A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 516: My Sassicaia Day

Sunday, October 12: Thanksgiving Dinner at Deborah’s niece, Nadine, in Caledon. Turkey and all the trimmings. I brought up the following wines and tasted them quickly before the meal.

  • Zantho Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Burgenland – $18): light straw colour with floral, herbaceous nose; medium-bodied, crisply dry with gooseberry and green plum flavours. (87)
  • Chateau St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2012 (Sonoma – $18.95): pale straw colour; grassy, pear nose; soft on the palate, medium- to full-bodied, pear and citrus flavours. (88)
  • Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013 (South Australia – $24.95): straw colour; smoky, toasty, barnyard nose; full-bodied, ripe melon and citrus flavours with great length. (90)
  • Silver Bay Cellars Pinot Noir (Ontario – $14.95): light ruby colour; medium-bodied, earthy, cherry and cherry pit nose; earthy, cherry and beetroot flavour with a firm tannic finish. (87)
  • François Labet Dame Alix Côtes du Rhône 2012 ($11.95): ruby colour; peppery, blackberry nose; medium-bodied, black raspberry flavour; light on the palate, acidic with a red apple finish. (87)
  • Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (South Australia – $24.95): deep purple-ruby colour; creamy, cedar and black currant nose; medium-bodied, well extracted fruit, firmly structured with soft, supple tannins. (88)

Monday, October 13: Wrote up my 680News wine reviews and then over to Geddy Lee’s house to discuss Grapes For Humanity’s Grapes Under Pressure tour by VIA Rail to Stratus on May 27th. I missed the event because I was in Barcelona.

Tuesday, October 14: My Sassicaia day. A pre-lunch tasting at Crush with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta of six vintages of Sassicaia. All the wines are 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, whatever the vintage.

Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta

  • Tenuta San Guida Sassicaia 2011: deep ruby with a violet tint; tight, cedar, licorice and blackcurrant on the nose with an earthy note; very elegant and well balanced with a lovely mouth-feel; firm and a little closed at the moment. (93)
  • Tenuta San Guida Sassicaia 2010: deep ruby colour; spicy, blackcurrant and vanilla oak, developing a floral note; light and elegant on the palate, well balanced with as firm tannic finish. (92)
  • Tenuta San Guida Sassicaia 2009: deep ruby colour; a nose of cedar, blackcurrant and truffles; very elegant and round on the palate, firm and ripe, almost plummy (from the hot year). (91)
  • Tenuta San Guida Sassicaia 2007: deep ruby colour; cedar and spicy oak with that truffle note and a touch green but still elegant. More of a red berry flavour. (90)
  • Tenuta San Guida Sassicaia 2006: deep ruby colour; dusty, very claret-like nose with a lilac top note; elegant and beautifully balanced. Just a delight to drink. (93)
  • Tenuta San Guida Sassicaia 2004: deep ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant and vanilla oak on the nose; very elegant, dry with licorice and red berry flavours that linger to a firm finish. (93)

Lunch followed: Mushroom Bolognese porcini spätzle, parmesan + escarole, with Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2012 (“difese” means wild boar tusk; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese): deep ruby in colour with a spicy, cherry nose. More Italianate in style that Sassicaia – savoury, sinewy, sour cherry and pencil lead flavours though silky on the palate with a tannic lift on the finish. A terrific food wine. (91)

Short ribs, parsnips, kale + carmelized shallot jus, with Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2012 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon (younger vines than Sassicaia + 40% Merlot): deep ruby colour; spicy, floral, licorice nose; dry and firm with flavours of cherries and blueberries with notes of tobacco carried on lively acidity; moderate length with evident tannins. Needs 2–3 years. (90–92)

In the evening I commented on the Sassicaia wines at a dinner at Opus for 22 people. A different vintage of Sassicaia was served with the following courses:

Seared tuna loin and sunchoke puree with Chinese artichokes and red wine-beet reduction, with Sassicia 2004: lovely ruby colour; cedar, tobacco and currant nose with a light floral note; very elegant red berry flavours with beautifully integrated oak. (93)

Atlantic lobster and black truffles with creamed corn and potato, with Sassicaia 2003: deep ruby colour; floral, baked fruit notes on the nose (speaks to the exceptionally hot year); stylistically different from other vintages, very ripe blackcurrant flavour, rich and full on the palate with cocoa powder tannins (90)

Veal and tomato with crispy sweetbreads and tripe ravioli, with Sassicaia 2002: lighter in colour than the rich 2003; a nose of violets and red cherry with a real sense of terroir; well integrated oak, lean and sinewy with raspberry and redcurrant flavours; very light on the palate with lively acidity. (91)

Wild boar and creamy polenta with beans and mushrooms, with Sassicaia 2001: deep ruby colour; meaty, cedary nose of blackcurrants with smoke and tar notes; rich and full on the palate, beautifully balanced with a silky texture. This is a wine for Burgundy lovers. (94)

Rack of lamb with cabbage, cauliflower and laurel, with Sassicaia 2000: deep ruby colour with a nose of cedar, truffle, lead pencil and blackcurrant; more oak influence here with red berry flavours; great mouth-feel with gripping tannins. More masculine. (93)

Selection of cheeses: Sassicaia 1980: still holding its vivid ruby colour; cigar box, malt and raspberry nose – the most Bordelais in style of all the Sassicaias I’ve tried today. Bright red berry fruit, so fresh and lively for its 34 years with tannins still giving the wine structure. (95)

Altogether, a sensational day of tasting!

Wednesday, October 15: Recorded my 680 News wine reviews and then down to Patria for a tasting of Navarra wines. Impressed by the wines of Bodegas de Monjardin, especially their Bodegas de Monjardin Reserva Seleccion 2008 (a Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Tempranillo) and their great value Tempranillo Clasico. Impressive too were the wines of Bodegas Inuerrietta – Norte 2011 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), Cuatrocientos 2011 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Garnacha) and Altos de Inurrieta 2009 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Graciano, Garnacha). They also make a delicious Inurrieta Orchidea Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (without oak). Also liked Bodegas Tandem Macula Reserva 2006 (a Merlot Cabernet blned). Best value: Bodega Principe de Viana Garnacha Viñas Viejas 2013 (100% Garnacha). In fact I would have like to have seen more varietal Garnacha at this tasting rather than the ubiquitous Cabernet/Merlot blends.

Beth Novak Miliken of Spottswoode

In the evening over to L’Avenue Bistro for a dinner with Beth Novack Miliken, the owner of Spottswoode Family Wine Estate. We started off with Escargot in cream sauce served with Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc 2011: floral, spicy, green plum bouquet; medium to full-bodied, crab apple and green plum flavours carried on fresh acidity with a herbal note. Lovely mouth-feel. (91)

Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc 2013: minerally, floral, creamy, leafy nose; broader than the 2011 with green fig and green apple flavours, crisp, rich and full on the palate, again with a great mouth-feel. (90)

Braised lamb shoulder en papillote, with Spottswoode Field Book Griffin’s Lair Syrah 2010 (4% Viognier): dense purple-black colour; a nose of iodine, blackberry, cream and vanilla oak; tarry, smoked bacon flavour, well balanced with charming blackcurrant fruit that shines through; great mouth-feel; bitter chocolate finish. (92)

Spottswoode Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: dense purple-black colour; cedar, blackcurrant and violets on the nose; firmly structured, brooding dark fruit; medium-bodied with a chocolate note. (90)

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2001: unfortunately corked but the sweet blackcurrant fruit suggested that a clean bottle would be terrific.

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: dense purple-black colour; cedar, blackcurrant and vanilla oak on the nose; supple, sweet fruit, creamy mouth feel, firm and seamless finishing on a savoury note. (93)

Thursday, October 16: Wrote my Lexpert column on appassimento wines. In the evening, down to East 36th restaurant on Wellington. It was raining and I was late. I crossed Wellington at the Yonge Street corner on a green light and suddenly I hear this voice shouting, “You’re crossing on an advance green light.” When I got to the curb it was a cop. He looked 15-years-old and began to lecture me and quiz me – where was I going? Was I late? Can I see your identification. I wasn’t aware that police were permitted to ask for identification just because you jay-walked but I wasn’t going to make an issue of it since I was late. Evenutally he let me go once I had shown him my driver’s license.

I was joining Nathan Waks and his wife for a dinner tasting of Kilikanoon wines. Nathan was the principal cellist at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the age of 19. He now owns Kilikanoon. Over a bunch of tapas-style dishes we tasted his wines, beginning with Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Riesling 2014. Nathan told me that it’s the fashion in Australia to drink Riesling as young as possible. This one had a minerally, lime nose; crisply dry with a tart lime flavour and bracing acidity (89).

  • Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run GSM 2012: deep ruby-purple colour; spicy, floral, minty nose; sweet fruit with a light texture finishing on a savoury-herbal note. (90)
  • Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: dense purple-ruby colour; cedar, dry red berry nose; medium-bodied, firm and sinewy, light on the palate. (88)
  • Kilikanoon Kelly’s 1932 Grenache 2012: deep ruby colour; smoky, black raspberry and cedar nose; soft mouth-feel, sweet fruit, seamless on the palate with imperceptible tannins and structure. A very graceful wine. (92)
  • Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz 2012: deep ruby colour; spicy blackberry and blackcurrant nose with just a suggestion of oak; rich and full on the palate, nicely balanced with a minty-menthol finish. (89)
  • Kilikanoon Miracle Hill Shiraz 2010: dense purple colour; leather, cedar and blackberry with new oak and a floral top note. Full-bodied, plummy and soft on the palate; lovely texture with a firm tannic finish. (91)
  • Kilikanoon The Oracle Shiraz 2010: dense purple colour with a blackcurrant and vanilla oak nose; rich and full, plush and opulent on the palate; full-bodied, lovely glossy texture with a firm finish. Drinking well now but should last for ten years. (93)

Kilikanoon The Oracle Shiraz 2010

Friday, October 17: A Vintages tasting this morning for November 8th – so large they split it in two!

Saturday, October 18: Drove to Burlington to conduct three short seminars on wine and food matching with appetizers prepared by Chef Niall from Summer Fresh. It was a fundraiser to help purchase a digital mammography unit with biopsy attachment for Joseph Brant hospital cancer clinic. The wines:

  • Château des Charmes “Old Vines” Riesling 2012
  • Mike Weir Winery Unoaked Chardonnay 2012
  • Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Baco Noir Reserve 2011
  • Konzelmann Estate Winery Merlot Reserve 2012


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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 515: Sonoma in the City

Monday, October 6: Wrote my November On The Go column on holiday wines. A tasting at Doug Towers’s house for www.winerytohome. For dinner, lamb chops with Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013. For my money there’s no better Gamay in Canada than Blue Mountain’s. Consistently they make a wine that has great extract with a rich black cherry flavour. (91)

Tuesday, October 7: Pinot went to the groomer’s today and came home looking very elegant.

Pinot T. Wonderdog fresh from the groomer’s

Wrote my 680News wine reviews and wines to match Helen Hatton’s recipes on my site. A corporate dinner tasting at Biff’s for a financial company. Reception wine: Hinterland White Cap sparkling from Ontario. First course: Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2013; main course Catena Zapata Malbec 2011.

Wednesday, October 8: Wrote my Post City Magazines column about Sicily. Rooted around in the cellar to choose Ontario wines for tomorrow’s charity tasting at a home in Stouffville. Dinner at Wildfire steakhouse in the Cosmopolitan Hotel with MontGras winemaker Jaime de la Cerda. Didn’t realise that MontGras is now a million-case winery.

Jaime de la Cerda, MontGras winemaker

With seafood ceviche: MontGras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2013: straw colour; very ripe, grassy, gooseberry and elderberry nose; ripe and honeyed gooseberry and elderberry flavours carried on fresh acidity. (89)

MontGras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2014: leaner than the 2013 and lees-y on the nose; green pear, green pea and gooseberry flavours with lively acidity. (88)

We then tasted two single vineyard Amarals from different soils.

With Australian rack of lamb and French fries: MontGras Carmenère Reserva 2013: dense ruby-purple colour; savoury, herbal, pencil lead nose; full-bodied, spicy sweet blackberry flavour, almost Syrah-like. (88)

MontGras Antu Syrah 2012: deeply coloured; savoury, blackberry nose that’s replicated on the palate; full-bodied, rich and velvety. (90)

Thursday, October 9: Down to the ROM for a seminar on Sonoma wines conducted by John Szabo and a panel of winemakers. Donald Patz of Patz & Hall stated that “Carneros has more soil types than all of France.” We tasted the following wines introduced by the winemaker of the rep.

  • Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée Brut (66% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay): pale straw colour with an active mousse; biscuity nose, elegant apple; full in the mouth with a long lemony finish. (90)
  • Quivira Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2013: very pale lime colour; grassy, Meyer lemon nose with a herbal, mineral note; soft mouth-feel, gooseberry and fig flavours with lively acidity. (88)
  • La Crema Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012: straw colour with a green tint; toasty, spicy, tropical fruit nose; full-bodied, rich. Broad in the mouth, caramel, spicy melon, nutty and toasty flavours with good length. (90)
  • Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012: straw-lime colour; fresh, spicy, floral, green pineapple nose with a mineral note; full-bodied, beautifully balanced apple flavours. A seamless wine. (92)
  • Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch-Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012: ruby-purple colour; rose petal and cherry nose with a thread of minerality; full-bodied, dry, elegant, beautifully balanced black cherry and cranberry flavours with a fresh acidic finish. (91)
  • Buena Vista Winery Pinot Noir 2011: deep ruby colour; cherry and cherry pit nose; broad, chunky fruit with a touch of sweetness; moderate length with a firm finish. (89)
  • Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel 2011: deep ruby colour; spicy plum and leather nose; full-bodied with a lively spine of acidity ending on a licorice note and firm tannins. (90)
  • Kunde Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 2012: deep purple-ruby colour; licorice and black plum with vanilla oak on the nose; full-bodied, sweet fruit with lively acidity. (89)
  • Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: dense ruby-purple colour; classic cedar, blackcurrant and vanilla oak nose; rich and ripe, soft on the palate with supple tannins, Easy drinking with a coffee bean note on the finish. (90)
  • Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: dense ruby; cedar, floral, herbal nose; full-bodied, but unfortunately cork-tainted. (Not scored)

Then into the main hall for a tasting of 42 Sonoma wineries. Concentrated on Pinot Noir:

  • Flowers Seaview Ridge Pinot Noir 2011 (93)
  • Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2012 (91)
  • Gundlach Bundschu Estate Pinot Noir 2012 (91)
  • Macrostie Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Pinot Noir 2012 (91)
  • Deloach Estate 2011 (90)
  • Decoy Pinot Noir 2013 (89)
  • MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2012 (89)
  • Best value: Folie à Deux Pinot Noir 2012 (89)

In the evening I drove to Stouffville to a home tasting – the successful bidder at the Barbara Schlifer Clinic auction. I brought along the following Ontario wines:

  • Mike Weir Unoaked Chardonnay 2012
  • Tawse Sketches Riesling 2010
  • Inniskillin Viognier Reserve 2012
  • Rosewood Estates Gewurztraminer 2008
  • Kacaba Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007
  • Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2011
  • Tawse Wine Club Syrah 2010
  • Château des Charmes Late Harvest Riesling 2010

Friday, October 10: Did some tasting today to get rid of some of the backlog of samples that have been arriving. This is the busiest season for wine writers. Winemakers who come to New York to attend the Wine Spectator‘s annual event spend time in Toronto as well, meeting with the LCBO and putting on tasting dinners for the wine press.

  • Inniskillin Cabernet Merlot 2012 (Ontario – $14.95): ruby-purple colour; cedar, red berry nose; dry, medium-bodied, cranberry, plum and redcurrant flavours with a light floral note. Finishes firmly with mellow tannins. (87)
  • Ascheri Barolo 2010 (Piedmont – $32.25): ruby with a tawny hue; dried cherries, leather, tobacco nose; dry, elegant, medium-bodied and well crafted; youthful and tight but beautifully balanced and should age very well for a decade. (91+)
  • Jackson-Triggs Merlot Grand Reserve 2012 (Ontario – $24.95): deep purple colour; baking spices, black cherries and vanilla oak on the nose; dry, medium bodied with well-extracted dark fruit flavours carried on lively acidity to a firm tannic finish. (88+)
  • Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Ontario – $24.95): deep purple-ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant and dark chocolate nose; dry, medium-bodied, plump mid-palate feel of vanilla oak and mocha, drying out on the finish of grainy tannins. (89)
  • Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Meritage 2012 (Ontario – $24.95): deep purple-ruby colour; cedary, black fruit nose with tobacco notes; dry, medium-bodied, well balanced spicy (cinnamon) blackcurrant flavours with just enough oak to round out the palate to a firm finish. Nicely done. (90)
  • Delaine by Jackson-Triggs Syrah 2012 Lot 910 (Ontario – $32.95): deep black plum colour; savoury, herbal, black pepper and blackberry nose with evident oak; dry, medium-bodied, elegant, lean and sinewy blackberry flavour. Northern Rhône style. Firm tannic finish. (89–90)
  • Vignamaggio Monna Lisa Chianti Classico 2011 (Tuscany – $19.95) (It is said that Mona Lisa was born and raised on the Vignamaggio estate and the famous la Gioconda smile graces the label): deep, tawny ruby colour; earthy, dried cherry nose; richer on the palate than the nose suggests with flavours of mocha, cherry, vanilla oak and pencil lead finishing firmly to give the wine structure. (89)
  • Red Knot by Shingleback Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (McLaren Vale – $17.95): dense purple colour; spicy, meaty, blackcurrant nose; creamy, chunky mouth-feel, dry and savoury flavours of blackcurrants with a mineral note and drying tannins on the finish. (87+)


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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 514: Barcelona Wine & Food Forum

Friday, September 26: Arrived in Barcelona on a Vueling flight and shared a taxi to the Majestic Hotel with a Norwegian MW, Mai Tjemsland. At 9 pm met up with Miguel Torres, his Director of Communications Christoph Kammüller and Gerard Basset. Miguel had invited us to dinner at the Restaurant Moments in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel a short walk away from our hotel.

We began with a bottle of Torres Fransola 2012, a very fresh and delightful Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011, which I had with parrotfish in a mild curry sauce with zucchini and enoki. The multi-coloured fish apparently come from the Balearic Islands and looks rather like a parrot! A chocolate dessert followed. The hotel has a clever way of presenting the wine cork – a piece of malachite, with grooves to hold the two corks.

Device for holding corks at Moments in the Mandarin Hotel

Saturday, September 27: After a late breakfast I walked around the old city of Barcelona for three hours, taking in the Cathedral and Parroquia Santa Maria del Mar. Came across a large demonstration for Catalan independence.

Catalan independence demonstration

Barcelona is a city of bicycles with cycle lanes everywhere. One shop I saw has a bicycle air pump outside inviting cyclists to use it. Also lots of beggars with inventive methods for pulling at your heartstrings. One woman had two cats with her; another had a dog dressed up in a headscarf and lensless green sunglasses. Another hads a cut-down Coca Cola can on a line attached to a short fishing rod which he would cast towards the passersby. Along the Avenida Portal de l’Angel were several North Africans selling knock-off hand bags. They had set out the bags on square white sheets with strings attached to each corner, so if the cops came by they could haul them away with one pull and make a run for it.

Handbag salesman about to flee cops

Stopped in at Mas Q Menos (46, Rambla de Catalunya) for an Iberico ham sandwich and a glass of Hijos de Rainera Perez Manzanilla “La Guita.” After dealing with emails I went up to the 8th floor of the hotel where there’s an open-air bar and small pool. Great view of Barcelona from there. Sat and had a glass of Fernando de Castillo Manzanilla.

Gaudi’s cathedral from the rooftop bar of the Majestic Hotel

At 9 pm all the guest journalists were bussed to Barcelona’s city hall for a welcome reception by the Mayor of Barcelona to the Wine & Culinary II International Forum.

Sunday, September 28: The opening of the forum, sitting next to Treve Ring, a wine writer from Vancouver.

9:30. Welcome by Miguel A. Torres, President of Bodegas Torres, and Rafael Ansón, President of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy. Miguel: “This year I have a complaint with Someone up there. We had rain in all our vineyards. We got botrytis on the grapes.” Constellation is 15 times bigger than Torres.

9:45. The Sommelier’s psychology and the training of Sommeliers,” by Gérard Basset, World’s Best Sommelier 2010, OBE, MS, MW and MBA. He referred to the film Somm. “I want a sommelier who loves people. For me a sommelier is a salesman… it’s a business… A sommelier needs to be a great ambassador for the wine producer.” Need to understand the profile of the guest. “In my restaurant wine comes first. Food and wine have to come together at the right time.” “I can’t imagine going on holiday where there is no wine.” Sommeliers, like chefs, should do stages at different restaurants in different cultures. “If we’re out of stock of a wine we don’t say we’re out of stock. We offer a more expensive wine at the same price of the requested wine.”

Gerard Basset speaking at the Wine & Culinary Forum

10:15. “When wine inspires the dish,” by Josep Roca, from El Celler de Can Roca, 3* Michelin and World’s Best Restaurant 2013. Biting lettuce and have a sip of red wine… Texture dimensions in food. “Wine is the most intellectual drink we have.” Lyophilization: extracting water molecules from, say, wine and creating a powder. The same with grapes. A bread made of wine with the seeds to give it a crunch. “Eat the wine and drink the dish.” “Success paralyses you. It’s very healthy to go to a market you know nothing about.” (About him and his brother going to South America to open a restaurant.)

11:00. “Minerals: harmony through terroir,” by Jamie Goode, author of The Science of Wine. Examples of minerality in wine: Drouhin Chablis Les Clos 2010. Torres Grans Muralles 2009. Terroir: The way the environment of a vineyard shapes the quality of the wine, a local flavour, a sense of place. French say Le goût de terroir – meaning a rustic, angular wine, animally, earthy taste. The term terroir can be used to describe the vineyard itself. Micro and Macro (two contiguous vineyards with different terroir) or the difference between, say, Marlborough and Martinborough Sauvignon. Human element of terroir – how the wine is made. Plants are chemical factories, using light, water, air and trace elements to synthesize all they need. Grape juice from Burgundy’s different vineyards don’t taste very different. It’s the action of the yeasts and microbes that create the differences. Minerality: A relatively new tasting term. A term used by experts in different ways. Mineral smells (matchstick, gunflint); Mineral tastes (1) – high acidity, wet stones; Mineral tastes (2) – salty, textural, grainy. Randall Grahm put rocks into tanks of wine. “We were able to discern significant differences between the various types.” Could it be, more mineral wines survive and age better?

11:30. “Thinking outside the wine list: innovative approaches to selling wine in America’s top restaurants, by Lucas Paya, José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup’s Wine Director 2008-2014, presented by Ray Isle, Food and Wine Magazine journalist. US market 9.4 billion gallons of beverage alcohol. Restaurants are trend makers for what people buy. Younger people tend to buy their wine in restaurants. Lucas Paya: “We don’t need to recreate the wheel to produce quality wine.” Recommends a “Sommelier’s Choice” section from which the somm could hand-sell. Steak house: suggests 80% red with alcohol levels printed.

“Every time I open a bottle of wine it is an amazing trip somewhere.” (José Andrés, a Washington restaurateur.) Selling expensive wine by weight in the glass, a minimum pour of 30 mL. Veuve Clicquot is a marker on a wine list; if it’s over-priced, the list is over-priced. Cited restaurants where all wines are priced at $50. Husk, a restaurant in South Carolina, organizes its wine list by soil type. All about source. Or restos without sommeliers – Wine as a flow chart. Jaleo, Los Vegas uses tablets. You can play wine roulette. Sommeliers going back to ancient methods – sabering, port tongs, sherry dispensing, etc. Trend is US: serving wine from the barrel. Tasting wine blind before buying.

Harnessing Social Media to sell wine: tweeting what is being poured tonight from a large format bottle. Tasted Torres Mas La Plana 2009 put through a Coravin 1000.

12:15. “Wine in Mediterranean diet”, by Dr. Ramón Estruch, senior internal medicine consultant at Barcelona’s Clínic Hospital, and Domingo Valiente, Executive Director of Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

12:45. Showcooking: “Nandu Jubany’s cuisine of terroir,” owner of Can Jubany (Calldetenes). Presented by Joan Ras, president of the Catalan Academy of Gastronomy. He prepared four tapas. Invented a truffle dessert.

13:15. Cocktail-lunch offered by Nandu Jubany + Tour around Bodegas Torres’ worldwide wines.

Mini homemade Jubany sausage
Crunchy pastry filled with sobrassada and honey
Organic tomato tartlet with ricotta and figs
Crispy stick with “Joselito” ham
Anchovies, peanuts and vermouth Macaron
Anchovies with Cabernet Sauvignon impregnated apple
Coca de recapte with tomato, anchovy, mató and figs
Nori cone with wild salmon tartare and Chardonnay caviar
Beef in sherry Steak tartare
Canned milk caps with black Catalan sausage
Steamed bread in wine with oxtail in red wine
Waltraud oyster

Potpourri of seasonal mushrooms omelet
Brioche with bacon and pickled cucumber

Small dishes…
Squid dry rice with minced saffron
Black noodles with cuttlefish
Candied bacon, crunchy biscuit and espardenya

Lemon and yuzu cake
Chocolate tartufo
Bread, wine and caramelized sugar

Coffee, herbal infusions and Mad Sweets Box

15:30. “Far East and wine: how to make it popular.” Journalist and winemaker Víctor de la Serna interviews Jeannie Cho Lee, first MW of Asia. Jeannie: “I’d like to see a kind of Starbucks for wine… 95% of the value of wines sold in Hong Kong is red.”

Jeannie Cho Lee, Asia’s first MW

16:00. Master tasting: “Great family wines – The Primum Familiae Vini,” by Christophe Brunet, Wine Ambassador of the PFV, and Fiona Beckett, journalist specialized in harmonies between wine and gastronomy. Tasted the following PFV wines:

  • Pol Roger Brut 2004 (60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay). Fiona’s match: seared scallops, roast chicken with chanterelle, even deep-fried chicken
  • Drouhin Marquis de la Guiche Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 2011. Fiona’s match: because of its freshness at the moment, raw shellfish, shellfish risotto, lobster roll (as it matures, richer fish, scallops with pureed cauliflower with fennel)
  • Egon Müller-Scharzhof Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2013. Fiona’s match: Thai food (when aged, smoked and cured Scandinavian cuisine)
  • Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2012 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot). Fiona’s match: seared tuna, octopus; with air or age, lighter meat dishes, offal, rabbit, duck)
  • Marchesi Antinori Tignanello 2011. (80% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot). Fiona’s match: lamb, Korean marinaded steak; Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Famille Perrin Château de Beaucastel 2008 (13 grape varieties). Fiona’s match: turkey, roast pork (as it ages, beef stew, braised short ribs)
  • Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5 Año 2010 (5% Merlot; 2010 “the best vintage” of Valbuena). Fiona’s match: great steak wine, sirloin, porterhouse
  • Mouton-Rothschild Petit Mouton 2005: Fiona’s match: mutton rather than spring lamb; roast beef; St. John’s meat pie
  • Bodegas Torres Reserva Real 2010 (200 cases – a wine made for the King of Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc): Fiona’s match: leg of lamb, Portobello mushrooms (or a good burger)
  • Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2007: Fiona’s match: warm baigné, cinnamon doughnuts, apple ice cream with cinnamon
  • Dow’s Vintage Port 2000: Fiona’s match: chocolate

Torres wine for the King of Spain

17:15. “Cook with wine,” by Manuel Martínez, chef owner of the Parisian restaurant Le Relais Louis XIII. 2* Michelin. Suggests for a wine reduction you add a few drops of uncooked wine at the end of the preparation to add freshness to the dish.

17:45. “False wines enemies and new friends of wines,” by Ferran Centelles, elBulli sommelier 2000–2011 and www.jancisrobinson.com contributor. Cynarine – the active acid in artichokes, the enemy of wine. Raw egg, the more we cook it, the more wine-friendly it becomes. Raw food leaves a viscous layer on the tongue which prevents our tasting. Vinegar: We tasted cynarine with Bodegas Torres Cornas 2011, which really didn’t change the flavour of the wine. Toasted boiled and and grilled artichoke with Bodegas Torres Cornas 2011. The toasted sample was the better match. Tasted sabayon of egg and cooked egg yolk with Marimar Torres Acero Chardonnay 2013. Cooked egg the better match. Gherkin with Bodegas Torres Perpetual 2011 (vinegar and wine – it’s not too terrible). Tartar of prawn with lemon with Bodegas Torres Perpetual 2011. “Don’t talk about enemies of wine but these products aren’t that evil especially when prepared in ways we would expect.”

18:15. “End of geographical boundaries of taste”, by François Chartier, “Créateur d’harmonies”; Daniel Ovadía, chef owner of Paxia (Mexico); Vineet Bhatia, chef owner of Rasoi (London); and Stéphane Modat, chef of Champlain Restaurant (Montreal). Sotolon, the harmonizing element (molecule) of wine and food. Sotolon (Fenugreek Lactone) evident in maple syrup and curry. Tokaji and aged white wine have small amounts of sotolon, also in dark beers. (Acording to Wikipedia: “Sotolon (also known as sotolone) is a lactone and an extremely powerful aroma compound, with the typical smell of fenugreek or curry at high concentrations and maple syrup, caramel, or burnt sugar at lower concentrations. Sotolon is the major aroma and flavor component of fenugreek seed and lovage,[1] and is one of several aromatic and flavor components of artificial maple syrup.[2] It is also present in molasses, aged rum, aged sake and white wine, flor sherry, roast tobacco,[3] and dried fruiting bodies of the mushroom Lactarius helvus.[4] Sotolon can pass through the body relatively unchanged, and consumption of foods high in sotolon, such as fenugreek, can impart a maple syrup aroma to one’s sweat and urine. In some individuals with the genetic disorder maple syrup urine disease, it is spontaneously produced in their bodies and excreted in their urine, leading to the disease’s characteristic smell.”) François envisages “the end of the geographical borders of taste.” Fish in a black olive sauce with Syrah. Instead of the 5 tastes we know, work with molecules. Aromatic synergy. Cinnamon has many aromatic features if you remove certain molecules. We tasted Bodegas Torres Milmanda 2003 with a jelly topped with toasted pig’s ear, brown sugar sauce, maple flavour. Mexican specialty gordita de chicharron y mollijas with Bodegas Torres Milmanda 2007. Maple syrup and curry – a Thai dish – beef sweetbreads. La Coche, grated to a black paste – The Mexican truffle – lamb rogan josh with huitlacoche, fenugreek rice, stir-fry asparagus and coconut with Bodegas Torres Milmanda 2008.

François Chartier

19:30. Closure by the Honorable Regional Counselor for Agriculture, Fishing industries, Food and Environmental issues, Mr. Josep Maria Pelegrí, and Miguel A. Torres.

Monday, September 29: After breakfast all the participants at the Wine & Culinary International Forum were bussed to the Torres winery in Vilafranca del Penedes, about an hour’s drive from Barcelona. We sat down to a tasting of Mas La Plana by Bodegas Torres chief winemaker Josep Sabarich. We tasted five vintages of Mas La Plana. The 1970 vintage, made from four-year-old vines, won the Gault Millau tasting in Paris in 1979, beating out French Bordeaux. I can understand why when I tasted the 1971, which was aged in American oak. It tasted like a St. Julien, still very much alive, very elegant and beautifully balanced.

Waltrud and Miguel Torres at lunch

Then we settled down to lunch prepared by the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca.

. . . SNACKS . . .
Stuffed olives with anchovies l’Escala caramelized in bonsai
Spines anchovy tempura rice Pals
Bonbon carpano and red grapefruit
Shrimp cracker
Guacamole, tomato and cilantro
Bonbon ceviche
Oriental Donut
Brioche truffle
Bonbon summer truffle

. . . LUNCH . . .
Vegetable broth with diced scallops, pine sprouts, grapes, flowers, laurel and lemon
Sea bass supreme with chardonnay sauce and iodized sauce
Gnocchi hazelnut, lemon and truffle
Mandala of lamb with eggplant, pepper, mint, eucalyptus, blueberries with vanilla, majorero and melon with beet
Iberian pork with mole cocoa and carob, figs and infusion of roasted red peppers
Veal shank cooked for 72 hours with chanterelles and truffled Board
Pigeon parfait with spiced bread, juniper, griottine confit, candied orange and pine nuts curry

Peach, honey, flowers and vanilla
Jamie I Brandy

In the evening I decided to try and find a tapas bar that had been recommended by my Vancouver friend Sid Cross – Cal Pen in the Place des les Olles. It was about 2 km from the hotel but by the time I found it I must have walked 4 km. There was a line-up of 30 people for 20 seats, so I left and walked back to the hotel, picking up a sandwich on the way.

Milmanda Castle

Tuesday, September 30: At 10 am a taxi took Deby Beard, a Mexican wine writer, and me to Milmanda Castle, a 90-minute drive from Barcelona. Torres acquired the property in 1978 and planted Chardonnay on 15 hectares. Lorena Canas, who looks like Penelope Cruz, showed us around the castle with its 13th century tower, and conducted a tasting of Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011 (straw coloured with a nutty, peach nose with a whisper of oak; rich and full on the palate, precise and beautifully balanced. (91))

Lorena Canas, chatelaine of Milmanda Castle

Then the neighbouring property, Grans Muralles (named for the wall that encompassed the Poblet monastery). Torres Grans Muralles 2006 (a blend of Monastrel, Carignena, Garnacha, and two ancient varieties, Garro and Samso): deep purple-ruby colour; smoky, toasty nose of pencil lead, plum and blackberry with a herbal note; rich and full on the palate with a tannic lift on the finish. Needs time (90–92). The soil in the vineyard here is as stony as the southern Rhône.

Two great wines

Then on to the village of Montblanc for lunch with Christoph Kammüller at El Moli del Mallol. The restaurant specializes in snails, photos of which adorn the front and back of the menu. We started with ceviche of cod with red pepper, hamon Iberico, mushrooms and bread spread with olive oil and tomato. The wines: Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011. Then followed a plate of snails with Torres Grans Muralles 2007 (smoky, earthy nose, rich and full on the palate, ripe black fruit flavours, more generous and rounder than the 2006 vintage (91)). Next dish, lamb chops followed by a bottle of dessert of Torres Grans Muralles 2008 which was more accessible than the 2007. Then a dessert plate and coffee.

Lunch at El Moli del Mallol  in Montblanc with Deby Beard and Christoph Kammüller

A quiet evening. Picked up a copy of Julian Barnes’s letters at a second-hand book stall outside the hotel. Packed and went early to bed.

Wednesday, October 1: A taxi took me to Barcelona airport for the flight to Frankfurt, then Air Canada to Toronto.

Thursday, October 2: A tasting of Greywacke wines with Kevin and Kimberley Judd.

  • Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2014: pale straw; minerally, green fig with a floral note; medium to full-bodied, elegant, gooseberry and green fig flavours with lively acidity with a tart grapefruit and green gooseberry finish. (91)
  • Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013: pale straw colour; smoky, minerally, elderberry, grassy; fuller in the mouth than the 2014. Fine spine of acidity. (92)
  • Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2012: straw colour; spicy, smoky, touch of barnyard on the nose; round on the palate, leesy, sour cream, green plum, elderberry and grapefruit flavours; rich and opulent on the palate. More in Graves style. (92)
  • Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2011: pale straw colour; minerally, white pepper, full in the mouth with green melon, grapefruit and gooseberry flavours. Seamless in the mouth. Fleshy and elegant with great length. (93)
  • Greywacke Chardonnay 2010: straw, smoky, toasty, honey and apple nose; elegant, Burgundian style, crisply dry, great length. A lovely wine that lingers on the palate. (92)
  • Greywacke Pinot Gris 2013: pale straw colour; tangerine nose; rich and unctuous, peachy sweetness, Alsace style. (89+)
  • Greywacke Riesling 2013: developing petrol notes, honey, lime; medium-bodied, touch of the acidity balances the residual sugar, grapefruit, lime and lemon zest flavours. (89)
  • Greywacke Pinot Noir 2013: red ruby colour; cherry, minerally nose; ripe, black cherry, juicy flavours with a note of violets; firm tannic structure but not intrusive, good acidity. (90)
  • Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011: deep ruby colour; very Burgundian nose, black raspberry and violets with beautifully integrated oak; rich and full on the palate, firmly structured with a tannic lift on the finish. A seamless wine drinking beautifully now but will hold three years. (93)
  • Greywacke Late Harvest Riesling 2011: straw with a lime tint; honey, grapefruit nose; rich and fully on the palate, beautifully balanced, the acidity carries the honeyed citrus fruit flavours to an unconscionable length. (92)

Kevin Judd tasting his Greywacke wines

Then on to the ROM for Wine Country Ontario Presents for a tasting of Ontario VQA wines.

  • Diprofio Sauvignon Blanc 2013: pale straw; gluey nose, grassy, citrus peel; medium bodied, dry, crisp grapefruit flavour. Good acidity. (86)
  • Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013: pale straw; grassy, green plum nose; dry, medium-bodied, touch of sweetness balanced by acidity. (87)
  • Copper’s Hawk Talon 2013: pale straw colour; grassy, gooseberry nose; fresh, green fruit flavours, crisp Sauvignon character. (87)
  • Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2012: honeyed grapefruit nose; ripe grapefruit and honey with an apple note. Medium-bodied with good length. (89)
  • Cave Spring The Adam Steps Riesling 2013: pale straw colour; minerally, petrol, honey, grapefruit; beautifully balanced fruit and acidity; Spätlese style. Lovely mouth-feel. (91)
  • Château des Charmes Riesling Old Vines 2012: pale straw with a lime tint; lime, minerally, honey; grapefruit and honey flavours, stylish, off-dry. (88)
  • Thirty Bench Riesling 2013: pale straw, lime tint; monerally, floral, honey, citrus nose; elegant, lighton the palate, pencil lead, honeyed grapefruit flavour. (89)
  • Thirty Bench Riesling Triangle Vineyard 2013: pale straw with a lime tint; minerally, not as expressive on the nose as the blended Riesling but tighter; lively acidity, lovely mouth feel. Will develop well. (91)
  • Tawse Riesling 2012: very pale lime colour; minerally, floral, honeyed, grapefruit rind nose; a mix of sweet and sour flavours with a touch of bitterness on the finish. (87)
  • Fielding Lot 17 Riesling 2013: almost water white; minerally, grapefruit skin with a touch of honey; dry, crisp, mouth-watering, well made with good length. (89)
  • EastDell Black Label Riesling 2013: minerally, sulphur note; perfumed, floral, grapey. (85)
  • Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Vineyard 2013: palest sraw colour; minerally, grapefruit nose; light spritz, elegant, lime flavour, delicate and ethereal; Mosel style. (90)
  • Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2012 (County): straw colour; smoky, spicy, toasty, apple nose; Burgundian style, ripe apple and peach flavours with well integrated oak, medium-bodied, with a long persistent finish. (91)
  • Bachelder Lawrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012: pale ruby colour; minerally, cherry nose; medium-bodied, dry, elegant, firmly structured. (89+)
  • Domaine Queylus Tradition 2011: ruby colour; high toned, raspberry nose; Burgundian style, lean, firm structure. (89)
  • Domaine Queylus Réserve 2011: ruby colour; raspberry with a touch of oak on the nose; silky mouth feel, firmly structured, dry, Volnay style. Well made. (90)
  • Grange of Prince Edward Pinot Noir 2012: mature ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose; dry, floral, cherry flavour, tannic finish. (87)
  • Delaine Syrah 2011: dense ruby colour; dry, herbal, blackberry nose; dry, medium-bodied, savoury-herbal flavour. (88)
  • Lailey Syrah 2012: dense ruby colour; minerally, smoky, minerally, herbal nose; dry, elegant, northern Rhône style, firmly structured. A well-made Syrah (91)
  • Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011: deep ruby colour; peppery, herbal, blackberry nose; lean but savoury flavours, firm and well structured. Good for the vintage. (89+)

Saturday, October 4: The Ontario Wine Awards fall wine tour for sponsors’ guests. This year we’re visiting Mike Weir winery and Angels Gate. At Mike Weir, we had a glass of the gold medal sparkling wine from the Ontario Wine Awards 2014 – Peller Estates Rosé with its Icewine dosage. Then winemaker Jeff Hundermark led us through a tasting of Mike Weir Riesling 2012 and Mike Weir Cabernet Franc 2012 before taking us outside to see the Riesling vineyard. It began to rain.

Jeff Hundermark assessing his Riesling grapes

Then inside the winery in an upstairs private room, decorated with Mike Weir golf memorabilia we had lunch: Devil’s Rock blue cheese with quince paste with Mike Weir Vinyasa 2013 (a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris with 70 calories per serving.) Next course, Lake Erie pickerel with succotash of corn, beans and bacon, with Mike Weir Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 (very aromatic from the Chardonnay Musqué in the vineyard). Main course: roast chicken stuffed with goat’s cheese and sun-dried tomatoes topped with prosciutto with fingerling potatoes and green beans.

Mike Weir’s new winery

Then on to Angels Gate, where winemaker Philip Dowell led us through a tasting of Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay 2011 sparkling wine, Angels Gate Pinot Noir Rosé sparkling, Angels Gate Pinot Gris 2013, Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, and two vintages of Angels Gate Mountainview Pinot Noir: 2010 (the wine of the year at the Ontario Wine Awards 2014) and 2011.

Angels Gate’s winemaker Philip Dowell


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A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 513: Sicily

Sicilian souvenirs

Thursday, September 18: Deborah dropped me off at the airport for my flight to Rome. I connected with Sheila Swerling-Puritt, who is joining me on this trip to visit several wineries in Sicily. We are booked Business Class and the stewards wanted to take selfies of us to send to our wine writer colleague Tyler Philp, who is an Air Canada pilot. Watched Million Dollar Arm and slept for three hours.

Friday, September 19: When we arrived in Palermo it was 35°C with a warm sirocco wind. We were met by our hosts, Mariza and Maria, who drove us to our hotel in a small town called Alcamo, 20 minutes west of Palermo. We checked into the Hotel Centrale and walked around the corner to the oldest bar in the city, Bar 900 (since 1937) and tasted the local speciality arancine – deep-fried balls of rice, saffron, mozzarella, minced beef and peas – the size of soft baseballs. Apparently, the shape varies as to where they are made; they can be log-shaped or, in Palermo, pyramid-shaped. We also tried a biscuit called Lingua di Suocera (mother-in-law’s tongue), made from orange, honey, almonds and butter.

Arancine – deep-fried balls of rice

Selection of dolce at Bar 900

Put my head down for a couple of hours before dinner. We were driven by Maria’s husband Stefano to Adragna Fiori (Via Ellera, 17, Alcoma), a beautiful Relais & Châteaux property about 15 minutes away. It used to be a former Tasca winery and was converted to a restaurant and hotel eight years ago. We dined with the three winery owners we’re here to visit, although the owners of BioViola, Davide Adragna and his wife Irana, arrived when dessert was being served, as he had to fly in from Rome. We started with a variety of appetizers – tuna with melon, raw swordfish with pineapple, swordfish caponata, deep-fried squid and shrimps, served with Cassara Zibi 2013 (100% Muscat of Alexandria, called Zibbibo here). With the strozza preti (“choke the priest”) pasta in a sauce of shrimp and sea urchin, BioViola Yule 2013 (100% Cattarato). The main course was amberjack with grilled zucchini and eggplant and boiled potatoes, served with Possente Grillo 2013. Dessert: prickly pear in a citrus and honey sauce followed by cassatelle (deep fried sweetened ricotta dusted with caster sugar) with Oro del Mille Marsala Superiore Secco. Got to bed around midnight.

Saturday, September 20: A surprisingly good sleep – God bless melatonin – and up at 7:30 am. After breakfast Sheila, Marzia and I went on a conducted tour of Alcamo with our knowledgeable guide, Sandra. She recounted the history of the town. It was founded in 828 by the Muslim commander al-Kamuk (after whom it is named) and is today a town of 45,000 inhabitants. The most prominent feature is a Norman castle begun in 1340, Castello dei Conti Modica, built in a rhomboid shape, with two square towers and two circular. It used to be a prison up until 1968, when it was abandoned after the great earthquake as unsafe.

Castello dei Conti Modica, Alcamo

We toured several churches and were impressed by the sculptures of Giacomo Serpotta (1652–1732), who worked in stucco but his pieces look as if they were executed in marble. The secret of his technique died with him; he didn’t even pass on the knowledge to his son.

Giacomo Serpotta’s stucco sculpture


At noon we all met with the president of the Strada del Vino Alcamo DOC, Vincenzo Cusumano, for a briefing on the wines of the region. Strada del Vino Alcamo is one of 13 wine routes in Sicily and the first to be founded (in 2000). The concept covers wineries, vineyards, hotels, restaurants and agri-tourism. Alcamo, he told us, is the largest vineyard area in Europe. Sicily has 110,000 hectares of vines; Alcamo has 10,000 hectares. The region became a DOC for white wines in 1972 and in 1999 a DOC was added for red wines. The history of Sicilian wines is reminiscent of the Pays d’Oc; the deeply coloured, high-alcohol wines were transported north to give colour and backbone to the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and northern Italy. Lunch: a salad at a local restaurant, brushing away the flies.

In the afternoon we were picked up by Davide and his friend Francesco Pirrone, who runs a tourism business called My Sicily (www.mysicily.it). I stopped to pick up a canister of mosquito repellant on the way to BioViola’s vineyard in the Valle di Calatafimi (which has its own DOC). The owner of the property, Anthony Adragna, Davide’s uncle, showed us around the vineyard, which has been organic for 20 years. Anthony is obsessive about keeping it so and would not disturb a spider’s web (“Spiders catch the insects,” he told us). We all had to limbo under the web that stretched between two rows of Nero d’Aavola. BioViola also produces tomatoes, honey (from black bees), olive oil and wheat (they make their own bread and pasta) as well as table grapes. Anthony prepared sandwiches of pecorino with tomatoes and olive oil, and the pecorino with honey, as we tasted BioViola Yule 2013 (Catarratto), BioViola Rosato 2013 (Nero d’Avola) and BioVila Merlot 2013 (the first vintage of this wine).

Davide and Irana Adragna at BioViola

Then we drove to Segesta to see the magnificent Greek temple as darkness fell. When we arrived the manager of the Sicilian guitar virtuoso, Francesco Buzzurro, was introducing his client who, for the next two hours, performed the most spectacular concert I have been privileged to attend. He made his electric guitar sound like an orchestra with a variety of works that covered flamenco, fado, George Gershwin, a Beatles medley, Nessun Dorma and a rock concerto – as well as his own compositions. At the end of the concert we purchased two of his CDs which he signed and had his photo taken with us.

Francesco Buzzurro performing

Then we drove over to La Agorà di Segesta, a huge restaurant complex where there was a wedding in progress. From our table outdoors we could see the illuminated Greek temple on the hill in the distance. We started with a seafood platter of octopus with cream cheese, swordfish carpaccio, oyster, shrimp and tuna in a sweet and sour sauce with onions. The accompanying wine was BioViola Alcamo Gillo 2013 (reminiscent of a Vernaccia di San Gimignano). Next dish, loup de mer with couscous followed by agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and fish roe with a swordfish and pistachio sauce, and then grilled swordfish with artichoke pudding and giant prawns. Finally, dessert of fresh fruit and lemon sorbet. And then almond parfait with chocolate sauce and cassaletta. A Bianchi Grappa to end the dinner. Back at the hotel by 1 am.

Maria Possente and husband Stefano

Sunday, September 21: A late morning start, thank goodness. Had breakfast at 9:30 am and Stefano and Maria picked Sheila and me up at 10 am to drive to the Riserva Naturale Orientata Bosco d’Alcamo atop Monte Bonifato. It was a steep walk up to the tower, a small chapel and the ruined castle at the top (800 m), marked along the way by the ceramic signs depicting the Stations of the Cross. After visiting Al Sanctuario Maria SS. Dei Miracoli with its ornate pulpit we drove to the Possente winery.

Possente’s winemaker Antonio Possente

The Possente family own 33 hectares of vines in the Alcamo and Salaparuta DOCs. They also produce olive oil and five different types of honey. It was 37°C by the time we arrived for a tour. Winemaker Antonio Possente showed us around and offered us tastings from the tanks and barrels. We tasted Grillo 2014 from Salaparuta, Zibbibo 2014 from Alcamo, Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Syrah from barrel that will be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.

The lunch in the fermentation cellar started with octopus, celery and carrot salad and progressed, through swordfish and eggplant casarette pasta, then spaghetti with sardines, walnuts, raisins and onion followed by swordfish caponata. Dessert: melon and prickly pear, followed by homemade cannoli that Stefano filled himself. The wines: Possente Kima 2013 (a blend of 60% Cattarato, 30% Grillo and 10% Viognier), Possente Nero d’Avola 3013 and Possente Zohra 2013 (60% Nero d’Avola, 30% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon). Finally, Limoncello or Amaro Punico and fresh Zibbibo grapes. Staggered up from the table to tour the rest of the winery before driving to see the Possente’s Alcamo and Salaparuta vineyards.

Stefano filling cannoli with sweetened ricotta

Then on to the towns of Gibellina and Poggioreale which were destroyed in the Belice earthquake of 1968. We walked around Poggioreale, which looks like a war zone. The quake happened on January 14 and 15, 1968, killing some 320 people and rendering 100,000 people homeless. A very sad sight.

Monument commemorating the 1968 earthquake in Poggioreale

Had dinner in the Hotel Centrale dining room. A mixed grill with roast potatoes and a bottle of Cusumano Syrah 2012 which we didn’t finish and gave the quarter of a bottle left to the owner of the hotel, who was sitting by himself surfing the TV channels.

Monday, Sept. 22: Lidia from Cassará picked us up and drove us to the winery, a large industrial-looking plant in the valley below the town of Alcamo. The vineyards are around the winery. Cassará produces some 400,000 bottles (16 different wines) as well as grape concentrate for the food industry. They also bottle wine for other producers. Rocco Antinello Cassará, who is always on the phone, started bottling his own wines under the Antinello Cassará label in 2007.

Rocco Antinello Cassara

Sheila and I sat down to a tasting of the following wines:

  • Fritz Vino Frizzzante (Zibbibo): aromatic, dry and light with a faint spritz; flavours of orange blossom, honey and citrus peel. (86)
  • Antinello Cassará Grillo 2013: minerally, spicy, citrus peel, dry and soft on the palate with a touch of bitterness on the finish. (87)
  • Antinello Cassará Catarratto 2013: pale lemon colour; oily-minerally nose with a light floral note; dry, honey and lemon flavours, good mouth-feel with a smoky finish. (88)
  • Antinello Cassará Jacaranda Sauvignon Blanc 2013: lemon yellow colour; grassy, green plum and green pepper nose; crisply dry with a grapefruit and green pepper flavour. (87)
  • Antinello Cassará Kilim Chardonnay 2013: straw colour; spicy, pineapple nose; flavourful New World style with a warm finish. (88)
  • Antinello Cassará Nero d’Avola Rosato 2013: deep salmon pink; on the nose, strawberry with minerality; dry, strawberry and grapefruit and orange peel flavours. (87)
  • Antinello Cassará Nero d’Avola 2012: ruby colour; plum nose; firmly structured with evident tannins; earthy with a lively acidic spine and a salty note on the finish. (87)
  • Antinello Cassará Shiraz 2012: deep ruby-purple colour; floral, vanilla oak and blackberry nose; dry, elegant and well structured. (89)
  • Antinello Cassará Ellissi 2009 (60% Nero d’Avola, 40% Merlot): deep ruby colour with a mature rim; tomato paste, balsamic and prune nose; rich and pruney flavours with evident tannin.(87)
  • Antinello Cassará Solcanto Nero d’Avola 2010: ruby colour; raisiny, plum and licorice nose; dry, plum flavour with grainy tannins and lively acidity (like Barbera with muscle). (88)
  • Antinello Cassará Adelante 2008 (60% Nero d’Avola/40% Syrah): mature ruby colour; meaty, dried fruit nose; spicy, licorice and plum flavours with a tannic bite on the finish. (87)
  • Antinello Cassará Kilim 2008 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot): mature ruby colour; claret nose – warm cassis, plum and cedar; soft mouth-feel, rich and full on the palate with disty tannins. (89)
  • Antinello Cassará Passitto de Pantellaria (NV – Zibbibo): deep amber colour; high-toned, spicy, orange and honey nose, rich and full on the palate, sweet but well balanced with acidity. (91)

Tasting of Cassará wines

After the tasting the winemaker, Giovanni Angileri, took us into the cellar to taste the 2014 wines from the tanks – Inzolia, Zibbibo, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Nero d’Avola and Syrah. Then we sat down to a picnic-style lunch of barbecued pork sausages, tomatoes, salami, olives, anchovies and cheese in Rocco’s office.

Rocco told us about the first time he was in New York and saw a sign for hot dogs. He ordered one and told his friend that he must have got the dog’s penis. His lawyer, who turned up, inspired by Rocco’s story, told us a joke about a man who walks into a restaurant with three beautiful women and a parrot and asks for a table for twenty. The joke lost a lot in translation and had to do with an Italian slang for penis.

A rest at the hotel before Lidia came to pick us up at 5 pm to take us back to Cassará where Rocco drove us all to Castellammare del Golfo, a charming coastal town and to see the rocks at Garaglioni di Scopello. Then we stopped for fresh orange juice in the town of Scopello before driving back to Alcamo, where we attended a lecture by a famous Sicilian chef, Filippo La Mantia, sponsored by the local Rotary Club. The lecture was held in a church, which was very hot. The women were all fanning themselves like humming birds. After a 20-minute introduction in Italian, the chef began (in Italian). We were almost falling asleep so we got up and left. We were meant to join the chef and the rest of the audience for dinner but since the proceedings would be in Italian and the chef apparently spoke no English we decided to have a quiet dinner of arancine and a beer at Bar 900.

Tuesday, September 23: Slept till 9 am! After breakfast I walked around the town. They have a novel way of putting out garbage for collection: from the upper floors of the buildings (and most are three or four storeys) they lower plastic bags of garbage by rope from the verandas that hang suspended about three feet above the sidewalk, out of reach of the stray dogs. Lunched at La Buffalotta in Alcamo’s main square: Spaghetti Bottarga e lime (a sauce of dried fish rose) followed by grilled tuna and salad of lambs leaf lettuce and detterino tomatoes with a bottle of Azienda Agricola Milatzzo Maria Constanza Bianco 2013 (Inzolia and Chardonnay – delicious). Tried to do some shopping in the afternoon but the shops close until 4:30 or 5 pm.

Castellammare del Golfo

Stefano, Maria and Marzia picked us up to drive to Castellammare del Golfo, where we would catch a boat to San Vito lo Capo to attend the 17th annual Cous Cous Fest – a six-day event featuring chefs from ten countries. (Their motto is “Make Cous Cous Not War.”) The open boat held 19 people and as we cleared the harbour it began to take on water as the bow dipped in the choppy seas. One guy was drenched head to toe and the deck was flooded. Everyone demanded that the “captain” turn back. So we drove to San Vito lo Capo instead and had to park a couple of miles from the town centre, where the stalls had been set up. Eventually, we got there by shuttle bus and wandered through the outdoor stalls selling all manner of Italian foods before taking our seats in the Cous Cous lab.

Candy stall at the Cous Cous Fest

Maria Possente, whose company supplied the wine and the olive oil for the lab, was on the panel. She was interviewed by an extremely loquacious moderator who, it turned out, came from Brooklyn. Eventually we were all served a dish of couscous prepared by Chef Fabrizio Barontini, who looked every inch a chef with his bulging stomach. The accompanying wine was Possente Kima 2013 (Grillo, Catarratto and Viognier) that went very well with the couscous (decorated with slices of peach, dried tomato, artichoke, carrot and squid). Stopped for ice cream on the way back to the car park and made it home to the hotel by 1 am.

Chef Fabrizio Barontini with his cous cous dish

Wednesday, September 24: Marzia picked us up after breakfast to drive us on a sightseeing tour of Erice. To get to this walled village 750 metres above the city of Trapani you can take a 20-minute ride on a cable car, which gives you a commanding view of western Sicily and the islands.

The church in Erice

We stopped at La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico for an espresso and some local pastries – Genovese, a short crust pastry filled with custard, Pasta di Mandola (an almond cookie) and Buccellati (a pastry filled with fig jam). Then we drove to Marsla for lunch at Osteria il Gall e l’Innamorata – arancine stuffed with smoked salmon to start, followed by Busiata (a tight spiral pasta) with cuttlefish and squid, accompanied by a glass of Gorghi Tondi Grillo 2013.

At 3:30 pm we presented ourselves at Florio for a tour of this vast Marsala enterprise. (They have 6 million litres of Marsala ageing in their cellar. The oldest barrel dates back to 1939. The plant was bombed in 1943 by the Americans and much wine was lost.) At the end of the tour of the cellar we had video tasting (led by an actress) of three Florio products – Terre Arse Virgin Marsala, which was paired with parmesan cheese, Targa Semi-Dry with gorgonzola and Grecale Moscato with a biscotti.

Barrel of 1939 Florio Marsala

Then we drove over to Isola di Mozia to see the salt pans and the 14th-century salt mill. Along the coast between Marsala and Trapani are mountains of white salt 100 to 200 tonnes each which are covered with tiles to protect them from the winter rains and allow the salt to dry. Back in Alcamo, Marzia, Sheila and I went for pizza at La Gattopardo, with a bottle of Possente Zhora 2013.

Salt mill at Isola di Mozia

Thursday, September 25: A threat of rain today. Being a passenger in Sicily is a nerve-wracking experience. Nobody obeys stop signs and cars suddenly appear out of side streets. Cars double-park all over the place and pedestrians wander out in the streets as if there is no traffic. Drivers will stop in the middle of the main street to talk to friends they meet. It’s a game of chicken as to who will get into a line of traffic before the next guy.

This morning Marzia drove Sheila and me to Castellammare del Golfo to tour the castle that stands at the end of the jetty. It was built by Arabs in the eighth century and completed by the Normans. Inside is an exhibition of the tuna industry showing how the fishermen trapped the tuna in nets and hauled them into their open boats with grappling hooks at the end of long poles.

Lunching with John and Marzia

Stopped for ice cream and then drove back to Alcamo for lunch at La Buffalato with Marzia and her fiancé, John Meli, who is growing wine in his family’s home town of Pachino. I started with caprese salad and then Pasta Norma (served in a hollowed out eggplant). The wines: Possente Grillo, 2013, Possente KIma 2013 and Possente Zohra 2013.

Pasta Norma (served in a hollowed-out eggplant) at La Buffalato

A rest before dinner – the last supper with the group of wineries we are here to visit. The venue is La Batia, where other parties are in progress. We are in a room with 30 people noisily celebrating a birthday, adjacent to another room where a bunch of 18-year-olds are also celebrating a birthday. There are ten of us at table and an endless possession of antipasti dishes arrive – caponata, pickled pumpkin, ricotta and honey, spinach wrapped in pancetta, Carpaccio, stuffed mushroom caps, deep-fried chick peas, stuffed dried tomatoes, mashed potato patties stuffed with ham, eggplant, fried cheese, salami, olives and more cheese. Then the main course, pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Dessert: prickly pear and pastries filled with sweetened ricotta. The wines: BioViola Merlot 2013, Possente Zohra 2013 and Cassará Shiraz 2009. Left the table around midnight just as the eighteen-year-olds began dancing to DJ’s music at the threshold of pain.

The “last supper” at La Batia, Alcamo

Friday, September 26: Packed and ready for my flight to Barcelona to attend Torres’s Wine and Culinary Forum.

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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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