Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Visiting Château Smith Haut Lafitte

It was a foggy morning. The first day of estate visits. Slightly nervous climbing behind the wheel of a car again after more than 12 months, to do some real driving out into the countryside.
But why you nervous man? You've been wanting to come here since you were 18. You've read and researched the wines, the terroirs, the personalities of Bordeaux countless times. You've dreamed of them, and finally you're here.Untitled
Yet I was nervous. Would coming here, to arguably the greatest (and certainly most famous) wine region of the world live up to expectations?
A first stop at Smith Haut Lafitte. A history lesson, first. Then a tour through the chai. Large oak vats to macerate and begin primary fermentation in ...
... as well as their famous on-site cooperage (750€ per).
This is fucking amazing to see. To be here, to see the birthplace of the wines I've not only come to admire but to love. Shit I can't believe I'm here.
Quick ... what are the 3 types of wood used in a traditional barrique bordelaise? The staves are oak, of course. The trim is made of chestnut. And the bar across the ends is pine.
I started thinking ... you know how a mark of a great chef is how clean and orderly the kitchen is? The same must also apply to winemaking. The installation is impressive, but considering the money behind it, it better be. It's the attention to detail, the constant maintenance that makes the difference ...
... from staining the barriques used to age the red wines in with sponges soaked with racked off lees ...
... to the absolute alignment all the way down the chai.
I wasn't nervous anymore. There's a sense of peace here, total tranquility. And it's not just because of the expensive topiary or modern art scattered around the estate ...
... it's the sense that everything here is what it was meant to be ...
... authentic, purposeful, and of the highest quality. No need to be nervous no more.


2012 Les Hauts de Smith Blanc: Bright citrus nose, minerality which follow on the palate; great extract, tightness and energy, mineral and very linear. Touch of roundness from oak, alcohol comes up.

2007 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge: Earthy, slightly bretty, thick mushroomy fruit. Sharp acidity on the palate, lean, and just not much there in complexity. This fruit, prickly tannins, bitterness on the finish.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

13 thoughts on my first day in Bordeaux

So I'm back in Barcelona, back in the madness. Classes beginning in a few days again ... second year let's go! But my head in still in the clouds, still in all the things I saw and tasted in Bordeaux. I can't begin telling you how excited, how inspired I am after this trip. Totally re-affirming, that this thing I'm working on is what I was meant to do. Alright. Enough looniness. I spent my first real day in Bordeaux driving to Pessac-Léognan, visiting 3 estates. A focus on dry white wines, but as always, lots of surprises. More on each property to follow. A few thoughts after a first day back in France, back on the wine trail ...

1. The city of Bordeaux is absolutely beautiful ... at once stately and elegant, a great sense of presence and identity.

2. Roads here are super easy to drive (even after a year without a car), but I can't imagine doing it without Google Maps. Roundabout after roundabout, with the most obscure signage.

3. The morning fogs and mist here are a very real thing. So dense you feel like you're floating in it.

4. The vineyards are immaculately maintained ... driving through the countryside is a seemingly endless canvas of dreamy greenery.

5. Each chateau's chai is a masterclass on how to build functional, beautiful installations of fine winemaking. The tools and toys don't make the wine, but in the right hands, they are the absolute difference in a very good wine and a great one.

6. The Bordealais take their oak very seriously.

7. Likewise their reputation as France's (and therefore the world's) preeminent wine region.

8. French women have this uncanny ability to be both elegant and sexy ... totally distracting when you're trying to focus on tasting, but we do derive pleasure from the context of wine don't we?

9. On that note, is there anything sexier than a woman who's competent behind a bar?! Damn near stabbed myself with my fork staring.

10. American tourists are 10 times worse in wine country than they are anywhere else. They're allowed to ask questions.

11. Talking to chateau proprietors and vineyard managers is always tricky - they after all are bound to talk up their estates. But in Bordeaux, they tend towards sensibility and humility, a refreshing attitude.

12. Spaniards! Please learn from your neighbours to the east and offer a carafe of tap water with dinner. On principle, I will not accept paying for ridiculously priced bottled water at a restaurant.

13.  Finally, after 13 months in Spain ... I had the chance to eat real French food. Simply divine. Soul warming, good for the morale and spirit.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On the wine trail, at last

I'm in Bordeaux! Everything went smooth, according to plan. Makes me a little nervous when things are like that, but no complaints. A little running around in the morning, to and from IESE to pick up some stuff, arriving in El Prat a little sweaty and just a bit out of breath. Did you know it's only 75 minutes from Barcelona to Bordeaux? And by car, it's only 20 minutes from Bordeaux Airport to the city centre? 

The lineup to get my rental car took longer than getting on and off the plane, but got my keys, and jumped into my Toyota Auris. Hybrid, a big plus already, but that feeling of getting behind the wheel after more than a year ... absolute bliss. Absolute bliss. And off we went, stopping by a (ludicrously enormous - think XXL Ikea sized) Carrefour to pick up breakfast, lunch, and water for the next 3 days. We save where we can. Flat's nice, but yeah, I did it again, another clogged bathtub drain. Bed's great though, triple the size of the one I'm sleeping on now, so I've got that going for me. No complaints.

What a beautiful city. Drove through just to see if it was worth the walk, and even through the window, it was a sight. Parked at the flat, and took the tram down - every major city really needs a light rail system (Toronto, get your shit together). Sunset stroll by the Garonne, and what a magnificent view. Like The Bund in Shanghai, but cleaner and much more elegant. Stately. Dinner at Le Petit Commerce, that grilled dorade I've been dreaming about. Dreaming about. 

Happy. An absolute dream come true, to be back in France, to be back on the wine trail (sorry Alfonso, borrowing that one). #DFonthewinetrail - on IG all week - @d2fang. Drunk and stuffed. Good night.


Monday, September 8, 2014

the rocks and boulders of history

I didn't do much sight-seeing in Zaragoza. Something about hating being a tourist. But on the weekends, between the work and the beer, stepped out a bit, to wander around ...
... because everyone loves a good obelisk ...
... and kissing the pillar in the grand Basilica ...
... although the (relatively) tiny La Seo Cathedral on the side had its charms too ...
... and who said Medieval peeps didn't know how to get down.
My last weekend there, I made it a point to get out to the Aljafería Palace, on a Sunday of course - who passes up free admission?! Not this idiot ...
... and it was worth every penny ...
... arches and carvings, all a wonderful mix of Moorish/European influences ...
... a dining hall fit for a king ...
... but a humble little prayer area to remind all of his piety.
And just when you're feeling all inspired from what you've seen, you walk by this on the way home. Com'on Spain, get your shit together.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

all roads lead back to Barna

All roads lead back to Barna. So six weeks later, the Zaragoza project is over. Or rather, it's only just begun - I really had the convenient, easy job. All I had to do was do a high-level strategic report on the company's 3 key markets ... the real work, the real hustle is on the marketing team now. More on the who, what, why later.

It was hot in Zaragoza. I mean really hot. Desert climate so it's always hovering around 15C in the mornings, freezing your nuts off waiting for the bus, before soaring to 37C at noon. Kept it simple - work, running, and rest. Eggs and toast, raw lettuce for the entire time. Yogurt, croissants, and fruit in the morning. A not so gentle reminder that I wasn't there for a vacation or for a good time. I committed to a project, and well, you keep your commitments. But now I'm back! Still uncertain on living arrangements for the next 9 months, but we'll figure out before month end. At the moment, enjoying being back, and not having to think of anything but what I'm going to eat/drink next. 

A lot of fantastic things coming up ... highlighted with a few days in Bordeaux next week. Will visit a few estates in Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes, see some familiar faces. Can't wait. And then school starts up again! Unbelievable that we're heading into second year. A little older, a little wiser, a little drunker ... but still that same shit-disturber I'd like to think I always was. 

Will report back on Monday from Bordeaux!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

On the road

Another day another dollar.

Those vato idiots are banging around again. For fuck's sake, I don't understand this toddler-like compulsion one of them has to constantly be making noise. Obnoxiousness is truly a global epidemic. One more night, one more night. Barcelona I'm coming home baby.

At least I had a good day. We went out to Navarra today, to see one of the company's own wineries, Bodegas La Casa de Lúcolo. Once a cooperative, the winery is quite large, with rows of enormous concrete vats - what you see above, with the paintings. Only the second year of the company's investment, with lots of renovations and touching up to do. A big, exciting project, which I'll write about later.

One more (half) day left of this extraordinary internship. It's been a great, great summer. Ready for my next adventure.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

the national palate

Top: 2012 PdM Moncayo Garnacha & Syrah | DO Campo de Borja
Middle: 2010 Borsao Berola | DO Campo de Borja
Bottom: 2009 Borsao Reserva | DO Campo de Borja

Another guy moved into the flat here in Zaragoza. Full house now at four people. Friday night, I hear a knock on my door - opening it, I see an unfamiliar face. I suppose he wants to introduce himself, but no, he wanted to let me know that I needed to take my chicken out of the oven so he could bake his frozen pizza. Nice to meet you too brah. This morning, I run into him in the kitchen. I say 'sup to him. No answer. Being a polite Canadian, I give him the benefit of the doubt - I shouldn't be talking slang to a vato, so I say 'good morning'. Now he's full on ignoring me, and strutting back to his room like he has an enlarged left testicle. Well fuck you too asshole. 

Back in July, once I knew that I'd be coming to Zaragoza for this project, I wanted to know a bit more about the wines coming out of Aragon. Outside of a few errant bottles of Cariñena, my knowledge and experience of the DO's here was pretty much zero. So I wanted to start with Campo de Borja - El Corte Ingles carried a decent range. I found out later that the company I'm interning with here actually owns Pagos del Moncayo winery, but that's neither here nor there. And so I started drinking, and for a moment, I really couldn't figure it out, but suddenly, a good 8 weeks later, it's hit me what I was trying to articulate. The wines aren't boring - they're simply Spanish.

There's a national palate at work here, I'm convinced. These wines, like so many other Spanish wines from all over the country, just taste the same. At this price range at least, the archetype is so obvious it's almost a bit sinister ... like they're all having a laugh, and I'm the only one who doesn't get it. That slightly overripe, candied fruit, big alcohol, soft, limp structure. Is that simply this wino's perception? Of course it is. What is soft and overdone to me is someone else's rich and delicious. Ok. We certainly have different opinions on these things, but the wines being produced in this country, at this level, taste the same. And that's a bit troubling. As a whole, the overall quality of Spanish wines has improved greatly - but is this where this quality revolution is leading? Monotonous and formulaic wines, all in the name of consistency? If that's the case, it's worse than troubling ... this is flat-out depressing.

But perhaps it's me who's not getting it. The cultural element here - how Spanish people interact with wine - maybe necessitates all that. Wine isn't the be all end all here, as much of the French or Italians do. Wine is simply a piece of the Spanish food and drink culture - as part of a meal, it's simply something to go after the aperitivo and before the cocktails. So they don't need the wines to have complexity, to be nuanced, to have delicacy. Big and obvious flavours seem the way to go - much like the cuisine. 

So don't get too offended when people are rude and the wines boring. Maybe I'm the odd one out.


Thursday, August 28, 2014


So I'm obsessed with these knives made by Kikuichi. I feel a bit stranded here in Zaragoza, cooking-wise ... the company flat is great and all, clean and in a great location, but the kitchen really leaves something to be desired. I've been reduced to pretty much eating scrambled eggs on toast with a cucumber every night now, with the odd fried chicken when time allows. Sad, but then hey, summer internship baby. This ain't no vacation. But one does dream.

I've been feeling tired lately. Coming out of the office into the sun always makes me a bit dizzy ... not sure if it's the dry air or the 35C temperature, but the 15 minute walk to the bus stop is always a struggle. Blasting Serena Ryder in the headphones helps. So does Lights. Canadian love. Must be a sight ... Chinese guy wearing bright t-shirts over rolled-up pants, walking along a dusty road with literally not a spot of greenery, just belting English songs off-key. Loudly. Just wailing away. I sit staring at a computer screen too long man, all day. But what am I saying. I'm being a baby. That's real life man, that's the hustle, that's the wine trade.

Just a bit over a week now before we conclude this project, and I'm pumped. Went through a review of it today, and while I'm on the right track, much more work left to do. You see, we have to look beyond what's obvious - ie. young Millenials are interested in wine but insecure about their knowledge - and find the insights behind it, and the implications for our company. I'm in this for the ones toiling and sweaty in the dirt and the vines, but the only way we can help them thrive is to sell, sell, sell. 


Sunday, August 24, 2014

for the love of drinking

I love to drink. No two ways about it. I like the social aspect of drinking, the ritual of picking out the right bottle, that anticipation leading up to the first sip ... damn I love drinking. Why is that such a bad thing to admit? It's a bit logical, isn't it, for someone who works in the wine trade to also enjoy a few glasses? Apparently not so. Apparently not. People taste all the time now, for work. Living in Spain for a year has shown me the joys of drinking, the true pleasure one gets from the bottle. Binge drinking is a uniquely North American problem because we can't drink during the work week, and we have to organize nights out around designated drivers and early closing times, so nights out always dictate inhaling as much alcohol as you can in 3 hours. Like I said up on that rooftop at Calatrava, I'm never coming back.

Spent a weekend doing touristy things in Zaragoza. Saw the Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, as well as the Catedral del Salvador ... both beautiful, grand monuments to the power of organized religion. At El Pilar, there's actually a little inset cut into one of the columns showing the purported pillar that was graced by the Virgin ... people actually bend down to kiss it. Full on lips. I've learned, after visiting all these churches across the country, that the best, non-offensive, course of action is to stand to the side and try not to make a face. Fascinating though, how physical relics, authentic or not, hold so much meaning to people. Went for a run to Parque Grande José Antonio Labordeta, all the way up these zigzagging stairs and around back down, doing my best Rocky impression. Man it's hot (and dry) here. Better to stay inside and drink.

Two weeks left! Lots of things floating around in my head on how to put together what has turned out to be a consulting project for this company. Oh shit, right, the wines. The Ojo de Liebre, a tempranillo from DO Somontanod. The PdM Moncayo from Pagos del Moncayo winery in Campo de Borja. And the Cariñena, with a decent amount of age considering what I paid for it (5€!!). And a shitload of beer. Good stuff. All good drinks.


the Spanish gin tsunami

Top: Macaronesian White Gin
Middle: Ginbraltar Spanish Dry Gin
Bottom: Gin Mare

Does it really matter what these gins actually are? The specificities? Not really. They're all Spanish, sure. One's from the Canary Islands, one's made by a Spanish chef, the other is what they say the essence of the Mediterranean. Rosemary and all that. Vibrant, fresh, aromatic, and utterly exciting gins. My first real education in Spanish gin. 

I've been in a bit of a rut, writing wise. A huge one, actually. Don't know what to write, how to write. Scared to write the way I want, always thinking of oh, but what if this person sees it and judges me. Can't put down my unfiltered thoughts, can't really do my whole stream-of-consciousness bit, shit, can't even curse. What's it all about then, if I'm doing LCF scared? So let's just write, as bullshit as it all might be, and see where it goes, yeah?

My friend's getting married and I'm here in my room, door closed, watching "Chef" and pounding cans of Guinness 'Special Export'. Fuck. I'm so lucky ... SO motherfucking lucky to be here, to be in Spain, and to be doing what I love this summer. But it's so hard sometimes to be away from friends, especially in these moments when really, I need to be there. So I'm asking the boys to keep me updated via Whatsapp, and well, Waiwai I'm waiting for my shout-out at the reception. In my letter to them, I wrote a lot of things, but the main point, I suppose, was how precious this all was, how sacred. There's such a permanence to getting married, isn't there. A bit scary, at least for this wino. Not that I don't want it ... the tricky bit is to find the right partner. Because growing up is also about understanding yourself, understanding what you and aren't willing to up with. A woman who just fits so naturally in your life, who elevates everything about you ... a rare and precious thing indeed. #laurapreston823

Work has been exciting. Learned so many new things these past few weeks, this real perspective-gaining about wine, about the trade. Lots of romantic ideals shattered, but shit man, that's that real life creeping up on you. Two weeks left, and now's the time to start producing. Let's go get it. 

Oh yeah. The gins. Exceptional examples, all three. I've been asking everyone how this whole gin craze in Spain started, and no one has a single goddamn clue. It just began? Ok, let's just go with that. Whatever its origin, the gins from here, and the gin tonics ... and really, the whole cocktail culture ... out of this fucking world. Of the three, the Macaronesian has fabulous extract on the palate, real force. The Ginbraltar, great spice and citrus notes. And my favourite here, the Gin Mare - so aromatic, the fragrance from the herbs, particularly of rosemary and thyme. Versatile too, making a fantastic martini (garnish with a sprig of rosemary instead of olive), or my wild card, the gimlet. Elegance and great character.


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.