A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 333: Riesling, Magic and Drugs

Monday, February 28: Down to the LCBO for a seminar on how the LCBO tasting panel judges Ontario wines seeking the VQA appellation. Apparently they have a panel of six product consultants and one “verifier.” 1800 wines are submitted annually (3 bottles of each wine), costing the winery $235 per label. Between 5% and 7% are rejected. There is an appeal procedure but if a wine fails it can’t use the Ontario appellation nor designated terms like Icewine. We proceeded to the tasting room and were shown the computerized tasting sheet. All very interesting but somehow too many subpar wines seem to make it through. And others, like the Closson Chase Sans Chêne Chardonnay 2010, are denied.

Wrote my 680News wine reviews and then drove to Etobicoke to interview my wine writer colleague Alain Laliberté about his collection of 160,000 wine labels. I’m writing a piece for the Wine Spectator about it. For dinner, with salmon, Alvento
Vio Viognier 2008
, a great match.

Tuesday, March 1: Down to Hart House for Terroir to attend two sessions, the first on Riesling. The wines we tasted were:

  • Mesh Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley): Pale straw colour; minerally, lime and homey with a petrol note; a little short and tart on the finish. (87)
  • Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2008 (Ontario): Pale straw with a tint of lime; honeyed lime nose; light and lively and good length but a hint of VA. (88)
  • Sperling Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2009 (Okanagan Valley): Very pale colour; minerally, floral, grapefruit nose; off-dry, honeyed peach flavour with lemony acidity. (89)
  • St. Urbans Hof Urban Riesling 2008 (Mosel): Pale straw with a lime tint; minerally, floral, honey, citrus peel; delicate and light but with amazing structure and balance; fresh, zesty, elegant with peach, apricot and lemon flavours. (91)
  • Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2009 (Niagara): Medium-straw colour; minerally, floral, peach with a touch of browning apple. (88)
  • Stratus Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2008 (Niagara): Old gold colour; high toned nose of barley sugar, honey and lime with rich flavours of peach and mango and honey; great balance and length. (92)

To show how versatile Riesling is with food we were served a sampler of deep-fried sturgeon with “tree syrup of pine, cedar and birch.” After a brown bag lunch (mine was a delicious and highly spiced rice dish from the Indian Rice Factory which needed a glass of Château des Charmes Chardonnay Unoaked Chardonnay 2008 to quench the fire) I attended a lecture by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon. He asked the provocative question, Why not grow grapes from seedlings, “maybe it’s the only way to introduce magic.” He’s currently experimenting with Grenache seeds. He told us about a Swiss grower who is using Biochar (activated charcoal) in the vineyard mixed with compost. This mixture apparently has a 30% greater water-holding capacity. Randall made the distinction between vin de terroir and vin d’effort. Eminently quotable, he said, “When people ask me how I came up with the names for my wines and labels, my typical response is ‘drugs.’ I now go to wine stores and recoil in horror at what I have wrought.”

Then we tasted four of Randall Grahm’s wines, which showed the effect of oak treatment: Bonny Doon Cigare Demi-Muid 2007 (500- litre barrel – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault), Bonny Doon Cigare-en-Fourde (same wine in 10,000-litre upright tank). This wine seemed leaner and more Syrah-like than the previous, softer wine with more oak evident. These were followed by Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido 2008 (very Northern Rhône in style) and Bonny Doon Syrah Alamo Creek 2008.

At 4 pm to Far Niente restaurant for a preview tasting for the California Wine Fair.

  • Best Chardonnay: Nichols Winery Chardonnay 2001, Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2008, Sonoma Cutrer Russian River Ranches 2009.
  • Best Pinot Noir: La Crema Pinot Noir 2009, Siduri Pinot Noir 2009, Flowers Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir 2008.
  • Best Zinfandel: E&J Gallo Frei Ranch Zinfandel 2007, Seghesio Winery Home Ranch Zinfandel 2009, C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Southern Exposure Zinfandel 2008.
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Darioush Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Kenwood Vineyards Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Vineyard 7 & 8 Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

Wednesday, March 2: Pinot the Wonder Dog goes to the groomer this morning. Recorded my 680News reviews and then picked her up. She looks great and is very pleased with herself. A visit to my accountant for year-end tax stuff. As bad as going to the dentist.

Thursday, March 3: Transcribe an interview I recorded in Santiago with Derek Mossman Knapp of MOVI – the association of garagiste producers in Chile. Will write an article for Tidings magazine with tasting notes. To dinner at Gilead Café, ordered a bottle of Pondview Merlot 2008.

Friday, March 4: A doctor’s appointment to see what he has to say about my MRI on my right knee. Cartilage wear, apparently, hurts when I run – so why run? Lunch with Irv Wolkoff at The Homeway before driving down to Niagara for Cuvée. Frantic calls to Southbrook Winery to ensure that Bill Redelmeier will be there to accept my Cuvée Award of Excellence tonight. Am assured by Ann Sperling that he will be. Staying overnight for the Experts’ Tasting in the morning at Brock University. The theme this year is Chardonnay.

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