A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 392: Heading Decanter World Wine Awards

Saturday, April 21: Last night for dinner I cooked tilapia in parchment and opened a bottle of Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench Rosé 2011 (Okanagan Valley, 100% Cabernet Franc): coppery pink colour; cranberry and grapefruit nose with a floral note; crisply dry with a refreshing tartness on the finish. Good length – 89.

Whenever I bring out the suitcase to pack for going away Pinot starts to bark. So I took her for a long walk in the park. Deborah and I went shopping for furniture for the den and then she dropped me at the airport for my flight to London.

Watched The Iron Lady to get in the mood for Britain. The Air Canada stewardess dumped a plastic carton of corn salad in my lap (very apologetic but didn’t offer me a dry cleaning voucher) and the baby in the adjacent aisle screamed his way across the Atlantic. Smelled of salad dressing for the rest of the trip.

Took the tube directly to the Park Lane Hotel, arriving at 8am, but my room was not ready so I went for an espresso and a croissant at Nero’s on Piccadilly where they have a WiFi connection. Today is the London Marathon, which finishes at Buckingham Palace across the Green Park from my hotel. There are over 36,000 runners and the streets are full of stretching, flexing athletes.

Slept for a couple of hours and felt like an Indian lunch so I asked the concierge for the nearest Indian restaurant. He directed me to Mayfair Tandoori in Shepherd’s Market, a short walk from the hotel. Lots of locals enjoying beer outside the pubs with a surprising number of people smoking. Ordered chicken tikka masala, basmati rice, and naan with a bottle of Corba beer.

London's The Shard building

London's The Shard building

After lunch I decided to see the Shard building under construction at London Bridge, said to be the tallest building in Europe. I took a bus to Holborn and when the rain started transferred to the tube. In the evening took the tube to Hampstead to see my old friends Mike and Livia Prior, who live in a beautiful Queen Anne house on Church Row. Mike opened a bottle of Taittanger before dinner and, with a delicious roast chicken, Château Gisgours 1982.

Monday, April 23: The first day of the Decanter World Wine Awards. There are over 14,000 wines entered in the completion, some 2,000 more than last year. I’m on the Bordeaux panel for three days. Today we taste 80 wines. We give one gold medal for a Sauternes and 2 silvers. For dry white Bordeaux 2 silver. For a whole morning of generic red Bordeaux 2 silver.

Then onto the White Horse pub for a pint of Henley Sussex Bitter. Bought a sandwich and took it back to the hotel for dinner.

Tuesday, April 24: Another day of tasting Bordeaux wines – 78 in all. Nothing sensational; our panel of three gave only 2 silver medals all day. Surprisingly the 2010 vintage was more interesting for these entry level Bordeaux reds than the much touted 2009 vintage.

Back to the pub for a pint of Adnams Broadside before returning to the hotel. Dined with an old friend, Carole Goldberg, at Sofra in Shepherd’s Market, a Turkish-style meal with lots of small dishes, with a bottle of Sky Pinot Noir 2010.

Wednesday, April 25: Bordeaux again today – 81 wines. Again no gold medals for our panel but we gave 8 silvers. At the White Horse after the tasting ordered a pint of Meantime London Ale. Discovered they had WiFi in the pub! Then onto the judges’ party at the Worx where Laurent-Perrier champagne flowed.

Thursday, April 26: The first of two days tasting Canadian wines. My panel members are Barbara Philip MW, Rhys Pender MW, both from BC (who also judged with me last year), and Madeleine Stenwreth MW from Sweden. Madeleine had never tasted Canadian wines before and she was very impressed.

Canada panel

Canada panel: MWs Madeleine Stenwreth, Rhys Pender, Barbara Philip, and me

Today we tasted 90 wines. Our panel is the first to try inputting our notes on laptop. I took a good hour to get used to the system since our notes kept getting swallowed. But in the end, in spite of the delay, it turned out well. My handwriting is, according to my wife, impossible to read.

First flight – 7 sparkling wines. The very first wine we tasted, a Blanc de Blancs from the Okanagan Valley, we awarded a gold medal. Flight 2: Sauvignon Blanc. Flight 4: 10 Okanagan Chardonnay. Flight 5: 9 Chardonnay from Ontario and BC. Flight 6: 10 Cabernet Franc and one Tempranillo. Flight 7: 12 Cabernet Sauvignon. Flight 8: 8 sweet whites. Flight 9: 13 Icewines and Flight 10: 4 red Icewines.

Didn’t have time to visit the White Horse for a beer. Went straight to Farringdon Street tube station to the Regional Judges’ dinner at Bleeding Heart’s Private Dining in the Terrace Room. The restaurant is named after a gruesome legend about a wealthy and beautiful woman named Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who was “the toast of 17th century London society.” At her annual winter ball on January 26, 1626, a jilted lover (“a swarthy gentleman, slightly hunched of shoulder, with a clawed right hand”) danced her out into the garden. The next morning they found her body in the cobbled court yard, “torn limb from limb, with her heart still pumping blood onto the cobble stones.” From then on the yard was known as The Bleeding Heart Yard.

We started the evening with Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne 1998, First course: Bayonne ham with black figs and goat’s cheese mousseline and raspberry vinaigrette, served with 2007 La Chablisienne Château Grenouilles Grand Cru. Main course: roast rump of Suffolk black-face lamb with caramelized root vegetables and pomme mousseline, with 2001 Château Ormes de Pez. Cheese course: “Les Trois Fromages” with an apple and raisin compote, with 2005 Allegrini La Poja. Then a glass of 1940 Yalumba Tawny Port and 1998 Fonseca Guimarens Port.

Friday, April 27: A second day of judging Canadian wines. Flight 1: 13 still whites (Chenin Blanc/Pinot Gris). Flight 2: 8 Ontario Riesling. Flight 3: 6 BC Riesling. Flight 4: 6 BC Aromatic wines. Flight 5: 12 BC Merlot and Merlot blends. Flight 6: 10 Ontario Merlot and Merlot blends. Flight 7: 10 BC Merlot blends. Flight 8: 9 Syrah (one from Ontario). Flight 10: another 7 Syrah.

When we had finished we had to retaste the gold medals we had awarded to see which was worthy of a Regional Trophy in its class. Ultimately we had given seven gold medals. An exhausting day. After a pint at the White Horse, bought a sandwich and took it back to my hotel room for an early night.

Saturday, April 28: Up at 7:30 am to pack and visit my friend David Goldberg, the rabbi who married Deborah and me. David has a new book out, This Is Not The Way – Jews, Judaism and Israel. He gave me a signed copy.

After a brunch of smoked salmon and cream cheese on bagels and fresh fruit, David drove me to Paddington Station to catch the express train to Heathrow. But there is so much construction in London in preparation for the Olympics that we couldn’t get near the entrance. I walked half a mile in the rain, dragging my suitcase.

At the duty free store I bought Deborah some Hermès perfume and a bottle of 10-year-old Edradour from Scotland’s smallest distillery. The Air Canada flight left a half hour late and the in-flight movie system didn’t work until half way across the Atlantic. But it’s good to be home.

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