Decanter’s Canadian panel: clockwise, Rhys Pender MW, Barbara Philip MW, Tony, Janet Dorozynski (photo by Igor Ryjenkov MW)
Saturday, April 27: Guy drove Deborah and me to the airport for our flight to London. I’m chairing the Canadian panel at the 10th annual Decanter World Wine Awards, which begins on Monday. Deborah will enjoy a week of shopping, sightseeing and theatre-going while I’m swirling, sniffing, gargling and spitting.
Sunday, April 28: We arrived at Heathrow at 8:30 am and, having acquired Oyster passes, were on the tube to Green Park by 9:30. A direct Piccadilly Line route to the Park Lane Hotel on Piccadilly. After a couple of hours’ sleep we had a sandwich in the bar (where they have wi-fi) and then walked over to Waterstone’s book store to pick up a couple of novels. Next to the Royal Academy to see the George Bellows exhibition, an American painter who died in 1925. Amazing boxing paintings as well as river scenes and a lovely portrait of his wife and two daughters. We took the tube to Kentish Town to have dinner with our friends, Rabbi David Goldberg (who married us) and his wife Carole.
Monday, April 29: The first day of the Decanter awards. The tastings are held at a photographic studio called The Worx in Parsons Green. To get there, it’s a 20-minute tube ride from Green Park via Earl’s Court, changing to the District Line and a short walk from the station. The Decanter staff put out pastries and croissants and fresh fruit, coffee and tea for the judges. This year Sarah Kemp, who is in charge of the competition, told us that there are just shy of 14,400 entries to be judged by 225 judges from 37 countries. For the first two days I’m judging wines from the Languedoc with Rosemary George MW as my chair.
Lunch today was fish and rice and salad with an amazing selection of cheeses. After a day’s judging we all repair to The White Horse pub on the green for a pint of real ale, courtesy of Decanter. Not a very inspiring tasting day today – from 84 wines we awarded a couple of silver medals and that was all. Dinner in the hotel.
Tuesday, April 30: Another day of tasting Languedoc. For lunch, chicken breast and more gorgeous cheeses. Dinner with our nephew Jeffrey at a tiny restaurant he recommended – Andrew Edmunds, 46 Lexington Street in Soho, just north of what used to be the Windmill Theatre. I was at the final show when the Windmill closed as a burlesque house in 1964. At Andrew Edmunds’ the tables are tiny and close together. I ordered dressed crab and warm marinated squid with a red wine that I forgot to note (the problem with tasting 87 wines from Languedoc followed by a pint of bitter!).
Wednesday, May 1: Today is the first of three days of tasting Canadian wines. My fellow panelists are Barbara Philip MW and Rhys Pender MW, both from BC, and Janet Dorozynski from Ottawa. We could award, after discussion, either a gold medal, a silver, a bronze, Commended or No Medal. We tasted the following flights:
- 6 sparkling wines
- 13 Sauvignon and 1 Semillon
- 13 Ontario Chardonnay
- 7 BC Chardonnay
- 7 Ontario Pinot Noir
- 12 Ontario and BC Cabernet Franc
Then we broke for lunch – bangers and mash and another great cheese selection. After lunch:
- 8 Cabernet Merlot blends from BC and Ontario
- 7 BC Merlot blends
- 13 BC and Ontario sweet Rieslings
Then to the White Horse for a pint of bitter before joining Deborah at the hotel and then proceeding down to the crypt of the Crypt at the Bleeding Heart, St. Etheldreda’s RC Church, 14 Ely Place near Farringdon Station for the annual judges’ party, where they traditionally serve lashings of Perrier Jouet Champagne. Dined with Deborah in the hotel restaurant, Citrus.
Thursday, May 2: We began our morning with:
- 9 BC and Ontario Pinot Gris and 1 Chenin Blanc
- 8 BC Chardonnay
- 13 Ontario and BC and 1 BC Muscat
- 8 BC and Ontario Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 BC Malbec, 1 BC Petit Verdot
- 13 BC and Ontario Merlot
Lunch – rack of lamb and cheeses.
- 13 BC and Ontario Syrah/Shiraz
- 11 Ontario sweet Vidal
After the de rigeur pint at The White Horse, back to the hotel to change to go to dinner with Rosemary George and her husband, Christopher. Rosemary had invited a palate of MWs – Bob Campbell and his wife from New Zealand, Emma Jenkins also from New Zealand, Christy Canterbury from New York, Barbara Philip and her sister from Vancouver. I brought along a bottle of Rosehall Run Chardonnay 2007. Bob had brought Dry River Chardonnay 2004, which was delicious, as well as Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2010, which Christopher matched with a 2006 Ata Rangi. All went beautifully with the poached salmon. For dessert Rosemary produced a bottle of vintage Samos Muscat that tasted like an old Madeira. Got back to the hotel well after midnight.
Friday, May 3: The last day of tasting. Our panel stared with a variety of white and rosés from BC and Ontario:
- 7 Ontario dry Rieslings
- 7 BC and 1 Ontario Gewurztraminer
- 10 BC Pinot Noir
- 12 Ontario Meritage
- 11 Ontario and BC red blends, including a Zweigelt and a Zinfandel
Lunch – roast salmon and cheeses.
- 12 Icewines (11 of which came from Ontario)
We then retasted the gold medal wines from this year to award Regional trophies.
Then to the White Horse for a pint before picking up Deborah at the hotel and taking the tube up to Hampstead to have dinner with Livia Prior and her sister-in-law Sandra Pruski. Livia was married to Michael Prior, my oldest friend, whom I met on my first day of school at Epsom College in 1953. Mike was killed in a car crash three months ago. Apparently he had a heart attack while driving and went into a tree. It was a poignant and painful evening as we reminisced about Mike. He and I always sat and drank champagne whenever we got together, which was virtually every year. To honour that memory Livia brought out a bottle of Taittinger. She asked me to go into his cellar (a perilous trip through a trap door in the sun room and down a steep iron ladder to an underground chamber). I chose Vieux Télégraphe 1997 and a half bottle of Château Beaucaillou-Ducru 1966. Both very much alive and delicious with the roast chicken. A very cathartic evening.
Saturday, May 4: Breakfast in the hotel dining room and then packing for home. Took the tube from Green Park to Heathrow, spent an hour or so in the lounge catching up on emails and then boarded the plane to Toronto. Rapturous greeting by Pinot the Wonder Dog. For dinner, pizza from the freezer with a bottle of Vignobles Chatonnet Tour Saint-André Lalande de Pomerol 2010 (blueberries and currants on the nose with cedar and vanilla oak notes; plum and cherry flavours, dry and supple on the palate – 88). Watch the Leafs beat Boston 4–2. All in all a very satisfying week.