A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 512: Preparing for Sicily

Saturday, September 13: Still a bit jet-lagged but had to judge the Royal Fair wine competition. Some interesting Ontario wines. Can’t wait for the results but here’s a photo of the wines we tasted for the medal round.

Wines that made the medal round

Sunday, September 14: Received a copy of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide (5th edition). John is the man when it comes to information on BC wineries. It’s really an indispensable book for anyone interested in wine, especially if you want to explore wine country in the BC interior.

Monday, September 15: Wrote up my 680News wine reviews, then did a little tasting.

  • Rotary Club 1951 Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 (Château des Charmes, Ontario – $13.95): lemony-straw colour; apple nose with a nutty note; dry, nicely balanced, crisp apple flavour with a lemony finish. (87)
  • Château des Charmes Chardonnay Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard 2012 (Ontario – $21.95): pale straw colour; toasty, nutty, baked apple nose with citrus notes; rich and spicy, creamy, apple and pineapple flavours backed by a lively spine of acidity giving a long fresh finish. A well-made wine. (91)
  • Colio Estates Bricklayer’s Reward “Big Pond” Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Lake Erie North Shore – $15.95): light straw colour; grassy, green fig nose; good varietal character – gooseberry and grapefruit flavours; good length. (88)
  • Laroche Viognier de la Chevalière 2013 (Pays d’Oc – $12.70): lemon yellow colour; minerally, peach nose with a floral top note; mouth-filling, peach and apricot flavours with a spicy finish. Good value. (88)
  • Rotary Club 1951 Cabernet Merlot 2011 (Château des Charmes, Ontario – $14.95): ruby colour; high tone, cedary, red berry nose; raspberry and redcurrant flavours, firm and tight with cocoa powder tannins. (87)

In the evening Deborah and I went to the 80th birthday of a friend of ours. She had rented the ice cream truck that usually parks outside the ROM and all the guests could order what they liked.

Tuesday, September 16: Went to Costco to pick up food for a tasting I’m doing at noon for the office workers at Manulife financial in the York Mills Centre – shrimps, cheese and fruit sponge cake. Also trying to clear my desk for a trip to Sicily and Barcelona on Thursday.

Received today a phial in a wooden box. It contained a sample of Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Tawny Port. It sells at Vintages for $3,995 a bottle. Will share it with Deborah tonight.

Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Tawny Port

With grilled chicken and pasta I opened a bottle of Fairview The Bear Premier Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. A great wine that any Bordeaux château would have been proud to make.

Wednesday, September 17: Conducted a lunchtime tasting at the Manulife Centre, a wine pairing “lunch and learn” seminar for people who work in the building. I brought along cheese, shrimps and cake to match with Ontario Riesling, Cabernet-Shiraz and Select Late Harvest Vidal.

Wines for the lunchtime tasting

In the evening, to Dish cooking studio on Dupont Street, to conduct a wine tasting dinner for corporate clients. The 40 guests, given aprons, had to prepare their own dinner in four teams under the guidance of a chef. The wines for the evening with the dishes:

Reception wine: Cattier Brut Premier Cru Champagne

1st course: Peppery arugula salad with Spinyback Sauvignon Blanc 2013

2nd course: Spring risotto with Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2011

3rd course: Grainy Dijon crusted steak with Château Larrivet Haut-Brion 2010

Dessert: Stone fruit buckle with Château des Charmes Late Harvest Riesling 2008.

Guests at work cooking their dinner

Thursday, September 18: Recorded my 680News wine reviews and cleared my desk for my departure to Sicily for a week and on to Barcelona for Torres’s wine and food symposium.


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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 511: Verona

Friday, September 5: The drive from Poggibonsi to Verona took just under three and a half hours, stopping at an Auto Grill on the highway for a sandwich. What a difference between the rolling hills and winding roads of Tuscany and the flat wheat plains and arrow-straight highways of Emilia-Romagna. But when we arrived in Verona it took us a good hour to find our destination – a flat on Vicola Ostie just inside Porta Borsari, very near the Piazza Bra and the Coliseum.

Facade of our apartment (Deborah in the open window)
Facade of our apartment (Deborah in the open window)

Our hostess Maria told me that Verona has 265,000 inhabitants and I think each of them must own three cars. Parking restrictions are draconian and entry to the city centre by cars not registered is forbidden during certain hours.

I went in search of a supermarket and discovered a great wine shop called Corsini. Deborah and I ate in and minded baby Declan while Annabel and Ian went out for a quiet dinner. Guy, whose girlfriend Sasha joined him after her visit to Croatia, also went out. So Deborah and I cooked up some pork filets, aubergine and red peppers and dined over a bottle of Conte Attems Ribolla Gialla 2013.

Saturday, September 6: After a leisurely breakfast Deborah and I dropped off garbage into the recycling bins but we couldn’t find one for organic garbage so we were walking around with this plastic bag until we enquired at a restaurant in Piazza Bra where there was a bin. They obligingly took it off our hands. Then walked over to the parking lot where I had left the car (about 15 minutes away) and crossed the ornate Ponte Scaligero at the Castelvecchio.

Castelvecchio, Verona
Castelvecchio, Verona

We had to pick up a bag of groceries that got left behind when we moved in. Then we walked up Porta Borsari to buy coffee capsules from Nespresso (who would not allow us to take a photo inside. I saw the same prohibition in a stall in the market in Piazza del Erbe where we headed next. What’s with that?).

Piazza del Erbe, Verona
Piazza del Erbe, Verona

Verona's synagogue
Verona’s synagogue

Snack at Bottega del Vino
Snack at Bottega del Vino

Verona, I’ve noticed, is a city of small cars and even smaller dogs. We dropped into my favourite wine bar, Bottega del Vino, for lunch at noon: a glass of Ammiraglia Vermentino 2013 with deep-fried shrimps, whitebait and prosciutto on a crostini. Then a gelato en route to PAM, the supermarket. Back at the apartment to relax and eat again with a glass of Conte Attems Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Sunday, September 7: Today we drove to Mantova to check out an outlet mall. Not the most satisfactory of excursions since we took a minor road rather than the AutoRoute, encountering hundreds of roundabouts. We ended up having a lunch of pizza at Antica Trattoria Chalet Te in Mantova with a bottle of La Azienda Agricola Cavalchina Biaco di Custoza 2013. The mall itself was not very impressive and all I bought – apart from an ice cream at the Lindt store – was three pairs of jazzy underpants. On the way home Deborah picked up a dress from a store in Verona.

Porta Borsari, Verona
Porta Borsari, Verona

In the evening Sasha took us (Guy, Deborah and me) to dinner at a steak house called La Griglia. A very tasty steak with a bottle of Masi Materingo Valpolicella 2011. After dinner Deborah and I walked over to the Arena in Piazza Bra to see if we could hear the opera Aida that was playing tonight in the open-air coliseum. But we couldn’t hear a thing! The sound just didn’t spill out of the arena.

Arena in Piazza Bra, Verona
Arena in Piazza Bra, Verona

Monday, September 8: Up at 6:30 am this morning to prepare to leave at 7:30 to catch a train to Venice. Annabel, Ian, Guy and Sasha have arranged a birthday present for Deborah and me – an hour-long motorboat ride through the canals from the Rialto at noon. Walking from the train station to the Rialto Deborah and I stopped for a glass of Soave at Osteria al Diavolo L’Aquasanta. On the boat Annabel provided a bottle of Corte delle Calli Prosecco.

Venice canal
Venice canal

Rialto bridge, Venice
Rialto bridge, Venice

Guy and Sasha in Venice
Guy and Sasha in Venice

We went our separate ways for lunch and Deborah and I stopped in at Al Paradiso Ristorante on Calle del Paradiso. A so-so meal of Spaghetti Puttanesca with a half bottle of Corte della Rose Pinot Bianco 2013. I presented my Visa when they gave me the bill to be told that I could only use a credit card if the bill was over 50 euros. (Min was 37 euros.) There was no mention of this on the menu. Not going back there again.

But that unsettling experience was quickly forgotten when we dropped in at Venchi Cioccogelateria (Calle dei Fabbri/San Marco 989) for the best ice cream I’ve tasted on this trip. Tired of walking, we took the vaporetto from the rialto to the train station, where we caught the milk train back to Verona, taxiing back to the apartment. Dined in on salami, prosciutto, tomatoes and bocconcini, gorgonzola and pizzas with bottles of Le Ragose Le Sassino Valpolicella 2009 and Alois Lageder Lagrein 2011.

Tuesday, September 9: At 9:30 am Sandro Boscaini sent a van to take us to the Masi winery for a tour, tasting and lunch about half hour away from Verona. Sandro’s assistant Elisa showed us around the cellars and the drying room. She told us that it takes three kilos of grapes to make a bottle of Amarone.

Masi winery
Masi winery

Sandro Boscaini
Sandro Boscaini

Prephylloxera vine at Serego Alighieri
Prephylloxera vine at Serego Alighieri

Ancient door at Serego Alighieri
Ancient door at Serego Alighieri

We toured the Serego Alighieri property and its ancient drying room before sitting down to a tasting back at Masi of Masi Brolo Campofiorin Oro 2010, Serego Alighieri Montepiazzo Valpolicella 2010, Masi Grandarella Refosco delle Venezie 2010, Masi Vaio Amarone2007, Masi Campolongo di Torbe 2007, and Masi Mazzano Amarone 2007. The single vineyard Amarones have definitive terroir flavours, which gives the lie to the idea that appassimento (the drying of the grapes) extinguishes a sense of place. Sandro contends that appassimento actually emphasises terroir.

Count Serego Alighieri's house
Count Serego Alighieri’s house

Lunch at the Masi house at the San Ciriaco vineyard
Lunch at the Masi house at the San Ciriaco vineyard

Masi's dessert wine at lunch
Masi’s dessert wine at lunch

Drove into the Negrar Valley to a house owned by Masi for lunch with a group of local hoteliers and sommeliers. A typical Tuscan meal of prosciutto, speck and cheeses (Gialloblu delle Lemmia, Lemmo di Capra, Pecorina Canentrato Monte Veronese, Monte Veronese Ubriato, Monte Veronese Vacchio Cimbeo della Lessminia) with risotto Amarone, accompanied by Masi Brolo Campofiorni 2009 and Masi Costasera Amarone Riserva 2008. For dinner, back at the apartment, we prepared a meal of spaghetti.

Wednesday, September 10: Our last day in Verona. After breakfast we walked over to the Duomo and dropped into Excelsior, a luxury clothing store with a basement full of gourmet food and wine called Eats. Deborah and I lunched at Osteria Sgarzarie in a 13th century covered market. We split an order of Caprese salad and then a plate of pasta with a half bottle of Allegrini Valpolicella 2013.

Lunch at Osteria Sgarzarie
Lunch at Osteria Sgarzarie

Spent the afternoon packing for an early start home tomorrow. In the evening we call went over to the Bottega del Vino for a glass of wine before dinner. I asked the waiter if I could show Guy and Sasha the cellar with its 18,000 bottles. They were suitably impressed.

A drawerful of Quintarelli Amarone at Bottega del Vino
A drawerful of Quintarelli Amarone at Bottega del Vino

Piazza Dante, Verona
Piazza Dante, Verona

We dined at Ristorante Antica Torretta near the Duomo. I ordered gnocchi with black truffles and sea bass with green beans and fennel. The wines: Surran Vermentino 2013 and Fumanelli Squarano Valpolicella 2010. Dessert: peach and Prosecco ice.

Thursday, September 11: Up at 6 am to get the car from the parking lot by the Arsenale. Drove to Florence, dropped off the rental car and boarded the flight to Frankfurt. The plane was late leaving and had to circle over Frankfurt, which left us 20 minutes to make our connection. But mercifully the flight to Toronto was delayed so we made it. A spectacular family holiday with my grandson Declan starring front and centre wherever we went.

Grandson Declan and his Dad Ian
Grandson Declan and his Dad Ian


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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 510: Tuscany

Friday, August 29: Last night Deborah, my son Guy and I flew overnight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa (where we did our 10,000 steps just traversing the airport) and then took a connecting flight to Florence. We had booked and paid for a rental car, which was supposed to be a Volvo but it morphed into an Audi A3, and we drove to Riserva di Fizzano near Castellina in Chianti – gorgeous weather around 27°C. We checked in and they gave us a hand-drawn map to get to Sant’Alfonso, the farm house with six bedrooms which we have rented for six nights.

Starving and sleep deprived, we had lunch in the restaurant at Fizzano: Guy and I ordered pizza and Deborah, grilled vegetables with bocaccini with a bottle of Rocca delle Macie Silva Rosa 2013 from Maremma. Guy had been called out for the Ice Bucket Challenge and he executed it in the vineyard. Perfect weather to pour an ice bucket over your head. Then he challenged me so I’ll do it. Then we drove over to the farm house which, we were told, was 2.5 kilometres away. We got hopelessly lost and had to return to Fizzano for more specific directions.

View from Sant'Alfonso's terrace
View from Sant’Alfonso’s terrace

The farmhouse is huge with nine bedrooms and a commanding view of the hills, valleys and vineyards. We put together a scratch meal from food that the housekeeper had bought for us and stored in the fridge: cold cuts, cheeses, tomatoes and bread with a bottle of Rocca delle Macie Occhio A Vento Vermentino 2013.

Woke up at midnight and lay awake for a couple of hours before falling asleep till 6 am.

Saturday, August 30th: Can’t get the gas stove to light and there is no toaster or a kettle here, so had breakfast at The Olive Garden restaurant at Riserva di Fizzano. Met an Australian family from Perth and a Norwegian couple.

Fizzano's restaurant
Fizzano’s restaurant

Deborah, Guy and I drove into Poggibonsi to shop for food. Bought fruit and vegetables from a market stall and then visited the Coop, a huge supermarket that even sells TV sets. Back to Sant’Alfonso for lunch, having picked up a couple of bottles of Rocca delle Macie Silva Rosa 2013.

Then drove over to Il Torrione, another Rocca delle Macie property, to swim in their pool. A young German guy was filling a huge terracotta dish with water from the shower. I asked him if it was for his dog. “No,” he said, “it’s for my hook.” It turns out he has a three-year-old hawk and he wanted to let it have a bath.

The 'hook' at Il Torrione
The “hook” at Il Torrione

Back at Sant’Alfonso two maids arrived to clean up the place and to show us how to light the gas stove. The caretaker had turned the gas off, apparently. The three of us dined at Osteria al Terrione. I ordered Linguine Marimare followed by beef in a white truffle sauce with shaved black truffles and a salad with a bottle of Fattoria La Pupille Morellino di Scansano 2010.

Sunday, August 31: After breakfast another visit to the Coop to stock up on food. Suzanne, Deborah’s sister, and her husband Richard are arriving tonight in Florence from Parisand we will pick them up at the airport. After lunch Deborah, Guy and I, in one car and Ian, Annabel and baby Declan in another drove to Castellina in Chianti. Where the dirt road meets the highway there is a massive pothole and the front end of the Audi hit the rut and cracked the front spoiler.

Baby meets Balthazar
Baby meets Balthazar

After visiting Castellina in Chianti and stopping for a glass of white wine we decided to take the car back to Avis at the airport before picking up Suzanne and Richard and exchanging it for another. The problem was there were no automatic cars available and I haven’t driven standard in years. Eventually they found his a small automatic Fiat 500 but when Deborah brought them to the Avis depot in the airport shuttle their luggage was too large to fit in the trunk. Eventually we managed to manoeuvre the seats forward to accommodate the large suitcase and set off to find the A1 auto route to Poggibonsi. It looks like it’s going to cost us $2,000 in repairs!

In the dark, to add insult to injury, it took us a half an hour of circling Florence to find the right direction. We thought we knew the way from Poggibonsi but had arrived by a different route and spend another twenty minutes or so to navigate to the road to Sant’Alfonso. When we finally arrived at 11 pm we found the table in the kitchen set for eight and the wine decanted into jugs (Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico 2009 and Rocca delle Macie Sasyr Sangiovese Syrah 2011). Ian had prepared black olive tapenade and bruschetta on toast and an amazing spaghetti bolognaise. Turns out I’m allergic to whatever insects are biting me and my body is covered with itchy welts. In the night, a violent storm with sheet lightning and rolling thunder.

Monday, September 1: Richard and Suzanne have brought baguettes and cheese from Paris. We had the baguettes for breakfast before setting off to Castello di Volpaia for lunch with Giovanna Stianti.

The library at Castello di Volpaia
The library at Castello di Volpaia

Although Castello di Volpaia looks very near to Castellina in Chianti it takes 45 minutes to drive these winding roads. Giovanna welcomed us into her house and served us Castello di Volpaia Prelius Vermentino 2013 and Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from their vineyard in Maremma with salami on bread and chicken liver pâté. Then we sat down at the table and Giovanna told us about her Sri Lankan cook who, as a Buddhist, is vegetarian but cooks meat beautifully.

Started with eggplant parmigana served with Castello di Volpaia Costasalla 2010 (Sangiovese with 5% Mammolo), followed by escalope of veal cooked in rosemary and garlic with tomato and mozzarella, accompanied by Castello di Volpaia Il Puro Casanova 2009 (100% Sangiovese). Dessert: fresh peaches with mint, served with Castello di Volpaia Vin Santo. We seem to be moving from one meal to the next.

Market day in Radda
Market day in Radda

Stopped in at the Coop in Poggibonsi to buy a chicken for dinner and then spent time on the phone with Visa to sort out our insurance claim for the damage to the Audi. The replacement car, Fiat 500, is like a toy in comparison and not large enough for our luggage, so we’re going to have to trade in for a bigger vehicle – which means another trip to Florence.

Carpineto winery in Dudda
Carpineto winery in Dudda

Tuesday, September 2: After breakfast we drove to Dudda in Greve in Chianti to visit Antonio Zaccheo at Carpineto. There had been a landslide due to heavy rains that had closed one route to the winery but it was now open. Antonio toured us around the winery and took us all to lunch La Palagina in Figline Valdarno, a short drive away from the winery. Apparently, Sting owns most of the valley here.

Carpineto's Antonio Zaccheo at lunch
Carpineto’s Antonio Zaccheo at lunch

We ate outdoors under a large umbrella, starting with a bottle of Carpineto Farnito Brut (Chardonnay). Antonio told us that this was the first sparkling wine made in Tuscany. Huge plates of antipasti Toscana arrived, which we devoured with Carpineto Dogliani Bianco 20013 a blend of Grechetto, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay). Then bowls of delicious pasta with black truffles with Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2009. Then beef filet with porcini mushrooms. After lunch Deborah, Guy and I drove into Florence to change the Fiat 500 for a BMW. What a pleasure to drive a car that doesn’t run like a sewing machine.

Façade of the Duomo in Florence
Façade of the Duomo in Florence

Wednesday, September 3: Took the 9:26 am bus from Poggibonsi into Florence. We wandered around the market with its pervasive smell of leather. Bought some truffle tapenade and a white truffle spray at Pegna. Deborah and I lunched at La Cantinetta di Dante e Beatrice. Deborah ordered spaghetti ragu and I the trippa alla Fiorentina, with a glass of Luciano Bruni Chianti Classico Riserva 2009.

Trippa alla Toscana
Trippa alla Toscana

We continued walking around Florence, stopped in at Palazzo Atinori to say hello to Piero and continued shopping. Deborah bought sunglasses, a couple of handbags and some perfume at Profumeria Inglese, an amazing shop dating back to 1843 on the Piazza dell’Olio, served by a very officious English woman.

Handbag shop, Florence
Handbag shop, Florence

We stopped for a half bottle of Teruzzi & Pothud Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2013 at a small wine bar called Le Cantinetta on Via Borgo S. Lorenzo and eventually made our way back to the bus station to catch the 5:40 pm bus back to Poggibonsi. Shopped for food at the Coop and Ian made a spicy linguine in tomato sauce for dinner. Opened bottles of Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 and Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico 2011.

Sunset in Castellina in Chianti
Sunset in Castellina in Chianti

Thursday, September 4: After breakfast we drove in convoy to Castiglioni to visit Leonardo Frescobaldi on his summer estate. This was the original Frescobaldi family estate with cellar dating back to the 13th century. The house dates back to the 16th century and was recently renovated to offer hospitality to guests. The Frescobaldi own five estates in Tuscany covering 5,000 hectares (plus Conte Attems in Friuli.) Here at Castiglioni they own 560 hectares, 160 of which are planted to vines. Their top wine is Giramonte, a Merlot blended with10% Sangiovese.

Entrance to Castiglioni's 13th-century cellar
Entrance to Castiglioni’s 13th-century cellar

Before lunch we had a glass of Frescobaldi Salta Guilli Rosato 2013 (a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) with appetizers. With the pasta dish (stracca the size of postage stamps) with a meat and fennel-flavoured salami sauce we drank Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2011 (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese). The main course: roast pork, thinly sliced with zucchinis and roast potatoes. Served with the magnificent Frescobaldi Giramonte 2009.

Frescobaldi's Castiglioni vineyard
Frescobaldi’s Castiglioni vineyard

We finished with a dessert of apricot tart accompanied by a glass of Frescobaldi Quaranta Altari Vin Santo 2007 (in a 750 mL bottle). Leonardo told us the story of the name behind the wine which translates as Forty Churches. Around 1650, an ancestor, Bartolomeo Frescobaldi, held a party for his friends at his country estate which ended with everyone dancing naked. Word leaked out to the Pope, who summarily excommunicated him. Bartolomeo begged for an audience with the Pope and asked his forgiveness. The Pope offered to reinstate him in the Catholic Church if he built 40 churches on his properties. Leonardo also told us that Frescobaldi oversee the winemaking on the island of Gorgona, which could be called the Italian Alcatraz.

Deborah and Tony with Leonardo Frescobaldi
Deborah and Tony with Leonardo Frescobaldi

We drove back to the villa only to find that the road was blocked by a tractor-trailer piled with wood that got stuck on the dirt road. We had to circle around Torrione and come up the back way to Sant’Alfonso. Dinner: roast chicken, green beans, rice and salad with Rocca delle Macie Moonlite 2013, Rocca delle Macie Occhio a Vento Vermentino 2013, Castello di Pomino Pinot Nero 2009 and Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina 2010.

Friday, September 5: Up at 6:55 am to pack and drive Richard and Suzanne to Poggibonsi, where they will take the bus to Florence and fly back to Paris this afternoon. Somehow we could not get the coffee percolator to make coffee – the stove-top, screw-together type – although it worked every other morning. I still don’t understand the principle how the water boils up the spout, percolates through the coffee and then rises to the top of the device, ready to pour. Anyway, it didn’t happen today for some reason. Sorry to leave the villa Sant’Alfonso but I won’t miss the mogul ride to get to it.


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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 509: Italy Bound

Monday, August 25: This going to be a short week because on Thursday Deborah and I and Guy fly to Florence by way of Frankfurt for a week in a Tuscan farmhouse in Castellina in Chianti. Annabel, her husband Ian and our new grandchild Declan will be joining us there – as will Deborah’s sister Suzanne and her husband Richard (they’ll be coming from Paris). Then a week in an apartment in Verona and a chance to revisit my favourite wine bar in the world – Bottega del Vino… A tasting for winerytohome.comtoday.

Tuesday, August 26: Recorded my 680News wine reviews and worked on the BC, Nova Scotia and Ontario wine entries for Historica Canada, the Canadian encyclopedia. In 1996 there were 17 wineries in BC. Today there are 273.

In the late afternoon I did some tasting:

  • Château des Charmes Merlot 2012 (Ontario): deep ruby-plum colour; smoky, dark chocolate and blueberry nose; dry, medium-bodied, claret-like; well extracted fruit, firmly structured; hold for a year or two. (88)
  • Graffina Malbec Grand Reserve 2011 (Argentina): deep ruby-purple colour; evident spicy oak on the nose masking cherry and plum notes; richly extracted, fruity palate, dry and full-bodied, nicely balanced with fresh acidity. (88)
  • Columbia Winery Red Blend 2011 (Washington) (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot): deep purple-ruby colour; spicy-savoury black fruit nose with vanilla oak; mouth-filling, sweet fruit with a mocha note, soft and velvety on the palate with just a suggestion of tannins. (89)

In the evening, I got wines together for the September 27th auction (Grapes for Humanity’s VIA Rail trip down to Stratus with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson).

Wednesday, August 27: Began clearing my desk, cancelling newspapers and outing a new message on my phone. A tasting today at the LCBO’s Scrivener Square of Ontario VQA wines served at this year’s Cuvée. Each participating winery at Cuvée was invited to serve a single wine – the wine they thought was their best. Interesting selection as a result. The best wines of the 37 presented were: Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Riesling 2010, Hillebrand Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve 2011, Magnotta Limited Edition Cabernet Franc 2010 and the port-like Rennie Estate Assemblage “G” 2011.

Thursday, August 28: Finished packing, picked up euros from the bank, paid Visa bills and generally got ready to leave. The car to the airport is coming at 3:30 pm. Can’t wait to get to Italy.


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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 508: Tasting at The Ex

On stage at The Ex
On stage at The Ex

Monday, August 18: Wrote my On The Go column then settled down to some tasting.

  • San Raffaele Organic Pinot Grigio 2013 (Veneto – $14.95): pale straw colour; minerally, peach pit nose; dry, white peach and lemon flavour; nicely balanced with a crisp pear-like finish. Good value (88)
  • Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Chardonnay 2012 (Pays d’Oc – $13.95): golden straw colour; a nose of apples with a nutty note; well extracted apple and pear flavours with good texture; medium to full-bodied with nicely balanced lemony acidity. Good value. (88)
  • Riebeek Cellars The Royal Old Vine Steen Chenin Blanc 2013 (Swartland, South Africa – $13.95): pale straw with a lime tint; minerally, quince nose; dry, quince and green apple flavours; nicely balanced, medium-bodied. Sustains well on the palate. Good value. (88)
  • Chakana Wines Maipe Chardonnay Viognier Reserve 2013 (Argentina – $15.95): light straw colour; apple, peach with a floral note on the nose and evident oak; mouth-filling, sweet peachy fruit with a touch of spice, full-bodied but soft in the mouth, nicely balanced with citrus acidity. (88)
  • Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013 (Okanagan Valley – $17.90): very pale colour with a lime tint; minerally, peach pit nose; medium-bodied, dry, white peach and lemon flavours, finishing crisply dry. (89+)
  • Wildass Riesling 2012 (Ontario – $16.95): light straw colour; petrol, grapefruit and lime on the nose; honey and grapefruit flavours. Medium-bodied. (88)
  • Masi Rosa dei Masi 2013 (Veneto – $14.95): deep salmon colour; watermelon and cherry pit nose; dry, medium-bodied, fresh, with a soft mid palate but enough tangerine acidity to give the wine length. (87)
  • Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2012 (Okanagan Valley – $29.99): deep plum colour; spicy oak and black cherry nose; richly extracted, sweet black fruit flavours with a chocolate note. A little hot on the finish (14.9% alcohol) but lovely rich mouth-feel ending on silky tannins. (90)
  • Chakana Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Mendoza, Argentina – $13.95): dense purple colour; toasty, smoky oak, spicy vanilla below which you can detect the blackcurrant fruit; richly extracted, mouth-filling, chunky, chewy black fruit flavours; full-bodied, no great elegance and a little short but good value for the price. (88)
  • Château de Treviac 2011 (Corbières – $17.95): 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Dense ruby-purple colour; tobacco, cocoa and spicy cedar on the nose; full-bodied, sweet fruit, beautifully balanced, velvety mouth feel, dark chocolate and black fruit flavours. (89)
  • Dominio de Tares Mencia Cepas Viejas 2009 (Bierzo – $29.95): Vines over 60 years old. Dense purple colour; spicy, sweet wood and blackberry nose; dry, full-bodied, beautifully balanced, rich and compelling with a fine spine of acidity and supple tannins. (91)

Tuesday, August 19: Wrote my 680News wine reviews and sent a short story off to The New Yorker. Faint hope, but what the hell. Also dug out a children’s story I wrote about Pinot the Wonderdog. Thinking of finding an illustrator and submitting it to a publisher. Sean Rowland of Gradwell Wines dropped by with a bottle of wine he wanted me to try:

  • Cape Beach Club Off-Dry Blanc (NV) (50% Chenin Blanc and Muscato – $9.95?): light straw colour; minerally, quince nose; light-bodied with a faint fizz on the palate; off-dry, green pear flavour with a honeyed note. Soft on the palate and easy drinking with a fresh citrus finish. A true summer wine. (88)

In the afternoon, did some more tasting:

  • Equibas de Argento Pinot Grigio 2013 (Mendoza, Argentina – $11.85): very pale straw with a lime tint; minerally, peach pit nose; dry, crisp and lemony, peachy-melon flavour. Fresh, zesty finish. One of the better Pinot Grigio in this price range. (88)
  • Cellar Hand Free Run White 2013 (Okanagan – $15.90): A blend of Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc; straw colour with a green tint; apple and pear aromas on the nose with a delicate floral top note; spicy, peach and pear flours, good mouth-feel with a honeysuckle note on the finish. (88)
  • Black Hills Alibi 2013 (Okanagan – $24.90): Sauvignon Blanc with 25% Semillon. Light straw colour; grassy, green plum nose attenuated with oak; dry, full-bodied and unctuous on the palate with gooseberry and green bean flavours. Lively citrus acidity. (89+)
  • Black Hills Viognier 2013 (Okanagan – $24.90): light straw colour; white peach and honeysuckle nose; elegant, dry, and full-bodied, lovely texture with melon and citrus flavours finishing satisfyingly dry. (90)
  • Black Hills Chardonnay 2012 (Okanagan – $24.90): straw colour with a green tint; apple with oak spice and a touch of forest floor on the nose; full-bodied, dry, beautifully balanced, peach, pear and pineapple flavours with citrus acidity and beginning to suggest caramel notes on the finish. (91)
  • Cellar Hand Punch Down Red 2012 (Okanagan – $19.90): A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Deep ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant and blackberry nose; dry, full-bodied, fruity plum and black fruit flavours, ripe tannins with balancing acidity. Well made. (89)
  • Black Hills Syrah 2012 (Okanagan – $34.90): deep ruby-purple colour; peppery, smoky, blackberry nose with a herbal note; elegant, savoury-herbal flavours of blackberry and sage. Fine spine of acidity with background tannins that give structure but don’t compromise the palate. Very St. Joseph in style. (91)
  • Esquinas de Argento Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Mendoza, Argentina – $11.90): deep purple-ruby colour; cedar, black cherries and chocolate nose; medium-bodied, dry, savoury, tobacco, chocolate and currant flavours. Firmly structured with a warm alcoholic finish. (87)
  • Argento Malbec Reserva 2012 (Mendoza, Argentina – $12.90): deep purple-ruby colour; spicy, blackberry nose; richly extracted blueberry and blackberry flavours, full in the mouth. Full-bodied, dry with evident tannins on the finish. (88)

Wednesday, August 20: Somehow the day slipped away under a welter of emails. In the evening, over to Joe’s in the west end for dinner with Geddy, Rick and Brian. I brought along a Château Chasse Spleen 1982. Geddy brought Latour 1982 and Margaux 1983. Joe opened Louis Latour Chevalier-Montrachet Les Desmoiselles 2003 as we sat outside and served it with the fish course. Lamb followed with the clarets. The Margaux was the star although the Latour has years to go. With the dessert, Malivoire Cabernet Franc Icewine 2008. A great meal. Geddy told us about his Ice Bucket Challenge and showed us the hilarious You Tube video of it.

Thursday, August 21: Down to The Ex today for two wine seminars, featuring four appassimento wines from Ontario’s Burning Kiln Winery: Cureman’s Chardonnay 2011, Tablegang Gewürztraminer 2012, Cabernet Frank 2012 and Pinot Noir 2011. (Frank is not a spelling error but homage to the man who grew the grapes.) Between seminars I wandered around the CNE grounds. Dinner at our neighbour Sally’s – chicken curry with Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.

Tony's wine seminar at The Ex
Tony’s wine seminar at The Ex

Friday, August 22: A Vintages tasting for the September release. Best wine I tasted: Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2011. Dinner at home, baked salmon with Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2013 (very pale colour with a green tint; a nose of lime, grapefruit and honey; off-dry, minerally, sweet grapefruit and citrus flavors with racy acidity on the finish (89)). The roses I bought Deborah for our anniversary on August 17th are still looking gorgeous and not dropping their heads.

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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 507: Historica Canada

Monday, August 11: Wrote the Icewine entry for the encyclopedia Historica Canada and spent the rest of the day inputting wine reviews for the upcoming Vintages release.

Tuesday, August 12: Started collecting my published wine articles with the idea of putting together an e-book. Thinking of calling it Wine in Five Minutes, as this is about the amount of time it would take to read a single article. Definitely a bathroom book.

Wednesday, August 13: Wrote my Quench magazine commentary on the weirdest alcoholic beverages in the world. There are some strange ones out there that people actually drink!

Thursday, August 14: Historica Canada has asked me to update the entry on the Canadian wine industry. The last entry is dated 1996, when there were 33 VQA wineries in Ontario. Now there are 150.

Deborah and I took my sister to dinner at Tinto de Tapas Bar on Bayview. The place was packed and we could only get seats at the counter where the chef was cooking. Fascinating to watch him create the dishes. A terrific meal but we came out and our clothes smelled of cooking oil. Must remember to get a table away from the kitchen next time.

Friday, August 15: A tasting of LCBO new releases this morning. There is a noticeable trend in the under-$20 wines the board is purchasing now – all have residual sugar. My fellow wine writers Steve Thurlow and David Lawrason discussed this phenomenon and came to the conclusion, although we dislike this style of wine, we have to write about it because this is what the new demographic of consumers is going for. Tant pis. As if the Pinot Grigio fad wasn’t bad enough.

A BBQ tonight at our friends, Arlene and Michael’s.

Saturday, August 16: Deborah, Guy and I drove to Aurora for a celebration party. My nephew David got engaged to Mari and the party was at her cousin’s house. I had chosen the wines: Ferrari-Carano Sauvignon Blanc 2012 and Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz 2011.

David and Mari
David and Mari

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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 506: A Quiet Week

August 4: Spent the day catching up on emails and writing my On The Go column and my 680News wine reviews. Some sample bottles have accumulated in my absence so I decided to do a tasting before I shaved off a week’s beard.

  • Bella Wines Sparkling Chardonnay 2012 (Okanagan Valley – $23.90; crown cap): very pale colour with a green tint and a very active mousse; yeasty, citrus and green apple nose; dry, apple flavour with moderate length. (88)
  • California Square Russian River Chardonnay 2012 ($18.95): straw colour with a green tint; vanilla oak and stone fruit on the nose; full-bodied, sweet pineapple and ripe peach flavours; mouth-filling, fleshy and broad on the palate. (89)
  • Bouchard Père & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2012 (Burgundy, $19.95): ruby colour; moist earth and cherries on the nose; dry, medium-bodied, light and easy drinking, lean and sinewy with a firm finish. (87)
  • California Square Red Wine 2012 (Paso Robles, $18.95): a blend of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Syrah in a square bottle. Ruby-purple colour; black cherry and chocolate nose, powerful, sweet fruit, blueberry and black cherry flavour with enough tannin to give it structure. Full-bodied. (88)
  • Delicato Family Noble Vines 181 Merlot 2012 (Lodi, $16.95): ruby colour; deep ruby colour; minty, dusty, plum; full-bodied, dry, chunky mouth-feel, earthy black cherry flavour. (87)
  • Delicato Family Irony Small Lot Reserve Merlot 2011 (Napa – $19.95): ruby colour; cedary, currants with a vanilla oak note on the nose; richer and denser on the palate than the nose suggests – dark chocolate and black fruit flavours; full-bodied and fleshy. (88+)
  • Vinecol Bonarda Organic 2013 (Mendoza, Argentina – $15.95): dense ruby-purple with a nose of licorice and mulberries; richly extracted, fleshy and chewy, dark chocolate and black fruit flavours with evident alcohol. (88+)

For dinner, grilled salmon with Juno Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (South Africa – $11.85): pale straw colour; floral, green plum nose; medium-bodied, dry, grassy, gooseberry flavour. Good value. (88)

Tuesday, August 5: Wrote my Post City column and signed off on the invitation for Grapes for Humanity’s September 27th fund-raiser:

Saturday, September 27th, 2014
Grapes Under Pressure 3 – Geddy and Alex’s Excellent Harvest Adventure

Building on the phenomenal success and tremendous response from their first two extravaganzas, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson team up again for the third installment of their “not so annual” Excellent Harvest Adventure.

Geddy and Alex will welcome you aboard our private train from Toronto’s Union Station as we enjoy breakfast enroute to Stratus Vineyards. Stratus, a 62-acre beautifully modern winery near Niagara-on-the-Lake, combines science with tradition and relies on the centuries-old method of “assemblage” to produce wines of amazing depth and complexity while maintaining a reputation of being one of the world’s most sustainable wineries. A champagne reception awaits you upon arrival at Stratus. As you tour this stunning property, guests can try their hand at picking grapes and learn about cutting-edge winemaking techniques while drinking and tasting the “The Best of Niagara” from a variety of local producers of wine, beer and food products. Award-winning Chef Michael Steh of The Chase will prepare a gourmet vintners lunch as special guest winemaker, JL Groulx, leads us through his handcrafted Stratus vintage selections. Participate in the excitement of a silent auction as well as other special surprises before the late afternoon train ride back to Toronto.

Grapes for Humanity Canada is proud to partner with Magna Children at Risk, and proceeds for this exclusive event will go directly to rebuild health care facilities in the Philippines which were damaged by the Haiyan Typhoon. www.grapesforhumanity.com


Round trip departs Union Station at 9 am* on Saturday, September 27th – return trip in the late afternoon.
*Attendees will be notified of any VIA Rail schedule changes

To reserve your spot for this unique adventure, please contact Deborah Benoit at benoit.deborah@gmail.com or at 416-488-9762

$1250 per person* includes transport by private VIA train, champagne reception, gourmet lunch, winery tours, tastings, gift bags, and more.
*Tax receipts will be issued to Canadian participants for an amount less event expenses
* Purchase 4 tickets for $4500 or 6 tickets for $6000 while quantities last

Special thanks to the generosity of the following folks – Pierre Santoni and VIA Rail Canada, Michael Steh and staff, Stratus Vineyards and Cumbrae Meats.

Wednesday, August 6: Recorded my 680News wine reviews. Selected wines for my wine talk at the CNE on Thursday, August 21st. Tasted Castello di Neive Barbaresco 2011 (ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose with a touch of wood and dried rose petals; medium-bodied, sour cherry flavour with fresh acidity; well balanced. Good value at $19.90. (89)).

Thursday, August 7: Worked on the auction wines for Geddy Lee and Aex Lifeson’s VIA Rail tour to Stratus. And settled down to a tasting in the afternoon.

  • Diamond Estates The Winery 1914 Valour 2013 (Ontario – Merlot, Syrah, Gamay – $14.95): deep ruby colour; cedar, cherry nose; medium-bodied, dry, firmly structured with a spicy black cherry flavour. Moderate length. (86+)
  • Wildass Rosé 2013 (Ontario – $17.95): deep salmon colour; minerally, strawberry and watermelon nose; dry and mouth-filling, full-bodied and powerful. (87)
  • Calliope Rosé 2013 (BC – Syrah & Viognier: $9.90): deep orange-pink colour; candied raspberry nose; full in the mouth with a touch of sweetness; raspberry and cherry flavours. (87)
  • Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2013 (Austria – $12.80): light straw colour; minerally, white peach and white pepper nose; slight spritz on the palate, dry, with a white peach and green pepper flavour, finishing freshly. (87)
  • Diamond Estates The Winery 1914 Honour 2013 (Ontario – Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay – $13.95): pale straw colour; aromatic, spicy nose of apple and lemon peel; spicy, lemony, sweet peach and apple flavours. (87)
  • Calliope Figure 8 2013 (BC – Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Riesling): light straw colour; aromatic, white peach nose with a subtle floral note; dry, fresh and clean, grapey flavour. Good acidity. (87)
  • Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (BC): very pale colour; green pea and apple nose; grassy, green plum flavour; dry, good varietal character with citrus acidity. (87+)
  • Calliope Viognier 2013 (BC): pale straw colour; minerally, peach pit nose; touch of residual sweetness here; full in the mouth with peach and apricot flavours. (88)
  • Strewn Chardonnay Barrel-Aged 2013 (Ontario – $12.95): light straw colour; apple with wood spice on the nose; full-bodied, spicy, oak-dominated fruit, creamy mouth feel with a butterscotch finish. (87+)
  • Strewn Two Vines Riesling Gewurztraminer Semi-Dry 2012 (Ontario – $11.95): pale straw with a greenish tint; spicy, lychee and grapefruit nose; off-dry, soft mouth-feel, with lychee and pink grapefruit flavours. Nicely balanced. (88)
  • Strewn Gewurztraminer 2012 (Ontario – $12.95): light straw with a greenish tint; aromatic and spicy but not expressing characteristic lychee notes on the nose; more varietal character on the palate with leafy, green peach and cardamom flavours. (87)

Friday, August 8: A Vintages tasting for August 30th release. A whole whack of Chardonnays coming out. Otherwise, a quiet week.

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