On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from - Ottawa Wine and Food Show - Friday Night, Nov. 3, 2006

03 Jan 2007
So here I am, first time in Ottawa … ever. Some people come to see the parliament buildings, tour around, marvel at the centre of power in Canada, seek their fortunes or try their hand at becoming politically inclined. Some come to call their ex a dog, while others come to line their pockets through sponsorship scandals … me, I came for the wine.

What? Wine, in Ottawa? You bet. The 21st Annual Ottawa Wine and Food Show draws thousands of people and it’s getting bigger and better every year. “I love this show,” Ian Hanna, of John Hanna and Sons Ltd. told me. “The people, the atmosphere, it’s just great.” On the other side of the coin I heard, “Not the best show for selling our wine – it’s more pour and go, especially as you get later in the day … Toronto is better because it’s less busy … but it gets our name out there and I love this city, so I really have no complaints.”

So, you ask, Grape Guy, how was the show? In one word, busy. I arrived Friday night about 6pm and already the line-up outside was around the corner and into the parking garage. Inside the cacophony of people at times was deafening, the throng – bigger than I have ever seen at any wine show, even in Toronto. Is that because Toronto rents out a bigger venue? In fact, I think the 2 rooms at the Congress Centre make for a bigger space than the one room that held the last major Toronto show I was at; and the booth sizes range from the massive (Yellow Tail) to the very small (Vina MontGras). But all the big names are there: Ironstone; Gallo; Inniskillin; Perrin & Fils, Mott’s Clamato; the little names are there: Caroline Cellars; Lailey Vineyards; Featherstone; La Face Cachee; and all the countries are represented: France, the U.S., Chile, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Canada, etc. And apart from the ringing in my ears from the mass of people, the slow shuffle to get where you’re going, and the array of choice that’s enough to boggle the mind – everyone, and I do mean everyone, has a smile on their face and a glass in their hand (all except the Policeman who confirmed that this is not his favourite gig – understandably).

Let’s move on to the finds of the first night and tomorrow we’ll sample some of the winners from the competition held in mid-October. The first night was about soaking in the atmosphere and trying some of the interesting wines and finds.

Lately I find myself on a Zinfandel kick, so I made my way over to California, home of those massive fruit, massive alcohol Zins. It was once not unusual to find 15 or 16% Zins that ripped at the throat and needed steak to help cut them down to size; but today we find California’s winemakers have scaled back their Zinful ways and are now making lighter, more palatable and lower (14%) Zin. Like Gallo’s $9.90 general list Zinfandel; Rancho Zabaco’s Dancing Bull Zinfandel (general list $15.95); or Fetzer’s (general list $9.95). All fruit forward affairs that drink well on their own, but will suit more simple pasta and pizza dinners quite nicely. But when it comes to Zin some of my favourites are of the ‘old vines’ variety – less fruit per vine, more concentrated flavours per berry … and there were a few that caught my eye and sang on my tongue. The Reserve Rancho Zabaco ($19.95) soon to be in Vintages (maybe January ’07); Delicato’s ‘Gnarly Head’ 2005 Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.75) which will find it’s way to Vintages store shelves around April. The ‘Gnarly Head’ is crafted from 35-80 year old vines and has a cute little story about its name on the back label of the bottle. Both of these Zins are as you’d expect, fruit forward with a little more oak punch then their less expensive counterparts – especially the robust and oaky Zabaco, which will need a few years on its side to settle down. My favourite Zin of the night was from Ironstone Vineyards – this $16.75 2005 ‘Old Vines’ Zinfandel (Vintages – Nov. 11) goes beyond description, but if you’re a red Zinfandel fan, or plan to be one, this one will do it for you. And just in case you can’t put you hands on this limited release Zin, and are still looking for something special in a Zin, check out the Ravenwood Zinfandel ($19.95 – Vintages essential) – it’s always available and always very good.

Worried that I would spend my whole night in California I decided to move on and check out a few other parts of the world in search of different tastes. Like the new taste combo from Brick Brewing Company and Mott’s Clamato called “Red Eye”. A combination of specially brewed lager and Mott’s Original Clamato juice … quite unique and very interesting.

My final stop of the evening, as the room was getting busier and busier as the night wore on, was to Creekside, where I got my first taste of their new Laura’s Blend White (49% Sauvignon Blanc, 48% Chardonnay, 3% Viognier) … the Laura’s Blend red is consistently one of my favourites so the white had some big shoes to follow in. This first time wine, and interesting blend (not seen often outside of Australia), is delicious, with great notes of grapefruit from the Sauv Blanc, fruitiness from the Chardonnay, with the Viognier adding that extra brightness to the fruity finish. I also tried a couple of young wines that will show well in a few years, like the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir ($30) – which needs a little more time in bottle, and the 2004 Reserve Shiraz ($29.95) from the St. David’s Bench area … great guts from the 50% new oak, and set for release in January of 2007 … but definitely not ready for prime-time, not yet anyway. This is also one that should be laid down for a while. Final wine of the evening was the 2004 Broken Press Shiraz (95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier - $32) – complete with interesting story. If not for the addition of the Viognier this one would also be tight, but the Viognier freshens the blend and makes it an interesting and welcome addition to the Creekside line of wines.

After all that tasting I went and had dinner at one of the local restaurants, and wouldn’t you know it – I left my souvenir glass on the table … guess I am going to have to go back tomorrow – shucks darn. Tomorrow we’ll taste some of those competition winners and see if they truly are worthy of their medals - until then goodnight.

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