Monday, April 10: Pinot the Wonder Dog gave us a great, slobbery welcome when we picked her up from the dog sitter. Ploughed through telephone messages, emails and mail. An early dinner, lentils and rice with Meyer Family Chardonnay MacLean Vineyard 2009, one of the best BC Chardonnays I have tasted. Packed and Deborah drove me to the airport for the flight to London and the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Tuesday, March 11: An uneventful flight. Arrived at Heathrow at 6:10 am and took the tube to The Worx in Palmers Green, where the competition is held.
Christelle Guibert tells me there is a record number of entries this year (12,500) and at any one time there would be 6,500 Riedel glasses on the tables. I was the first to arrive and the elves were having breakfast. Christelle invited me to join them for a typical English breakfast – fried egg, bacon, two sausages, fried mushrooms and fried tomato with four slices of toast. A good lining for the wines to come.
I am judging Australian entries today. I really enjoy this competition, which I have attended since it started; I see colleagues from all over the world. My fellow judges for the day are John, an MW who runs a hotel in Huntingdon, and Hamish, a sommelier who buys wines for the Tate Galleries. We begin the morning with 10 Pinot Grigio/Gris, determining whether each wine wins gold, silver, bronze or a recommendation,
taking into account the price factor. This is followed by a flight of 14 Grenache blends, 8 Bordeaux blends and a further 7 Grenache blends. A break for lunch (lasagna, salad and cheeses) and the flights of 13 Shiraz, 13 Sauvignon/Semillon blends and 10 Pinot Noir. At the end of the day we have awarded one gold medal (Grenache), 12 silver and 22 bronze.
The White Horse pub
Then across the road to The White Horse for the traditional post-tasting pint of real ale – Harvey’s Sussex Ale. A tube to Kentish Town, where I’m staying with my friends, David and Carole Goldberg. Carole cooked a delicious meal of beetroot soup, duck, cabbage and roast potatoes and plums stewed in red wine. David opened a bottle of Château d’Arrosée 1999 which was, unfortunately, corked. Went to bed at 10 pm exhausted.
Wednesday, April 13: Left the house at 7:30 for a trek across London from Kentish Town to Parsons Green, a journey of just under an hour (walk to the station, Northern line tube to Embankment, change to District line for Parsons Green). Today we start the Canadian wine judging. My fellow panelists, all fully conversant with Canadian wines, are Barbara Philip MW, Rhys Pender (both from Vancouver) and Zoltan Szabo from Toronto.
Canadian panel: Zoltan, Rhys, Tony & Barbara
We start with two sparklers from Ontario and BC to begin a flight of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (9 wines in all). Then 10 Rieslings 2009, followed by 9 BC Chardonnays and 13 Merlot. We then broke for lunch (chicken in a cream and mushroom sauce) before returning to our table for 13 Pinot Noir, 11 Cabernet Sauvignon and 13 Syrah. Our total medal count for the day was 2 golds and 2 silver for Syrah, 2 silver for Riesling, 4 silver for Chardonnay, 1 silver for Merlot, 2 silver for Pinot Noir, 1 silver for Cabernet Sauvignon. Then off to The White
Horse for a beer before returning to the Worx for the annual judges’ party, at which the Laurent Perrier Champagne flowed feely.
Thursday, April 14: The second day of judging Canadian wine. The very first wine we tasted in a flight of Semillon/Sauvignon won a gold medal (an Ontario Semillon 2009). A flight of 10 Ontario Chardonnay followed (surprisingly only bronze medals here, 7 of them) and then a short flight of 5 aromatic varieties (one silver and one bronze for Viognier). Next 9 Merlot (4 bronze), 9 Cabernet Franc (disappointingly only 4 bronze medals). The final flight before lunch was Vidal Icewine, 12 of them (2 silver and 6 bronze).
Lunch was a beef stew with rice and salad. Then back for our final flight of 10 Riesling Icewines and 2 Cabernet Franc Icewines (1 silver and 3 bronze). Our panel retasted the three gold medal wines we had awarded to choose the Regional Trophies – one for an Ontario Semillon and one for an Ontario Syrah.
After a beer in The White Horse I took the tube to Rosemary George’s house in Hammersmith for dinner. Rosemary was entertaining two other women MWs – Debra
Meiburg, Asia’s first Master of Wine, who lives in Hong Kong, and Barb Philip from Vancouver, who was on my Canadian panel. The rest of the party was Barb’s sister, Margaret, a doctor, and Rosemary’s husband, Christopher. We started with an aperitif of Mönechof Erdener Treppechen Riesling Kabinett 2001 before sitting down. Rosemary’s new edition of her book on Chablis has recently been published so we had a string of Chablis with the first course of hummus and pita and the salmon to follow: Domaine Oudin Vaugiraut Chablis 2004, Dauvissat Chablis La Foret 2000 and Raveneau Chablis Montée de Tonnerre 2000. With the cheese course (St. Hectaire and Salers recently brought back from France), Château Pichon Longueville Contesse de Lalande 1983. By this time (10:30 pm) my head was almost on the table with tiredness. I excused myself before dessert and made my way from Hammersmith back to Kentish Town.
Friday, April 15: Today is the lunch for Decanter‘s Regional Chairs, traditionally held at Enoteca Turi on Putney High Street. We start with Dom Pérignon 2002 and then sit for a three-course lunch with a choice of mains. We start with antipasto of burrata on bruschetta with grilled and marinated vegetables, served with Vesevo Greco di Tufa 2010, followed by my choice of truffle and potato ravioli with butter and sage, with Varja Barbera d’Alba 2008. For dessert I ordered praline chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream. Between the main course and dessert Sarah Kemp, Decanter‘s publisher, handed out the joke presents (a can of snails to the chair of the slowest tasting panel, first-day school pencil boxes for the two new Regional Chairs, etc.). The meal went on until 4 pm.
Took the tube over to Piccadilly Circus to visit the exhibition of Watteau drawings at the Royal Academy (stunning) and dropped into Hatchard’s to buy some books. Then
to Marble Arch to Texture Restaurant on Portman Street for 6:30 pm to dine with my old friends Lucy and Ashley Pover. Over a bottle of Bollinger (our round table in the bar has a huge sunken ice bucket in the centre) Ashley told me about the movie he had produced which took him ten years, Irvine Walsh’s Ecstasy. It will have its premiere at the Venice Film Festival before coming to Toronto in September for the Toronto International Film Festival. He handed me the wine list at the table and I ordered a bottle of Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2009 and Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Margaret River for my duck dish.
Saturday, April 16: After breakfast, took the tube down to Piccadilly to visit Fortnum and Mason. Bought a jar of stilton as a house gift for my hosts for lunch, Michael and Livia Prior. I have known Mike for 55 years, one of my oldest friends. I was at school with him at Epsom College. He’s a lawyer who lives in a beautiful Queen Anne house in Church Row in Hampstead. Mike was cutting the grass in the back garden when I arrived, a beautiful sunny day. We sat over a bottle of Bollinger (we always drink champagne when we get together) until Livia came back from Pilates. We ate lunch in the garden, cold cuts, smoked salmon, lentil salad with a bottle of Villa Le Prata Brunello di Montalcino 1999.
Back to Kentish town to watch the semi-final of the FA cup between Manchester City and Manchester United with David Goldberg, who comes from Manchester. I have been a United supporter ever since 1948, when they beat Blackpool in the FA Cup Final 4–2. David, who was born in Salford, is a City supporter. City won 1–0. After the match I took David and Carole for a thank-you dinner at Galvin’s on Baker Street. David wanted me to try a bottle he’d been given as a present and had been keeping for an appropriate occasion: Château Lafite 1976. We weren’t sure if the restaurant would allow us to bring our own bottle but for the consideration of a £20 corkage charge they acceded. I ordered three glasses of Billecart Salmon Rosé (my favourite pink champagne). To start, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes followed by a tagine of chicken. The sommelier, whose name was Ram, came from Nepal and had only been working at Galvin’s for a week. He told us proudly that he tasted last night a 1967 Pétrus. The Lafite was beginning to dry out but was still a majestic wine.
Sunday, April 17: Awoke a 6:30 am and began to pack. A beautiful spring day in London. I leave for Toronto at 3 pm via Montreal. Carole made an early brunch of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. David dropped me at Caledonian Road to take the tube to Heathrow. Flew to Montreal and then to Toronto, where we had snow today. So much for spring in Ontario.