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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 7 (November 2, 2004)

Monday, October 25: Ah, the joys of journalism. I got the following email on Sunday from a resident of Oliver B.C. who signs himself "Oliver resident, Grape grower, Gun owner, Grap"! He wrote in response to my commentary in Tidings magazine and on this site ("Wine Capital of Canada," October 14th), querying Oliver's self-appointed title of "Wine Capital of Canada."

Tony, Joe Busnardo didn't even arrive in Oliver until 1969. I drank my first Divino wine in 1980, and the Gehringer brothers were making wine in 1982.

The boast of "fine grape growing acreage" is just that; the plonk pouring from the Gamay Noir et. al. vines of most of the Niagra (sic) is not in our league.

The only spurious claim in your article is that of your being the 'W(h)ine Guy'. Or, to put it in international terms, for you to claim the title of the 'Wine Guy' is rather like Harry McWatters usurping the title of Queen of England.

Now, I am not suggesting that anyone in particular might wrest this title from you. I for one am quite happy for you to disseminate your specious drivel to whomever may surf through it on their way to www.nerdwhore.com . But get your facts straight.

Anyone for humble pie?

Best wishes,
(name edited out)

I checked with my colleague Dave Gamble, who publishes BC Wine Trails magazine and is probably the most knowledgeable person about British Columbia's wine history. He emailed me that "Joe Busnardo came to Canada in 1954. He bought his 68 acres in 1967 and planted it to 56 varieties from U.C. Davis as well as Italian varieties. Wineries would not pay adequately for his low crop vinifera grapes so he let the vineyard slide until the late 1970's when he began making wine himself. In 1983 he opened Divino Estate Winery." (By the way, is there really such a website as www.nerdwhore.com?)

At lunchtime today I presented a tasting of wines from Lombardy at Oro Restaurant. Two sparkling wines from Francicorta, two whites and four reds. The sparklers were both delicious though costly. The reds, based mainly on Nebbiolo, are leaner than Piemonte Barolos and Barbarescos but appealing nonetheless. My favourite wine was the Ca Dei Frati Lugana 2003, a rich and pineapple-y wine made from Trebbiano grapes. I remember having this wine about ten years ago in Sirmione in a restaurant on the edge of Lake Garda.

At four, a meeting with my literary agent and Random House about a future wine book once the Atlas is finished. I brought along a bottle of Pauletts Polish Hill River Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2002 from Australia (under screwcap). The meeting went very well. I think it should be mandatory at all meetings to have a bottle of wine.

That evening, a dinner at Mistura featuring six of the wines we tasted at lunchtime. Massimo Capra, the chef, comes from Lombardy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to prepare the food of his region. The pumpkin risotto with taleggio and truffle oil was amazing. So was the quail stuffed with prosciutto.

Tuesday, October 26: Back to Oro at 10 am for a presentation of a new series of wines launched by Australia's Wolf Blass. The winemaker, Chris Hatcher, led us through six of the Gold Label series, a portfolio of wines based on regional vineyards rather than the blends that characterize their other label colours. They have a real rainbow of labels – Yellow, Red, Green, Green, Black, Platinum. But it seems to work; Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon is the biggest selling red wine in Canada. (When it comes to colours, there are two I don't like to see on a wine label – brown and blue.) But back to Gold – these wines will be appearing in Vintages' December and February release. I was impressed with the Riesling 2002 – lovely floral lime flavours – and Barossa Shiraz, not your usual slap-you-on-the-back-till-you-choke-on-oak Aussie Shiraz, but fine, succulent fruit. These wines are generally more restrained and elegant than past Wolf Blass wines. And they're all in screwcaps, even the reds. Chris Hatcher is amusing on the subject; he keeps talking about "a piece of wood in the bottle." He's convinced his wines will age better under screwcap.

A bottle of Bouchard Pere & Fils LaVignee Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2002 for dinner with braised beef. Excellent combination.

Wednesday: October 27: Pedro Viera, an Ontario wine importer came to the house with the Australian winemaker from Esporao in Portugal's Alentejo region, the company's commercial director Manuel Lanca Cordeiro and the general manager of Quinta de Pancas in Estremadura. We tasted two reds from each company and a white from Esporao. They were all very well made wines, especially the Quinta de Pancas 2001 (100% Touriga Nacional) that appears to be heading for the Classics Catalogue. Portugal is making some fabulous table wines now. I'm thinking of Dirk van der Niepoort's red and white table wines (Redoma, Redoma Batuta, Charme, Quinta do Napoles) and Quinta do Vallado, Quinta de Cotto, Quinta do Crasto. Really great wines. That's the exciting part of the wine world when traditional regions like Portugal break out with new wines using international techniques but still maintaining a regional personality.

Packing to fly to Calgary early in the morning. I've been invited to be MC of the Fairmont Banff Springs 13th International Wine Festival this weekend. I hear it's snowing in Banff. Tonight dinner at the Rosedale Golf Club with the wines of Errazuriz. Eduardo Chadwick will be conduct the tasting. It will be good to see him again. The last time was in Chile at his family home in Santiago. He ripped up his father's polo field to plant a vineyard. He has the right sense of priorities.

Thursday, October 28: I had set the alarm for 7:05 am rather than 6:45, so Deborah and I had to rush to get out by 7:30, when the car to the airport had been ordered. Uneventful flight to Calgary. The movie, Spiderman 2. We had lunch in the Delta Hotel (a bottle of Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2003 – ripe and peachy) while we waited for fellow wine writers Tony Gismondi and his wife Sheila and Christopher Davies to arrive. The van from the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is picking us up. It's a boring drive until you reach the mountains and then it's breathtaking. Bright blue sky and snow-covered peaks.

Our room has a great view of the mountains and the river. Deer are grazing by the outdoor pool where guests are swimming. The temperature is minus 3 Celsius.

Meet with Mark McLaughlin, Assistant Food & Beverage Director, David Walker, the hotel's Wine Director and Celeste Tremblay, Food & Beverage Sales Manager, to discuss the program for the Festival of Wine & Food. David opens a bottle of Mumm de Cramant, one of the champagnes we'll be tasting at the Mumm seminar.

Dinner in the Banffshire Room, serenaded by a woman in a puffy dress playing the harp. Harp music ranks slightly above the bagpipes and the accordion in my book.

Chef Daniel Buss had prepared a seven-course tasting menu with appropriate wines. Tony and Sheila, Chris Walters from Vines magazine and Deborah and I tasted through the lot, beginning with another bottle of Mumm de Cramant, followed by Penfolds Yattarna 1999 (showing its age), Drouhin Monthelie 1999, Niebaum-Coppola Cask Cabernet 2000 and Jackson-Triggs Cabernet Franc Icewine 2002. And so to bed.

Friday, October 29: It's still dark when we wake up at 7 am. The Banff Springs offers a huge range of stuff for breakfast, including Japanese soup. I opt for an omelette. While Deborah has a hot stone massage and a manicure in the spa, I stay in the room and research the wines that we'll have for the series of tastings during the 13th Banff Springs Wine & Food Festival. Lunch in the private dining room of the Banffshire Club – an event for wine writers put on by Penfolds. Their chief winemaker, Peter Gago, who will present the Grange vertical tomorrow, leads us through some of the latest Penfolds vintages, 2004 Eden Valley Riesling Reserve (floral, grapefruit nose, yeasty, very crisp with a lime finish), the amazing 2000 Reserve Chardonnay Bin 01A (creamy caramel, toasty pineapple and orange flavours, great length; very Burgundian), followed by the 2001 vintage (crisper and more elegant than the 2000, leaner and more linear) and the very fine Yattarna Chardonnay 2002, not yet released. This last wine is also very Burgundian in style – undergrowth nose, beautifully integrated oak, citrus and apple bouquet with a fresh, tangerine and lemon flavour, great length. Mouth-watering. The 2002 Cellar Reserve Grenache arrived and we all sat up. Amazing what the appearance of a red wine will do. My old wine teacher in England used to say, "White wine is foreplay." The colour stained the glass – all jammy blackberry and black raspberry. Finally, we were treated to one of the best wines I've had for many years: 1962 Bin 60A. This wine (one-third Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, two-thirds Barossa Shiraz) was made by Max Schubert, who created Grange. It was never sold commercially but has become an underground cult wine. It was listed number 10 in Decanter magazine's "100 Wines To Try Before You Die." I guess I can close my eyes and lie down in a dark room now. The wine was a revelation – mature ruby in colour, it had a nose of tobacco, leather, dried red fruits, vanilla, plum, rhubarb and cedar. How can one wine produce all these organoleptic responses? I don't know, but it did. It tasted like a great mature claret and a fine red Burgundy at the same time. A stunning wine. Peter Gago says it was foot-trodden. Let's get back to foot treading then, like vintage port. And how about foot-treading Icewine as an extreme sport?

The first tasting for the 250 guests was Jackson-Triggs Icewines, led by Allan Jackson. Five vintages of Riesling Icewine (1997 to 2004, without a '98) from the Okanagan followed by an Ontario Vidal 2003 and a Cabernet Franc 2001. All the featured wineries had table-top tastings to accompany the buffet dinner. The food was terrific and the wine flowed as it should.

Saturday, October 30: The breakfast of Champions – Elisé François, who raises ducks in Quebec for foie gras, explained to the audience how ducks and geese are fed to fatten their livers. As migratory birds they gorge themselves to fuel up for the journey south. Apparently it doesn't take a lot of persuasion to get a duck to eat voraciously. Chef Daniel Buss and his assistant demonstrated how to prepare foie gras three ways, as pâté, mousse and seared. We all got to taste them accompanied by Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque champagne, Chateau d'Yquem 1995 and Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny port. Worth getting up at that hour for the Yquem alone.

At 10 am came the tasting everyone was waiting for – 10 vintages of Grange, Australia's icon wine. Peter Gago is an accomplished performer, a talent that is much needed these days as winemakers have to tour the world to meet their public. We tasted in this order: 1975, 1980, 1983, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999. They were all magnificent in their way. The '75 still has years to go. My favourites were 1996 (concentrated blackberry, vanilla and pencil lead nose with a very rich and juicy fruit extract tempered with mocha flavours; very fleshy but elegant) and the 1980, which was much lighter and showed more finesse than the others – a lovely floral note to a bouquet redolent of plums, dates and vanilla, beautifully balanced with a white pepper finish.

More wines with lunch, the surprise being Montes Sauvignon Blanc 2004 from Chile, very forward, petillant, with pure passion fruit flavours. After lunch a tasting of five vintages of Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001) and five of their Super Tuscan Siepi – a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Merlot (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001). The tasting was led by the proprietor, Francesco Mazzei. I have always liked the style of Fonterutoli Chiantis; they are unmistakably of their region. The standout wine was the 1999, which I preferred to the much-vaunted 1997 vintage. For Siepi the 1997 was a triumph (licorice and blueberry, sweet fruit, firmly structured and powerful but very graceful.

The final structured tasting of the day was Montes Alpha "M," a Super Chilean. Aurelio Montes took us through four vintages of this Bordeaux blend he first made in 1996. These are very concentrated, stylish wines that you would never mistake for Bordeaux. Flavours of black fruits and chocolate predominated. My top wine was the 2000 vintage closely followed by the 1999. The final wine was Montes Folly 2002, a Syrah grown on impossibly steep slopes in the Apalta Valley. The previous vintage of this wine I found more attractive but it is certainly the best Syrah I have tasted from Chile.

That evening we all attended the black tie gala dinner – six courses, eleven wines. Wisely, the hotel staff had coloured coded the glasses with dots so that the servers knew which glasses to pour (and refill) we could keep track of what we were consuming. The hotel had purchased the entire allotment of 42 bottles of the 2000 Neibaum-Coppola Cask Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which we had alongside Montes Folly 2002 with a selection of Canadian cheeses.

Sunday, October 31: Thank heavens the clocks went back last night, because there is an 8:30 am champagne tasting this morning presented by Dominique Demarville, the cellar master for Mumm and Perrier-Jouet. Dermarville is 35 but looks younger, a poster boy for the salutary effects of champagne. He had brought along three still wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the components of the blend and an assemblage of the three before its secondary fermentation.

The first of the champagnes was Mumm de Cramant, a Blanc de Blancs (the old lower-pressure Crémant before the term was taken away from Champagne and given to sparkling wines outside that region). A lovely, toasty, nutty wine with a honeyed apple, minerally after-taste. Then came the non-vintage Cordon Rouge, the Rosé and then four older vintages – 1998, 1996, 1995, 1979. The oldest was my favourite, caramel and toast on the nose, rich, mature, lemony, nutty flavour and still very fresh. We ended with two of the sweeter champagnes – Carte Classique and Joyesse Demi-Sec. Both with a predominate proportion of Pinot Meunier, not my favourite grape.

Dominique Demarville endeared himself to the audience by saying complimentary things about Calgary and then donning the white cowboy hat he had been presented with a couple of days earlier.

The final formal tasting of the Festival was Neibaum-Coppola's Rubicon. I had never had a vertical tasting of this Napa Valley classic and it literally blew me away. Pierre Noique, the western sales director for the company, conducted the tasting, since the company president, Erle Martin, was called away. Five vintages were offered: 2000, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995. Violets and sour cherry are the characteristic flavours of Rubicon, according to the winemaker, but I got sweet black cherry and spicy chocolate in most of them. My winner was the 1994 followed by the 1995.

At the final lunch (another 6 wines) the Banff Springs' chefs, the sommeliers and waitstaff marched out to receive their richly deserved applause. They had served some 92 different wines and used close to 20,000 glasses over the period of the festival. They whole event was seamless, and when you're not tasting and eating you can enjoy the mountains and the outdoor pool, swimming under the gaze of grazing deer. Next year, the hotel has already confirmed Taylor Fladgate and Drouhin for this festival at the end of October. I'm going on a diet and I'm going back.

 

 

 

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