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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 32 (April 25, 2005)

Monday, April 18: The 25th annual California Wine Fair happens today. It begins with a sparkling wine reception at the Royal York with trade, wine press and LCBO personnel mingling before lunch. Mumm DVX went down very well. This event is the harbinger of spring and the sun never fails to shine. I am seated sat the importer Torion Trading's table. Tom Gruenig represents Cline and Calera, among others, and he had wines from these two houses on the table. An outstanding 2000 vintage of Calera Pinot Noir – very Burgundian – and the great value Cline Red Truck – a Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Merlot Blend that sells for $14.95. Tom tells me there is a Red Truck White. Why would they do that? It's like the Blue Nun Red. In main hall there are 400 wines to taste. I concentrate on the new vintages of the general list with the occasional tangential sortie into Consignment warehouse wines. Very impressed by the Michael-David Vineyards in Lodi with their whimsically named 7 Deadly Zins, 6th Sense Syrah (the brother's father apparently is highly intuitive and can find anything that's lost), Earthquake Syrah and Incognito Red (a blend of seven varietals including Tannat). I didn't know there was any Tannat planted in California. Sonoma Creek Pinot Noir 2000, at the great price of $19.95, was delicious for a lacklustre vintage. California wines are becoming more affordable thanks to our strengthening dollar and the realisation that they have to compete with the Aussies, Chileans and Argentinians.

Tuesday, April 19: The weather has suddenly turned hot – 27 degrees. Trying to clear my desk of stuff before I leave for London on Saturday. My seminar on Wines for Spring Romance is not selling very well and Steve Thurlow has asked me to promote it on my website. He mentioned that the whimsically titled seminars are all shy on sales. Obviously consumers want hard wine information. Tonight is my Tuesday night at grano – Australian wines. Here are the wines to be tasted.

  • Reception wine: Seaview Brut
  • Wolf Blass Riesling 2004 (Clare Valley)
  • Parri Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (Fleurieu)
  • St Hallett Blackwell Semillon 2001 (Barossa)
  • Hamelin Bay Shiraz 2000 (Margaret River)
  • Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot 2002 (Limestone Coast)
  • Leasingham Magnus Shiraz Cabernet 2000 (Clare Valley)

Everyone loved the Leasingham Shiraz Cabernet, in typically bold style. Lloyd Evans, co-owner of The Case for Wine, brought over a bottle of Heath 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz 2003 from the Barossa. Those who stayed on for dinner got to taste it. The grapes come from a vineyard that used to supply Grange. Alan Heath phoned me on Thursday to see how I liked it. (Fabulous! But it costs $69.) He tells me that the vines only produce about three bunches each.

Wednesday, April 20: At lunchtime there is a tasting of Austrian wines at the drake Hotel, a new very funky place way west on Queen Street. Thirty-one wineries were pouring and many of the principals were in the two rooms. Unfortunately, we don't get to see much Austrian wine in this market. I like Gruner Veltliner and the Stadt Krems Cremisia GV 2004 in Vintages is a real bargain at $12.95. Upmarket from that the Kurt Angerer Eichenstaude Gruner Veltliner 2003 that B&W Wines brings in on consignment is perhaps the quintessential style – rich, spicy with a sweet peach and green pepper flavour. I didn't stay long but was impressed by the Geifing Chardonnay "Contessa" 2002 (spicy, anise, butterscotch and toast) and Leo Hillinger Small Hill White – a kind of European version of Caymus Conundrum. Also enjoyed Undhof Salomon's Gelber Traminer Reserve 2003.

That evening my fishing buddy Sam had asked me if I would lead what he called a "Taste of Terroir" event at his house. The idea is to see if wines made by a producer in a given vintage from different vineyards really do reflect their soil or will all taste similar. All the wines came from his extensive cellar. He had invited a group of his wine friends for the tasting and dinner to follow, prepared by Jamie Kennedy. There were 18 of us at table.

We got into the mood with some Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame before sitting down to a range of Kistler Chardonnays from 2002:

  • Kistler Vineyard (Sonoma Valey)
  • Durell Vineyard (Sonoma Valley)
  • McCrea Vineyard (Sonoma Mountain)
  • Vine Hill Vineyard (Russian River)
  • Dutton Ranch (Russian River)
  • Hudson Vineyard (Carneros)
  • Hyde Vineyard (Carneros)

(The only one we didn't have was the Hirsch from Sonoma Coast.)

They were all great wines, but I liked the Carneros wines with their lively acidity, especially the Hudson, which reminded me of a Grand Cru Chablis in a warm year. The Hyde was also very Burgundian in style, bigger with smoky, toasty notes. The most elegant was the Vine, with a leafy, green tea note and great acidity. The table liked the Kistler Vineyard, which was very good but creamier in texture than the other wines, with orange and pineapple notes and a nutty finish.

Todd Halpern had brought along bottles of a wine he imports – de Montville Puligny-Montrachet Les Caillerets 1997. It really exemplified the difference in style between white Burgundy and California Chardonnay. As close as Kistler got with the Carneros wines, there is a lightness and delicacy in Puligny-Montrachet that is unique. Next came four wines from Georges Roumier's 1996 vintage: Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses and Chambolle Musigny Les Cras, Musigny and Bonnes Mares. The Musigny, one of my favourite Burgundies, was wonderful – still youthful with a lovely nose of raspberries and violets and a coffee-bean note in the flavour. The Bonnes Mares had a sweetness succulent taste, beautifully integrated oak, quite fruity but very elegant. I detected a little volatility in the Chambolle-Musigny and it showed the most maturity.

Then we had two Armand Rousseau 1996 wines – Chambertin and Chambertin Clos de Beze. Both stunning wines, deeply coloured with a velvetiness and richness, great balance and pure fruit flavours. By this time I was passed caring about terroir and just sat back to enjoy the wines.

Conclusions? Yes, terroir is noticeable if the winemaker respects the grapes, but winemaking can eradicate nuances (like Guy Accad's long pre-fermentation cold soaks).

Friday, April 22: A wrapping-up day, as tomorrow I leave for London to judge in the annual Decanter wine competition. At lunchtime Robert Ketchin held a New Zealand wine tasting at Jamie Kennedy's restaurant (I can't get away from him this week!). The format was quite different from other wine tastings. At each of four tables was a series of wines to match a light dish. As we walked in, we were offered a glass of Kim Crawford "Pansy" Rosé 2004 to match a table of assorted breads with dips. At the first wine table, Smoky Liver and Apple Mousse were served with Riesling and Pinot Gris. I liked the Saint Clair Riesling 2003. The second table offered Herbed Goat Cheese wrapped in Boston Lettuce with eight Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand's signature grape. I found the 2004 vintage of Cloudy Bay to be much leaner and sparer than previous vintages. My two favourites here, contrasting styles, were the very elegant Alana Estate 2004 and the richly extracted Matura Shingle Peak 2004 with its concentrated flavours of passion fruit and nettles.

The next table had Open Lobster Ravioli with Bisque Sauce and Sweet Peas served with Chardonnay. There were five to choose from. I tried them all and like the Tohu Unoaked Chardonnay 2004 with its rich pineapple flavour with a leesy note and Goldwater Roseland Chardonnay 2003, spicy, full-bodied, citrus and green tropical fruit flavours.

The red table had Rack of New Zealand Lamb with Pinot noir, Merlots and Cabernet blends. I wasn't crazy about the Cottesbrook Pinot Noir 2002 but really enjoyed the Claret-like Stoneyridge "Larose" 2003.

The dessert table offered Rhubarb and Marzipan Pastry and Honey Ice Cream with a Canterbury House Methode Traditionelle Brut 2001, a little too dry for the dessert but delicious on its own.

This is the kind of tasting that wine writers remember with fondness – being able to sit down and taste (and eat at the same time).




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