A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 357: Halifax

Sunday, August 21: Flew to Halifax on WestJet with John Szabo, Sid Cross and Stuart Tobe. We are part of the judging panels for the Canadian Wine Awards. Delayed because of a thunderstorm, arrived at 6 pm and checked in to the Delta Halifax.

At 8 pm, a reception for the 16 judges with several local winemakers in attendance. I tasted the following Nova Scotia wines: Jost Gaspereau Valley Tidal Bay 2010, Luckett Vineyards Ortega 2010, Jost Eagle Tree Muscat 2008, Blomidon Tidal Bay 2010, Jost Gaspereau Valley Lucie Kuhlman 2007. Also tried L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut 2007 and Glenora Distillery Rare Single Malt 10 Year Old. Tidal Bay is a new quasi appellation for Nova Scotia. There are restrictions on the varieties that can be used (for instance, no more that 15% Muscat and the grapes must contain less than 8 grams per litre acidity). Tomorrow the judging begins.

Monday, August 22: Slept late and woke up at 8 am. Supposed to start tasting at 8:30 am. Rushed a croissant and a glass of orange juice before joining the group of judges for the morning session. I am paired with Craig Pinhey and Sid Cross. In the morning we tasted 7 Pinot Blanc, 10 Merlot, 10 Oaked Chardonnay, 10 Cabernet Franc, then another 10 Oaked Chardonnay followed by 8 Unoaked Chardonnay. Lunch: lobster in croissants, cold slaw, crisps and strawberry shortcake. The afternoon tasting session began with 8 Cabernet Sauvignon followed by 8 Viognier, 12 Marechal Foch and 6 Iced Apple.

Tasting panel: Craig Pinhey, Tony, Sid Cross

During the break before departing on the bus for the Annapolis Valley I dropped into the casino, which is attached to the hotel by a series of covered walkways. Lost $10 in two minutes and decided to leave.

An hour’s ride to L’Acadie Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley. Ate lobster-flavoured chips and drank Garrison Ale. At L’Acadie Vineyards Winemaker Bruce Ewart poured three vintages of his sparkling wine L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut2005, 2006 and 2008 – which we sampled with a variety of hors d’oeuvres. Then we tried his L’Acadie Vineyards Innovation Red 2009, a Ripasso-style blend of Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Lucie Kuhlmann. Frankly, I don’t know why Nova Scotia winemakers persist in trying to make red wine. Their white and sparkling wines are terrific. They could make decent rosé but the reds leave a lot to be desired.

Benjamin Bridge winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

Next on to Benjamin Bridge who, to my mind, are making the best sparkling wines in Canada. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers opened a series of sparklers for us: Benjamin Bridge Blanc de Blancs 2004, Vintage 2008 (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), Brut Reserve 2004 and Blanc de Noirs 2004. Really exceptional wines, very classic and elegant (but not cheap). We finished with Benjamin Bridge Sauvignon Blanc 2005, an amazingly fresh wine which I first tasted on my visit here in June, 2008. Then the group were driven to The Tempest Bistro in Wolfville, where Chef/Owner Michael Howell prepared a four-course menu matched to local wines:

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho with local Poblano cream, served with Muir Murray Fundy Tide 2010 and Muir Murray Limited Edition L’Acadie Blanc/Chardonnay 2010

Arctic Char Tartare, Waxing Farm Greens, Crispy Celeriac Hay with Raspberry Balsamic Coulis, with Annapolis Highland Geisenheim Riesling 2010

Sous Vide Applewood Smoked Oultons Lamb, Pirri Pirri Sauce, Warm Alsatian Potato Salad, Organic Shell Peas, Local Blackberry Demi, with Annapolis Highland Vintners Reserve Red 2010 (80% Castel, 20% Marechal Joffrey and Leon Millot)

Noggins Peach Tart with Cinnamon Ice Cream, with Grand Pré Pomme d’Or

Got back to the hotel by midnight.

Tuesday, August 23: The morning flights started with 10 Pinot Gris followed by 10 Pinot Noir, 10 Sauvignon Blanc, 10 Gewurztraminer, 9 Pinot Noir and 6 Riesling Icewine. Lunch, tomato soup and sandwich. After lunch, 10 Riesling, 10 Red Blends, 10 Fruit wines.

The irrepressible Pete Luckett

Tom Firth, a Calgary judge, is looking to buy a T-shirt with the legend: “Say No to Pot.” It features a picture of a large red lobster. At 5:30 pm we left in the bus for Pete Luckett’s farm in the Gaspereau Valley. Pete has opened his own winery as well as growing a variety of fruits for his Halifax store. The winery is beautifully designed with a showplace barrel room. I buy a round of Dragon’s Breath blue cheese, made by a Dutchman in Lunenburg, which is meant to be sensational. At Luckett’s, where we are savaged by mosquitoes, we taste Luckett Vineyards L’Acadie 2010, Ortega 2010 and Phone Box Red 2010 (a blend of Lucie Kulhman, Triomphe d’Alsace and Marechal Foch). Pete, a cockney from London, has a British red phone booth in the middle of his field.

Pete Luckett's London telephone booth

Hans Christian Jost

On to Gaspereau Vineyards, where Hans Christian Jost hosts us to a tasting with his winemaker Gina Haverstock, whom he calls “The Riesling Princess.” “My goal,” says Hans Christian, “is to have the smallest winery in the province.” Here he produces 2,500 cases. He also owns the province’s largest winery, Jost in Malagash (60,000 cases). We taste Gaspereau Vineyards Black Dogs Riesling 2010, Tidal Bay 2010 (a blend of Seyval, Vidal, New York Muscat and Geisenheim 318), and Gaspereau Vineyards Riesling 2010.

Gaspereau Vineyards winemaker Gina Haverstock

Hans Christian explained the creation of what is destined to be Nova Scotia’s signature wine – Tidal Bay: it must have a maximum of 20 grams per litre residual sugar,a minimum of 8 grams per litre acidity and no more than 11% alcohol. There three categories of designated grape varieties with a minimum percentage of Muscat and Ortega permitted. To date there are seven wineries who make a Tidal Bay and the major component is usually L’Acadie Blanc, the grape named by Roger Dial, the original owner of Grand Pré Vineyard, and Nova Scotia’s signature white grape. I first tasted it in 1982 when I visited Roger while researching Vintage Canada. L’Acadie is the first variety to ripen, Riesling and Seyval Blanc the last.

Ended the tasting with Gaspereau Vineyards Muscat 2010 and an excellent Jost Muscat Grappa. Next stop: Domaine de Grand Pré, where Hans Peter Stutz and his winemaker son Jorg presented a tasting of Domaine de Grand Pré Champlain Brut (“I’m waiting for a letter from the Champagne people,” says Hans Peter) and Domaine de Grand Pré Castel Winemaker’s Reserve 2010 before going in to dinner at Le Caveau (voted by Wine Access magazine as one of the Ten Best Winery Restaurants in the world!).

The owner of Avondale Sky winery, Stewart Creaser, regaled us with the story of how he floated a 30 ft. high, 1500-square-foot church by ferry 34 nautical miles downriver to become the retail shop and tasting room for his new winery. He paid $1.67 for the church and thousands of dollars to relocate it. Learned that they make lobster poutine in Nova Scotia. Already enjoyed lobster flavoured chips on the bus with Garrison Ale.

Started the meal with Petite Rivière Tidal Bay 2010 (Seyval Blanc, L’Acadie Blanc “and some Chardonnay”) followed by Domaine de Grand Pré (Seyval, Vidal, L’Acadie Blanc, Muscat and Ortega). Then Winemaker Chris Hawes introduced his Bear River Black Fly Pinot Noir 2008. With dessert, Domaine de Grand Pré Dolce Vita 2009 (a cryo-fermented Marechal Foch). Hans Peter insisted we try his Stutz Cider before we left. In bed by midnight.

Wednesday, August 24: The morning began with a flight of 10 Red Blends, then 12 Sparkling, 10 Syrah/Shiraz and 6 Mixed Single Variety Whites. Lunch: soup and pasta. After lunch, the final rounds of 11 Oaked Chardonnay, followed by another flight of 11 Oaked Chardonnay and 9 Single Variety Reds.

In the afternoon all the judges walked down to the harbour to board the Tall Ship Silva for a harbour tour. The ship was built in Carlsberg, Sweden, in 1939. Then we dropped in to a pub for a beer – Hart and Thistle Immaculate Concoction APA – before setting off for a tortuous climb up Citadel Hill for dinner within the ramparts. At the top we were greeted by a piper in full dress uniform who piped us inside the fort.

On Tall Ship Silva

Being piped into the Citadel

We were greeted here with a glass of Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 (a delicious Mocato d’Asti style sparkler). The Taste of Nova Scotia representatives had given all the judges disposable cameras and we were clicking away. A great shot of John Szabo standing stoically in a sentry box.

Dinner was a traditional Nova Scotia Lobster Feast, which started with Acadian Seafood Chowder, served with Avondale Sky Tidal Bay 2010 and Avondale Sky Bliss 2010 (Geisenheim 3180). Then came the steamed lobsters with corn and potatoes, served with Blomidon Estate Winery Reserve L’Acadie Blanc 2009 (barrel-fermented in new oak). Dessert: Blueberry Shortcake, with Jost Vineyards Vidal Icewine.

Halifax busker serenades John Szabo and Rhys Pender

Thursday, August 25: Rhys Pender recounted his excursion to Durty Molly’s, a pub on Argyle Street, which involved two very drunken women, a busker who got mugged and chased down his attacker (blood all over the sidewalk apparently) and a mammoth marine itching to fight anyone. Today we decided the medal winning wines as a group. Tasted 11 Cabernet Franc, 11 Pinot Gris, 9 Syrah/Shiraz, another 9 Syrah/Shiraz, 10 Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 Red Icewine.

Roger Dial's 1985 L'Acadie Blanc

At lunch (mushroom and squash soup and a beef sandwich) I poured a bottle of Grand Pré L’Acadie Blanc 1985 that John Stuart sent round to the hotel for me. John was the marketing manager for Roger Dial’s original winery. I had to break through a solid disc of tartrates to get at the wine. It tasted like an old Chenin Blanc, still very fresh and lively, no doubt kept so by the tartrate plug.

Obladee wine bar owner Heather Rankin

In the afternoon we tasted the five finalists for the Sparkling wine medals and then the wines for the top white, top red and top sweet wine. A beautifully run competition. Kudos to Wine Access editor-in-chief Tony Gismondi and his crew for efficient execution over four days of tasting. Before dinner the judges assembled at Heather Rankin’s wine bar, called Obladee (Heather was one of the competition judges). I had a glass of Blomidon Rosé 2010 (L’Acadie Blanc, Baco Noir, New York Muscat) and Laxas Albariño 2009.

Mussel girls at The Five Fishermen

The group then walked up to the Five Fishermen Restaurant for our farewell dinner. The restaurant dates back to 1816, originally a Church of England school, and is famous for its mussel bar. The menu:

Mussel Confetti Salad (Brunoise of red pepper, red onion, celery, fennel and green onion, fresh cilantro, white wine vinegar and chillies) served with Jost Vineyards Tidal Bay 2010

Grilled Nova Scotia Tuna, Baby Bok Choy, Grilled Local Zucchini & Parsnip Chips, Feta Cheese and Kalamata Olive Puree, with Blomidon Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2008 (and a taste of Jost Cabernet Franc 2005)

Chocolate PEI Potato Cake, Four Seasons Farms Stewed Cherry Tomato & Strawberry Compote, with Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2010

Friday, August 26: Up at 5:45 am to pack and be ready for the 7 am car to the airport. There are warnings of bad weather coming in the next few days as a result of Hurricane Irene. Deborah picked me up at the airport. This evening, dinner in Caledon at the home of Deborah’s niece Nadine and her husband Gary, who has just celebrated his 50th birthday. Gary’s parents and brother Russell are visiting from England and Russell has prepared a seven-course meal. I brought along the following wines, which I tasted before dinner:

  • Staete Landt Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009: grassy, passion fruit nose; mouth-filling tart gooseberry and apricot flavours. (90)
  • Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2010: very pale colour; minerally, peach nose; sweet peach flavour with a soft mouth feel. (89)
  • Felsina Berardegna Chianti Classico 2008: deep ruby colour; cedar and cherry nose with a licorice note; well extracted fruit, dry and stylish with soft tannins. (90)
  • Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2009: deep ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant and plum nose; firmly structured, spicy, savoury fruit with mellow tannins. (88)
  • Mission Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009: deep purple colour; creamy blackcurrant nose; rich, well extracted sweet blackcurrant fruit; firmly structured with flavours of chocolate and cocoa powder tannins. (91)
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