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

Monday, March 21: Pinot is growing by leaps and bounds, which is her constant activity. She is a real chick magnet and loves people but seems to be developing a tendency to chase small Italian cars... Lunch at Signatures in the InterContinental Hotel with Alexandra Randall, who represents Piper Heidsieck Champagne. David Lawrason is also there and we have a small room to ourselves. Four champagnes to taste, beginning with the Brut (always my first choice for non-vintage).

  • Brut (55–60% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier; 30 months on the lees): lemony, minerally nose, medium-bodied, crisp and surprisingly fresh and vivid on the palate.
  • 1996 Vintage (50% Pinot noir, 50% Chardonnay): this is a fabulous champagne showing maturity and reminiscent of a fine Meursault – toasty, nutty nose with a hit of new leather; minerally, apple flavour, very elegant with great length.
  • Cuvée Rare (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir): I found this a little lean and short when I first tasted it but half an hour later it had opened up with lovely tangerine and honeyed flavours to complement the green apple nose. (Alexandra tells us that at Piper-Heidsieck they decant older champagnes to allow them to open up. I'd seen this done twenty years ago at Ferrari, the sparkling wine producer in Trentino, with their prestige cuvee.)
  • Rosé Sauvage Non-vintage (the same cepages as the Brut but with 1/3 of the Pinot Noir vinified as a red wine – consequently very deep in colour, more so than other Rosé champagnes on the market): spicy, red berry fruit on the nose, rich flavours of blood oranges, raspberry and cranberry; full-bodied, a real food wine.
  • Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec (the same as Cuvée Brut but with extra dosage to sweeten it): golden colour; creamy, marshmallow nose; beautifully balanced, sweet apple but with a lively spine of acidity to give it clean lines and good length. Alexandra tells us that we are the first people in Canada to try this wine. I bet she says that to all the boys. She also says that there is a trend to sweeter champagnes in this Demi-Sec style. We talked about this and posited the notion that new World winemaking with its emphasis on up-front fruit may be causing the sweetening of palates globally – especially for a generation of North Americans brought up on ketchup and Coca-Cola...

Ann Walby, the general manager of Black Prince Winery in Prince Edward County, came to dinner. Ann was my publisher when I was editing Wine Tidings magazine a few years back. We served tomato, bocconcini and prosciutto to start (with a Vinum Chenin Blanc 2002 from South-Africa – very rich honeyed quince flavours) and with the roast chicken a bottle of Domaine Rochevine Saint-Joseph 1998 (the lightest of the Northern Rhône appellations -smoky, iodine and blackberry with the weight of a Beaujolais cru). I had opened a bottle of Mondavi Carneros Merlot 1999 but unfortunately it was corked.

Tuesday, March 22: The annual German wine event at Roy Thomson Hall. Ron Fiorelli had organized a very interesting tasting to show how Rieslings can age. He had invited three producers to introduce the same wine from three outstanding vintages – 2003, 1993 and 1983. Here is the tasting sheet with my notes in italics below each wine.

Back to the Future - Tutor Tasting
Wines of Germany
Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Presenter: Günter Thies, Schloss Schönborn

2003 Riesling Kabinett
Erbacher Marcobrunn
Domänenweingut Schloss Schönborn
Very pale colour; minerally, lime nose with honey, peach and an engaging floral note; very ripe fruit with lovely balance and length. Delicious now but I wonder if this will last as long as the 1993s.

1993 Riesling Kabinett
Erbacher Marcobrunn
Domänenweingut Schloss Schönborn
Deep yellow colour; petrol, honey and citrus nose with a hint of smoke; rich red grapefruit and mineral flavours with a note of Botrytis; sweetish but great balance with fruity acidity giving it a long finish. More Spätlese in style than Kabinett.

1983 Riesling Kabinett
Erbacher Marcobrunn
Domänenweingut Schloss Schönborn
Deeply coloured; mature, leather and honey nose; quite dry, in fact drying out with a winter apple flavour and a lively spine of acidity that keeps it alive. Still, very enjoyable.

Presenter: Stefan Ress, Weingut Balthasar Ress

2003 Riesling Auslese
Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen
Weingut Balthasar Ress
Pale colour; minerally, green nut and citrus nose, high toned; amazingly sweet honey and peach flavours, concentrated, thick on the palate that moves from peach to a spicy, honeyed grapefruit flavour; hefty and soft; acid masked by the sweetness of the fruit.

1993 Riesling Auslese
Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen
Weingut Balthasar Ress
Pale straw colour; petrol, lime and minerals on the nose; dry, apple and grapefruit zest flavours; firm structure with good length.

1983 Riesling Spätlese
Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen
Weingut Balthasar Ress
Old gold colour; minerally, tea leaf and honey nose; very dry with lemony acidity; still very fresh and lively with great length.

Presenter: Anna Thoma, Weingut Markus Molitor

2003 Riesling Auslese
Zeltinger Sonnenuhr
Weingut Markus Molitor
Very pale lime colour; minerally with fermentation notes of banana; soft, almost creamy with marshmallow flavours; low acid with a touch of volatile acidity.

1993 Riesling Auslese
Wehlener Klosterberg
Weingut Markus Molitor
Very pale colour; minerally, petrol and dried apricot bouquet; beautifully balanced, light and elegant; both sweet and racy at the same time. A lovely wine.

1983 Riesling Auslese
Zeltinger Sonnenuhr
Weingut Markus Molitor
Very pale lime; spicy, minerally, funky note with herbs and dried peach; well balanced and elegant with fruity acidity and an apple puree finish.

Anna Thoma told the participants that in 2002 (which she called "the vintage of the century or the millennium") they got a world record sugar level in their Riesling from the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyard of 331 Oeschle degrees!

After the tasting we went upstairs for lunch. I sat at H.H.D Imports table where I tasted a delicious St. Laurent that has just been released Anselmann St. Laurent 2003 (CSPC # 590539, $13.95) – very fruity, smoky black cherry flavour, reminiscent of Teroldego; and a 1999 Ortega TBA Fleminger Bischofskreuz to be released in Dec 2005 at the bargain price of $35 a half bottle – a thick unctuous dessert wine with flavours of marmalade, honey, tropical fruits and toffee.

The 2003 vintage should be the saviour of German wines in Canada if there is any justice. The wines are wonderfully approachable and full of flavour. Wines at Kabinett level especially will be great bargains.

That evening I had dinner at Opus with Frank Romantini of Barrique Wines with Jeff Mausbach, export manager for Argentina's Bodega Catena Zapata in the Mendoza Valley. Catena grows their wines high up in the Andes in what Jeff referred to as a "high altitude desert oasis." Mendoza only gets 8 inches of rain a year and has to use run-off water from the Andes to irrigate. The winery makes three levels of wine – the Alamos label, Catena and Catena Alta. We tasted a Malbec from each label. Malbec, incidentally, was introduced into Argentina in 1852 and although there is some phylloxera there it is contained because of the sandy soil and the irrigation methods that flood many of the vineyards, drowning the insects. (Catena uses drip irrigation with water pumped from its reservoir.)

  • Catena Zapata Alamos Malbec 2004 (around $14) is dense purple with a nose of spicy black fruits, fruity and mouth-filling with soft tannins, medium to full-bodied, with a sappy note and firm tannic structure. A wine that over-delivers quality for the price.
  • Catena Malbec 2002: dense ruby-purple colour; a gamey-animal nose of black berries and violets; sweet intense fruit with lively acidity (coming to Vintages on July 9th at $19.95). Well worth its price.
  • Catena Alta 2002: dense purple colour; black cherry, vanilla and caraway seed nose; richly extracted, full-bodied and lively with a sweet fruitness at the core and an earthy note on the finish. This must be a Super-Mendoza!
  • The final wine was a real revelation to me, the best I've had out of Argentina and a price to prove it ($79.95) – Nicolas Catena Zapata 2001, a blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon and 48% Malbec. Dense purple black with a nose that reminded me of Chateau Margaux in a ripe year – cedar, spicy, sweet blackcurrant – but on the palate it was definitely New World with succulent sweet fruit and beautifully integrated oak, very elegant and seamless.

Wednesday, March 23: A major tasting of South African Wines today entitled "Taste the New South Africa – Alive with Possibility." The press was invited to a table-top tasting of selected wine at Jamie Kennedy's restaurant on Church Street. For some reason the kitchen sent around plated hors d'oeuvres with burning twigs of rosemary. The smoke got into the glasses and up our noses and smelled like a roomful of pot smokers. Tasted a very good Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2002, dark and brooding, dry and savoury with a herby, smoky note (the burning bush?), with an iodine note and tannic finish. Also very good was Rustenberg John X Merriman, a Bordeaux style blend that could have come from St. Emilion. I was impressed by the Jardin wines (that's Jordan in South Africa but they can't sell their wines in Canada under that name). Their chardonnay 2003 had a lovely spicy pineapple flavour, very rich and well made. And I liked their Merlot 2003 (dry, savoury, fruity black cherry, full-bodied). Delheim Vera Cruz Shiraz 2001, for sheer power, sweet blackberry and feral notes. But the wine of the tasting was Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004, with its green gooseberry and nettle flavours, a cross between a good Sancerre and a Marlborough Sauvignon, fresh and tangy with lively acidity. After this tasting we went to St. Lawrence Hall, where some 56 producers were showing their wines. I must confess I did not taste everything, but of those wines I did taste I really liked Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2003 (smoky, toasty, red berry fruit) and Dornier Donatus White 2003, a rich Conundrum-style blended wine.

Thursday, March 24: I had sent in my passport to have it renewed and got my neighbour, a social worker, to act as my guarantor and sign the back of my photo. The passport office sent it all back saying that my guarantor was not on the list of approved people – but, it seems, Pinot's vet is acceptable. So I got him to sign a new application form. Further complications – the Visa people asked me to call and informed me that someone had counterfeited my card and I must cut it up immediately. I asked if anything had been charged to it. They said not. I was about to ask how they knew the card had been counterfeited, then, but being a good Canadian I did as I was told and took the scissors to it. Now I have to alert the guy who sells me coffee beans and Culligan water that I have a new number. My new card won't be ready until Wednesday because of Easter. Boring... Didn't feel like cooking so Deborah and I went to Five Doors North on Yonge Street. I really enjoyed the meal. Deborah had salmon, I had tuna and we ordered a bottle of Geographica Colli Sensi Chianti 2003. It was delicious.

Good Friday, March 25: I shopped for the ingredients for cassoulet. I'm competing against seven others in Martin Malivoire's annual Cassoulet Off. Martin has provided each of us with a cassoule and a bag of white beans. We have to come up with the cassoulet. (I've never cooked a cassoulet before, but I'm sure it needs chocolate. Everything needs chocolate.)... Pinot has pruned my grapevine. I recall that St. Vincent (patron saint of vine dressers) had a donkey that munched on wines and those vines produced more grapes the next year. Hence the discovery of pruning. Everything in life is accidental and the Church has been responsible for all the major advancements and innovations in the production of beverage alcohol. I think there's a book there... Most of the day was taken up with arrangements for tomorrow's Ontario Wine Awards judging at Crush... For dinner, braised beef with a bottle of Errazuriz Don Maximiano Cabernet Sauvignon 1998. It's at its peak now.

Saturday, March 26: The first day of judging for the Ontario Wine Awards, our tenth anniversary year. The tasting is downstairs at Crush Wine Bar. Beautifully organized by Sadie and her "elves." The wine is being stored at The Fine Wine Reserve, about 50 yards away, and has to be transported in boxes to the site. The security there is fantastic – like getting in to Fort Knox. You need an electronic key to open the doors and you have to identify yourself with a fingerprint.

There are twelve judges:

  • Frank Baldock
  • Linda Bramble
  • Konrad Ejbich
  • Edward Finstein
  • Dan Kislenko
  • David Lawrason
  • Billy Munnelly
  • Barb Ritchie
  • Gordon Stimmell
  • Sheila Swerling Puritt
  • Dean Tudor
  • Rick Van Sickle

All experienced tasters of Ontario wines. They had to taste 60 wines each and then discuss their scoring to ensure that one wine had not been accorded a score because of its placing in a flight. There were, for example, 37 Cabernet Franc and it would be easy to overlook a lighter style. At the Dallas Morning News competition in January I had to taste 210 wines in one day. I was a basket case by the end of it and am sure I didn't do justice to the flights at the end of the day. That's why I set the limit at 60 wines per taster.




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