabs. The first one in the flight turned out to be Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha 2002, another terrific wine for the price ($17.95 in Vintages), wonderfully balanced fruit and oak, very succulent. But the wine of the tasting was the last of the flight, which was head and shoulders above everything else. And so it should be: the 2001 Sena, a product of Caliterra and their erstwhile partner Robert Mondavi. What a graceful wine with rich blackcurrant flavours and a velvety mouth feel. No price given, but I think it was $60 a bottle. As parting gift we were offered a taste of that other ultra-premium Chilean Cabernet – Alma Viva, a co-production between Concha y Toro and Mouton-Rothschild. I didn't see the vintage, but it was much tighter structured and my notes say "Bordeaux-style" before I learned what it was. Needs time. But then don't we all.

My new laptop arrived. Yeah.

Wednesday, October 20: Trying to get in the habit of getting up before 7 am, three times a week, run to the gym (six minutes jog), work out for 45 minutes and jog back for breakfast. As with this diary, it's a discipline I'm trying to impose on myself. Maybe I was a cloistered monk in another life. If I was, I probably a Cistercian, since they had the best track record with vineyards. Spent the morning making up quiz questions for the site before rushing off to two meetings down town. Lunch at Hy's Steak house with the insurance company rep who sold me liability insurance for the wine tastings I conduct.

In the evening I went to the Granite Club for "Spanish flight night," an interesting concept. The dining room offers four Spanish wines by the glass to complement a Spanish menu. My role is to explain the wines to the diners at their table. Felipe Gonzales of Gonzales Byass was there with his sherry products and his venenciador, who showed the members how he can pour sherry from the cask into a glass from a great height without spilling a drop.

Thursday, October 21: Wrote my monthly commentary for Tidings magazine on the subject of Reserve wines (a baffling term that needs some legal definition because it's used nowadays in the New World as a marketing tool.) Also wrote 15 wine reviews for the magazine. In the evening I conducted a tasting of four wines at an office opening party. The caterers Stuart + Saladino provided the finger food, which was matched to the wines. The microphone kept howling back, which made it really difficult, but the guests seemed to enjoy themselves since there was sufficient wine. We started off with Seaview Brut from Australia, the best bargain in sparkling wines at the LCBO. If you want to marry off a daughter cheaply, that's the wine for you. The following wines were:

  • Cave Spring Riesling Reserve 2003 (Ontario)
  • Cape Mentelle Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (Western Australia)
  • Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir 2002 (Sonoma)
  • Robert Pecota Syrah 2000 (Napa Valley)

The wines showed very well and they were distinctively different enough that they could be identified blind.

Friday, October 22: The tasting for the second half of Vintages' November release. The room where we taste looks like a lab – all white and stark with table tops running along three walls and an island in the middle supporting two rinse basins. The glasses (ISO) are hung from two levels of racks around two walls. The bottles are placed in a line along the walls, usually about 70–80, and there are metals spittoons that look like cocktail shakers in a cupboard. The first wine I saw on entering was a bottle of Krug champagne. "What a great way to start the morning – with a glass of Krug!" I exclaimed. My fellow wine writers jeered at me because I had missed the sight of several tiny pink tin cans standing beside the Krug bottle. These were 4-packs of Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine produced by Neibaum Coppola in California. The cans, with their straws on the side, were named for Sofia Coppola, the Oscar-winning director of Lost In Translation. This product should have been lost in transportation. Stick to movies, girl. November's release features Ontario Icewines, eleven of which were here for us to taste. I find Icewine is terribly tiring to taste (sorry for the alliteration but there's no other way to put it.)

In the evening, Deborah accompanied me to a tasting of Austrian red wines at YYZ wine bar and restaurant on Adelaide St. just east of Spadina. Started off with two whites that are listed at the LCBO, Servus (a Gruner Vetliner/Riesling/Pinot Blanc blend, $8.80) and Winzer Krems Gruner Veltliner, $10.45. (The latter is a very interesting food wine with its fresh lemon peel and white pepper nose, light pear flavour and fresh acidity). There followed 14 reds in four flights, the first based on Zweigelt (a crossing of Sankt Laurent and Blaufrankisch), all from Burgenland. These were fruity and Beaujolais-like. Then three Sankt Laurent, a grape with more character, and a Pinot Noir imported by the Opimian Society (somewhat cooked). Next came three Blaufrankisch (aka Lemberger). The Rotweingut Iby Chevalier 2002 was my choice – all ripe black cherry and fleshy. The final flight consisted of 3 blended wines based on Zweigelt, Sankt Laurent and Cabernet Sauvignon, the most interesting and the most expensive wines of the evening running to $60–65 a bottle. I liked the Weingut Feiler-Artinger Solitaire 2002, which reminded me of claret. The meal that followed was terrific. Don't miss YYZ.

Over dinner, Michael Thurner, managing director of the Austrian Wine marketing board, told me about a tasting that Jancis Robinson had put together in London: a blind tasting of three flights of Riesling from around the world at different stages of development.

Here are the results of the 14-member panel, marking out of 20 points and averaged. Austria, as you'll see, did exceedingly well.

Riesling Tasting, held at Groucho Club, London; 11th October 2004

Results by Vintages

Flight 1–3 (Vintage 2001-2003):

  1. Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten Spätlese trocken 2002; Christmann, Pfalz, Germany 17.64
  2. Loibner Vision 2002, Smaragd, Högl, Wachau, Austria 17.39
  3. Riesling Vinothekfüllung 2002 Smaragd; Knoll, Wachau, Austria 17.39
  4. Zöbinger Heiligenstein 2002; Hiedler, Kamptal, Austria 17.29
  5. Weissenkirchner Achleiten 2001; Smaragd; Prager, Wachau, Austria 17.25
  6. Monzinger Halenberg Auslese trocken 2001; Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe, Germany 17.18
  7. Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg 2002, Johannes Leitz, Rheingau, Germany 17.14
  8. Weissenkirchner Achleiten 2001; Smaragd, Rudi Pichler, Wachau, Austria 17.07
  9. Riesling Nussberg 2002; Wieninger, Wien, Austria 17.04
  10. Riesling, Zöbinger Heiligenstein, Lyra 2002; Bründlmayer, Kamptal, Austria 17.00
  11. Isolation Ridge 2003; Frankland Estate, Western Australia, Australia 16.96
  12. Brand 2001; Zind-Humbrecht, Alsace, France 16.96
  13. Niederhäuser Herrmannshöhle Spätlese 2002; H. Dönnhoff, Nahe, Germany 16.93
  14. Riesling Privat 2002; Nigl, Kremstal, Austria 16.89
  15. Riesling Unendlich 2002; F.X. Pichler, Wachau, Austria 16.75
  16. Reserve 2003; Crawford River, Victoria, Australia 16.61
  17. Jesuitengarten Spätlese trocken 2002; Wolf, Pfalz, Germany 16.54
  18. Hochheimer Hölle Auslese trocken 2002; Franz Künstler, Rheingau, Germany 16.43

Flight 4–5 (Vintage 1995-1997):

  1. Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg 1997; Georg Breuer, Rheingau, Germany 17.82
  2. Riesling Kellerberg 1995, Smargad, F.X. Pichler, Wachau, Austria 17.64
  3. Zöbinger Heiligenstein, Alte Reben 1997; Bründlmayer, Kamptal, Austria 17.25
  4. Riesling Loibenberg 1997, Smaragd; Alzinger, Wachau, Austria 17.11
  5. Schlossberg Grand Cru Cuvée Ste. Catherine 1997; Weinbach-Faller, Alsace, France 17.00
  6. Polish Hill 1997; Grosset, Clare Valley, Southern Australia 16.61
  7. Cuvée Frederic Emile 1997; Trimbach, Alsace, France 16.61
  8. Spitzer Singerriedel 1997, Smaragd; Hirtzberger, Wachau, Austria 16.46
  9. Rangen de Thann 1997; Zind Humbrecht, Alsace, France 16.46
  10. Riesling Gaisberg, Alte Reben 1997; Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal, Austria 16.21
  11. Riesling "Hugel" 1997; Hommage a Jean Hugel, Hugel, Alsace, France 16.11
  12. Riesling, Von den Terassen 1997, Mittelbach, Dürnstein, Wachau, Austria 15.79

Flight 6 (Vintage 1989-1991):

  1. Riesling Weissenkirchner Achleiten 1990, Smaragd; Prager/Bodenstein, Wachau, Austria 18.71
  2. Clos Ste Hune 1990; Trimbach, Alsace, France 17.86
  3. Riesling, Loibenberg 1990, Smaragd, Knoll, Wachau, Austria 17.36
  4. Auslese trocken 1990; Gunderloch, Rhein-Hessen, Germany 17.25
  5. Riesling Vinothek 1990, Smaragd; Nikolaihof, Wachau, Austria 16.79
  6. Kallstadter Saumagen Spätlese trocken "R" 1990; Koehler-Rupprecht, Pfalz, Germany 16.68




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