Sunday, August 17, 2014

behind the curtain in the Land of Oz

So after a few lovely days of resting, exercising, eating, and drinking in Barcelona, I'm back in Zaragoza to finish off this project. Three more weeks to go, before the 2nd half of the MBA begins. But let's stay in the present. Today was actually a special day, remembered on the train ride. Today marks one year of living in Spain.

What a year. What a year. So many life-changing moments and experiences, friendships made and strengthened through shared sacrifices and late nights in this most amazing city, doing this most amazing program. This picture here? This picture really defines the most important thing of my 12 months here. In a late night booze-fueled conversation I had with my visiting cousin last evening, I mentioned that while we're still young, we're not young ... the time to make something happen is now, and there's really no time for subterfuge. Focus on what's important and hustle. And so that's what I'm trying to do now. Focus and hustle.

I'm excited to finish out the last few weeks of this internship. The research portion is drawing to a close, and now it's time to start putting it all together. I've spent a lot of time this past week in Barcelona talking to people, brainstorming ideas, and just thinking. Some more of that required. When you lift the curtain and take a peek, sometimes it's not all pretty ... something about never seeing how your food is made. But this summer, these first few experiences that have allowed me to plunge headfirst into the wine industry over here - I'm ripping those damn curtains right off the rails.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

from barrel to bottle, love from LCJ

2011 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir | VQA Niagara Peninsula

Right. I'm way behind, so let's get to it.

To drink alongside the Les Insouciantes, a vinous taste of home. I was asked what I wanted from back home in Toronto, and well, I am what I am so I asked for this. Just released, with the fingerprints of Sébastien Jacquey all over it. Pure and vibrant, with that tell-tale earthy/stemmy quality. A bit more depth, plenty of minerality, and fabulous texture. Will be wonderful and even more elegant with some bottle age.

So I wrapped up the Oliver Conti project and have moved onto the next. Working on Oliver Conti was a greta introduction to the Spanish wine industry (from the perspective of a small bodega), and this new project will teach me things on a larger scale. I've moved to the town of Zaragoza, almost exactly halfway between Barcelona and Madrid. Doing a sales and marketing strategy project for a wine exporter, selling wines internationally, with a focus on the US, UK, and German markets. Exciting, and plenty more to learn in the few short weeks I have here.

Back to LCJ. I'm not supposed to like these wineries. I'm not supposed to like these joint ventures who come in with shitloads of money and proceed to make claims about how they're ready to make the best wine in the region, as if discounting all other efforts to date. But man, the first time I tasted, way, way, way back ... when we were still just kids in the middle of our undergrad ... I just had that feeling. That indescribable feeling that, damn, maybe they're doing something special here. And through the years that I've been fortunate enough to taste these wines, both in cask and bottle, this feeling keeps confirming itself. That it's possible, absolutely possible, for Niagara to have a unique character, and for that character to be express itself through pinot noir. I'm reminded of this as I'm back in Barcelona, the office closed for a week of mid-August vacations. I'm reminded why I want to make this my life, why it's something more than a love ... an obsession really. Whether we're in the wine trade, media, whatever; we can't forget that, forget what the point of this all is. The beauty, tradition, history, and character of a place and time, captured in a bottle.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

a little birdy

2011 Domaine Didier Grappe Les Insouciantes | AC Côtes du Jura

Something new, something to challenge what you think you know.

We can think all these things when we're in the thick of it, when emotions are raging ... but the only people in this world who are selfless in our lives, who give everything ... the only people are our parents. Not our friends, not our lovers, not even our relatives. Being an immigrant, and now, a student studying abroad - our notions of what 'family' is may be different from what tradition dictates. How much does being 'blood' count for? As this wino sees it, not much. Not much. Family isn't an obligation, isn't an absolute ... my family is the ones who I love the most, who've been there for me, who really know DF. And that's more than I can say for blood.

With the steak, I went back to France. A taste of home, a taste of what I know best. And more than just a French wine, it was a natural, out of the Jura. Pinot noir, trousseau, and poulsard. Benoit, of L'Anima del Vi, is a natural wine savant. Genius really, and truly an inspiration - someone to go see when your love of wine needs some re-affirmation, some inspiration. He brings this in, and while I'm surrounded by vinous riches in Spain, these bottles are still a rarity. Fresh, pure, mineral, exciting - all those adjectives that confirm why you want to make this your life. The second day, develops in the most amazing way, like it was two different wines. A nuttiness, a savoury peanut-y, almond-y note on both nose and palate that was so tangible, so real. Sweaty and red in the face.

Family. I suppose I'm a bit cold at first, but when I get to know a person, when we have trust - we fam, cuz. And like these naturals, as outsiders, maybe we have to look outside what we think are those normal, neat boxed definitions, and just trust instincts, feelings, emotions. The reckless? No. We create our own destiny.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

a juicy, meaty touch of home

A dry crust of bread is better than nothing, but nothing is better than a big juicy steak. And therefore?...A dry crust of bread is better than a big juicy steak.

2 + Torture = 5, Land of the Blind (2006)

I'm not homesick. Not in the slightest. But I was missing, desperately, that good North American dry-aged beef. So when my mother came over in mid-April, I asked her to get me a huge, 28-day dry-aged steak from Pusateri's. A taste of home. It's funny, because the perception of Spain is of a country of endless gastronomic delights. Actually living in, and not touristing a place, gives a wildly different impression.

So late night, a quiet evening at home a few months ago - wine ready and chilled, stems polished and thirsty. Beef patted dry, seasoned with sea salt and olive oil - that's it - for 12 hours, and pan roasted with butter and the most amazing fresh thyme. Left to rest while I tossed some asparagus with oyster sauce, clams with black bean paste. A meal to remind me of home, remember? And with every bite, a visceral, sensual, incredibly emotional taste of where I come from, what I'm about, and really, all the things I most care about. Straight, deep in the heart, to the depths of the soul.

And that, chicos, is an experience I've yet to feel here in Spain.


Monday, July 21, 2014

San Fermin 2014

One misstep led to another, and before I knew it, I'm on day 8 of a raging bender with no reasonable end in sight.

So last Saturday, following our 4th Friday night Shabbat, we were all a little hungover. Over lunch, decided with the roommate that yes, we were actually going to do it and head to Pamplona to take in San Fermin. Being so last minute, our original idea to rent a car fell through, so we went for the next best (or worst) thing. We went out (I headed straight for H&M) to find cheap white pants and shirts, and took the night bus leaving Barcelona at 10pm, and arriving in Pamplona at 4am on Sunday. We figured we'd head straight for the Plaza de Toros, watch the running of the bulls, take a lunch, then head back home on the 2pm train.

What a crazy 20 hours it turned out to be. Arriving in Pamplona was like what I imagine arriving in a refugee camp looks like. Garbage and shattered bottles everywhere - streams of urine flowing through the straights, people slumped in corners dry-heaving, puking, and just wasted. The day was fun though. The actual running of the bulls was over just like that, but the young calves they release into the ring were vicious. Killers, even with wrapped horns and all. A great atmosphere all around. By the time the sun was shining (14C at night here!!), all we wanted to do was find a park for a nap. Got home sweaty and dirty, but I got the stains out of my new white pants, and most importantly, no one came home gored, trashed, or otherwise injured. A great one-in-a-lifetime adventure.

We had our 5th Shabbat this past Friday, and my last one this summer. A little sad, to think that my time at the Calatrava flat is coming to an end, but hey, the bender is far from over. We go hard, until the bottles are empty, or to failure. Whatever comes first.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Oliver Conti - the case about a dream

I feel incredibly privileged this summer to be working on two projects. I said from the start that I wouldn't be doing an internship just because right ... well, sometimes patience and stubbornness pays off. It took me until damn near the end of the term, but I did find two projects that fit exactly what I was looking for, and that I could genuinely be excited about. The first one is writing a business case for IESE about a winery in the north of Catalunya, by the French border in a small village called Capmany. Oliver Conti has been in business for 20 years in the DO Empordà, crafting wines from French varietals and pushing for quality in a region that is virtually unknown, even in Spain. The second project will begin in a few weeks, and will be in Zaragoza. But let's talk about this one first.

The wine business is tough, and ever so apparent when you begin seeing it through the perspective of the winery. Margins are thin, negotiating power is tiny ... what is a small producer to do? More marketing/brand-building? But how do you afford it? Go international? But how do you attract distributors who've never heard of the Empordà? Tough. Real tough here.

I visited Oliver Conti last week. What a beautiful place. Right at the foot of the Pyrenees, all sun, wine, and wildness. There is a northernly wind that always blows - it was particularly vicious the day we were there. That's why all of OC's vineyards are planted with a northern exposition, to protect the vines from simply being blown over. A huge wildfire ripped through the region in 2012. You can still see the blackened trees, with entire tracts of pine forests wiped out. OC lost 25% of their vineyards. Nature gives and with the same hand, takes away. They have about 20 hectares of vineyards planted, with high density. For whites, they plant gewürztraminer, muscat, and sauvignon blanc. For reds, pinot noir, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and marselan (a cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache). Aged in French oak, the wines reflect the man behind the brand - elegant, sophisticated, and utterly, utterly sincere.

But how does the wine make me feel? Because really, that's all that matters. All that I really care about, and I wouldn't be up at nearly midnight writing this nonsense if I didn't care. This visit taught me so many new things, in wine and otherwise. First, the power of family. The only thing of importance and significance in this ridiculous world we live in. Second, the need in this industry for vision. The distributors have all the power with setting prices, the kinds of wines they want to carry in their portfolio ... consumers either are slaves to trends or have no goddamn clue what they want ... so what's a winery to do, if there is no vision? With a clear path, a clear idea of what your brand represents - that's the only way to make it. The man behind Oliver Conti, my mentor for writing this case - he taught me all those things. So onto the wines, with the exception of the Marta (a sweet gewürztraminer), tasted at the winery, and again at home over 2 days ...

2013 Treyu: a blend of gewürztraminer and macabeu, aromas of gewürz right away, that tropical, spicy fruit; subtle, very dry on the palate tensile and quite linear; long

2010 Blanc Etiqueta: same gewürz/macabeu blend, with 12 months in new French oak; oak apparent immediately, creamy and quite rich, with an elegant palate; high acid on the finish, bright and very intense

2012 Pinot Noir: Niagara here? Bright red fruits, spice, a brambly character that evokes what I know (and love) so well; not much in way of structure, but high acid and spice, great elegance

2011 Turo Negre: both cabernets in the blend with merlot and garnacha; dark here, earthy, with a bit of that road tar aroma from the cabernet; great freshness and structure, very good here for the price

2011 Ara: a blend of garnacha/cabernet sauvignon; more subdued on the nose, some oak, darker, quieter; very high acidity, fine tannins

2010 Carlota: 100% cabernet franc, very unusual for this region (and Spain); immediately my favourite of the lineup, full cabernet franc character on the nose - slightly green, juicy fruit, fresh and vibrant; pillowy texture while retaining excellent acidity and fine tannins; a gorgeous wine

2010 Negre Etiqueta: same blend as the Turo Negre; some alcohol here, elegant with some tarry, earthy aromas; juicy fruit on the palate, bigger, but remaining elegant; extracted, crunchy finish; an excellent wine

Wow. The character of the Empordà and Oliver Conti shines through the entire lineup. In their words, the seek to achieve two things: aroma and elegance. And boy, do they ever do it. Gorgeous fruit throughout, impeccably balanced, with great acidity and fine structure. French-style wines, perhaps, but retaining that wildness, that absolute beauty of the Costa Brava. I've always been a believer that to fully appreciate a winery is impossible without walking the vineyards, to breathe the same air as the vines. Inspired? Definitely. And motivated, now more than ever, to tell their story.


Monday, July 7, 2014

a handlebar and a cane

2012 Vini Viti Vinci Les 4 Z'Amis | Vin de France

I'm in business school, but I'm still that same shit-disturber. I don't believe in subterfuge, that utter nonsense. I still believe in the purity of things - that success and glory comes from quality, from hard work, from the pureness of the craft. 

Let's talk wine. Great wine - and I mean the great, impressive wines of the world - seems to derive more as a function of clever marketing and branding than what's in the bottle. What's tangible. What touches the heart, more than the head. It's how I feel about basketball. We can talk that bullshit about Drake, about rumours of Vince Carter coming back, about the new uniforms ... but you know what has put the Toronto Raptors back on the map? The bold, genius moves of Raptors GM Masai Ujiri and the inspired play of our boys, Derozan, Johnson, and Lowry, led by our finest ever coach, Dwane Casey. The purity of things, where success and recognition comes from pure talent and merit, rather than any exterior elements. And I know we're supposed to be business-minded and think about other things. It's not all about the quality of the product. But imagine, if we can live in a world where the truly noteworthy and deserving get to show their qualities. I want to live in that world.

I'm obsessed with this one woman here. Who it is isn't important ... or rather, I don't feel like sharing. But we see relationships in the same way, no? We want to be with something who is with us for the pure fact that we belong together, that we share the same spirit. I have no job prospects, no 6-figure position waiting for me. I want to do something that is low-margin, that is dirty, that is sweaty. And so we suffer the slings and arrows, all those cliches, to find someone who will suffer along with us.

And what does this all have to do with this wine, a natural wine from Burgundy? What is a naked man wearing a checked napkin doing resting his dick on a stick?


Sunday, July 6, 2014

O Rosal

2012 Terras Gauda O Rosal | DO Rías Baixas

We went out last night for drinks. Many drinks. And towards the end, after all the cava, I wanted something different. Something French. And we found it, a stunning bottle of Arbois-Pupillin, although that's not what I'm going to write about. Rather, I want to moan a little (maybe a lot) about the ubiquity of that cheap style of wine here in Spain, that homogenous style of big, jammy wines that tastes the same, no matter where the grapes come from.

After nearly 11 months here, I have to admit, my opinion of the LCBO has changed quite a bit. Sure I still think they should still tear the whole system down, but they do offer the customer one thing that we don't quite appreciate ... variety. Here in Europe, forget about it, maybe outside of the most urban cities - London, Berlin, etc. Want to buy a French wine in Barcelona, from an AOC that's no more than an hour away? Forget it. You can't even get the industrialized crap here. Only overpriced Bordeaux, and maybe the odd Burgundy, village-level only.

So we're stuck with Spanish wine. And while I love, love, love Spanish wine (my early education in wine), there's also a lot of mediocrity. The ones that really sing, that really stand for something - well, you'll have to pay for the privilege. For everyday wines, let's say 6-10€, there's very little in way of typicity and character. It's all that big, super ripe, fruit-forward wines that are alcoholic and a little sweet, and give the middle finger to what grape varietal they're made out of, much less a sense of place. And that's a shame. Because this bottle taught me that when it's on, Spanish wine remains one of the most interesting, unique expressions of their terroir in the world.

I love albariño, my first experience with Spanish whites. The Terras Gauda, from Galicia, is a blend of 70% albariño, 18% loureiro, and 12% caiño blanco. As described by the bodega, 

... we selected the albariño grapes from the “As Eiras” plots. Due to the excellent ripening during summer, the harvest started 12 days before than usual, beginning of September, with the right autumn sun light and temperatures to produce top-quality must. These conditions remained constant and beneficial to the other varieties such as Caíño Blanco, which were harvested at the beginning of October and Loureiro, end of September. The grapes arrived at the winery with high sugar content in perfect harmony with the acids.

After a separate cold maceration of each variety, traditional fermentation took place at controlled temperatures in stainless-steel tanks. After adding natural yeasts from the vineyards, the wine was cold stabilized, filtered and finally bottled.

A beautiful wine, pouring deep golden, with an almost a slight oxidized look. Mineral, saline, tense ... all those adjectives to describe albariño at its finest, when it just sings of the Atlantic Ocean. Over seafood from La Boqueria, sublime. And here's the really great thing ... the wine was 12.60€. Ok, so still over 10, but a lot of value for that price. Someone tell me why it's sometimes such a struggle to get the same experience without having to play the select one to put in the shopping cart: wine or chicken leg game. 


Sunday, June 29, 2014

the modernist

2012 Legaris Roble | DO Ribera del Duero

Really enjoying my summer. Weather's beautiful, sun is shining, birds are chirping ... working on that tan. I've also started working on that business case. Can't reveal all (yet), but it will focus on marketing, branding, and distribution/sales channels. And it's about a winery here in Catalunya. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working on this for the first half of summer. Building knowledge, seeing new things, as they say. And from just our first meeting, some things are already readily apparent.

Spanish wine producers are in a bit of a rough spot. Growth, even locally, is hard to come by. The industry's defining feature is its fragmentation (500 brands producing over 15,000 references), with rebranding and the continual expansion of the product lineup the only way for producers to differentiate. Distributors have enormous power - no surprise - but what's a bit frightening is this sense that there is no urgency to actually present interesting wines to people. If the business is built on what levels of margin are acceptable or not, who is looking out for the small, artisanal producers who make tiny qualities of true, authentic wines, however high (or low) their appellation's prestige is? Am I so green in this industry, so naive, that this is all a bit shocking? Maybe. After all, like in NBA trades, it's all about matching the financials of each player's contracts, and not so much about the actual players themselves. Does there remain a place for idealism in wine, a belief that there is more meaning beyond what margins each tier can receive?!

Legaris is a favourite. I don't drink much Ribera del Duero - something about being a student and heavily in debt. But this is a good introduction to the region, or rather, the more modern side of the region. Still in balance, still with focus ... but nonetheless a modernist. Of course, made with 100% tempranillo grown in alluvial, gravelly, and sandy-loamy soils near the Duero River. For once, let's talk specifics. 2012 was a drought year, but the vintage was saved by rainfalls during two vital periods - shoot elongation, and at the onset of ripening. Harvest took place throughout October, with primary and malolactic fermentation in steel tanks. Further aged for 3 months in American oak, it was then fined with egg whites, filtered, and bottled. For lack of a better term, this is the entry wine of Legaris, to introduce drinkers to the bodega. It's round, it's plushy, with ripe jammy fruit. Well balanced, with slight tannins on the finish to give it precision and texture. Altogether a very well-made, representative wine of Ribera, at a very reasonable price.

Is there a place in the industry for young, hungry people, who still believe they can do something different and positive? Is there room for idealists and dreamers? 


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bobal? Bobal!!

2012 Bruno Murciano La Malkerida Phinca Bobal

We talk a lot about opportunity here. Seizing the moment, as they say. How many times do we really get to see it played out, in real life though? Not that many. Today was one of those days, when things round out, when the viewfinder comes in focus. My summer is finally in place. I will work for IESE for the first half, helping a professor write a business case and teaching note about his winery. In the second half, I will be moving to a town called Zaragoza, to work with a wine exporter. Exciting projects all around.

I'm reminded that sometimes wine, like opportunities, isn't so much about what's obvious, what seems to be the most impressive. Whatever that means. It took me since January to really figure this internship out - what I really wanted out of this summer, what project (and company) would be my best fit. And I suppose it's a little unfair that I can afford to be a little picky at this stage, what with not having any real responsibility. But with patience, perseverance, and really, a lot of providence, sometimes things just work themselves out. So many jobs came up, that seemed interesting at first, but simply weren't right for me. Didn't feel right, and as much as we're taught to be analytical in business school, my intuition, my gut feel, is still a bit part of my decision making process. And so we make those decisions, and plow forward with hope and confidence, and as always, with an eagerness for the unknown and unexpected.

Wine. Let's get back to wine. Have you ever heard of this Spanish varietal called bobal? Did you know that it was the second most planted grape, after tempranillo? Surprises, always surprises and something new to learn. Jancis Robinson does a great job profiling this wine and the people behind it, so I won't repeat it, but I picked up this bottle after tasting the most amazing bottle of bobal, made naturally, from Valencia. This one was fabulous. Lithe and tensile, but with great juicy fruit, some herbal notes to keep it interesting. Gains in depth, broadness with air. At once pure yet seemingly profoundly grounded in the earth. An interesting, interesting wine.

We try to capture these opportunities that speak to us, that touch our heart ... the ones that bring out our idealism and motivate us to change how things are. Same with wine. There should be no status quo. Wine should constantly seek to surprise, to teach, to inspire. Too much to ask for? Not if we give back as much as we take, to contribute to this wonderful, beautiful industry. Here's to a summer of wine.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

on the cheap

Top: Bodegas Argüeso San León Manzanilla | Sanlucar de Barrameda
Bottom: Barbadillo Solear Manzanilla | Sanlucar de Barrameda

In honour of the just wrapped-up Sherryfest in San Francisco, a pair of manzanillas that punch above their weight. Great bang-for-back. Or above average price-quality ratio, whatever way you want to say it. Sherry is fairly inexpensive here, although in Barcelona, selection can be a bit wanting. El Corte Inglés does a good job of rotating the brands they carry, so always something new to try. Both, a great example of the difference between fino and manzanilla - just a little bit drier, a little tighter, a bit more focused. Great salinity and precision, both fresh bottles. And freshness counts in manzanilla.

Cheap kinds of fun. But those are always the best. Last night was the Hogueras de San Juan or in Catalan, Fogueres de Sant Joan. The Bonfires of Saint John. Supposedly to celebrate the summer solstice by prolonging the night with bonfires, but in Barcelona at least, it's a free-for-all on the beach with people shooting fireworks into crowds, loud music, and copious amounts of drinking. We ended up having to take a break and take a walk along the water. Shoes wet, feet sandy, but lots of fun.

One last free day today before we start getting serious. Back to work.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

a little bit of sun, a little bit of sand

2010 Portal del Montsant Brunus | DO Montsant

Back to wine. Always go back to wine when feeling lost. Back to those things that give us comfort and safety, joy and happiness. Back to wine.

Catalunya - what a discovery (for this wino). At once rich and supple, yet focused and true wines. Unabashedly of that sunshine, that clay and sand and slate. A Spanish wine through and through, politics notwithstanding. Wine is meant to bring us together, not divide us - that most beautiful spirit of friendship and generosity. While these bottles of Montsant may not be overly complex nor sophisticated, they do offer immense pleasure. And that's the only real point of wine.

After nearly 10 months of a rigorous, packed schedule, there's suddenly ... nothing to do. For the next few days at least. Still working out what my summer will look like, but for now, enjoying the sun. Officially moved into my summer flat this Wednesday, a painful and overly laborious affair ... but I'm in, we have the most amazing terrace looking out onto Tibidabo, and yes, I'm going to have the best tan after this summer. Tan all over, man all over as they say. Now that I have some time to myself, will work on the fitness and nutrition. Can't be a winner if you don't fuel like a winner, no? Big things in store this summer guys.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

a little artisanal

Top: Cerveza Torquemada 25 | Palencia | Castilla y León | Spain
Bottom: La Zaragozana Ambar Pale Ale 1900 | Zaragoza | Spain

What a day. Settling into life without classes, a short break from academics, but it's the Intensive Spanish course this week. I had forgotten how rough the schedule was, but of course, the last time I did it was last September. Ages. I arrived exactly 10 months ago, and I'm running out of wild expressions to describe how amazing this time has been. Simply spectacular. It took 4 tries today, in a downpour of biblical proportions, but finally moved into my summer flat. New roommates, big terrace looking out onto Tibidabo ... man, this summer is going to be amazing. Missing my best friend already, but as she said, it's only going to be 2 months. Only. 

I need a beer. Is there such thing as Spanish pale ale? Evidently so. Good stuff, all unfiltered, dense and complex. Hoppy without being insistent. We all need a bit of bitterness in our lives, no? Otherwise, where's the joy in the occasional moments of sweet?


Friday, June 13, 2014

La familia

DSC_1879DSC_1877 - Version 2DSC_1862
I'm an excitable, emotional person. But I'll try to hold it together. We finished our finals today, and with that last Economics exam, our first year of the MBA. What an adventure, these last 10 months. But more than what we've done personally, it's what we've accomplished as a team. As a family. I've gained 7 brothers and sisters, the people who mean the most to me. We started as complete strangers - a little awkward, a little shy. And look how far we've come. 

That last team assignment we had yesterday, our final exam for Entrepreneurship - it was a culmination of our development as a unit. We had 3 hours to complete a business plan, a concept statement for a startup. From breaking down the report, to assigning tasks, to executing ... we've become such a well-oiled machine. Look how far we've come. So here's to us, to Team B5. So many thanks for the friendship, for the hard work, for the commitment. We party tonight.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Section B

Prone to sentimentality. That's what I am. What we all are, apparently. Today was our final day of first year classes. Two more days of final exams, and the curtain officially drops. Sad? No, how can it be - we've accomplished so much in our 10 months here. Bittersweet because this part of our MBA is over. And definitely a bit teary now that we won't be in the same class anymore, that I won't get to sit with my best friend up front anymore, that this is the end of 8:15 am weekdays. I'm proud of myself, my team, the special friends I made ... we've worked so hard, sacrificed so much to be here. And although this is an unofficial milestone, this is still definitely something to celebrate. To bed now, where I'll sleep on the incredible memories we've made, and think of something more eloquent to write.

We're Section B forever. All love.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

a bright star

Estrella Damm Inedit

A glimmer of light is in sight. The wonders of a good night's sleep and strong antibiotics. But I still can't smell/taste anything and I'm suffering. Nightmare. I really don't think I've ever been this bad with a cold, to the point of olfactory failure. And I'm now reminded that appreciation for the little things, like the smell of soap, or tea as you stir in the cream, or even the taste of those cheap muffins I buy for breakfast ... those little things that mean the world.

And let's not even mention the drink. Our operations management class went out to tour the Estrella Damm factory a few months ago. Not much going on inside that day, but they did give us each a bottle of the Inedit, the brew created in collaboration with the Ferran Adrià. The wheat really comes through, the soft texture, some slight herbal notes, something like coriander. Pleasant.

Man, this congestion needs to get over itself. I NEED TO BE ABLE TO SMELL AGAIN!!


Friday, June 6, 2014

in need of a drink

Maeloc Cosecha De Galicia Sidra Extra Ecologica | Galicia

Man, I've got it bad. Been fighting a cold for a bit over a week now, and the chest congestion is just getting out of hand. Ridiculous, really, and I can't remember ever feeling so physically miserable. But when you can't hear anything out of one ear, can't smell jackshit, and coughing uncontrollably, you suck it up and see the campus doctor. Antibiotics and something called Flumil, to clear up the phlegm.

At this point, I think alcohol would do me some good. But for the first time, my sense of smell and taste are completely shot. You could fart in my face (not an invitation) and I wouldn't flinch. This, I still remember though. I love this cider producer. Clean, fresh, yet with all that pickled, bright character of cider. Delicious. Had a long week, lots going on. Summer plans slowly rounding out, finally. One more week remaining in first year. For once, hoping that summer didn't come so soon. Man, lots of firsts this week.

Going to sleep now. Not the long one. Not yet.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

IESE Wine & Spirits - 4Gins

I'm a little prone to sentimentality on occasion - amplified with the effects of that good booze. So please indulge me. For IWS' final event of first year, we showed love to the other half of our name. We would be tasting gin. For gin, for friends, 4Gins.

A little word, first. I cannot begin expressing (eloquently at least) how grateful and thankful I am for the support of my classmates, my friends. When we started, I had just a glimmer, a shimmering in the distance, that I wanted a wine club. A place where we could gather, have fun, and share a few glasses together of that sweet, sweet nectar. And so we started, not with the clearest idea of how to do things, but rather with a clear purpose - that everything IWS did would follow those three greatest principles wine teaches us. Honesty, authenticity, conviction - the holy trinity. 

There's a group in Barcelona, drinks professionals, called Slow Drink Movement. Their mandate is simple - to host tastings to educate and promote various spirits in a fun, relaxed way. I had met one of them at his day (or rather, night) job at a bar in Eixample, and right away, I knew I had found my guy. Young, energetic, creative, and skilled behind the bar. So we started talking, and although it's taken a few months to put together, we were finally able to do 4Gins. Four gins, all English, showing a variety of styles. The boys took us through a tasting first, explaining the differences in distillation process and their effect on the final product, before using the same gins to make four cocktails. A powerful impression, combining the best of both worlds - we were able to see the nuances in each gin in their original states, before seeing how different they could be once applied in cocktails. My favourite one of the night? Man, that Oxley was a discovery. Powerful, linear, incredibly dry. But I have to say I've a newfound appreciation for Plymouth. Complex, dry, but with great elegance. Finesse in a gin, served straight? It's possible. Many thanks boys. 

So ends IWS' first year. It's been incredible, and the great support and reception we've received gives us encouragement to continue working hard to bring you cool things to taste, to experience. Next up? Vineyard visits ... wine/spirit importers/retailers ... artisanal beers ... we've only just started.

The culture of drink endures because it offers so many 
rewards - confidence for the shy, clarity for the uncertain, 
solace to the wounded and lonely, and above all, 
the elusive promises of friendship and love.

-Pete Hamill

Thursday, May 29, 2014

cheek and snarl

Yet another win for Spanish label designers #DFdrinksUntitled
Tierra de Frontera Porter Piconera | Alcalá la Real
Cerveza Artesanal Tyris Paqui Brown | Riba-Roja del Turia

Spanish label designers win really hard. Wine, beer, cider ... all winners. But does the inside live up to the good first impression? 

Beer, like some of us, shouldn't be subtle. Complexity is overrated here ... you want to hit the palate hard, and stay there. No 'changing in the glass', no 'opening up'. You want it to smack you around a bit, be a bit dominating ... particularly these dark ales. Amongst other things, I really miss the craft beer back home. Sometimes you want that hit of hoppiness, the bitterness that makes your toes curl. It's hard to find those brews here. Brews that don't really allow you to have any food alongside - brews that obliterate everything in their path. These ones are a bit softer. But nevertheless, pleasant.

Monday night was amazing. We went to a seminar given by Dr. Enrique Rojas, discussing some of the frameworks outlined in his new book Vive tu Vida. Very inspiring. And most of all, a reminder that I need to work much, much harder on my Spanish. Followed up last night by IESE Wine & Spirits' last event for first year, a gin tasting with Slow Drink Movement. If the 4 gins and subsequent 4 cocktails didn't get us tipsy enough, we followed the boys to their favourite Italian joint for some pasta, pizza, and wine. Eventually did make it home, but man, was today's morning class a struggle. Full tasting notes to follow. Soon. A brief respite today, and then a team dinner tomorrow night, followed by the last class bash of the year, a boat party (aka a booze cruise). Tylenol and ibuprofen ready. We hard at work. Another day another dollar.


Monday, May 26, 2014

there will be no white flag above my door ...

2011 Venus Dido 'La Universal' | DO Montsant

I witnessed a great kindness from a stranger this morning. The sky was grey, all was cloudy - a storm in Barcelona. There wasn't rain, so I made the call to leave the ridiculous golf umbrella at home. But sunshine isn't sunshine without a bit of rain, no? So not 15 minutes later, I stepped out of the metro into a downpour. Like a wet dog, I waited for the bus ... when I felt the rain stop. A girl was holding her umbrella over me. With a smile, she kept a stranger dry until the bus came. Angel.

We sometimes ask for too much from wine. We want it to be intense, to be rich ... to be value-priced, yet taste 'expensive', whatever the hell that means. I can't even begin to emphasize how hard I disagree with that perspective. My blood boils, my insides tighten. Do we no longer have the capacity for imagination, to allow ourselves to be surprised? Are we so cynical that we assume we know everything about a wine before tasting it, and anything surprising about it is a flaw?

I want to share a wine I had a few months ago, but am still processing. The Venus Dido - and you have to check out their story. From Montsant, a region of Catalunya that I'm discovering, and that I'm becoming head over heels crazy about. On first taste, the wine is what it is - unapologetically Spanish, that rich voluptuousness of vines grown in hot, dry climates. But like all good things, all good people, a true measure of character and quality comes with time. With an open mind, over a few days - the wine, initially throwing off stiff alcohol fumes, becomes more integrated, more in harmony. The acidity becomes a bit more focused, contributing as well to that balance. There's complexity, a minerality and chalkiness on the finish.

The 'La Universal' is a blend of 75% garnacha, 15% syrah, 5% merlot, and 5% cabernet sauvignon. Grown in an organic way, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete tanks, while 60% is aged in oaks of different origins and sizes (300-4000 litres) for 16 months, with a small amount in clay amphorae. Looking forward to seeing the direction owners Sara Perez and Rene Barbier take this wine. An honest interpretation of garnacha, full of vigor and character.

Man, that Champions League Final was a nail-biter, wasn't it. And this from a guy who really couldn't care less about soccer. A full range of emotions on display, especially from the Real Madrid fans. Confidence, excitement, fear, despair ... until finally elation, first cautious, then a full eruption of joy. That winning goal was what they paid €100 million for, I suppose. I'm quickly realizing that although the spirit is willing, I've reached my physical limits with partying here. So although no white flags will be raised (just yet), I do need a full 12 hours of sleep the night before a partying night. This week will be heavy - 5 days straight of events planned. Not that I'm complaining. Of course not. Of course not ...


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

mystery in the glass

2012 Ferré i Catasús Somiatruites | DO Penedès

Dreams bottled, waiting patiently for its time, for the right person, for the right moment. And all it asks for ... all wine ever asks for ... is unselfishness, humility, and generosity. Too often we drink wine to impress people, to be peacocks, to somehow use wine to present ourselves as more than what we are. Tragic, really. The vines weep. We open bottles and share them with our loved ones, because wine brings us together in a spirit of joy and conviviality - the vines give us all she has and she asks for so little in return but for a moment of honesty and truth.

We had this wine way back, way back, during the first wine event I hosted here at IESE, before IESE Wine & Spirits existed. Exciting times. When we bought this wine, the shop owner couldn't even tell me what it was. A white wine from Penedès, a blend of who knows what grapes. Well, now I know. Chenin blanc, muscat à petits grains, sauvignon blanc, xarel-lo and chardonnay. Delightfully French, with a Catalan twist. Oooo, and it tastes French too. A waxiness on the palate, a definite richness, reminding me of those big Rhone whites. Freshness on the palate though, and some great dry extract that carries it through to a stately, dry finish. And what a beautiful label.

There's a feeling of impending doom here, that first year is drawing to a close and with it, a little bit of innocence, a little bit of carefree-ness. Well, maybe at least for me. My summer is far from figured out, but it's all a process isn't it. We stumble, we bumble, but in the end, we figure out the right blend. A bottle of dreams, mystery in the glass ... 


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Eye of the Hare

2010 Casa Mariol Ull de Llebre Criança 12 Mesos | DO Terra Alta

I've been in this country, this amazing city now for 9 months. And what have I learned so far, here in Barcelona? Silly question. It's far too late, and I'm far too sober to answer that properly. Bueno. But we've drunk some great things, no? I'm still getting my head around Catalan wines, but this is a delicious one. 

So ull de llebre is simply Catalan for tempranillo, and is literally eye of the hare. It's from Terra Alta, which, from the DO website, is in:

... the south of Catalonia, between the River Ebro and the borders of Aragon and includes the 12 municipalities of the county of Terra Alta. The landscape has all the features of an interior region near the Mediterranean Sea: Pre-coastal limestone mountain range (Ports d’Horta, Pàndols and Cavalls mountains), small rivers (l’Algars i el Canaletes), rocky conglomerate mountains, holm oak and white pines woods and, above all, the agricultural soil coloured by typical mediterraean farming: vineyards and almond and olive groves. Here we must add the three agricultural landscapes that are clearly defined: the plains, plateaus and valleys.

The cultivated soil is generally of medium texture. Its common denominator is its limestone richness and its lack of organic material. In the DOTA’s catalogue there are 17 soil profiles, the most prominent is el Panal (the type of soil peculiar to the Terra Alta).

Another feature of the character of the mediterranean interior is the climate. Abundant sunshine and little rainfall which make two distinguishing characteristics: a unique balance between two prodominating winds, el cerç (NW) i les garbinades (seawinds from the south) and a cold winter that is typically continential.

Very cool. Casa Mariol also has a wine bar here in Barcelona, which I really, really should go visit. I hear they pour their vermut too. This wine is aged 12 months in Hungarian oak. Bright orange label, because really, we buy wines on price and label. Intense, powerful wine, and although not altogether complex, an authentic hot climate wine, full of that richness and density that tempranillo can bring. Soft texture, some heat from the alcohol on the way down. A Spanish wine, if I dare be a little political.

Man. Nine months. This Friday was graduation day for the second years. Time flies, and although I haven't been really drinking tonight (yet), it's a trip. Need to get my act together a little, in all those things - academic, professional, personal. Otherwise I'm going to leave here having had the time of my life with nothing to show for it. Had this conversation last week ... have we really changed? Do we just do these programs and take for granted that we develop, we somehow just become better? Nonsense. It's a process that we have to invest in, that we have to commit to, and it takes much more than just lip service to achieve betterment ... much more. So we keep going, we keep pushing ourselves to be uncomfortable, to be a bit anxious, to be hungry. Eye of the hare baby.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

apples and fizz

M. Busto Sidra Natural Selección | La Rasa, Villaviciosa, Asturias

Authenticity. Truth. La verdad. That's all we want, isn't it, in all things. Cider included. I've been drinking a lot of it here. A lot of great examples, with special emphasis on those made organically. And while many have been cleaned up and made more palatable, they all show that same character - the sharp acidity, the balance, the notes of pickled veg that make sidra so incredible with richer foods. Delicious. Unapologetically authentic.

This, a cider of sweet, acid, and bitter apples, fermented in chestnut casks - this is one of those drinks that takes you on a ride. An unfamiliar one, yes, but an exciting one. I like these drinks, much as I like foods that initially seem simple, but reveal complexity after complexity with every bite. The layers and layers underneath. That's excitement. That's mystery. That's imagination.

My summer plans are still far from being finalized. In other words, no clue. I might be in Barcelona, I might just be back home. Who knows. But that's a little exciting too.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From Niagara to Barcelona, a taste of home

13th Street Cuvée 13 Sparkling Brut Rosé Méthode Traditionelle | VQA Niagara Peninsula

A taste of home. My mother came to visit and I could have asked her to bring a number of things. Fresh underwear. Medicine. Even Q-tips. But I'm me and well, I know what I'm about. When I say I 'miss home' I should be more specific - it's not so much missing my townhouse as it is missing the wine, the beef, the weekend trips to Diana's Seafood. Happiness. And while La Boqueria has been a dream, paying €15/kilo for berberechos is stomach-churning.

Of the 22 kilos permissible on economy flights, roughly ½ kilo of my mother's baggage was taken up by this. One of my favourite Ontario wines, the non-vintage sparkling rosé from 13th Street Winery, a blend of 55% pinot noir and 45% chardonnay, mainly from the 2010 vintage. Aged 18 months on its lees, before a dosage of 6 grams of sugar and their reserve pinot noir was added. The wine was aged for another 3 months, to let all the elements integrate. No oak, no malolactic fermentation. Only 2500 6-packs made. Always a joy to drink and share with friends. This whole méthode traditionelle moniker is so abused by New World producers but 13th Street makes it happen. So what exactly does this term mean? Or rather, what should it mean? In this wino's opinion, wines that make this claim are simply saying We want to be a French wine. Which isn't a bad thing. Aim high right? Aim high. Specifically though, this emulation suggests that these wines are made from the same grapes, using the same processes as the French model, Champagne in this case. And we see that. The two most heralded Champenois varieties (pinot noir and chardonnay), using the same riddling and bottle-aging process as in Champagne. You see where this can go horribly wrong right? The whole point of it though, is that no matter the winemaking you apply, the wine still has to have a distinctive identity. I could slap on a beret, pick up a few hand gestures, learn to love stinky cheese, but at heart, I'm still what I am (ie. not French). And that's why I love this wine. It's still a Niagara wine, a Canadian. It has this brightness and purity, along with the leanness that I always associate Niagara with. Finishes dry and linear, with very fine bubbles. What this particular winemaking contributes is an elegance in texture, a delicacy. The wine is at once fine and regal, expressive and complex - it truly has become better and better with every bottle I've had. Bravo!

In the end though, people still unfortunately make comparisons. And yes, people will want to claim that this wine is 'better' than Champagne. Whatever. My Infiniti G could run circles around a 3 Series, but hey, a BMW is still a BMW. They are simply different experiences. And if you can't take it at that, you're not getting the point right? We have to have the capacity to appreciate wines for what they are - some more than others - and an inability to have an imagination, to dream is simply unfathomable to a true wino. I opened this wine with a friend. We talked, we enjoyed sitting in the sun ... we had a great time. And any wine that can encourage that is a beautiful thing. We have to try to stop being impressive and simply be what we are.

Here's to 13th Street - muchas gracias for giving me a taste of home.


Monday, May 12, 2014

IESE Wine & Spirits - The Grand Wines of Spain

2013 Marques De Caceres. Ecológico Bio | Rioja
2012 Legaris Roble | DO Ribera del Duero
2011 Arzuaga Crianza | DOC Ribera del Duero
2009 Marqués de Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva | DOCa Rioja

As in life, wine is about time and place. Time and place. A few hundred metres in one direction, a few hundred in the other ... a few months early, a few months late ... it's all to give a sense of identity, a sense of purpose to the wine, isn't it. And just like in life, the best wines represent those three immutable qualities: authenticity, honesty, and character.

I was excited for this. IWS hosted a tasting of the two most famous wine regions of Spain: Rioja and Ribera del Duero. A pair of wines from each, of varying ages. What we wanted to achieve was to give our members a sense of how differently the same grape varietal - tempranillo - can react depending on where it's grown, and the winemaking applied. So we started with the Marques de Caceres, an organic wine. Young and fresh, a bit nondescript, but a good, simple wine for the table. The Legaris was a clear step up in quality. A wine I've tasted before, and what I felt was a good representation of the modern Ribera. Fruit forward, but remaining balanced, a plushy, well-textured wine. The Arzuaga was a major discovery for me. Grown just downwind from the vineyards of Vega Sicilia and Pingus, this was a throwback Ribera del Duero. Structured and tight, but with the most beautiful red fruit character and integrated oak. Creamy vanilla and bright fruit, finishing focused and tensile. Square-shouldered yet remaining elegant. And finally, the Marqués de Murrieta, the grand old man of Rioja. Superbly delicate and fine, all silk and cashmere on the palate. The ballerina to the blockbusters of Ribera. A slight orange hue on the rim, but youthful and linear. Sheer elegance, class in a glass.

Time and place. We look for these inimitable influences in wines of quality and distinction. Is there really a framework for tasting? I don't think so. Sure, experience teaches us to look for certain things, for certain attributes that tell us about a wine. But is that the only point? Put in another way, should we be tasting or drinking? Perhaps a discussion for another time, another bottle. Let's think a bit on it, the next time we reach for a glass. The tasting brought up a lot of interesting discussion - about tasting, about the influence of winemaking, about the language of wine. Let's keep those conversations going.

Many thanks to my officers for making this tasting happen, as well as to our members who continue to show love and support for IWS.

The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards ... above all the elusive promise of friendship and love

Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life: A Memoir

Saturday, May 10, 2014

of seafood and rice

 I been holding off on paella. I want the authentic thing. In Valencia. But my mother wanted to try it, so I found a decent place in Barcelona. La Llosa, where the paella is actually delicious. The most intensely perfumed rice, mounted with a rich seafood broth, perfect shellfish, a deceptively difficult thing to do since they all cook differently ...
... their steak is good too, a big brick of meat. Bloody. Beef and arugula with parmesan, the holy trinity.
At another joint (too touristy to mention), we had the arroz negro, rice cooked with squid ink. Richer, but the shellfish again gives it a vibrancy that was very, very nice.
Switching gears. We just finished midterms, and yeah, I've been lazing around. We had a heavy night partying last night, and although I stumbled home quite early, around 2, the drinking (starting on campus 15 minutes after I turned in my exam) had clearly gotten to me. Today was a total write-off - a run to sweat off the hangover, then groceries and back to bed. I took my multivitamin with a Ginbraltar gin tonic. No shame in my game. My teammate from Peru has been excitedly sharing his country's cuisine with me. One of the places we've been to most often is Mochica, run by Peruvians from the north. I like this place. Simple, unpretentious, authentic home-cooking. Starting with the ceviche, spicy and powerful, but staying balanced ...
... and the tacu tacu de lomo saltado, rice and beans, stir-fried with pork ...
... to a fried stuffed potato dish ...
... and even a duck leg. So what's Peruvian food? It's all a fusion, no? A bit of Chinese, a bit of Japanese, a bit from the mountains ... but done in a way that's very unique, very unique. Delicious. And them pisco sours sure go down real easy ...