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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 50 (August 29, 2005)

Sunday, August 21: This afternoon Deborah dropped me at the airport, where I am to meet Justen Lacoursiere, a photographer for Redpoint publications in Calgary, and DJ Kearney and Mark Davidson, both wine educators from Vancouver. We are all driving down together to Niagara College for the Canadian Wine Awards judging. The other judges from across the country are already down there and have had winery visits over the weekend. The four of us are meant to meet around 4 pm at the Alamo car rental booth, but what Melody Song of Redpoint in Calgary did not know was that there are three Alamo booths at Lester Pearson Airport. Eventually, an hour late, we managed to find each other and had to drive straight to Jackson-Triggs winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake instead of checking in to our rooms at Niagara College. Thomas Bachelder, the winemaker for the new Le Clos Jordanne winery (a Vincor/Boisset joint venture producing Pint Noir and Chardonnay) was already giving his introduction to the project when we arrived. We tasted four single-vineyard Pinot Noirs he had made, each very distinctive, which augur well for the quality of the wine. Whether they will all be blended or released as single vineyard bottlings still has to be decided. (Thomas told us that they are netting all their vineyards because their tonnage is kept to 2 tonnes per acre and they cannot afford to lose any of the crop to the birds.) Then we tasted five Inniskillin wines – a Riesling Reserve 2004 (very dry in Mosel style, which I liked very much), a Chardonnay Reserve 2003, a Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 (quite forward but firm, Burgundian style), a 1998 Pinot Noir (losing fruit and rather pruney) and, finally, a delicious 2002 Meritage Founders' Reserve (very elegant, floral, red berry flavours, clean and beautifully balanced). Then we all went down to the barrel cellar for dinner. I hadn't noticed before that the curved twin arches of the cellar's ceiling echo the curve of the barrels. I was seated next to Allan Jackson, who told me a story of how his wife Wendy was tripped by her dog's leash when she was spooked by another dog, and fell on the pavement, breaking her arm just below the shoulder, and the complications the fracture caused. Allan also told me that Tom Seaver, Jackson-Triggs' head winemaker, had left to become Gallo's chief winemaker for their blended wines in Modesto.

The meal: Peach wrapped in prosciutto on Parmesan flatbread with Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Riesling 2004 (good but not as good as the Inniskillin); Basil Risotto Cake with Seared Trout accompanied by J-T Okanagan Estate Grand Reserve White Meritage (a lovely wine with melon and passionfruit flavours); Duck & Mushroom Strudel with Roasted Heirloom Tomato jus with J-T Delaine Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002; Cured Beef Striploin (cured with salt and sugar) with fresh garden vegetables and Crushed New Potatoes with Double Smoked bacon (who makes up these descriptions?) with two reds – Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Proprietors' Grand Reserve Meritage 2002 and the sister wine from their Okanagan estate. The Ontario wine was more Bordeaux in style (Steve Thurlow, who was sitting opposite me, thought it resembled a Hawkes Bay blend, and he's right). The Okanagan, with its apparent American oak and softer, plusher fruit, was more Californian in style. I preferred the Ontario wine. Then we all went upstairs for Jackson Triggs Vidal Icewine 2003 and Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2003 with Frozen Terrine of Apricot Vanilla & Plum with Cinnamon Tuille. After dinner we followed the bus back to Niagara College. I'm sharing a suite with Sean Wood, a wine writer colleague from Halifax whom I have not seen for a couple of years. My room is like a monk's cell, a grey stone wall unadorned, grey desk, dark gray carpet. And a TV! The towels in the bathroom are like sandpaper you can see through. But the bed is comfortable. Tomorrow we start the judging.

Monday, August 22: Breakfast in the "Activity Room" – coffee, bagels. The judging is held in the student pub on the Glendale campus. There are three panels of five judges. I'm on a panel with Sid Cross, John Szabo, Sara D'Amato and Elia Gallo. In the morning we tasted 38 Pinot Gris and 31 Gewürztraminer. We are more or less in consensus over the scores we give, although I find I am most in agreement with John Szabo. The Gewürz flight is a big disappointment – too many flawed wines with volatile acidity, obvious sulphur or chemical notes. Gewürz develops its bouquet in the bottle, and these are 2003 and 2004 vintages, but overall they lack varietal character. Except for one that should end up in the medal round. After lunch we tasted 13 red hybrids, which were much better than I anticipated. Then a flight of 15 Pinot Gris to choose which get the medals. I had a hiatus of three hours during which I worked on the book. In the evening we all took the bus into Niagara-on-the-Lake for dinner at Paula Oreskovitch's house and a tasting of California wines in the garden.

Tuesday, August 23: The hinges on my bedroom door creak like a horror movie and I'm afraid I'm waking Sean up when I get up in the night to go to the bathroom. Asked the desk to have them oiled. Started the morning with 12 rosés (my least favourite category), followed by 62 Meritage and Bordeaux varietals. The overall quality was good, with a definite divide between BC and Ontario in styles. After lunch, our panel had 9 red Icewines before retasting 24 of the Meritage flight for the final assessment. Worked on the book for a couple of hours before the bus took us to Creekside winery for a beer and wine evening. Beer is the wine taster's saviour after a long day like this.

Wednesday, August 24: The morning began with 12 white hybrids, a good Sovereign Opal and a Vidal. Then 35 Cabernet Sauvignon before lunch. After lunch, a flight of 18 Cabs came back for the medal round. John Ogryzlo and Steven Gill gave us a tour or the Niagara College steaching kitchens and the winery. The winery was started in 2001 in the horticultural barn on campus. Jim Warren is the instructor here and his assistant Jordan Harris was on hand to show us around. The Teaching College's 2001 Chardonnay won the Best White Award at the 2002 Canadian Wine Awards. The wine shop where they sell the student wines is next to the Niagara Culinary Institute dining room, an octagonal room with a high peaked ceiling. We tasted some twenty old Canadian wines from David Lawrason's cellar – some past winners of the award, some just past their prime. Marc Davidson introduced us to an interesting wine game at dinner, involving a coconut shell carved with a monkey's face The idea is that you sip through a black straw (so you can't see the colour) and have to identify the wine in the coconut shell. Not easy. The first was a 2004 Dolcetto which I thought was a 2003 Chianti. The second wine was a 2004 Wolf Blass Riesling which I thought was Pinot Gris.

Thursday, August 25: This morning we judged all the top wines blind to choose Best White, Best Red, Best Sweet Wine. The quality was very high – especially the Pinot Gris and Syrah/Shiraz categories. We ended with a flight of Icewines. No question that the Rieslings were far superior to the Vidals and Cabernet Franc. Jeff Davis drove me home and Pinot gave me a very wet welcome. Guy came over for dinner (he just bought a watercolour of a Toronto streetcar with the flatiron building in the background and wanted us to see it). Deborah prepared a pork loin in a sour cream and lemon sauce and I opened a bottle of Vineland Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. Not the best choice for the dish, but after sampling over 300 wines since Monday I wasn't in the mood to be fussy about matching.

Friday, August 26: Spent the day finishing off the Quebec chapter after recording my 680 News pieces. At 4 pm Cristian Maddalena, the marketing manager for Ampeleia, a new Tuscan wine, came over to talk about getting an Ontario agent. The winery is located at Maremma. They grow Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Merlot and blend the three. The 2002 Ampeleia is the second vintage and ultimately they will have several different varietals grown at three different elevations to play with for the blend. I think Cristian was a little disconcerted when I suggested the wine we tasted was a bit corked, since he had been sampling it early in the day. It is a very good wine, though, richly extracted plums and chocolate flavour with driving acidity that should allow it to age. For dinner: Devil's Lair Fifth Leg Red 2003 - another in the line of tiresomely irreverent wine names. A very drinkable wine, but $24.95 is a little steep for its quality. Earlier in the day I had a call from CTV News: would I come in for an interview about the Georges Duboeuf scandal (the company had been caught blending Beaujolais-Villages wines into their named village Beaujolais). They sent a car for me at 8:20 pm to take me to the studio. I hung around until 9:40 in the green room and then spent three minutes on air talking about wine scandals. In the League Table of international wine scandals, this one rates very low. If you wanted to adulterate Beaujolais crus, surely you wouldn't do it with Beaujolais-Villages but something much cheaper. Still, it's a wake-up call for the French industry and someone will go to jail.




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