cellarI am always glad when I am given the opportunity to dine at The London Club. They have a commitment to deliver well-prepared contemporary foods to their membership and the club’s cellar is stocked with all sorts of tasty goodies obtainable at the most reasonable of prices. Recently the club hosted a California wine dinner. As one of my old friends from way back was going to be presenting the wines, I was asked if I would like to attend.

John TaitJohn Tait is a long time honoured wine consultant with the LCBO who is based in the Mississauga Vintages store. I have known John for many years and I don’t think I would offend anyone if I stated he has one of the finest palates within the LCBO, especially when it comes to his love of Californian wines. John and I used to travel together to Century Liquor in Rochester New York back in the good old days before the provincial liquor tax grab was imposed at the border, where we shopped until we dropped. 

John opened his presentation by stating that in his infancy with the board, California’s representation across the Province was that of two wines. One was Cribari, a Central Coast winery still known to be a leader in providing sacramental wine to America’s reverend clergy. The other stellar cellar offering was one of those jug format type red wines that dons a European wine region pseudonym on their label. The producer was known as Guasti, whose claim to fame was not necessarily the wine, but the fact that the property upholds the legend of having the “haunted vineyard”.

Fortunately those primeval days are long gone and we now have access to a much wider selection of Californian juice. John has been with the board for some thirty-three years and plans to retire (yeah right pal) at the end of June.

At the pre dinner reception we were poured Geyser Peak’s Sauvignon Blanc 2003 and 2002 Sonoma Merlot. I sipped the frosty one along with some tasty hors d’oeuvres, and enjoyed it immensely.

Seated at our table were Joe Grygier and Monica Wolf, other long time friends who were both happy to contribute to the following notations.

ScallopThe first course was a deftly seared Scallop on Sweet Corn and Spring Onion Succotash served with Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2003

This has a dry earthy note to the nose along with cooked apple sauce. Pink grapefruit soon takes command along with mineral, lamp oil, spinach leaf and a discernable buttery note. Apparently, ten percent of the wine goes into French oak. On the palate it is quite full and extends the characteristic grapefruit tones along with lime zest and a finish of mango. A nice wine, but a little low in acid, although the “fatness” works nicely with the plump texture of the scallop. 

TunaNext arrived the match of the night, Double Smoked Bacon Wrapped Yellow Fin Tuna, Charred Endive and Lobster Beurre Blanc served with a Calera Central Coast Chardonnay 2000.  

The colour is rich and golden. At first I am skeptical about its age, but the hit of vanilla spice, mineral earth, butterscotch and walnut, hold back my fears. The palate is remarkably fresh showing notes of canned pineapple, ripe pear and chestnut. The wine’s age has allowed it to take on a smoky note, which harmonizes so well with the bacon hugging the barely seared tuna. The charred endive enhances the slight earthiness in the wine. The Beurre Blanc, being rich and silky, just melds with the ripe and perfectly balanced fruit to make this a quintessential paring.

I rarely rave over the merits of any type of Sorbet or water ice, but the granite of freshly squeezed OJ and Chardonnay was one of the finer I have ever tasted.   

VealOur main course entailed a Porcini Crusted Veal Striploin with Californian Baby Veggies, Warm Peruvian Blue Potato Salad and Foie Gras Emulsion.

The wine offering is Chateau Souverain’s Alexander Valley’s Syrah 2000

In my opinion, as good as both components are, the wine simply overpowers the protein. The veal is nicely cooked, the porcini dust is apparent, although slightly bitter, and the overly high degree of acid in the potato salad elevates it as the plate’s principal flavour. The Foie Gras emulsion is tasty and moistens the meat perfectly. The wine is a monster that really overwhelms the delicate flavour of the protein. Its nose is complex, polished and sweet. The palate takes a hit from layer after layer of ripe blackberry fruit, dark couvature, coffee grounds, earthy flavours and pepper. The finish is equally intense. 

CompoteJohn explained that for the dessert course, there were simply no Californian wines in the system. Instead he offered a Lenz Moser Krems Austria-Trockenbeerenouslese 2001 to accompany a Peach Brulee and Blackberry Compote.  

Nice substitution. Its nose offers up dried apricot and banana chips, apple clover honey and citrus. It is sweet enough and balanced to enhance the richness of the dessert. 

Then without any warning whatsoever, more stickies arrived.  

Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Rheinga Riesling Auslese 2003        

The nose gives nothing other than a smidgen of candyfloss, Seven Up, and a touch of mineral flint and chalkstone. There is no fruit on the palate and the finish is like slurping back a glass of simple syrup laced with a touch of lemon peel.   

Royal TokajiRoyal Tokaji, 5 Petunias, 1999 

Oh but this hedonistic Hungarian is much better. The colour is reflective and highly concentrated with a beautiful golden orange hue. A lovely aroma of caramel, Seville orange marmalade, honey and clove emits from the glass. A second swirl delivers notes of marzipan and tangerine peel. At first it seems sweet as the botrytis makes it presence be known, but the finish is dry and surprisingly high in acid. Then a secondary note of concentrated sweetness appears out of nowhere to create a harmonious close. 

Many thanks to the club’s general manager, Lazlo Buzas and his team of dedicated and professional employees. A fun night and all the best John in your retirement.


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