Sunday, January 07, 2007

the smell of the country

I took my column research to some friends' farmhouse this weekend. James and Laurel have an idyllic little place north of Lake Ontario a way out east of Toronto, and they'd invited folks up for a last bit of holidaying. With the mild winter we're having in Ontario, the weekend felt more like early spring than early new year. We took a long walk in woods that would normally be knee deep in snow by now, breathed a lot of clean air, and marvelled at how green everything still is in January. There were eight of us altogether, plus a dog and two cats. Plus wine -- lots of wine -- and a little bit of Czech Absinthe that maybe should have stayed in its pretty bottle.

I have an idea about my April column, and wanted to work out some tasting details, so I brought three white wines with me, chilled them appropriately in the unheated garage, and then set them out on a sideboard in the dining room. We had a Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc, a Sancerre and an Ontario Riesling (full notes later once I've figured things out). I provided everyone with evaluation sheets, and a cheat sheet lexicon of white wine tasting notes. We had local goat cheese and crackers to sustain us. Over the next hour we eight circled James' handmade harvest table, holding our glasses to the windows, sniffing deeply, sipping, and checking in with each other on just how much cat urine, cut grass or gooseberry we were getting from the wines. One bottle emerged a clear winner, but none of them escaped unemptied, and I got just exactly the impression I'd been looking for from the exercise.

My favorite tasting note from the afternoon was from Kim, who wrote down "mop 'n glo." And once she'd said it, we all tasted it. And while some never returned to that bottle, others found the piney fresh scent a perfect accompaniment to the location and atmosphere. I learned that my critical perception of wine is sharpened immensely by having others drink it and discuss it with me.

Later we switched to Laurel's collection of reds, while we ate homemade tortiere and chicken-and-stuffing pie with rhubarb chutney. By the time the absinthe came out, the music was very loud and we were playing no-mercy crocinole in front of a fire in the family room. Really, a perfect evening.

On the way up to the farm, I had listened to a radio show from Niagara, and heard Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario speculating about this global-warming winter of ours and whether or not there will be anything left to press out of the ice-wine grapes by the time the temperature drops low enough for harvesting. On a more positive note, she mentioned that the regular 2006 grape harvest in Ontario was the second largest on record.

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