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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 73 (February 6, 2006)

Sunday, January 29: Flew to Dallas, circled for half an hour and arrived to warm weather. Took the shuttle into the city to the Adolphus Hotel in time to check in, drop my suitcase and walk to the restaurant where the judges for the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition were meeting to have dinner at a restaurant called Fuse – billed as "A TexAsian Drinking & Dining Experience." We drank water until Becky Murphy, the producer of the competition, brought out the Pol Roger 1996 Brut. The wines we drank with dinner were gold medal winners from last year's competition. I was sitting next to Dan Berger, who went to scavenge some bottles. He came back with La Crema Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2003 and Three Rivers Meritage 2002 (Columbia Valley). We drank these with Big Eye Tuna Tartare, avocado purée and passion fruit vinaigrette, followed by Housemade Ravioli of Edamame, shiitake mushrooms, shaved parmesan cheese and brown butter. We managed to get hold of a bottle of Leasingham Magnus Riesling 2004 and a bottle of Foxen Syrah 2000 Morehouse Vineyard. Which just goes to show that wine writers will drink anything with everything. Next came Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin with braised Napa cabbage, potato purée and Granny Smith apple salad. A bottle of Sartori Amarone 1997 arrived and then Kendal Jackson Stature 2001. For dessert, Warm Chocolate Ganache Cake, grapefruit crème anglaise and candied cashews. And then to bed.

Monday, January 30: The Dallas Morning News Wine Competition is held in the Dallas Convention Centre, a short walk from the hotel. Breakfast is laid on for us and then we enter Ballroom A for the tasting. We are divided up into panels of four. Daryl Groom, Geyser Peak's Vice President of winemaking, is our panel leader. Wendy Moss and Neal (whose last name I never got) are fine wine retailers here in Dallas and the other panel members. We begin with 36 Pinot Gris, 41 Chardonnay 2003, 54 Chardonnay 2004, 3 Dry Semillon, 7 Gewürztraminer, 4 Nouveau reds, 4 Gamay, 18 Barbera, 5 Carmenere, and finally 5 cheap Chardonnay. By the time we had finished I was exhausted. A combination of my cold, the medication for my throat and the alcohol absorbed through the tongue had taken its toll. I flopped down on the hotel bed and the next thing I knew it was 8:30 pm and I had slept through the judges' reception at which they serve last year's gold medal wines with tapas prepared by leading Dallas restaurants. Apparently there was a special guest there – a Madonna impersonator who shocked and appalled several of the judges. Wish I'd been there. Watched TV instead – a program about the Nuremberg trials – and went to sleep at 10 pm.

Tuesday, January 31: Because of our heavy tasting day yesterday our panel just has to taste 53 Cabernet Sauvignons from the 2003 vintage today. The biases show in this tasting – Daryl Groom has a decidedly New World palate and can't abide Brett. Which meant that he marked down cool climate Cabs. I think over all we gave 6 golds in this category. By lunch we have finished our tasting duties. Shared a cab to the airport with three of the female judges, leaving behind blue skies and 70 degree sunshine for the zero Celsius of Toronto.

Wednesday, February 1: My email box is full. God, I hate having to wade through mail telling me I can get $150 million dollars from a Nigerian bank if I'd kindly lend my account number to a foreign minister who absconded with the total exchequer of a small African country. I am invited to lunch at Oro to a tasting of Masi wines with Sandro Boscaini leading it. It's meant to be for restaurateurs, but this is the only time I could see Sandro, whom I like a lot and who will be one of the stops on my Italian wine tour – if we get enough people signed up. We start off with Masianco 2004, an intriguing blend of Pinot Grigio and Verduzzo from Friuli (the grapes are dried before fermentation). Next Masi Colbarraca Soave Classico 2004 with Kobe beef Carpaccio, followed by Campofiorin 2002 (a difficult vintage because of hail - Masi did not release any 2002 Amarone and used the grapes for this wine, which makes it quite special). Also Masi's single vineyard Brolo di Campofiorin 1999. This was served with Fontina Valdostana Ravioli with beef bourguignone, spinach coulie (sic) and Sauterne (sic) onion marmalade. The main course – lamb shank – was so large it looked as if it came from Fred Flinstone's kitchen. This was served with Masi Toar 2001 and Osar 2000 (100% Oseleta grape). With the cheese course we had the four Amarones that Masi makes – Costasera 2001, Serego Aligheri Vaio Amaron 1999, Campolongo di Torbe 1999 and Mazzano 1999. The Serego Aligheri is quite flattering and forward compared to the powerful Campolongo (my preference) and the sinewy, austere but majestic Mazzano. Had a meeting on the final galleys for the atlas. Still arguing over photos, a design versus content versus production deadlines discussion. But it's looking good, although the prospect of having to read the manuscript another time drives me up the wall. In the evening, dropped into grano, where Richard Johnson and his wife Vida were entertaining guests at a tasting of By Chadsey's Cairn wines. I enjoyed my visit to Richard and Vida's winery in Prince Edward County while I was researching the atlas. Beautiful old heritage barns and an historic cemetery on the property. The wine shop is housed in a small brick building that used to store apples and was by turn a chapel, a school room and, some say, a butcher's. I was impressed by their Pinot Noir 2004 from their own fruit and a charming Cabernet Franc from a neighbour's vineyard.

Thursday, February 2: Spent the day going over the galleys for the atlas. This evening Deborah and I are invited to meet Pascal Boyé of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne for dinner at Jamie Kennedy's restaurant on Lower Church Street. Pascal is trying to interest the LCBO in his company's novel bottlings of Brut and Rosé champagnes. They're called ¼ (to represent a quarter of a full bottle) and also, says, Pascal, One for You. They come with strap that is tightened around the neck to allow you to let it dangle from your wrist. Ideal for the club scene, especially since no-one can spike your drink. The rosé is packaged in pink and fuchsia and the Brut in electric baby blue. I can't see the guys walking around the dance floor with these dangling from their wrists, but it's going to be a winner with the ladies (they contain two glasses of champagne and retail for about $15 each - which reminds me of those $33-a-glass champagnes we had on Deborah's birthday. I forgot to write that the restaurant was Splendido). We didn't actually taste these products, but Pascal informed the group of wine writers, club managers and LCBO buyers that the wine in these bottles is the same as the wine that goes into their 750 mL bottles of non-vintage products. We tasted a series of Nicolas Feuillatte champagnes with the meal – the non-vintage rosé (with hors d'oeuvres), Brut Reserve Particulère (with oysters), the 1999 Cuvée Speciale Brut (wild rice blini with Canadian caviar), the lovely 1999 Palmes d'Or Grand Cuvée (scallop sashimi) and the '99 Rosé Grand Cuvée (with duck with foie gras sauce). Seems strange to be drinking wines from the last century. We finished with the house's non-vintage Demi-Sec, which really wasn't sweet enough to accompany Jamie Kennedy's Apple Bread and Butter pudding with Maple ice cream but would have been perfect with a fruit-based tart. Pascal tells me that he spends about half his life on the road selling Nicolas Feuillatte champagnes (he lives in Manhattan and is married to an American). He lamented the fact that Americans always leave off the acute accent on Boyé and call him Mr. Boy. An email on my return home tells me that we have enough people signed up so that the Italian tour to Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto is a go!

Friday, February 3: Today is the day when the Kama Sutra worm is meant to strike. Happily, my PC is working just fine. This is the first of Vintages' tasting days for the March release. There's a big South African selection, but my highest marks went to Henriques & Henriques Single Harvest Madeira 1995, a really stunning wine that is a steal at $19.95 for 500 mL. The most over-priced wine was Quintarelli "Rosso Ca'Del Merlo" 1997 – a single-vineyard Valpolicella at $69.95. A beautiful wine – but come off it, Giuseppe, this is Valpolicella, not an Amarone. In the evening I conducted a home tasting for Jim Cameron, who won the auction item at a "Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade" gala. The wines I selected from my cellar for the event were:

  • Ridgepoint Riesling 2004 (the best Riesling this small Ontario property has made so far, off-dry style)
  • Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (New Zealand)
  • Inniskillin Chardonnay Reserve 2002 (Ontario)
  • Sandhill Gewurztraminer Seven Mountain Vineyard 2004 (BC)
  • Wolf Blass Pinot Noir 2004 (South Australia)
  • Serego Aligheri Valpolicella 2000 (Veneto)
  • Sumac Ridge Meritage 2003 (BC)

Saturday, February 4: A major winter storm is threatened and I have to drive to Guelph to conduct a tasting for the 11th Annual Guelph Wine Gala & Auction in aid of the Edward Johnson Musicians in the schools program. The wines have been chosen by Lidia Fitzpatrick, a Vintages wine consultant in Guelph. It started snowing heavily by the time I reached Milton at 3 o'clock, thick, wet snow. Seventy people had reserved for the tasting and the room was set up with glasses. I was concerned that the weather (that got worse) would cut down the numbers after I had opened six bottles of each of the wines. But when the tasting was announced at 7 pm, the room started to fill up and when I began fifteen minutes later only a few spots were empty. The tasting was titled "Magic Carpet of New World Wines Journey."

The wines were:

  • Angove's Long Row Chardonnay 2004 (South Australia)
  • St. Hallet's Semillon 2002 (Barossa Valley)
  • Cave Spring Syrah 2002 (Ontario)
  • Concha y Toro Marchese de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Chile)
  • Graham Beck Shiraz 2002 (South Africa)

The first bottle of Graham Beck that I opened was corked, which gave me the opportunity to pass around glasses of a corked wine so that the participants could compare it to a clean bottle and would know what not to accept in a restaurant. It was still snowing by the time I had finished and I was reluctant to drive back to Toronto in spite of the new snow tires we have had fitted. I was offered a bed for the night that I gladly accepted in the home of Ian and Stephanie Watts.




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