Sunday, March 29, 2009

Report from ... PMA Canada Chairman's Gala - March 24, 2009

Here's how the bi-annual PMA Gala, held at the Toronto Hunt, was described to me: "it's an all out eat-and-drink-athon. Nobody takes notes, you push a glass into the melee, get your pour, suck it back and move on." (obviously not said by PMA employee - or was it?). I decided to go anyway, with pen in hand, determined not to be lumped into those just looking for a free hand out ... I've got work to do. Of course, the title of the event should have given me pause as to dress code; I was the only one there in jeans … so much for being inconspicuous.

Seminar one …
The event kicked off at 3:00 PM with Heinrich Breuer of George Breuer Winery in Germany and a tasting of their Rieslings. Heinrich spoke in good passable English; with the expected German accent, thick as it was he was still very understandable but his though his attempts at humor fell on a dull crowd ...were they just chomping at the bit to try the wines or was he just not funny? You decide:

About his high acidity Riesling: "Our Riesling has high acidity, definitely not for people with stomach problems."

On why his Riesling’s are dry: "Sweetness is used to cover faults and high acidity - it's like a lady, the best ones don't need to use it."

On experimental wines: "Some wines don't turn out like you want, but good vinegar has to be made too."

And on climate change: "While my father told me that 1 in 7 vintages is a good one; I tell my daughter that 1 in 7 vintages is a bad one."

Heinrich took the assembled crowd, of no more than 50 people, through a brief history of the Riesling grape (first recorded mention is about 500 years ago); Germany's place in the Riesling-world (Germany produces 60% of the world's Riesling); other regions of who make fine Rieslings (in his opinion - Alsace and Austria); promised that the competition from other regions that are springing up and making good Riesling (like Canada) will only make them work harder to make better wines; and that the Rheingau (where his wines are made) is planted to 80% Riesling - and now 15% Pinot Noir. He also told us that his oldest vines are approximately 50 years old - he'd like older vines (“in 30-years they will be 80 years old”) but he claimed that a combination of phylloxera and a re-arranging of the vineyard were the current determining factors of their age … I would have to assume, although not mentioned, part of that rearranging came about because of bombs during World War II - but I'm just guessing here.

The real proof of the Riesling-pudding, so to speak, was in the tasting - and these were some awesome Rieslings. We tried a flight of single vineyard 2007’s, which Heinrich gushed about saying, "it was a great vintage". The stand out here was the Terra Montosa (translated as: mountainous field), which they make only 2 – 4 thousand bottles per year; a great mineral driven wine with good fruit, high acidity and an incredibly long finish. Heinrich then mentioned the potential longevity of these great wines and proceeded to pour a 2001, 1997 and 1989. The standout here was the 1997 Montosa Charta Rheingau Riesling … it tasted younger and fresher than the 2001, had lots of fruit, and a mead-like quality with dried peaches and pears; hints of petrol added to the flavour without overwhelming … and it all ended with an amazing lips smacking finish that demanded another sip be taken … then another … and another - soon my glass was empty and I hadn't spit a drop. This wine really spoke to, and helped to emphasize, his point about the quality and longevity of his wines.

Seminar Two …
I wish I could say that the South African seminar was just as interesting and entertaining, but alas I cannot. It was about Cape Legends sponsored by Distell – principals of which I have had the pleasure of dining with and enjoyed their stories and company. The speaker was Berenice Barker - who was quick to point out that the views expressed were her own and not those of her company – she was amusing enough as a speaker but I felt it was a sales pitch more than an informative seminar. She totally lost my interest when she compared the Lomond 2008 Sauvignon Blanc to ones from the Loire (in France), she said they were alike; I totally disagreed. The wine was had big palate cleansing acidity, mammoth grapefruit and grassyness on the nose and palate, while the finish was green and grassy … this was new world Savvy B all the way, without even the merest hint of Loire-finesse. I can see why this wine wins awards all over the world, but the comparison with Loire Sauvignon Blanc stops at the grape variety. The other good wine poured was the Tukula 2006 Sangiovese, lots of spices and herbs here, while the red fruit jumped right out of the glass at you and ended with a spicy-plumy fruit sensation that has hints of wood and vanilla … there may have been a little hollowness in the mid-palate but all-in-all this was a good wine.

Top Ten of the Tasting … (in no particular order)

Osborne Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sherry ($17.95 – Vintages) ... this is always a favorite, I have a few bottles and my cellar – a beautiful sweetie that has candied almonds and raisin pie flavours. (Spain)

Nugan Estate Manuka Grove Durif 2007 ($29.95 – Consignment) ... known also as Petite Sirah this wine possesses port-like nuances of cherry and spice without the sweetness; very smooth, very tasty. (Australia)

Nino Negri “Sfursat 5 Stelle” di Valtellina 2005 ($69.95 – Consignment) ... fun to ask for this by name "Stelle"- aside from that silliness this one’s got a wonderful cherry nose with dried cherry and herb flavours. (Italy)

Korta 2008 Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier ($12.95 – Consignment) … I was very impressed with Korta wines, especially for their value - you'll see why in a bit; this one was pleasantly fruity with a touch of acidity - great summer wine that won’t break the bank. (Chile)

Villa Maria 2008 Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($35.95 – Consignment) … lots of citrus/grapefruit, great grassy-gooseberry flavors with nice acidity that plays off the big fruit sweetness and leads to a long finish. (New Zealand)

Korta 2007 Barrel Selection Reserve Syrah ($14.95 – Consignment) … this is my value wine of the show - first and foremost, it tastes like it should be selling at double the price, but don't tell PMA that, I’ve ordered a case. Peppery, red berry and dark fruit all play on the tongue without being all heavy and jammy; this really is Syrah, not a Shiraz. (Chile)

Andretti 2006 Napa Valley Primitivo/Zinfandel ($44.95 – Consignment) … the nose is all plumy and cherry, as fully expected from this double Zinfandel - but it's the kick-ass spice and whooping acidity that makes this wine truly unique. (USA – California)

Collazzi Toscana 2006 ($46.95 – Consignment) … Lamberto Frescobaldi is very proud of this wine, he told me so himself - he also said this was a sneak peak because it is not yet available in the market; an amazing wine that's more Bordeaux than Italy with the three major French grapes at its helm. Herbs and spice take over the nose; dried fruit and berries in the mouth, while spicy-licorice notes also grace the palate … smooth tannins round this one off nicely and it has a sip-all-day quality to it. Superb. (Italy)

Alianca Quinta Dos Quatro Ventos Reserva 2006 ($26.95 – Consignment) ... plum, chocolate and black fruit are all over this one; smooth and delicious. (Portugal)

Bodegas Norton Perdriel Single Vineyard 2005 ($64.95 – Consignment) ... a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend aged 16 months in 100% new French barrels. This one's juicy with blackberries and sweet cherries - there's also hints of mint and menthol on the nose; barreling is hardly noticeable with all that fruit. (Argentina)

Beer …

I met Neil Sharp from Innis & Gunn, a Scottish beer company that oak ages their beers. The Blonde ($3.45) is a refreshing and lightly oaked beer that has a little kick to it … but the star was the special Canadian Cask Scottish Oak Aged beer ($4.95), which was made to celebrate Canada Day 2009, in honour of how well their beers have been received here. Former Canadian whisky barrels are used for the aging the beer (71 days) ... the result is a full bodied toffee laden beer that tastes slightly sweet and downright delicious, eh! The lingering finish is perfect for those who enjoy sipping, rather than guzzling there beers, and sipping will definitely be in order here, the 7.1% alcohol could pose a problem otherwise, if you have too many.

Food …

As for the nibblies and all you can eat munchies ... I’m not much of a foodie so most of the cheese, shrimp, salmon, beef, lamb, pork loin, etc. were lost on me - but I have to admit I did get my fill of some of the most amazing ribs I've had in a longtime ... and they went well with that Canadian Cask beer.

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