[Note: In honor of Canada’s national day, this is the first of two posts today with a “Canuck” theme.]
By Jim Boyce
The Friday night tastings at Sequoia CafÃ© are usually a time to chill out, but things heated up between distributors and patrons two weeks ago at an event that featured three Canadian outfits â€“ Pelee Island, Strewn, and Jiamin.
Before the “he said, she said” part, first the wines: I’ve always considered Pelee Island an OK winery with colorful birds on its labels, so I was pleasantly surprised by the Pinot Noir Reserve 2006 VQA. This wine had light cherry and berry aromas and flavors, and might go well with Beijing duck. I also enjoyed the relatively crisp Pelee Island 2004 ice wine, with its blend of Vidal (86%) and Riesling grapes. The nose had lychee and apricot aromas, while the body had apricots and a hint of green apple.
The Strewn ice wines were more viscous, with some having an initial “oily” smell that reminded me of strong Rieslings, though these morphed into fruitier aromas. Both the flagship Strewn 2004 and Palatine Hill 2004 have ample apricot and other fruit aromas and flavors. (“A lot of people canâ€™t tell the difference between them,” we learned.) Meanwhile, Strewn’s Cabernet Franc Icewine 2004 is a honey-peach color with lighter fruit flavors – think cherries and berries. Several patrons said they found these wines the most complex.
Jiamin offered the widest selection, with two reds and five sweets. The Summerhill Pyramid Winery “Platinum Series” Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 had OK fruit but an unbalanced body and astringent finish. Among the sweeter wines, my favorite was the company’s 2006 Chardonnay ice wine VQA, though I found it syrupy.
Stickier still were distributor-patron relations at the Jiamin table. The key incident seemed to be when a patron found no one around and poured her own wine, causing a Jiamin rep to rush over and deliver a “we don’t do that here” reprimand. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear to be an isolated incident, as about a half-dozen other patrons complained about the reps. For their part, one rep said the patrons were rude and that Beijing was the lone city visited that had “wine snobs.”
Here’s my take: I saw the Jiamen table unattended several times as the reps loaded up at the buffet, at least one rep couldn’t answer questions such as the grape variety used in some of the wines, and I heard remarks such as “talk to the guy at the other table, because he knows all about ice wine” and “[Our winemaker] is a James Bond-type of ladies man.”
I’m going with the customers on this dispute. But I do understand the reps were at the tail end of a series of tastings, so let’s chalk it up to exhaustion. Besides, the “James Bond” comment is no surprise given that the back label of one Jiamen wine starts, “[The winemaker] is a charmer of people and a lover of ladies.”
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