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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 9 (November 15, 2004)

Monday, November 8: I don't usually write about my weekends unless I'm working – which I was yesterday. An interesting concept: Adrienne Cohen of the Koffler Center for the Arts had approached me to do a wine tasting during a piano recital on a Sunday afternoon at the Windsor Arms Hotel. The pianist was Robert Silverman; we were at McGill together in the late '50s, he in engineering and I in arts. Robert is based in Vancouver and I hadn't seen him since I interviewed him in the London for CBC radio in the mid 1970s.

The event was a fundraiser for the Koffler Centre, with wines donated by Lorac – all kosher wines from Carmel, Israel's, oldest and largest winery. The idea was that Bob would choose music that would embody the style and character of a grape variety. Since wine is music in liquid form, I thought it would work very well. Here's the programme Bob came up with. I introduced the wine and then he performed each selection before an audience of some 60 people in the hotel bar. The piano, a Yamaha, looked as it had spent its life in a beer parlour. The keys were chipped and the hammers dented, but Bob made it sing notwithstanding.

We had hoped to get Chardonnay for the Mozart, but unfortunately it wasn't available. Knowing Mozart's drinking habits, I don't think he would have been bothered either way.

Spent most of the day writing about Ontario wineries for the Atlas, visiting all their websites. It's amazing how many of them have black or purple backgrounds, making the reverse type difficult to read. This evening I'm conducting a dinner tasting for an insurance company at Jamie Kennedy's restaurant. As the guests arrive (in an open-air London bus!) they are given a glass of Seaview Brut, the Australian sparkling wine. This, to my mind, is the best-value bubbly at the LCBO ($11.05). There are six wines that we taste before the meal and then have along with the food. The wines, listed below, showed very well. The guests loved the d'Arenberg. My favourite was the Château Roland La Garde – but then my license plate is CLARET.

St. Urbanshof Ockfener Bochstein Riesling 2002 (Mosel)
$16.95 (#945535)

Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (New Zealand)
$19.95 (#7332024)

Henry of Pelham Non-oaked Chardonnay 2003 (Ontario)
$12.10 (#291211)

Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2002 (Burgundy)
$19.95 (#727966)

Château Roland La Garde 2000 (Bordeaux)
$25.95 (#695429)

d'Arenberg D'Arry's Original Shiraz/Grenache 2001 (Australia)
$19.95 (#942904)

During the dinner, the ten tables competed against each other in a wine trivia quiz. The winning table got nine out of ten.

  1. What is the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux?
    1. Merlot
    2. Riesling
    3. Cabernet Sauvignon
    4. Thompson Seedless
  2. At what speed does a champagne cork leave a champagne bottle?
    1. 25 kph
    2. 50 kph
    3. 65 kph
    4. 100 kph
  3. Corton-Charlemagne is a:
    1. German Eiswein
    2. white Burgundy
    3. a corking machine
    4. a European law firm
  4. St. Amour is:
    1. a cocktail aphrodisiac
    2. the patron saint of wine growers and divorcees
    3. a village in Beaujolais
    4. the second label of Chateau Calon Segur
  5. What is an Ah-So?
    1. a bottle size between a 375 mL and a 750 mL
    2. your boss
    3. the lid of a champagne bucket
    4. a two-pronged corkscrew
  6. What two grapes is Ontario Icewine usually made from?
    1. Riesling or Vidal
    2. Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
    3. Seyval or Concord
    4. none of the above
  7. To "sabre" champagne means to:
    1. down the bottle in one
    2. cut off the neck with a sabre
    3. have your wedding wine spiked by a jilted rival
    4. leave without paying the bill
  8. Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos is:
    1. Hungarian dessert wine
    2. a Japanese motorcycle
    3. a high buttoned shoe
    4. a six-person grape stomping team
  9. Sekt is a term meaning:
    1. what the British will not do
    2. an acronym for "Stupid, everybody knows that!"
    3. a German sparkling wine made in the champagne method
    4. a claw-head hammer for mending barrels
  10. The expression "sur lie" on a bottle of Muscadet means:
    1. the wine was left on the lees for several months before bottling
    2. the wine has been cellared in bottle
    3. drink lying down
    4. not for every taste.


1a; 2c; 3b; 4c; 5d; 6a; 7b; 8a; 9c; 10a.

Tuesday, November 9: The South Africans have taken over Hart House, which seems to be location of the month for tastings. For the wine press, restaurateurs and LCBO people, there was a seminar on terroir given by Bruce Jack, proprietor of Flagstone Winery. His bio reads: "Before I could start my architectural studies, however, I was encouraged to do an arts degree in English Literature and political Science. For that extremely important extra income I worked in bottle stores, because as my Grandmother pointed out, I could buy whisky for the family at trade price. I also eventually completed my Master of Letters at St. Andrews University, Scotland. By then it was painfully obvious to me that architects don't make much money and the ones that do often seem pissed off with life." This augured well for the seminar, which was held in the college's Debates Room – a misnomer if ever there was one, since none of us could hear what Bruce Jack said and when we could we couldn't understand his accent.

Downstairs in the great hall, 53 wineries were showing their products, but the catalogue was so confusing because the wineries were not in alphabetical order and there were no page numbers to find them. The reps tried to be helpful by identifying their page by saying, "Turn to the middle of the book and we're four pages on from there."

There were some terrific wines, but I could only sample for half an hour, as I had to get home for another tasting. Standout wines of the few that I did get to taste were Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Graceland Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (a Wine of the Week on this site) and Warwick Three Cape Ladies 2001.

Wednesday, November 10: A lunchtime tasting at The Fifth – 24 wines from Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac. I always enjoy riding up that warehouse elevator furnished with a desk and pseudo-Persian rug. The wines were set out along the bar and we could pour ourselves – which was a blessing, given the numbers. The catalogue mercifully followed the sequence of wines, moving from the 2001 vintage (12 wines) to 1999 (12 wines). I guess the Bordelais have no need to trumpet the 2000 vintage, since it was hailed as the vintage of the century or the millennium or something. Certainly, the classification showed itself to be working, because the big names really did shine: Clos Fourtet 2001, Château Trottevieille 1999 and Faugères 1999 (three Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion), Gazin 1999 and L'Enclos 2001 (both Pomerol) were terrific. But the big surprises were two wines I had never tasted before: L'Envie 2001 from Montagne Saint-Emilion and the plush Château Perron La Fleur 2001 (Lalande de Pomerol). I started with the older wines because I didn't want to get a tannin buildup from the 2001s before tasting the softer 1999s. Merlot is such a pleasure to drink when it's ripe.

Headed to King and Spadina for a tour of the new Fine Wine Reserve Wine Storage facility. Marc Russell has done a great job to create a secure and climate-controlled space for collectors to store their wines under ideal conditions. The anteroom to the facility acts as a pressure chamber to modify the temperature before you enter the cellar proper. The computer area that controls the temperature and humidity looks like a NASA operation. Their website is I would use it but my wine cellar turns over rather rapidly.

Thursday, November 11: An early breakfast at Epic in the Royal York with Don House, publisher of Wine Access magazine. Don lives in Calgary, but he spends a lot of time in Toronto checking out the wine scene. At 1 pm there's a Brunello di Montalcino tasting at the Carlu – 38 producers showing their 2002 Rosso di Montalcino, 2000 Brunellos and 1999 Riservas. 2000 is a forward vintage, the 1999s a lot more concentrated. My top wines were Castiglion del Bosco Campo del Drago 1999 and their Rosso 2002, Fuligni 1999 Riserva, Il Poggione Brunello 2000, San Giuseppe Riserva 1999, Talenti Vigna del Paretaio Riserva 1999, Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello Vigna Manichiara 2000, La Togata Brunello 1999 and La Togata dei Togati 1999 (very New World style).

That evening I conducted a tasting of venerable Giacomo Borgogno Barolos at the Granite Club for a group of eight. Borgogno is a resolutely old-style Barolo producer whose wines can last fifty years and longer. Before the meal we drank a glass of Codorniu Clasico Brut, a really good sparkler for the price ($11.10). With a fricassee of frogs legs we had the 1982 and the 1974; with filets of Rouget in a Bordelaise sauce, 1964; provimi veal tenderloin and smoked sweetbreads with 1961; and with a cheese course, 1952. This was the birth year of one of the party, which is always an occasion. My preferred wine was the 1961. Seeing all the bottles together, you realize the Borgogno label has not changed at all in over 50 years.

Friday, November 12: Another Vintages release tasting, ninety wines, including ports. Mercifully, Karen Rossi is there to share the burden of tasting them all. Home for a late lunch and a sleep before heading for a private dinner party prepared by Il Fornello chefs. The host had been the successful bidder at a silent auction last year for All Aboard, a charity that helps street kids train in wood working or the restaurant trade. My role is to lead the group of twelve through a pre-dinner wine tasting and comment on the wines I had selected the meal.

The wines for the pre-dinner tasting were:

  • Niagara College Riesling 2003 (which the chef used for cooking, as it seemed to be still fermenting)
  • Amity Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc 2002 (rich and peachy)
  • Tohu Sauvignon Blanc 2002 (quintessential New Zealand Sauvignon – richly extracted pasisonfruit and gooseberry flavours)
  • Jackson-Triggs Unity Chardonnay 2003 (a terrific blend of fruit from Ontario and BC – very Burgundian in style with an apple and toast flavour, finishing with a nutty flavour prolonged by citrus acidity).

With the dinner:

  • Nepenthe Semillon 2001 (with Foie Gras and caramelized pear)
  • Malivoire Gewürztraminer Moira Vineyard 2002 (butternut squash ravioli with goat's cheese and mixed spices)
  • Castello di Fonterutoli 2001 (braised veal shank with polenta gnocchi)
  • Birchwood Vidal Icewine 2002 (sticky toffee pudding)

Saturday, November 13: Drove to St. Catharines with Deborah to participate in a fundraiser for the Canadian Wine Library at Brock University. The theme: "In What Ways Do Ontario's Wines Age?" A suitably non-committal title. Peter Gamble moderated the panel of CWL directors, consisting of Ann Sperling, winemaker at Malivoire; David Lawrason, editor of Wine Access; Claudius Fehr, head buyer at Vintages; and me. Ann led the 50 participants through four older Ontario Rieslings produced by Cave Spring – 1994, 1995, 1999 and 2000. (I liked the light and lively 2000 – very Mosel). David tackled Henry of Pelham Barrel-Fermented Chardonnays – 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2000. (The 1999 had a lovely tangerine and toast flavour following an initial apple and pineapple bouquet.) Cladius dealt with three vintages of Lakeview Cellars Meritage – 1995, 1998 and 1999. (The 1999 was the most elegant and stylish in Bordeaux style).

I had the easy job of commenting on two Konzelmann Icewines from the 1999 vintage – a Riesling and a Vidal. The Riesling was amazing – wonderful balance of residual sugar and acidity yet still showing varietal character. The Vidal was broader and fleshier with lots of sweet fatness. Ninety per cent of the room preferred the Riesling.

Drove back to St. Catharines with Deborah and wine writer-educator Linda Bramble for a glass of cava at Linda's house before heading off to the home of Laura McCain Jensen and Peter Jensen, the proprietors of Creekside Estate Winery. Their house is still under construction, but the cellar (the most important room in the house) is finished. Rather than racks, Laura had light wrought iron braces fixed to the wall, so the wines lay three bottles deep, sideways with the label showing, almost as if they are floating against a black background. The room is as large as a den, big enough for two cabaret tables and chairs and a small crowd.

We all congregated at Epicurean in the main drag of Niagara-on-the-Lake for a winemaker's dinner. The new president of Creekside, Barry Katzman (formerly with Stoney Ridge), introduced the evening and winemaker Rob Power spoke to his wines. The wine of the evening for my palate was his 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (a steal at $14.95 with its passion fruit, grapefruit, lime and green bean flavours).




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