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
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?
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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.