Monday, March 23: Finished work on the Oz Clarke Pocket Wine Book and sent the material off to London.
Amazing dinner put on by the Italian Trade Commission, How Italy Does Italian prepared by Michelin-starred Chef Giancarlo Morelli in the Ritz Carlton Ballroom. Simply the best meal I’ve had at a function as large as this (some 250 people).
Tuesday, March 24: A meeting with Dominque Vaughan-Russell, an image consultant, to suggest a seminar for her associates on wine etiquette. In the evening, there was a showing of The Imitation Game in our condo’s movie room. Brought down a glass of Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2012 to accompany the movie.
Wednesday, March 25: Up early to finishing packing to fly to Edmonton for the first Northern Lands Wine Festival, organized by my old friend and wine writer colleague Gurvinder Bhatia. His father-in-law picked me up at the airport and drove me to the Westin Hotel. Gurvinder was there to greet me and whisked me and fellow wine scribes Treve Ring and Kurtis Kolt off to Taqueria Tres Carnales for a selection of delicious tacos and Mexican beer.
Met in the lobby of The Westin Edmonton at 5:15 pm for transport to Epcor Tower for a welcome sparkling toast (Tantalus Riesling Brut 2004 in magnum) from the viewing deck of Epcor Tower and an overview from senior city official on downtown development & revitalization including the new Rogers Place Arena project.
Gurvinder dispensing bubbly
New arena under construction in Edmonton
Then on to dinner at RGE RD (10643 – 123rd St.). We were seated at a long table and started off with Henry of Pelham Rosé Brut. The waiters brought in a 12-foot plank full of charcuterie which was placed in the middle of the table. Then the wines arrived: CedarCreek Platinum Chardonnay Block 5 2012, Little Farm Riesling 2013, Little Farm Rosé Mulberry Vineyard 2013. First course: cured lake trout with Chantilly cream with baby kale and edible flowers, followed by risotto aquarello (rice aged for seven years) made with parmesan stock. More wine: Culmina Hypothesis 2012 for the “nouveau beef” with smoked potatoes.
Charcuterie plank at RGE RD resto
We went on to the Duchess Bake Shop (10718 – 124th St.) for dessert. Fabulous selection of one-bite desserts and cocktails. This company employs 18 pastry chefs in a very small kitchen. They make 3000 macaroons by hand a day! Back at the hotel by midnight.
Desserts at Duchess Bakery
Thursday, March 26: After an early breakfast the judges for the competition (11 of us) met in the Turner Valley Room at hotel to start the judging. My table consisted of wine writers Steven Brook from London and Bill St. John from Chicago and winemaker Michael Bartier. At noon we broke for lunch and were bussed to Rostizado (owned by the same company as the Tres Carnales, where we had tacos yesterday for lunch). Delicious Mexican lunch of sea bream ceviche followed by gorditas (small corn flour cakes stuffed with spicy pulled pork), slivered pork shoulder, roast chicken, cauliflower with cumin and a spicy bean soup. Then a coffee downstairs under the restaurant in a space called Vacancy Hall, “a unique pop-up retail and studio space for designers, brands and entrepreneurs.” Then back to the hotel for the afternoon judging.
Bussed to a reception hosted in the home of Keshav and Rajshri in honour of Chef Vikram Vij and us wine judges. Lovely Indian hors d’oeuvres and dinner with Canadian wines. Great view of the North Saskatchewan River from the hosts’ balcony.
North Saskatchewan River by night
Friday, March 27: Second day of judging. Fifty wines before lunch and then down to the hotel’s private dining room for a menu prepared by Chef Ryan O’Flynn, Gold Medalist at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships held recently in Kelowna. A presentation of wines from Nova Scotia’s Benjamin Bridge Winery by winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers accompanied the meal.
Butternut squash panna cotta with toasted squash seeds and espuma, with Benjamin Bridge Brut
Terrine of pine-smoked Canadian sturgeon and Quebec foie gras (the dish that won the chef the gold award), with Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008
Confit of Irving’s Farm pork belly with lobster and Rocky Mountain chorizo arancini, toasted pine nut “butter” and black trompettes, carrot purée, with Benjamin Bridge Rosé
Pavlova crispy meringue, raspberry sorbet, rose foam, vanilla cream, with Benjamin Bridge Vidal Icewine Borealis 2011
Then back to the tasting room to decide on the best wines, sparkling, white, red and sweet wines of the 200-odd entries in the competition. The results:
- Tawse Spark 2013
- Tawse Sketches Riesling 2012
- Road 13 Syrah 2013
- Henry of Vidal Pelham Select Late Harvest Vidal 2013
Northern Lands’ winning wines
At 7:40 pm I was met in the lobby of the hotel for transport to dinner at Rostizado for a collaborative dinner with Chefs Edgar Gutierrez, Connie DeSousa & John Jackson with John Skinner of Painted Rock Winery. Connie and John own the Char Cut Roast House in Calgary and she sports an intriguing tattoo on her right forearm – a pin-up with a string of sausages in her hand.
John Jackson and Connie De Sousa of Char Cut in Calgary
John Skinner of Painted Rock
The reception wine was Painted Rock Chardonnay 2013.
First course: Pork blood sope (pellizcadas) with smoked pork, corn, avocado and chilies, with Painted Rock Syrah 2012
Second course: Tuna conserva with avocado and pickled chilies, with Painted Rock Merlot 2012
Third course: Octopus with chorizo (the dish of the night), with Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Octopus and chorizo
Fourth course: Duck carnitas with cotija basil puree, pickled butternut squash and pistachio brittle, with Painted Rock Red Icon 2012
Dessert: Pastel de chocolate fundido (Mexican chocolate molten cake with blackberries and smoked peanuts)
Walked back to the hotel.
Saturday, March 28: At 8:30 am, Gurvinder’s wife, Aimee, drove me to the seminar site, a restaurant called Sabor. I was moderating the Cool Climate Chardonnay seminar. Panelists: Michael Apstein – winereviewonline.com (Boston); Stephen Brook – Decanter Magazine (London); Heidi Noble – Joie Farm (BC); Paul Pender – Tawse Winery (ON); Norman Hardie – Norman Hardie Winery (ON); JAK Meyer – Meyer Family Vineyards (BC).
The flight of wines was tasted blind:
- JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay ‘En Famille’ 2012, Okanagan BC
- Meyer Family McLean Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan BC
- Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, Vinemount Ridge Ontario
- Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2013, Prince Edward County Ontario
- Drouhin Chablis Vaudon 2013, Burgundy France
- Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2013, Oregon USA
- Felton Road Chardonnay Elms 2011, Central Otago New Zealand
- Maycas del Limari Chardonnay Reserva Especial 2009, Limari Valley Chile.
At 12:30 pm I moderated another panel discussion on the future of the Canadian Wine Industry. Panelists: Stephen Brook; Donald Triggs – Culmina (BC); Sandra Oldfield – Tinhorn Creek (BC); Tom Pennachetti – Cave Spring (ON); Michael Apstein – winereviewonline.com (Boston, MA); W. Blake Gray – The Gray Report (San Francisco) and David Scholefield – Okanagan Crush Pad; Allison Markin, Okanagan Tourism consultant; and Aldo Parise, editor Quench magazine. While we discussed the industry the audience sipped on these wines: Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2013, Culmina Hypothesis 2012, Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Cabernet Franc 2010, Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2012.
At 5:00 pm we walked to the Shaw Conference Centre for a “Meet Your Makers” event featuring 47 Canadian wineries, 11 craft breweries, 3 craft distillers and 22 chefs. A great venue for wine tasting with lots of natural light. I concentrated on the small new BC wineries I hadn’t tasted before. Enjoyed Privato Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir 2010, Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2012 and Maverick Estate Pinot Noir 2013.
At 9:30 pm over to LUX Steakhouse for the afterparty for participating producers, chefs, judges and volunteers. Wine, beer, hors d’oeuvres and live music (Canadian bands: Le Fuzz, Lindsey Walker and Lionel Rault). The awards for the festival wine and craft beer competitions and the Producers’ Ping Pong tournament were be presented at the party.
Sunday, March 29: At 8 am Gurvinder picked Paul Pender and me up at the hotel and drove us to Global TV for an interview on the Breakfast Show. Then all the remaining judges and Vikram Vij were invited to Gurvinder’s parents’ home for an Indian brunch. After the brunch Gurvinder took us to see his wine store, Vinomania.
Cocktails with Vikram, Paul, Aldo, Aimee and Gurvinder
At 4:45 Gurvinder and Aimee picked up Vikram, Aldo, Paul and me from the hotel in a large taxi and we began a restaurant/bar crawl around Edmonton. We started at Ampersand 27, where the house signature dish is Pig’s Ear Pad Thai. With a variety of dishes from the menu we drank the following wines that Gurvinder had brought from his store: Marotti Campi Verdicchio Salamarino 2010, Donatella Cinelli Colombini Cenerentola Orcia 2010, Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2011.
Next stop: Three Boars, a cocktail bar where we sampled eight different cocktails on their outdoor veranda.
Paper towel dispenser, men’s washroom, Three Boars bar
Then on to dinner at Corso 32 where we were joined by the owners of RGE RD, Blair and Caitlin. Started off with Ruggeri Giustini B Prosecco Extra Dry 2012 with arincini filled with mushrooms, cheese and rice and speck with horseradish. Ravioli with black truffle with Poggiobello Friulano 2013. Rainbow trout with Marotti Campi Origolo Lacrima di Morroci d’Alba 2012. Garganelli pasta bolognaise with Cos Nero di Lupo 2013. Fried short ribs with Travaglini Gattinara Tre Vigne 2008 and Cabutto Barolo Tenuta La Volta 1997. Dessert – chocolate pâté with salted hazelnuts, with Nardini Amaro. Walked back to the hotel.
Monday, March 30: Flew back to Toronto.