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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 24 (February 28, 2005)

Monday, February 20: A heavy snow day, and I have to drive up to a country home near Orangeville to assess the condition of wines in a flooded cellar for an insurance company. A burst pipe that resulted in 14 inches of water flooding the basement while the owners were away. The owner, I'm told, was more concerned about the fate of his wines than the structural damage to the house. Now there's a sense of priorities I can relate to. This evening a dinner with the Washington Wine Commission, whose representatives are in town for a series of promotional tastings. Our party: Director Steve Burns, Export Manager Colleen Redfield and their PR company reps from Vancouver, Chriss Coletta and Justin Schofield, with my colleagues Tony Gismondi and David Lawarson who will be conducting the seminars. We meet in the lounge at Luce on Mercer Street. The sommelier here is Dan Volway. He was the sommelier at Jump, where I had my wedding reception in 1997.

We start with a non-Washington wine for the dust of travel: Fiano di Avelino di San Georgio 2002, a lovely crisp, minerally, dry peachy wine. Colleen had brought along some bottles from small Washington producers. We start with Abeja Chardonnay 2003, a big mouth-filling caramel-flavoured wine with a cashew nut finish. Next: Syncline Viognier 2003, white pepper, floral, melon, unctuous and rich with good acidity. Then Syncline Syrah 2003, a gorgeously plump wine with mulberry and iodine flavours melded with vanilla oak. Next a wine I brought (since to my horror I found I had no Washington State wines in my cellar – must remedy that), Lord Neethling Pinotage 1999 from South Africa. It was like sucking on leather – but good leather. The stars of the evening for me were the two wines made by Bob Betz. Clos de Betz 2002, a Merlot-dominated Bordeaux blend with succulent blueberry flavours and well-integrated oak, an elegant wine; and Betz Père de Famille 2002, in which Cabernet Sauvignon is the preponderant variety. This wine is much tighter and still somewhat closed, but the taste of blueberry pie is so pervasive that in a couple of years this will be terrific. We also tasted Antinori's co-production with Chateau Ste. Michelle, Col Solare 1999, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot with some Syrah and Malbec, definitely in Old World style with a restrained elegance and charm, lovely spicy blackberry and savoury notes. David Lawrason had brought along a bottle of Cascade Cliffs Petite Sirah 1996, which was drying out with a lean, resiny, minty flavour. We ended with Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 from Walla Walla – dense purple, thick and firm on the palate with sweet blackcurrant fruit and chocolate flavours with a lively spine of acidity. A terrific wine.

Tuesday, February 22: Anther days working on the British Columbia wineries' entries for the atlas. Also inputting the data for the Ontario Wine Awards. The wineries always leave it to the last moment. Today I got the wine entries for Jackson-Triggs and Tawse. This evening is another Tuesday Tasting with Tony at grano. The theme is Chilean wines. Some really interesting wines to show.

The reception wine, Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc 2004, everyone loved. The tasting proper began with Miguel Torres Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc 2004, which was much more in Loire style, very fresh with grassy, gooseberry flavours. Gooseberry is one of those descriptors that very few Canadians relate to, since gooseberries are not that popular. It really is an English thing but perfectly captures the flavours of Sauvignon Blanc grown in a cool climate. Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2002 followed: a really robust, mouthfilling wine. Then the reds – Carmen Reserve Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Concha y Toro Trio Merlot 2003, Errazuriz Max Reserva 2003, Penalonen Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 (the favourite of the evening with its concentrated blackcurrant flavour) and ending with Montes Alpha Syrah 2002. Chile continues to make rich, fruit-forward wines at bargain prices. The Concha y Toro Merlot 2003 at $13.95 is a knock-out wine at the price. It's made by Ignacio Recabarren, probably the best winemaker in Chile.

Wednesday, February 23: Scott Wilson invited me to lunch at Prego to meet the winemaker from Gordon Brothers in Washington, David Harvey. I turned the invitation down, pleading pressures of work and looming deadlines on the book, but Scott said I had to eat so why not break off for an hour. Defeated by logic, I agreed. I didn't know that Myron Redford from Oregon's Amity Vineyards was also at the lunch and he had brought along three of his Pinot Noirs. Michael Carlevale joined us and he brought out of his cellar a Cave Spring Chenin Blanc 2002 to go with the deep-fried calamari and clam (the wine showed good varietal character – honeyed quince with lively acidity – but that browning apple on the finish suggested some oxidation). Then we had the three Amity Pinot Noirs – 2002, the 2002 Estate and the 1999 Estate. The '99 was all sweet black cherry with a minerally note. It looked so deep that it could have been the youngest wine on the table. Michael Carlevale disappeared and returned with a bottle of Myron's 1985 Winemaker's Reserve Pinot. The Amity '85 had real Burgundian character, very elegant, dry cherry flavours still solid and tannic with great balance and finesse. I remarked that it reminded me of Volnay. Myron said more like Chambolle-Musigny. So Michael disappeared again and returned with a bottle of Roumier Chambolle Musigny 1990 and a Dangerville Volnay Clos des Ducs 1995. Of course, we had to try them. I still maintained it tasted like Volnay but Myron stuck to Chambolle-Musigny. The Gordon Brothers Merlot 2001 is a full-bodied wine, sage leaf and blackberry on the nose with a beguiling lavender top note; well extracted fruit and forward oak. I preferred David Harvey's Syrah 2001, a rich, smoky, jammy blackberry wine with licorice and roasted fruit flavours and that particular medicinal note I find in good Syrah. Accompanying the wines we had duck proscuitto, pasta with black trumpet mushrooms and a beef tenderloin. The food at Prego is impressive.

I left the table at 4 pm. So much for a short lunch. Just enough time to get home and prepare for a Shiraz tasting I was leading at the Albany Club for members of the Australian Wine Society. The wines, all from the exceptional 1998 vintage, were:

  • Vasse Felix, Wilyabrup, Margaret River Region, Western Australia
  • Hugo, McLaren Vale, South Australia
  • Hamilton Centurion, Willunga, McLaren Vale, South Australia
  • Pikes Reserve, Seven Hill, Clare Valley, South Australia
  • St.Mary's, Coonawarra, South Australia
  • Mitchelton's "Thomas Mitchell," Nagambie, Victoria
  • Charles Melton, Tanunda, Barossa Valley, South Australia
  • Rosemount Hill of Gold, Mudgee Region, New South Wales

The Hamilton Centurion from 100-year-old vines was the group favourite, a really intense wine. I also liked the Pikes and the massive Rosemount Hill of Gold.

Thursday, February 24: Drove to Niagara with Deborah for a meeting of the advisory board to the Ontario Wine Awards. We discussed restructuring some of the categories. This took much of the day and left little time to work on the atlas, especially since we had been invited to dinner at our friends Ladka and Gerry Sweeney in the Annex, where we always get caught up in the one-way street system.

Friday, February 25: This morning is the memorial service for Deborah's mother, held in the chapel at her residence, St. Hilda's. I read a passage from Ecclesiastes, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven..." and Deborah gave a very moving eulogy about her mother. I was very proud of her. My son Guy and his girlfriend Tanya were there. Marie was very fond of Guy; they used to smoke on the balcony together. Tomorrow there is another service at the funeral home. Marie was cremated and we plan to scatter some of her ashes in Ireland when we go there in May.




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