A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 437: Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

Noise Number 1, by e.e. cummings
Noise Number 1 by e.e. cummings, which hangs in the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery

Monday, March 18: I booked an Enterprise rental car this morning for a trip to Rochester, New York, on Friday. I’ll be judging in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. Then down to the Shangri-La Hotel for a tasting of Stratus wines, led by winemaker J.-L. Groulx, held in the daisō room of momofuko. J.-L. says that the vineyard was “very balanced” in 2010 though difficult for red with regard to acidity.

  • Stratus Gamay 2010: ruby colour; cherry with an earthy note and a whisper of vanilla oak; dry, medium-bodied, good concentration of fruit with balancing acidity. Moderate length with a warm alcoholic finish. (88+) “You have to treat Gamay like Pinot Noir if you want to get it right. That is low yields.” ($29)
  • Stratus Syrah 2010: dense purple-ruby colour; spicy, creamy, plum and blackberry nose with a dried herb note; dry, generous mouth feel, savoury black fruit flavours, mouth-filling; finishing with soft powdery tannins. (90) Paul Hobbs consulted. ($48)
  • Stratus Merlot 2010: deep ruby colour; oak-forward, creamy, black plum nose; spicy, ripe plum flavours, full in the mouth. A little time in the bottle will meld the oak. New World style with a firm finish. (89–90) ($32)
  • Stratus Malbec 2010: (picked November 3rd) dense purple-ruby colour; floral, Cabernet-Franc-like nose of redcurrants and red berries; well structured, full on the palate, dry, fresh and lively with a coffee bean note; firm, blocky tannins that give the impression of a short finish. Needs time. (89) ($48)
  • Stratus Petit Verdot 2010: dense purple colour; dried sage, dark chocolate, licorice notes on the nose; full-bodied, perfumed, floral black cherry flavours on entry; tannins kick in mid palate masking fruit. Ends with cocoa powder tannins. Needs time. (88–90) ($38)

2010 was a challenging year for whites, according to J.-L.

  • Stratus Chardonnay 2010: deep golden colour; spicy pineapple nose with a buttery note; sweet, spicy, caramel and toasty flavours; full on the palate with pineapple and melon flavours and a toasty, grilled nut finish. Rich and satisfying New World style. Fleshy, opulent with great length. (92) ($55)
  • Stratus Sauvignon Blanc 2010: bright straw colour; ripe, sweet grass, gooseberry and mango notes with a hint of oak on the nose; rich and full with a minerally (pencil lead!) note in mid palate. A little hard on the finish but delicious. (89) ($29)
  • Stratus Sémillon 2010 (1.4 tons per acre): straw colour; waxy, honey comb, citrus nose with deftly handled oak; fresh and lively on the palate with green plum, grapefruit and vanilla oak flavours (90) ($32)

Chef Matt Blondin’s lunch menu:

Pickerel, brassicas, celeriac, artic rose; Jerusalem artichokes, salt cod, pickled walnut, sorrel; salsify, cure rose, tapioca, grains of paradise; 2011 Stratus Gewurztraminer: white gold colour; light varietal character on the nose, oak masking fruit; better varietal expression on the palate, rose petal and lychee flavours with a fleshy mouth feel; good length. (89) ($29.95)

Beef short rib, beet root, horseradish, caramelized fennel; sweet potato, crème fraiche, amaranth, green onion; toasted buckwheat, pistachio, cured squab, preserved apricot with Stratus Cabernet Franc (picked December 7–8): ruby colour; vanilla oak, cedar, new leather, red berry; firmly structured, well extracted fruit; lovely floral note, precise and focussed red berry flavours; stull tight but ripe tannins. Hold 2–3 years. (90) ($38)

Carrot, condensed buttermilk, pecan, verjus with Stratus Mosaic 2010 (70% Riesling, 30% Gewurztraminer): old gold colour; honeyed Botrytis nose; medium-sweet with driving acidity, lychee and honeyed grapefruit flavours, nicely balanced. Touch of bitterness on the finish. (89) ($25).

Came home and wrote the last chapter of Nightmare in Napa. Feeling good. That book has been marinating for almost a decade as other projects have taken me away from it. Have fulfilled my New Year’s resolution (actually last year’s) of finishing it. In the evening, down to Lo Zingaro Ristorante Pizzeria for City Bites’ annual party. Michael Pataran poured me a healthy glass of sake after a couple of glasses of Ravine Pinot Noir 2010. Good thing I took the TTC.

Tuesday, March 19: Now the business of rewrites begins. At 1 pm down to One Restaurant in Hazelton Lanes to taste the wines of Cantine Marchesi Fumanelli. He was in China but his wife Roberta was there to discuss the wines.

  • Fumanelli Valpolicella 2011: ruby colour with an attractive nose of cherry skin and cherry blossom; dry, elegant, fresh. (88)
  • Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2009: a macho Valpolicella, rich cherry flavour, firmly structured, dry and satisfying. (89)
  • Fumanelli Squarano Appassimento 2006: rich, concentrated cherry flavour, firmly structured with ripe tannins and a long savoury finish. (90)
  • Fumanelli Amarone 2006: ruby colour; earthy, high toned nose of plums and pepper; sweet and sour flavours of plum and prune; full-bodied. (89)
  • Fumanelli Amarone 2007: a richer more concentrated wine – sweet cherry puree flavour. Full-bodied and supple. (90)
  • Fumanelli Octavius Amarone Riserva 2007: This wine is the flagship of the cantine. The wine is tightly wound at the moment and need a few years of bottle age. More dense and earthy and tannic than the non-Riserva. (89++)
  • Fumanelli Terso 2006: a 50/50 blend of Garganega and Trebbiano. Light straw colour; dry apple and citrus flavours, medium-bodied but full on the palate with lively acidity. (88)

Dinner: lamb chops with La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008: dense purple, green herbs, blackberry and cedar nose; medium-bodied, sour cherry flavour with a firm finish (87). $14.95.

Wednesday, March 20: Last-minute arrangements for tomorrow’s Grapes for Humanity event. Down to Crush at noon for a tasting lunch with Murray Barlow, winemaker at Rustenberg Wines in Stellenbosch.

  • Rustenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($19.95): Pale straw colour; white Bordeaux style – minerally, green plum nose; elegant, dry, green plum and grapefruit flavours, crisp and lingering. (88)
  • Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2011 ($22.95): Pale straw colour; spicy, minerally, apple nose with a barnyard note; round on the palate with apple and tangerine flavours. (90)
  • Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay 2011 ($55): Pale straw colour with a Burgundian nose – minerally, barnyard, vanilla oak; elegant, sinewy with apple, pear and orange flavours; lovely mouth feel, great length with a buckwheat note on the finish. (91)
  • Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2010 ($31): deep ruby colour; a gamey nose of black olives, medicinal, herbal, blackberry (Northern Rhône style); medium-bodied, dry and savoury with ripe tannins and a lively acidic spine. (88)
  • Rustenberg Shiraz 2011 ($25): deep ruby colour; black raspberry and forest floor, iodine and sandalwood on the nose. Medium-bodied, dry, savoury, herbal flavour; firmly structured. (89)
  • Rustenberg John X. Merriman 2010 ($31): All five Bordeaux varieties; dense ruby colour; inky, herbal, blackcurrant and cedar nose; dry, St. Estephe style, restrained, firmly structured, medium-bodied, blackcurrant and tobacco flavours. (89+)
  • Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2008 ($55): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; dense ruby colour; tobacco, tar, inky blackcurrant flavour. Elegant, very claret-like. (91)

Spent the rest of the day going over the novel draft.

La Sangre de Jonata Syrah 2008
La Sangre de Jonata Syrah 2008

Thursday, March 21: A mad dash to get everything ready for tonight’s Grapes for Humanity event at the Imperial Room – “Baah! The Great Lamby Cook-Off,” featuring eight Toronto chefs, plus Bill Redelmeier of Southbrook Vineyards. First, loading up the car with ten boxes of wine from my cellar. Then Deborah and I had to go down to Chinatown to bring back three boxes of Chinese spoons and get cheaper plastic versions (otherwise it would cost the charity $700). These cost $32 for 2,000. Then to Doris Maculan-Bradley’s house to pick up the desserts for tonight and finally dropping everything off at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, which was probably the most stressful part of the morning since the entire area around the hotel is under construction. The usual way into Piper Street that leads to the delivery area is up York Street but it’s virtually impossible to get to.

La Sangre de Jonata Syrah 2008
La Sangre de Jonata Syrah 2008

Dashed home and changed in order to get down to the “California Legends” tasting at the ROM. This was a spectacular tasting with virtually all the top California wines available, apart from the cult wines. I concentrated on the reds. My top wines were Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (94), Jonata La Sangra de Jonata Syrah 2008 (94), Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (93), Dominus Napanook Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (93), L’Aventure Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (93), Pahlmeyer Merlot 2010 (93), Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 2005 (93), Joseph Phelps Insigna 206 (92), Sonoma-Cuterer Pinot Noir 2008 (92) and Stonestreet Fifth Ridge Red Blend 2010 (92). Most impressive wines as a portfolio were L’Aventure and Jonata. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the Shafer Cab 2010 it had been totally consumed.

Judges Shinan Govani and Christine Cushing
Judges Shinan Govani and Christine Cushing

Judges Farley Flex and Dick Snyder
Judges Farley Flex and Dick Snyder

Dashed down to the Fairmont Royal York to prepare for the opening of Baah! at 6 pm. Gathered the judges – Shinan Govani of the National Post, Christine Cushing, TV Chef, Farley Flex, Canadian Idol judge – and briefed them on the scoring system for the nine plates. When their scores were finally tallied, the winner was Michael Pataran for his Moroccan-style curried lamb. Delicious. A great evening altogether.

Michael Pataran, winning chef at Baah!
Michael Pataran, winning chef at Baah!

Friday, March 22: Cleared my desk in order to leave at noon in a rented Sonata for the Rochester Plaza Hotel. I’m one of the judges at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition that begins tomorrow. The judges all gathered in the breakfast room of the hotel for a meet and greet over wines that won medals at last year’s competition. We were asked to bring a couple of bottles to be put into a wine cabinet and auctioned off in aid of Camp Good Days and Special Times, the charity that benefits from this competition. I donated a Mission Hill Icewine 2010 and a 20 Bees Late Harvest Vidal 2009.

Saturday, March 23: After a wretched night’s sleep I got up at 7 am. David Male, the competition owner wanted us in our seats at 8:15 am. There are 3,502 wines entered from 20 countries, 50 US states and 4 Canadian provinces. 68 judges from 14 countries divided into 17 panels. My panel is comprised of Jan Klapetzky, the winemaker at Young Sommer Winery in Williamson, New York, Nathalie Juban Szalkowski, a wine competition judge from Paris, and Jeff Stabins, a wine judge from Webster, New York. Before lunch we taste the following flight of eight wines: Albarino, Barbera, Traminette, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and red hybrid blends, Merlot and two red blends. After lunch: two flights of Riesling, red blends (mainly Meritage), Tempranillo, Cranberry fruit wine, and a flight of various fruit wines.

We are bused to Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery. A splendidly eclectic collection, including a painting by e.e. cummings in cubist style, dated 1919. (I never knew he painted!) We eat a buffet dinner with hundreds of wines from the competition laid out on a long table for us to taste while the movie Bottle Shock is screened. Back at the hotel by 8:40 pm in time to write up the day’s events.

Sunday, March 24: After breakfast we began tasting at 9 am. Our panel began with a flight of 8 Gewurztraminer, followed by Marechal Foch and then Late Harvest whites (3) and Icewines (4). After a coffee break: Viognier and White blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre (4) and Malbec (4), then Sparkling fruit and dessert wines. After lunch: White blends – Non-Vinifera Semi-Dry, Other Red Varietals – Vinifera (the best flight of the two days), Catawba (including one green one that looked like Listerine!) and finally Mead.

The green Catawba
The green Catawba

For dinner a large group of judges walked over to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a honky-tonk rib joint frequented by bikers. A group of 14 of us sat at a long table parallel to the bar and ordered a selection of beers and appetizers: chicken wings, catfish strips, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, fried green tomatoes, baked beans and collard greens simmered with a turkey neck. Then plates of pork ribs and chicken and corn bread. The whole meal came to $30 each including a handsome tip.

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