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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 8 (November 8, 2004)

Monday, November 1: Arrived home after midnight last night. It was hard getting up at 6:45 am this morning to work out. After all the wine and food at the Banff Springs Wine & Food Festival, I have to do something. This is a tough week for wine writers. There are so many events happening in Toronto that claim your attention. I had to miss the big Italian event at the Carlu because I had too many emails and deadlines to deal with. I did, however, make it to Jim Savone's dinner at Grano for two of the Italian wineries he represents: Poliziano in Tuscany and Ercole Velenosi in Marche. The best of the seven wines were Poliziano's single vineyard Vino Mobile di Montepulciano 1995 Vigna Asinone (mature, sweet rhubarb and cherry nose, mellow palate of dried cherries, well structured with soft tannins) and the Velenosi Ludi 2002, a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Montepulciano blend with a rich black cherry, chocolate and licorice flavour. Angiolina Piotti Velenosi, the striking owner of the winery, called it a "Super Marche" wine. I thought she said "supermarket" wine. Then I saw the price in the Classics Catalogue – $45. I guess it's not a supermarket wine. It's a lovely wine.

Tuesday, November 2: Christian Seely, the managing director of AXA Millesimes, the French insurance company that owns a slew of Bordeaux chateaux, Quinta do Noval and a Hungarian Tokaji house, is in town for tomorrow night's Grapes for Humanity dinner. I had met Christian in the Douro when he took over a manager of Quinta do Noval in 1993. His importer, Steven Campbell, held a lunch for wine writers at Harbour 60 to taste some of the wines the insurance company owns before a more formal vertical tasting downstairs of ten vintages of Pichon-Longueville Baron for the trade and collectors. The steak at Harbour 60 is the best in the city and my New York strip worked well with La Tour Pibran 199 and the 2001 Pichon Baron, which is remarkably elegant (spicy, coffee bean, blackcurrant and pomegranate with a floral top note). The 1989 Pichon Baron was also delicious with its tarry blackcurrant, licorice, savoury flavour. For me the 2001, though lighter and more elegant than the either the 2000 and 2002, was the star of the tasting.

I had just enough time between the end of this tasting and the start of Maxxium's annual President's Tasting to answer emails. The President's Tasting, held traditionally at MacLean House on the Sunnybrook grounds, is one event no-one in the trade wants to miss. Maxxium invites restaurateurs, sommeliers, LCBO folk and us wine hacks to sample all their products: 110 in all, champagnes, wines, ports, spirits, set out in the various rooms with food stations along the way. In years past they used to pour Krug, but everyone made a beeline for the patio to drink it. So now we have to rough it with 1995 Vintage Charles Heidsieck and 1996 Charles Heidsieck Rosé. It's impossible to try everything, mainly because of the crush of bodies, but I had some tender moments with Ornellaia 2001, Chateau de la Louviere White 2003 and Louis Latour Corton Grancey 2002. Within a less exalted price range is Cathedral Cellars Shiraz 2000, a big smoky, tarry blackberry-flavoured wine that's coming to Vintages next April ($16.95). Finished the evening in Library with a 25 Year Old from my favourite single malt producer, Highland Park. What an amazing whisky this is. Out of my league, though, at $350 a bottle. A toast to Maxxium for their generosity.

My wine writing colleague Margaret Swaine, who is also my near-neighbour, had to drop into a travel event at the Capitol Theatre, which is within walking distance from both our homes, so I went with her. DBA, the PR company representing South Africa, held a party to launch the rebranding of South African tourism. I don't know exactly what that means and we arrived too late to find out. Travel writers don't seem to enjoy life as much as wine writers. They all had that hunted look. Maybe it's all that airport security.

Wednesday, November 3: An early meeting at the Sutton Place with the pianist Robert Silverman, his agent Richard Paul and Adrienne Cohen of the Koffler Centre for the Arts. Bob, a dedicated wine guy who lives in Vancouver, was at McGill with me in the late 1950s. He had suggested that we do a music and wine recital together. The idea is that he chooses repertoire to match the character of the wines and I do a tasting for the audience (at the Windsor Arms Hotel). The wines donated by Carol Slatt of Lorac Wines for this for Koffler Centre of the Arts fund-raiser are all kosher – from Carmel Wines in Israel. That happens this Sunday afternoon, so more about this next week.

The Grapes for Humanity dinner, featuring AXA wines, was held at the Park Hyatt at 6:30 pm. As a co-founder, I was the MC for the evening. The proceeds from the event go to the Lavalla Orphanage and School in Takmao, Cambodia. AXA had kindly donated the wines through the French Consulate and Christian Seeley introduced them with each course. God bless the French. I can't imagine Canada Life buying wineries like Inniskillin and Sumac Ridge. Jay Manadrino, wearing a flashing bow tie, auctioned off a painting of a Saint Emilion vineyard by Philip Craig who designed our logo and various trips and large format bottles. He's very good and managed to get Sam Sarick, a Grapes for Humanity director, to hold two dinners with great wines at his house instead of the advertised one.

Here's the menu for the evening with the accompanying wines:


Grilled Shrimp and Seared Scallop Diced Cucumber and Daikon Salad Lemon Ginger Dressing Baby Pea Shoots
2002 "S" De Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc


Foie Gras
1997 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes
(This dish was prepared by guest chef Didier Leroy, who is opening his new restaurant Didier's in the old Rhodes location at Yonge & St. Clair later this month)

Roast Angus Beef Tenderloin
Porcini Mushroom Sauce Gorgonzola Gnocchi Sauteed Swiss Chard
1996 Chateau Petit Village, Pomerol
1995 Chateau Pibran, Pauillac

Selection of Cheeses from France
Glazed with Crattin de Champal
1996 Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron, Pauillac


Warm Chocolate Molten lava Cake with Caramelized Hazelnut Ice Cream
1999 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos, Hungary

During the dinner we screened a seven-minute video showing the Cambodian kids in the Lavalla school. Most of them had unimaginable physical disabilities and yet they played soccer with gusto and embraced life with a smile. Their courage and humour is an inspiration to us all.

At the silent auction I managed to get a bottle of 1929 Doudet Naudin Clos Vougeot. I won't commit to print what I paid for it in case my wife reads this. But it was all in a good cause. The co-founder of Grapes for Humanity, Arlene Willis, as usual did a superb job in planning and organizing this event. We raised some $120,000.

Thursday, November 4: Lunch at Pangea to discuss a project that involves an airline reward program and wine. More of this when it comes to fruition. That afternoon the Australian Trade Commission held a preview presentation of Australian food, wines, homewares, pet products, etc. from 40 Aussie companies who are trying to get their products into our market. I didn't know that Australia produces olive oil – and very good it is too. There were eleven wineries showing product, mostly entry-level wines featuring a menagerie of animals on their labels. Channybearup Wines (great name) in Western Perth showed an interesting Pinot Noir 2003 that had good varietal character, and I liked the Donnelly River products from Joondalup (another great name) in Western Australia – their Karri Shiraz Cabernet 2003 and Pemberton Shiraz 2001 are distinguished wines. I have always thought that Western Australia produces many of that country's best wines.

In the evening I conducted a dinner tasting for a stockbroker and his clients at Canoe. An all-Ontario wine menu. The chef prepared a squash soup with cinnamon crème fraiche that was a stunning match for Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay 2002.

Friday, November 5: A day of writing, a visit to the dentist to mend a broken tooth and picking up some Pont l'Evêque and Livarot from a guy who orders it from France over the internet ( Since Deborah had the car – she's working for an event planning company who are arranging a convention for 17,000 IBM employees in Las Vegas – I decided to cycle to the dentist and pick up the raw milk cheeses on the way. The Livarot was so high I could smell it all the way home. Maybe that's why car drivers were giving me such a wide berth. The cheese comes with a warning: quote – pregnant women and immuno-deficient persons should consult their doctor before eating raw milk cheeses. Food is becoming an extreme sport. I shall try the Livarot with some white Burgundy tonight.




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