And A Big Time Was Had by All

And A Big Time Was Had by All

If the chef at your favourite high end restaurant wasn’t on the premises last Saturday night it’s likely because he or she was cooking in a private residence for the Grand Cru Culinary Festival. Twenty-five chefs fanned out through the city’s swankiest neighbourhoods where they each teamed up with one of 25 famous winemakers from around the world to present lavish meals to 18 guests per residence. Each person paid $2,500 per to raise funds for the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation and the University Health Network, a leading teaching and research facility. I was unable to attend any of the dinners this year (the festival is in its second year), but I did attend the private tasting Thursday evening at a posh Versailles-like home in the Post Road area, where each of the winemakers personally presented two or three wines to 200 guests. My highlights in a moment.

Some people love to do things big, some well. Wine importer Todd Halpern is one of the best in the city at doing both. Last year, through Grand Cru, he raised $1.5 million for the TGWHF (he sits on the board), the largest donation ever to a charity via a wine event in Toronto. Since taking the reins of Halpern Enterprises from their father Harold Halpern about 10 years ago, Todd and his brother Colin have assembled Ontario’s best portfolio of top, exclusive wine estates—with Antinori, Silver Oak, Hugel, Jaboulet, Ceretto, Faively and Dujac among of the more well known. Not only are the Halperns selling a lot of fine wine, they have purchased the venerable house of Remoissenet in Burgundy. Two 12-litre bottles (called balthazars) of Remoissenet Clos Vougeot 1992 and Chambolle-Musigny 1989 were opened for the occasion. Halpern also literally trucked a pair of elephants to the gala event and valet parked them on the front lawn. Some may tsk-tsk such ostentation, but Halpern does it with good humour and the generous spirit of making memories—as well as money.

So back to the smorgasbord of wines, all of which can be tracked down by visiting, which lists 460 products (almost as many as Vintages has on shelf on a given day). Best New Discovery was Twomey 2003 Merlot ***** ($87) from California—a new winery occupying the old Stonegate property in Napa, owned by the Silver Oak folks with an ex-Moueix Bordeaux winemaker at the helm. Great fragrance, density and finesse, and a fascinating comparison to oakier heavy-handed American-bred Silver Oak 2002 Alexander Valley Cabenet Sauvignon ***1/2 ($85 range). Also from California, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the eclectic Canadian Cliff Lede and tasting his classic, finely toned Cliff Lede 2003 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon ****1/2 ($59.95) and his hillside-grown, old vine cabernet/malbec, Cliff Lede 2002 Poetry ****1/2 ($139) .

Halpern’s Italian portfolio is very strong, especially in Tuscan superstars and aspirants. A pair of 2001 Brunellos were the showstoppers for me—what a great, classic vintage with the wines about three years away from prime time and likely to live for decades. Fuligni 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ****1/2 is not yet released/priced but already gorgeous—very creamy, complex and fragrant; while Poggio Antico 2001 Brunello ****1/2 ($64.50), is a bit more firm, leathery and solid. Sette Ponti 2004 Crognolo ****1/2 ($39) was one of the better value of the night, a slick, new oak-aged sangiovese-merlot blend with rich leathery flavours yet fine structure. Drei Dona 2003 Pruno ****1/2 (not yet priced) is another very elegant, sensuous Tuscan, 100% sangiovese.

From France, the best offerings were from Burgundy’s legendary Domaine de Montille, a classicist known for sturdy yet fine pinot noirs designed for the cellar. The Domaine de Montille 2002 Volany 1er Cru Brouillard ****1/2 ($99) is firm, elegant and very spicy, for drinking at the turn of the decade, while Montille 2003 Beaune 1er Cru Sizies **** ($89) is similarily fine—if more supple for earlier drinking thanks to the warmer vintage. And what about those elephantine balthazars? Remoissenet 1992 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru ** (not priced) was a touch corked, a disaster given it affected the equivalent of 16 bottles at once. Remoissenet 1989 Chambolle Musigny ***1/2 (not priced) had reached peak maturity with classic leathery, burning leaves and still-sweet cherry fruit.