A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 334: New York Attacked by Canadian Chardonnay

The Chardonnay panel – Tara Q. Thomas, John Szabo MS, Thomas Bachelder and Tony

Monday, March 7: Up at 6am to catch a 9:15 am flight to LaGuardia. Deborah and I arrived at Pearson Airport at 7:15 am with our boarding passes already printed off the net. There was a huge line-up to get through immigration which took about 45 minutes before we even got to security. Our boarding passes said Gate 132, which was good half-mile walk. When we got there they announced that the gate had changed to 161, which meant another long walk. The flight was delayed an hour because the pilots hadn’t arrived.

At LaGuardia we were hustled by a guy who wanted to drive us to our hotel (the Hilton on 6th Avenue) in a stretch limo; but he needed two other couples. He led us across to the parking lot and asked us to wait and he would bring the car down. It was a huge, white stretch limo that could accommodate ten. The other two couples were staying at the Essex House and when he dropped them he asked them for $50 a couple. He had told us the fare would be $40 which is what we gave him when he deposited us outside the Hilton. He couldn’t turn into the driveway because his limo was too long.

By this time we were ravenous and went in search of a deli. I wanted to eat at the Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue and Deborah wanted to eat at The Stage Delicatessen a block away. So we compromised and ate at The Stage. We ordered matzo ball chicken soup and shared a pastrami sandwich. Deborah had been commissioned by her sister to buy a lipstick at the Neue Gallery on 86th at Fifth Avenue. We took the subway and ended up in Queens.

Finally we made our way to the gallery and, having accomplished our mission, decided to walk back along Madison Avenue. We passed a tiny shop front with the name in gold letters on the window, “The Best Chocolate Cake in the World.” This was something not to be missed, so we ducked inside and ordered a hot chocolate, a cup of English Breakfast tea (for me) and a slice of the world’s greatest chocolate cake. And it was pretty
supreme – a flourless layered torte of chocolate mousse, meringue and glazed chocolate topping. Apparently it was made by a Lisbon chef and there are now TBCCITW stores in Lisbon, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as well as three in New York. We were in their newest store, which has only been opened for three weeks, at 1046 Madison Avenue (see a picture at www.thebestchocolatecake.com). Walked all the way back to the Hotel along Madison Avenue, window shopping. Amazing the number of stores that are dark; shades of the recent economic turndown.

Tonight a group of us who are here for the Seriously Cool Chardonnay tasting of Ontario and BC wines are dining at Alfredo’s in the Rockefeller Centre. But first we assemble at Morrell’s wine bar adjacent to the skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza. Bill Redelmeier orders two bottles of Pol Gardere Brut Champagne. Then to dinner at Alfredo’s a few steps away. There are about twenty-five of us at table, winemakers, winery owners, writers, Wine Council of Ontario employees. I order grilled octopus on arugula (touch and over-cooked) and the house specialty, fettucini Alfredo, with a bottle of Villa Russiz Friulano 2008 and Strozzi Morellino di Scansano 2006.

Tuesday, March 8: Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien on 7th Avenue and then to the 50th floor of the McGraw-Hill Building for the Seriously Cool Chardonnay tasting. At 1 o’clock, a seminar on Chardonnay in Canada. I gave a short history of the grape in Canada then Thomas Bachelder spoke about making wine out of Chardonnay, followed by John Szabo and Tara Q. Thomas leading a tasting of nine wines.

Then into another large room for a table-top tasting of 54 wines from 31 wineries. Some heavy hitters from the New York wine writing scene were there – Joshua Greene, Bruce Sanderson, Ed McCarthy, Harriet Lembeck, Kevin Zraly and Howard Goldberg. After the press tasting, Anne Schofield Baker’s New York wine tasting group came up to sample the wines.

Back to the hotel to rest a while and write up this diary before walking over to Becco at 355 West 46th. Becco is located in Restaurant Row and the place is packed. At the bar I order a bottle of Tenuta Fertuna Plato 2009 from Tuscany for Deborah and me because a glass costs $12 each while the entire bottle is $25. The wine list at Becco has a back page with 100 products all priced at $25. I was about to order from it when Moray Tawse treated the table to Maculan Fratta 1999 and Fontodi Vigne del Sorbo Riserva 2004. I ordered a veal chop. Deborah had duck breast. Then Ingo Grady from Mission Hill ordered a bottle of Mario Gaggliasso Dolcetto d’Alba

Wednesday, March 9: Visited MOMA and spent time in the store before heading to a restaurant for lunch, prior to our departure for the airport. We were recommended by a man we met at the World’s Best Chocolate Cake to try The Cafeteria at 119 Seventh Avenue, between 17th & 18th Streets. The place is open 24/7 and the food is great. The waiters are dressed in brown; the décor is black and white and the room is filled with young people. High energy here with loud techno-pop music. Deborah and I both order a burger and fries with a slice of avocado. Beautifully cooked.

Taxi to LaGuardia driven by a maniac who got us there in twenty minutes flat. Talk about white-knuckle passengers. Sitting in the holding area we see the Air Canada plane just pulling into the gate at the time we were scheduled to board. We left half an hour late and then had to wait on the tarmac for twenty minutes. Then we circled over Buffalo because a runway in Toronto had faulty lights. Got home to wet snow, two
and a half hours late. Ah, the joys of air travel. But at least Pinot the Wonder Dog gave us a great welcome.

Thursday, March 10: Home to 210 emails. Spent the day plowing through them. In the evening to the Westin Harbour Castle Convention Centre to attend Vintages’ “Argentina + Chile – a tasting tour of South American Wine.” Fascinating tasting of products from Vintages outlets, LCBO general list and private order items. Overall all I found the Chilean wines had more elegance and finesse. Argentina is into power. My top scoring wines: Vina Perez Cruz Quelen 2006, Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenère 2009, Vina Tabali Payen Syrah 2007, Bodega Colome Estate Reserve Malbec 2007, and Finca Sophenia Synthesis Sauvignon Blanc 2010.

Friday, March 11: A Vintages tasting for the April release. For dinner, tilapia baked in a yoghurt sauce with a bottle of Laurent Miguel Chardonnay 2009 from the Languedoc. A terrific wine for $11.75 with real Chardonnay flavour. Unoaked but tastes as if it’s spent time in wood.

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