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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 31 (April 18, 2005)

Monday, April 11: Spent another day in front of the computer working on the history of the Ontario wine industry. It really is amazing how Ontario wines have improved in the last fifteen years. My friend Pooch from California called to say he was in town. The only night Deborah and I could see him was tonight so we invited him over for dinner. Pooch likes his wines and I know we're going to go through a few bottles. We started with Tohu Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, very ripe and concentrated flavours of passion fruit and cut sweet grass. Then a bottle of the Boukenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge 2003 (I bought a case of this) and a bottle of Tandem Sangiovese 2002 made by Greg La Follett and Greg Bjornstad (hence Tandem) in Sonoma – richly extracted cherry flavours with lovely balance. After that the dog took me out for a walk.

Tuesday, April 12: This morning a tasting of Beringer wines with Ed Sbraiga at the offices of his importer, Philippe Dandurand. Ed has been the winemaker at Beringer for 21 years and has worked there altogether for 29 years. In an era when winemakers change wineries like chefs change restaurants, he has been remarkably loyal. His wines are big like the man himself. We tasted the Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2001 – deeply coloured, buttery-caramel, toast and macadamia nut flavours with good acidity. Then the Private Reserve chardonnay 2000 – smoky, buttery, nutty, not as broad as the Napa Valley Chard but better balanced with sweet pear and oak flavours. Next Beringer Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir 2000 (I always want to put an e in Stanly but there isn't one): vanilla, leather, black raspberry and black cherry flavours, full-bodied and hefty on the palate. A little more delicacy would help. This was followed by the Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 – sweet black licorice, pencil lead, vanilla and blackcurrant flavours, savoury with soft tannins. Next, the Napa Valley Merlot 2000 (with 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Malbec): dense purple colour with cedar, pencil lead and spicy black cherry nose; full-bodied, spicy fruit, firm structure with a licorice finish. Then came three stunning wines: Howell Mountain Bancroft ranch Merlot 1996, holding its dense purple colour to the rim; sappy, cedar and sweet black cherries with a minerally-spicy note – a gorgeous wine and still young. Finally, two Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons – the incredibly concentrated 1997 and the lighter, more feminine 1998. These wines are priced at $149.95 in our market, which means they won't grace my cellar, but they're lovely wines. We ended with the Beringer Nightingale 2001, a Sauternes-style wine made with 2/3 Semillon and 1/3 Sauvignon Blanc. The Botrytis is artificially induced using a recioto technique of first drying the grapes and them spraying them with Botrytis spores. The wine has a nutty, toasty, dried peach and honey flavour with a creamy toffee mid palate that finishes with barley sugar and marmalade flavours. At $39.95 a half bottle this is a very useful dessert wine.

As a surprise, Ed brought with him two of the wines he's made under his own label in Sonoma: Sbraiga Family Vineyard Home Ranch Chardonnay 2003. I really preferred this wine to the big, blockbuster style of Chardonnay he makes in Napa. This wine was more Burgundian, more elegant, peach and pear flavours with lively acidity. Then the Rancho del Oso Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, which was good but not up to the Private Reserve standard.

Ed talked about the amount of time he spends in the vineyard. He says there's a joke among the growers: "What's the worst pest in the vineyard? The winemaker."

That evening I introduced Ed at a winemaker's dinner at the Granite Club. We had several of the same wines, with the addition of the Alluvium Red 1998, which is tasting a bit creaky now. With a chilled apricot soufflé we had the 2002 vintage of Nightingale. Ed says he prefers this to the 2001. I don't. The Granite Club has hired my wine writer colleague Alain Laliberté as their sommelier. Apart from his great credentials for the job (he studied oenology in Bordeaux, teaches wine at Humber College and George Brown and has served wine in some of the best restaurants in Montreal), he has a collection of 55,000 wine labels.

Wednesday, April 13: This is my morning for recording six items for my 680 News spot. Worked on the history of Ontario wine. The ironic thing is that it was Prohibition that really turned Canadians on to wine because the production of all other forms of beverage alcohol were forbidden (the grape growers had a very strong lobby). During 1920–21, Canada consumed 221,985 gallons of domestic wine. A decade later the figure was 2,208,807 gallons – for Ontario alone... At 6 pm I was invited to a tasting of Israeli wines at the Forest Hill branch of HSBC – the first time I've ever had a wine glass in my hand in a bank. Lorac Wines represents Carmel and Handcrafted Wines of Israel. I wasn't crazy about the whites, but there are some excellent reds – Grand Castel, a Bordeaux-style blend, Hamasrek Cabernet Sauvignon (which is kosher for Passover), Yatir Cabernet Merlot. These tend to be pricey, ranging from $40 to $60 a bottle. A good value kosher wine is Carmel Vineyards Selected Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, like a light claret (at an affordable $11.40 a bottle).

Thursday, April 14: This morning I have my annual check-up. My doctor loves wine (we were on a wine cruise up the Rhone River a few years ago) so he doesn't wag a finger at me when I tell him how much I drink a week... In the afternoon I dropped by the Small Winemakers Collection tasting, an importing agency that represents some 78 small wineries, mainly in Italy, Auatralia, New Zealand, Burgundy and California. The featured wines were those of Morgan in Monterey, but they showed other wines as well. I was struck the Luigi Righetti "Campolieti" 2002, a ripasso Valpolicella (medium-bodied, high-toned, sweet oaky, cherry flavours, a consignment wine at $16.80), and Domaine du Roc Minervois 2002 from the Languedoc, another consignment wine at $20 (smoky blackberry and dark chocolate flavours with a medicinal note – 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache). I've always liked the Morgan Pinot Noir, but the wines that really attracted me were Morgan Rosella's Chardonnay 2003 (orange and tangerine flavours that open up to nutty, minerally notes, $48 a bottle private order) and Morgan Tierra Mar Syrah 2002 (a dark, brooding wine with rich peppery blackberry flavours, very northern Rhône – $52 private order). Tonight my son Guy is coming to dinner. Guy likes steak, which is what we'll have, barbequed. We opened a bottle of Hillebrand Trius Cabernet Franc 2002 and compared it with a bottle of Trius Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. I preferred the Cab Franc. It's ready for drinking.

Friday, April 15: Another day in front of the computer, competing the history of Ontario wine and beginning on the intro to Pelee Island. Thank God for the Internet. It makes research so much easier... Tonight Deborah and I are going to see Ain't Misbehavin' at the St. Lawrence Centre, which means an early dinner (tilapia with a bottle of Jacob's Creek Semillon Chardonnay 2004). Pinot had her first bath today. Deborah took her to "the spa" – Pets International. They called fifteen minutes later and said the dog would not stop barking. Would we pick her up? That's quite something – to get kicked out of Hundengarten on your first day.




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