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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

World's Lurchest Wine Writer - The Gangsta of the Grape - The Sultan of Shiraz - The Buccaneer of Burgundy - The Prince of Pinot Noir - Yellow Tail's Bane - Locus of the Ladies' Focus - Wielder of the trousered Hammer of Thor - I have arrived to rescue the wine world from overly-serious, rigid, deconstructionist, rooster juice peckerwoods who'd never dream of gettin' a tattoo or crackin' a smile. I am without a doubt, the smartest, funniest and toughest sumbitch in the entire wine industry. And I aint goin' away. All disputes will be settled bare-knuckled in the Octagon. You heard me. Oh, and by the way...Bite me crank!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Billy and the Deacon Descend on Niagara - Part 1!

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Red!

Happy Summer, Homeys! Yo to Y'all and the usual special greetin' to all you couch-comfort, water spider, paper sack, tree surgeon, cracker Dix who keep tuning in, but still don't get it!

Your humble Deacon is online to bring you all the latest wine news that's fit to electronisize and get y'all up to amphetamine speed on my travels and triumphs...

A couple of daze ago, me and the Deaconess picked up the Deacon's mentor, Billy Munnelly, along with Billy's bodyguard Kato at a secret location in Toronto's West End. With the Deacon at the controls, and Jeeves, your Deacon's state of the art Garmin GPS handin' navigation, the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow rolled onto the Gardiner Expressway and we were Niagara bound!

The weather was fine and we roared to Jordan and our first planned stop of our 2 day wine wash. Cave Spring was the first winery on the list and the GPS took us right to their door, where we were greeted warmly by former Navy Seal, Tom Pennachetti, the VP of Marketing and Sales. Within a minute, we were ushered into a private (read "no mofos") tasting room and Tom began his informative and fascinating presentation. Now some of you know how much your Deacon loves Colio reds. I think their winemaker, Carlo Negri does a phenomenal job in creating lush, robust reds with Ontario grapes. Well let me say that the Italians have done it again, and I ain't only talkin' 'bout the World Cup...What Colio has done with reds, Cave Spring does with whites. These were truly some of the freshest, lurchest most indikative whites your humble Deacon has sampled in Ontario to date. (There's a strong German familial connexion with the Pennachettis, so they only have to find a Japanese winemaker and they've got the Axis Powers covered!) The Cave Spring '04 Riesling (Dry) VQA Niagara Penninsula was fine indeed. There was a little petrol on the nose as you'd expect from this grape and it was clean and racy. Even better was the Cave Spring '05 Riesling Reserve VQA Niagara Penninsula. This wine comes from 20 year old vines and is left on the lees for 3 months. It's drinkable now, but has great aging potential. I loved this wine! It's sparkling clean in the mouth, with an almost crystalline, piercing purity. Check it out at Vintages - a steal at only $17.95! Also look for Cave Spring '03 Chardonnay Reserve VQA Niagara Penninsula. Originating with 13 to 27 year old vines and fermentation in Hungarian oak, this is a beautiful example of what Niagara Chardonnay can be. At only $19.95 at Vintages, give this a chance over your usual Chard. You'll be impressed.

It was a great visit and we actually sampled 20 wines as the photograph attests. The whole Village of Jordan has been revitalized by the careful ministrations of the Pennachetti family, and Tom took us all out to lunch at their Tavern and Inn up the road. It was devilishly hot that day, so we actually drove the 400 yards. I had corned beef on rye with some of the best fries of my life, all washed down with some icy Cave Spring bubbly, which is a sparkling Pinot Noir; and a great antidote to the furnace outside. We all chowed down while Tom regaled us with tales of his military training at Paris Island and the 2,000 chin-ups he does every morning while hanging by his baby-fingers from a razor-sharp copper eavestrough, 30 feet above the ground. In return, I told a few stories about my night-time recon missions in the jungle of the Mekong Delta back in '72, and then the Deaconess recounted a particularly harrowing trip to the Winners store in Ancaster, when she couldn't find a thing she liked and was forced to leave empty handed.

We had to move on though; there were other places to see and people to visit. Billy had an appointment at Niagara College, so the Deaconess and I dropped him and Kato there and headed into Niagara-on-the-Lake to kill a couple of hours. NOTL was as hot as the rest of Ontario and my primary concern was avoiding dehydration and skin cancer. After wanderin' among the mofos and tourists for awhile, we drove back and picked up Billy and Kato. We was amazed at how fast time was flyin' and had many stops still to make. We programmed Stratus Winery into the GPS and were soon flyin' down the road again, Billy in a constant "discussion" with the satellite navigation, interspersed with the Deaconess "commenting" on my driving. I roared into the parking lot of Stratus, which was surprisingly empty. It was about 5:30 by now and they were obviously closed for the day. Kato, not to be denied Stratus' incredible offerings, rang the bell and pounded on the door. Once they saw it was both Billy Munnelly and the Deacon, the red carpet was rolled out and we were greeted by our hostess, the lovely and lurch Director of Hospitality and Retail, Suzanne Janke. (Note: That's Janke, not "jank"!) We were ushered into a private tasting room in the ultra-lurch, ultra-cool, ultra stratispheric Stratus Winery. The four of us sat with Suzanne and J.L. Groulx, the Albert Einstein of Wine, in both appearance and ability. J.L. specializes in "assemblage", the art of blending whatever grapes did well that year, and creating unique whites and reds that will vary greatly in composition, every year. Suzanne gave us some 2005 Wild Ass Riesling that was absolutely electrifying and a steal at 19 bucks. (Wild Ass is the Stratus series that nestles just a level below their ultra-premium Ontario wines.) We also sampled the 2003 Wild Ass Red. It had nice acidity and at 19 bucks again, was another great deal, and I don't think I've ever heard an attractive blonde say the words "Wild Ass" so often, or so sensuously for that matter...I asked Suzanne who she'd fight in the Octagon, but she needs time to answer, since I stipulated it had to be someone in the wine industry and therefore couldn't be Bill Shatner, her first choice.

As usual, the Stratus wines were exsepshunal. My favourite was the Stratus '02 Riesling - an explosion of lime that hit the palate like a chilled butterfly knife! Despite the fabulous wines and cheeses and the great company and hospitality of Suzanne and J.L. Groulx, eventually it was time to leave. Suzanne walked us out to the Rolls and your humble Deacon donned his leopard skin hat and purple shades and blasted AC/DC as we roared out of the parking lot, causing Suzanne to double over with laughter.

We barrelled through the heat, the airconditioning on overdrive. Billy and Kato had made our plans for dinner and we headed to the restaurant where we were "expected".

The Stone Road Grille is situated at 17 Lower Canada Drive, Niagara-on-the-Lake. As soon as you approach, it strikes you like someone's made a horrible mistake. From the outside, it's nothing to speak of; sort of like the kind of place you find in a strip-mall in Scarlem. Once you step through the door, it all changes! The interior is cosy and colourful, with large original paintings and high-backed booths and tables. Billy was immediately recognized by the staff and some of the patrons and drew the usual rockstar attention that's typically reserved for the Deacon. Billy chose the wines, of course and much of the evening remains a pleasant blur. We started with some huge red cocktails that we didn't order; they just arrived. We followed with a very large half-litre of excellent Malivoire Rose and moved on from there to an Inniskillin '03 Pinot Noir Montague Vineyard. The food was truly amazing! Uber-Chef Ryan Crawford started us with appetizers, consisting of smoked salmon sushi, and then served us a gynormous charcuterie plate that included chicken liver mousse, smoked duck breast, cured Canadian pork lonzina, bison bresola, cranberries and stewed rhubarb, along with blackened cod and delicious duck confit. I think I can say without exaggeration, I was more completely stuffed than most of the shirts you see down on Bay Street. You HAVE to check this place out! It's one of the best meals I've had in the last year. Even the Deaconess loved it, and she's a food snob. Go have dinner at the Stone Road Grille and make sure you say the Deacon sent you. Here's their website:

Say "Hi" to the owners, Heidi and Perry who've done a great job in their 3 years runnin' the place. You'll love the attentive and hilarious staff too.

We paused for a photo-op with the staff, and then burst out into the refreshing relief of a much overdue Niagara downpour. It had been about 6,000,000 degrees all day, and the rain was very welcome, but made driving difficult. Billy attempted to get us back to the Inn in Jordan, but the torrential, near monsoon rains and pitch darkness made it difficult. After nearly knocking over a skinny black dude in a suit who sat playing a beat up guitar while he waited for someone at the crossroads, I decided to turn on the GPS again, despite protests from Billy. It locked onto the American military satellites within about 20 seconds and flawlessly directed us to our hotel. Perhaps we had too much wine, because the computerized voice seemed to have taken to mocking Billy's Irish brogue.

We arrived at the Inn quite late, but thanks to Tom, they had waited up for us and were still holding our rooms. The receptionist handed us flashlights, "just in case" which kind of creeped me out. The Inn and Tavern go back to the 1840's, and as we crept up the stairs in the storm, I prepared to deal with any Empire Loyalist ghosts via my usual method: a punch to the face. We retired to our respective rooms and the Deaconess and I were pleasantly surprised. Our accom was very pleasant and equipped with an air bath, decorative fireplace, flatscreen tv and most importantly, an airconditioner. There was a brief moment of terror when the power went out and the smoke detector screamed like a banshee. Otherwise the night passed quietly, the only phantom being a youngish Empire Loyalist woman in a bonnet who was writing letters at our desk with a quill pen. She was quiet though and ignored us, so I left her to finish her correspondance.

Morning came quickly and was shockingly bright. Breakfast was included and the Deaconess and I enjoyed a pleasant walk to Inn on the Twenty. After dining on delicious pastries, Kenyan AA coffee (arguably better than Jamaican Blue Mountain or the insanely overpriced Hawaiian Kona), juice, fruit, and Eggs Benedict, we walked back to the hotel to pack and check out. As we were loading the Rolls, a tallish, good-looking man with perfect teeth and glasses approached and asked me "Are you a shrink?" It was an unusual question, and I slipped safety off the Glock in my pocket and answered that I wasn't. "Are you the Deacon then?" came the thoughtful response. I said that I was, and he introduced himself. To my relief, it wasn't a hitman or psychiatric patient. It was Cave Spring's grape-grower, and the Wizard of the Beamsville Bench, Len Pennachetti. He was as welcoming to the four of us as Tom had been, and we expressed our gratitude for the excellent wines, accommodation and wonderful hospitality of Cave Spring and the Pennachetti family

Here's a thought: Buy some Cave Spring white wine! You'll be glad you did.

I packed the Deaconess, Billy and Kato into the Silver Shadow Rolls and left the overly sarcastic and argumentative GPS turned off for Billy's sake. And then we were on the road again, doin' what we do best: Bibbin' fine wine and stuffin' our stomachs with amazing food.

You heard me.

Part 2 to follow...

Deacon Dr. Fresh

Visitin' wineries so you can stay at work and not have to...


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