A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 543: London Bound

Saturday, April 25: Deborah dropped me at the airport for an 8:40 pm Air Canada flight to London. On Monday I begin four days of judging Canadian wines at the Decanter World Wine Awards. On the flight I watched Wild with Reese Witherspoon. Got a couple of hours’ sleep after a dinner of vegetarian shepherd’s pie (which sounds like an oxymoron but it was the better option than choosing AC chicken).

Sunday, April 26: Arrived in London at 8:30 am, topped up my oyster card with £50 and took the tube to Kentish Town. I’m staying with my old friend Rabbi David Goldberg and his wife, Carole, whom I have known for 45 years. David officiated at both my first marriage and my second wedding. On the journey in I read José Samarago’s Cain (great book).

Monday, April 27: The first day of judging the Decanter World Wine Awards. I have been the chair of the Canadian panel for the last ten years. This is the second year that the competition has been held at Tobacco Dock in Wapping. Great to meet up again with colleagues from all over the world. This year there are over 16,000 entries and 240 judges. My judging panel members are Barbara Philip MW, Rhys Pender MW, both from BC, Lynda Rhys, a Master Sommelier from London, and myself.

Today we had four flights before lunch and four after, beginning with 11 sparkling wines and followed by 11 Okanagan Chardonnays, 13 Pinot Noirs and 13 sweet red wines. The highlight of lunch is the magnificent cheese board with a huge selection of French and English cheeses (the judges consume 25 kilos a day, apparently!).

Our daily cheese

In the afternoon, 13 Merlots, 11 Chardonnays, 8 Okanagan Bordeaux blends and finishing with 7 sweet red wines. We awarded two gold medals – one for the very first wine we tasted this morning and one in the last flight of the day.

After the judging we all repair to a pub on the river, called The Captain Kidd, for a cleansing pint of beer. The weather was good enough to sit out on the patio overlooking the river. For dinner I walked over to the Lahore Kebab House on Commercial Street, where members of the Circle of Wine Writers had gathered, each bringing a bottle of wine. I had brought over with me a bottle of Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012.

Tuesday, April 28: The second day of judging. Our panel had a new member, Sarah Knowles, a London-based buyer for The Wine Society, a co-operative wine-buying group, who is studying for her Masters of Wine. In the morning we judged 12 Super Premium Pinot Noir, 11 BC Merlots, 9 aromatic single varieties and 9 Cabernet Franc icewines. In the afternoon, 13 single red varietals, 13 Rieslings, 8 Shiraz/Syrah and 12 Riesling icewines. Four gold medals today, one Pinot Noir and three icewine.

Canadian panel: Sarah Knowles, Rhys Pender, Barb Philip (seated) and me

After the pub, took the tube to Maida Vale to have dinner at Stephen Brook’s with Ian D’Agata and the ex-wife of James Suckling. The wines that Stephen served: 2013 Jaunegg Weissburgunder Schlossberg, 1999 Clusel-Roch Cote Rotie, 2009 Craggy Range Sophia and Mas Amiel 30-year Maury. A riotous evening.

Wednesday, April 29: Third day of judging. In the morning our Canadian panel blind tasted 10 Super Premium Bordeaux blends, 10 Chardonnay (2 of which were corked), 14 red blends (one corked), and 10 sweet whites. One gold medal in the morning. After lunch, 13 Cabernet Franc, 9 Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, 9 Niagara Bordeaux blends and 12 Vidal icewines. During the day, Christelle Guibert, the tasting director for Decanter, came to tell us that there had been a mistake and we had been given the same icewine twice the previous day – and we’d given a gold medal to both samples! So we patted ourselves on the back. After the pub I returned to Kentish Town for dinner with David and Carole and their son Rupert.

Thursday, April 30: My last day of judging. The morning began with 11 Sauvignon Blanc (one gold medal) followed by 7 white varietals and 4 rosés, 7 BC Bordeaux varietals, 11 BC and Niagara single Bordeaux varietals. After lunch, a final flight of 11 Okanagan Syrahs before we re-judged the gold medal wines to see if they merited their gold and which would go forward for a Regional Trophy.

After the ritual trip to Captain Kidd, back to Kentish town to take David and Carole to dinner. They had chosen a restaurant called La Collina on Princess Road, near Primrose Hill. I ordered grilled calamari and spaghetti vongole with a bottle of Cantine del Vermentino Funtanaliras 2014 from Sardinia and finished the evening off with a grappa.

Friday, May 1: A free day in London. Took the bus to Gower Street and walked around before having some fish and chips at Gigs on Tottenham Street, then back to Kentish Town to write up my blog before trekking out to Sydenham Hill to have dinner with my old friend Jim Budd (the leading authority on wines of the Loire who has the most extraordinary collection of Hawaiian shirts as well as the most luxuriant moustache I have ever seen).

Jim Budd

The view from his apartment, overlooking all of London with the Horniman Museum below, is spectacular. We started with Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2008 Sparkling Wine. With ceviche of salmon, scallops and tune, Pierre Luneau-Papin “L” Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 1995 (amazingly alive and fresh), followed by roast chicken and pork sausages, boiled potatoes and green beans, with Château de Beaucastel 1980. With a selection of cheeses, Huet Le Mont Vouvray Demi-Sec 1999.

Saturday, May 2: Up early to pack and get to Heathrow for my flight to the airport. While I was waiting for my flight, the BBC News announced the arrival of the Royal baby.


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