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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 30 (April 11, 2005)

Monday, April 4: The morning spent on Ontario Wine Award business. In the afternoon I went to St. Lawrence Hall for Churchill Cellars' portfolio tasting of the wines the import. Having recently acquired the Constellation Brand wines, they have burgeoned into a large agency very quickly. They've now got Mondavi, as well as Quintessa, Simi, d'Arenberg, Mount Veeder, Ravenswood, as well as Hardy's and Pol Roger – and one of my favourite German producers, Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler... Came home to finish my cassoulet for tonight's competition organized by Martin Malivoire at Gamelle restaurant. Martin had provided the beans and had a potter make identical cassoules. I thought I'd improve on Elizabeth David's recipe by adding a puree of white beans with stock to the finished dish before the final baking. Wrong. When it was ready for judging it had turned to a colourful porridge. There were seven entries, including Gamelle's chef Jean-Pierre and Martin himself. Food critic Jacob Richler, Sheila Swerling-Puritt, Konrad Ejbich and Steven Temkin, and Steven Elphick were the other contestants. There were four judges, led by the inimitable Jacques Marie, master chef and wine educator, who regaled the 25 people there with a rant against healthy eating. I made up a poem entitled "King of the Cassoule."

If you want to make a cassoulet
Take two ferrets and a pot of clay
Soak your beans in Chardonnay
(Moira Vineyard to be exacting)
Then drink the liquid
And crush the garlic
Add marshmallows and marzipan
Don't forget anchovies and strawberry jam
Now take a duck that's finished quacking
And some sausage should not be lacking
Add a lamb that's could be racking
Now cook the hell out of it – and pray.

The tasting was blind, and when the dust settled, Konrad and Steven's was judged best (the chef's cassoulet was voted No. 1 by everyone, but he was disqualified because he's a chef and his came out of the oven hot.) To wash down the seven cassoulets, Martin provide Funk Rosé sparkling wine, Flat Rock Pinot Noir 2003, Malivoire Lady Bug Rosé 2003 and magnums of Malivoire Old Vine Foch 2003.

Tuesday, April 5: Napa wineries come to town once every two years, and today's the day. A lunch at Oro for the wine press and sommeliers and celebrity enthusiasts like Steven Page of The Barenaked Ladies and Seamus O'Reagan, host of CTV's morning show. There was a tasting of some really high-end wines before lunch – Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow and Volcanic Hill from 1997, Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, and Hendry Block 2B Zinfandel, among others. Guess what we had for lunch – cassoulet. Afterwards we all walked over to The Carlu for the major tasting. What impressed me was the quality of the wines that the Napa producers had brought along to show the Toronto market. Elan Vineyards does a very good 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Atlas Peak and I was impressed by Hendry's Block 8 Cabernet Sauvignon 2000. Other favourites: La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon Anniversary 2001, Saint Supery Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and Cuvaison Merlot 2001. The Shramsberg sparkling wines are a delight, especially the 1998 J. Schram... Tilapia for dinner. I had to try the 2003 vintages of Gallo's Turning Leaf Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Well made wines and well priced ($11.95 and $10.95 respectively.) Amazing what you can do with economies of scale. The Sauvignon went very well with the fish.

Wednesday, April 6: Finished off my monthly piece for Post City magazines – on Zinfandel and a coda on recommended wines for summer drinking. Phone around the wineries to order wine for the Ontario Wine Awards gala on April 29th at Queens Landing, Niagara-on-the-Lake. The gold medal wines are served with five courses after a sparkling wine reception. Dinner with Arlene Willis to discuss Grapes for Humanity business. We're meeting at Didier's. Looking forward to the meal as I've not dined there before. Didier got rather slaughtered by the food press when he opened but he's a great chef, one of the best in Toronto. Arlene loves champagne (her license plate - CHAMPANE) so she ordered a bottle of Perrier-Jouet while we discussed foundation business. With dinner a bottle of Les Brulières de Beychevelle 2000, a wine that comes from a vineyard in Cussac outside the St. Julien appellation and, according to David Peppercorn's book on Bordeaux, "is sold separately from the Grand Cru (Château Beychevelle and the second wine)." I had oeufs en cocotte (with foie gras) and venison. A great meal.

Thursday, April 7: A mercifully quiet day at home, divided between walking Pinot (my pockets are filled with Kibbles and plastic bags, it seems.) Last minute stuff, setting up the Icewine tasting at The Tasting Rooms for Sunday. Was meant to record some voice-over items on Ontario wine for Maurice Fisher and some TV footage, but the weather was lousy, so it was postponed. Dinner at home – a bottle of Jacob's Creek Shiraz Cabernet 2002, good value for $11.95.

Friday, April 8: Another Vintages tasting day. There were 93 wines put out for tasting. Some really good white Burgundies among them. Came home to prepare my notes a seminar on "Ontario's Gold Medal Wines" at the Wine & Cheese Show. The RIDE program sets up on Airport Road just as people pull out of the International Centre parking lot. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Saturday, April 9: A full day the Wine & Cheese Show. I had to wear a suit, as I'm going on a charity event in Thornhill later tonight. I had two seminars today, New World Reds and Tasting Like A Pro. I enjoy these seminars. The room is away from the hurly-burly of the show and those who attend really want to listen – or maybe just to sit down and drink wine. Sold a lot of books today, the wine murder mysteries. They set up a table for me at The Wine Establishment booth, which had a lot of traffic. It was opposite a booth selling caviar. Traded Blood Is Thicker Than Beaujolais for a caviar sandwich... At the Churchill Cellars they told me that some clown had poured unwanted wine from his glass into a crystal decanter that had just been filled with a Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The incredulous staffer said to him, "Did you just pour your wine into that decanter?"

"Yes. So what's the big deal?"

"That's not a spittoon. I've just decanted that wine."

"Well, you shouldn't leave it on the counter," he replied, and walked off.

Tonight 680 News is having a function for radio station winners in the dream house in Thornhill that is first prize in the St. Margaret's hospital lottery. Colio has supplied the wines – Lily sparkling wine, Pinot Grigio 2003, CEV Cabernet Franc Reserve 2002, and a Late Harvest Vidal. The house is magnificent – 7,700 square feet of luxuriously appointed rooms, beautifully decorated and furnished. There are two small wine fridges in the pantry. The basement is currently unfinished but it's as big as a soccer field and room enough for a cellar. The cost of the house is estimated at $2.3 million. My role tonight as 680 News' "in-house wine expert" is to answer questions about wine for the winning contestants.

Sunday, April 10: This morning, sommeliers are judging the 60 Icewines that are entered in the Ontario Wine Awards at The Tasting Rooms in First Canadian Place. Tasting Icewine is hard – all that residual sugar dulls the palate quickly. I found that slices of fresh watermelon refresh you and cleanse the palate of sweetness. At 2 pm Deborah picked me up and drove me to the international Centre. I have two back-to-back seminars today – Old World Reds and another session on Ontario's Gold Medal Wines. It was a long hard day. Dinner – pasta with a bottle of Patriarche Pinot Noir 2001 from the Pays d'Oc. A great bargain at $9.95 – real variety character.




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