A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 440: Toasting California

Judging at the Ontario Wine Awards
Judging at the Ontario Wine Awards

Monday, April 8: Today is the annual California Wine Fair at the Fairmont Royal York. It begins with a sparkling wine reception and lunch for the trade and some privileged members of the wine press. Chatted with Jim Dickmeyer, the US Consul General, about his time in Guatemala.

At lunch I was seated at the Churchill Cellars table. Various wines imported by this agency were available for tasting: Michael & David Incognito 2011, a sumptuous blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Roussanne (91); Kunde Chardonnay 2011 (rich, full-bodied, sweet pineapple flavour with tangerine acidity – 90); Fog Head Pinot Noir 2011 (spicy, sweet cherry jam flavour with a firm finish – 88); Girard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (dense ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant nose; elegant, lovely mouth feel, soft tannins, full-bodied, sweet mulberry and blackcurrant flavour with a warm alcoholic finish – 89); and CigarZin Zinfandel 2009 (85% Zinfandel, 14% Sangiovese and 1% Petite Sirah – deep ruby colour; full-bodied, meaty, leather and plum nose; sweet and juicy raspberry and plum flavours finishing on a chocolate note – 89).

The guest speaker was Brent Shortridge of Anders-Lane Artisan Wines, who extolled the quality of the 2012 vintage in California (4 million tonnes, up 20% over last year and “the best fruit (the winemakers) have ever seen.”) The menu:

Ontario Cranberry Glazed Sustainable Arctic Char, Wasabi Mash, Meyer Lemon and Herb Beurre Blanc, Sundried Cranberries and Pea Tips

Duo of Salsa Verde Crusted Lamb Rack & Alberta Tenderloin, Grana Padano Polenta, Veal Reduction tinged with Blackberry Cassis

Triple Cream Brie, 5 Year Old Aged Ontario Cheddar and Borganzola, Homemade Quince Jam, Ontario Dried Fruits and Spiced Nuts, Fresh Baguette and Grassini Sticks

Petit Fours, Cream, Chopped Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Then into the ballroom for the tasting where 106 wineries were pouring their products. The room was mobbed and I didn’t spend much time trying to battle my way to the tables. Mercifully, a room had been set aside for the wine press where I could avoid the crush. Of those wines I did get to sample in the ballroom, the following stood out: Justin Vineyards & Winery Isosceles 2010 (91), Stonestreet Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (91), Jonata Fenix 2007 (91), Ehret Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (90), Landmark Grand Detour Pinot Noir 2010 (90), Michael Mondavi Family Estate Spellbound Petite Sirah 2010 (90), Miner Family The Oracle 2008 (90), Whitehall Lane Winery Merlot 2009 (90).

In the press room 68 wines had been set out. Here I tasted the best wine of the day – Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside Vineyard 2007 (93+). Not too shabby either were Signorello Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (90) and Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2011 (90).

For dinner, sautéed shrimp with rice and a bottle of Pillitteri Pinot Grigio 2011 (pale straw colour; peach pit nose; nicely balance, fresh, dry, white peach flavour – 87).

Tuesday, April 9: Worked on the essay on the impact of Italian wine on Toronto before heading to Grano for lunch with Mark Nadeau. I pulled out of the cellar a bottle of Ceretto Barolo Vignetto Grignoré 1999, which was delicious. It was raining all day. I made my way down to a funeral parlour in Scarborough to pay my respects to my old friend and colleague in wine David Churchill, who died much too young. There was an open casket, which I always find difficult, but it was good to see he was holding a rose and there was a copy of his novel, The Empire of Death. He had told me he was busy on his second when he was taken ill with cancer of the esophagus. He will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, April 10: Wrote my column for On The Go Magazine and then up to Auberge du Pommier for a lunch hosted by Adam Mason, the winemaker at Mulderbosch Vineyard. Adam introduced his own wines and those of other South African producers. We began with Graham Beck Brut, a beautifully made sparkling wine, crisp and refreshing (89). The menu:

Baked Lobster Custard, Cape Malay Spiced Sweet Potato, Crisp Leeks, Served in an Egg Shell, with Graham Beck Bowed Head Chenin Blanc 2010 (deeply coloured; intense, earthy, tropical fruit nose; rich and full on the palate (89)) and Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011 (spicy, quince nose; dry, elegant pear and citrus flavours (90))

Blackened Albacore Tuna, Seaweed-Oyster Pannacotta, Cucumber, Lime, Powdered Dressing, with Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2012 (deep pink colour; redcurrant nose; crisply dry with great length (89)); and Lammershoek Syrah Rosé 2011 (orange-pink colour; minerally, cherry pit nose; tart and fresh, wild strawberry flavour (88))

Cumbrae Farms Lamb Loin, Glazed Shank, Hazelnut Faro, Dried Fruits, Sauce Mole Negro, with Boschendal 1685 Shiraz 2010 (dense purple colour; savoury, blackberry and black olive nose; initially sweet fruit with a peppery note that finishes dry (89)); Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block 2010 (Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet – dense purple, rich and spicy, elegant richly extracted flavours of – yes – chocolate and blackberry (91)); and Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2009 (Bordeaux blend – lovely mouth feel, elegant, claret style with cassis and cedar flavours (90))

In the evening, down to Casa Loma for an Ontario Wine Society walk-around tasting. For dinner, baked trout with Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2010 (light straw colour; peach and citrus nose; well balanced, peach and pineapple flavours, satisfyingly dry. Good value at $15.95 (89)).

Thursday, April 11: Spent the day writing the essay on Italian wines in Toronto. Reminded of my early days in Toronto in the late 1970s: If you walked into an LCBO outlet you might think you’d wandered into the waiting room of a local railway station. Not a single bottle was visible. You filled in a piece of paper with the name of the wine and the product number, handed it across the counter and paid the price. The employee disappeared and returned with a brown paper bag. He – invariably it was a he – slipped the bottle out of the bag by its neck to give you a surreptitious glance at the label. And then he slid it back. The entire transaction was like purchasing pornography.

For dinner, lamb chops with Bouchard Père & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010 (ruby colour; violets and raspberries on the nose with a vanilla oak note; medium-bodied, dry, raspberry and sour cherry flavour (87+)).

Friday, April 12: Cold and rainy all day. Will spring ever arrive! I’m going to shoot the groundhog. Down to the LCBO for a tasting of newly released general list products. I don’t know how some of these make it through the LCBO tasting panel.

Down to Allen’s with Deborah to meet up with our old friend Leonard Glazema from Belgium, who’s in town. Leonard imports Henry of Pelham wines to Brussels and admits he drinks most of it himself. John Maxwell, gracious host as ever, said I could pick anything from the wine list for dinner. He has a magnificent list of Ontario wines. For the five at the table I chose Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche 2009 and Tawse David’s Block Merlot 2007. Great to see Leonard, all too rare.

Saturday, April 13: Today is the first round of tastings for the Ontario Wine Awards, held at Crush wine bar on King Street West. There are three panels of four wine writers and sommeliers:

  • Panel A: Konrad Ejbich, Linda Bramble, Zoltan Szabo and Dean Tudor
  • Panel B: Gord Stimmell, Michael Pinkus, John Szabo and Carolyn Hammond
  • Panel C: Chris Waters, Edward Finstein, Evan Saviolidis and Rick VanSickle

Today they will each taste about 75 wines. To calibrate their palates I’m serving a wine blind. It’s Grange of Prince Edward Riesling Late Harvest 2010 (pale straw in colour with a lime tint; a nose of honeyed grapefruit with a floral, mineral and petrol notes; medium-bodied with well-balanced honey, lime an grapefruit flavours. (89+)). They all come back next Saturday for the second round. The following Sunday two different panels will taste the sweet wines.

For dinner, roast chicken with a bottle of Frei Bothers Reserve Chardonnay 2010 from the Russian River Valley (straw colour; buttery, vanilla, pear nose with spicy oak notes; full-bodied pineapple and pear flavours, lively citrus acidity with a nutty finish (88)).

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