Friday, August 28, 2015

Ferran's choice

How many more times are you going to talk about tonic water? We get the point, and besides, who cares about the gin & tonic, poster child for the (incredibly lame) Friday night clubbing crowd, content with mass-produced gin and soda gun tonic water. 

I won't stop. My enthusiasm for the Gin Tonic - no '&' - will never abate, not until these silly misconceptions about what it is and what it is not are shattered. But until that day comes, the message is worth repeating. Gin Tonics, like all grand cocktails, are an exercise in utter simplicity. But like all simple things, perfection comes from the quality of its ingredients, and the thoughtful, skilled manipulation of the barman that brings it all together.

Thought. That's a good word, and a good concept in bartending. At this point, I want to just talk about the people in the business I admire, instead of poor, and sometimes idiotic practices. I've been very fortunate to meet many bartenders in Barcelona who I consider to be aces - Dani and Bruno at Old-Fashioned, Davidé of Slow Drink Movement, Cristina who just left her old bar - not to mention Benoit of L'Anima del Vi, but that's for another time. These bartenders have talent, but more than that, they have thought. No, not some overwrought idea of a cocktail with garnishes stuck in every inch of the glass, ridiculous ingredients for the sake of novelty, the great black-eye to the industry *flair* bartending ... nein, if I want to see a juggling act, I know where to go for that, and it's not a bar. What I mean by thought is a careful consideration of what makes each drink special, and part of cocktail tradition ... the guest experience, why someone would order a Martini over a Manhattan, how each element of the cocktail interacts with the other. You notice I don't mention creativity. Such a bad word, creativity, used to cover all sorts of excess. There's room for it, obviously, but never at the expense of the aforementioned. If I order a Gin Tonic made with Gin Mare, I have certain expectations ... I want a drink that expresses the gin I have selected first, before seeing the specificities of the bartender who prepared it. You see what I mean? When you order lobster at a restaurant, do you want to taste a dish that reminds you nothing of lobster, but is somehow supposed to be unique because the chef is a *quote unquote* culinary visionary? No! You send that shit back, because what's the point if an ingredient stops tasting like itself?!

So what do my favourite bartenders do so well? First of all, no one calls themselves a mixologist. My goodness, I hate that word. As a Spanish friend told me we're very cosmopolitan in Spain ... we call them barmen. My boy Dani over at Old-Fashioned is a one-off. A throwback. Outside of IESE, one of my favourite people in Barcelona, because he understands one thing - bars, like restaurants, are about hospitality first, and keeping guests happy is a winning strategy, everytime. During my second year in Spain, I was missing good bourbon a lot, so whenever I'd step through the door, Dani would be pulling out the Yarai and sugar cubes for my Old-Fashioned de Maker's Mark. But his talent comes through in his Gin Tonics. You select a gin, or ask for his suggestion, based on a scale of dry versus citric gins. They use 1724 Tonic Water at Old-Fashioned, lending their Gin Tonics great freshness and expressing full gin aromas. The garnish - as I've said before - is where you see the barman's creativity at work. What I want to see is the selection of the appropriate garnishes that complement that character of each specific gin, and with a delicate hand. You can overload with a glassful of garnishes that looks impressive, but really is just that ... a show, and not a real cocktail. Dani selects two garnishes at most - a type of citrus peel, and usually a savoury garnish that complements that dominant notes of the gin. Of course, presentation and style is all there, but what impresses me the most is his confidence in presenting a simple-looking drink with full aromas and flavours. Putting thought into cocktail making.

After all that - we still haven't talked about Fever-Tree. A superior tonic water to all others, in my opinion. As mentioned several times before, the tonic water is the heart of the Gin Tonic, comprising nearly 2/3 of the entire drink - isn't it important then, that you use a sensible tonic water to hold up your expensive gin? Fever-Tree is a fairly young company founded by two Londoners - story here. I remember the first time I came across it, in a bar called Dry Martini Speakeasy. Fresh, vibrant,  and elegant, all those good descriptors. It has full quinine flavours, yet is done in a way that is so harmonious that it never obfuscates the character of the gin. Fantastic, and yes, it does have the seal of approval from the godfather of modernist cuisine. Unfortunately, hard to find easily outside of Europe, so for those of us stuck in Toronto, you can order here, from Mr. Case.

How many more times am I going to talk about Gin Tonics? As many times as it takes.


Monday, August 17, 2015

forging katanas

Dip, hammer, dip, hammer, dip, hammer, dip ...

This day, two years ago, I boarded a plane to Barcelona, and started on an adventure. An adventure that would test me, painfully at times, but one I threw myself into with everything I had. I can honestly say that I wasted not a single minute of my time as an IESE MBA - emptied the tank, as they say. And now, two years later, back where I started - sort of. When I can't sleep at night, I like watching these forging videos. There's something deeply soothing about watching craftsmen at work. Something inspiring too. The care and attention paid at every step of the way ... the concentration required. What's that line about getting back what you put in? 

It's been getting progressively more hot and humid in Toronto. Since unemployment more than 2 years ago, I haven't seen the inside of a gym, preferring to run, hop, and grunt outdoors. Easier in Barcelona, and much more pleasant too - those bright sunny skies leading all the way to the beach. Not quite the same here, what with our muggy, dark ravine leading to power lines and empty suburban streets. One has to enjoy the good times while they last, I suppose.

Post-MBA justification is a long, slow, steady road. Dip, hammer, dip.


Monday, August 10, 2015

the sherries that are just a bit more

I promise to stop bitching about my job hunt.

As a friend said, in between handfuls of M&M's ... guys, it's not about the destination, it's about the journey. We'd all like to think that, wouldn't we. In any case, it's a good philosophy, easily applicable to many things. Including wine marketing. I was asked what I would do to boost slowing sales growth of traditional wine brands - the kind of brands that were once moving well, but are now boring and old-fashioned. We're constantly looking for the next best thing, so how do we keep old brands alive? The answer - one I should have expressed clearer when I was asked - is simply marketing fundamentals. Who are your customers? What are your targets/KPI's? Getting solid data will let you decide your marketing mix. Is digital/social the answer? In my opinion, no. Not for traditional brands. What is then? Today's wine drinkers are savvier than ever, and far more adventurous than mature consumers. But if we're not using digital to reach them, because let's be real, digital won't solve this problem, how do we find these consumers, engage them, and keep them coming back to these brands? We do two things, both with a mind to engage new and mature consumers, as well as to leverage the vast amount of data available. Firstly, it's all about going small. With the data we have now, we can create ever more customized, smaller marketing campaigns that are targeted to the specific niches being served by each brand. Secondly, these smaller campaigns allow for brands to be presented in the way they were meant to be - intimately, making them unforgettable.

Last year this week, I was happy. I was midway through my second internship, in Zaragoza, and taking advantage of their annual week-long summer vacation, I was back in Barcelona. Nothing but sun, long runs to the beach, dinner and drinks with friends. Never, not for a single minute, was I ungrateful for the summer I was having - the opportunity to do wine-related projects that I loved, meeting super cool people outside of the MBA. Having the time of my life, as they say. I drank this pair ... and what an incredible find. Equipo Navazos is a project that looks for rare and excellent soleras, bottling them in limited quantities. Story here. Very hard to find, and while not priced aggressively, they certainly aren't in-expensive either. Incredibly interesting, unique wines, that I feel fortunate to have tasted. The first, the 2010 La Bota de Florpower Nº 53 "Más Allá - a non-fortified palomino, essentially a vintage manzanilla, aged under flor but with no brandy added. As you can see, it's labelled MMX ... something about a regulatory issue preventing them from vintage labelling. Bright, pure, expressive with lots of dry extract and texture. A powerful example of what this varietal can do as a table wine. The second, the La Bota de Manzanilla (42) - shades of the same colour. Tensile and vivid minerality, with great concentration and focus on the palate. Almost hard to describe, the pair of them. I hope 'wow' suffices.

I have grandiose plans in wine. In wine marketing and brand management. I just need a chance now to prove it. Thinking about the summer I had in Barcelona and the steps I've taken since to get here ...


Saturday, August 1, 2015

some really cool stuff. like real cool.

The wine scene in Barcelona can be pretty cool, if you know where to look. One shop that's a favourite of mine is Vila Viniteca - well worth the journey to El Born. Last summer, for dinner at a friend's, I wanted to bring some interesting bottles. Whether we would like them or not was sort of not the point. We just wanted to drink some cool shit. This one, the Battliu de Sort Biu Blanc from the Costers del Segre DO, was certainly one of them. A blanc de noirs made from 100% pinot noir, all those aromatic, floral pinot notes in a bone dry, textural style.
Buying French wine in Catalunya? Maybe not a great idea. But this, I couldn't pass. For about 20€, a taste of the earth, the minerals, the sublime elegance of even the most simple country wine.
Mencía, particularly from Riberia Sacra, was one of the great discoveries I made in Spain. What a wine, what a DO. Lithe, mineral, tension filled wines that I wish I could have more of in my cellar.
A gift from a friend who visited Croatia. Sadly, on my list of places I was not able to go to during my time in Europe. Fresh, bright wines that are sublime with grilled meats.

Long weekend here in Canada, as we ease into August. I'm trying not to be demoralized as I continue job-hunting ... trying to stay positive. You have in your head all these great things to do, great contributions to make now that I've earned my MBA. I just want a chance to prove myself - now I need someone willing to take me on.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

crown to crown to crown tonics

Where does it all go?

But first, I want to draw your attention to those huge chunks of ice. Look at them. LOOK AT THEM!! In Spain, they're sold everywhere - gigantic, uniform, perfect cylinders of ice. You see what I'm saying about the Spaniards having superb cocktail culture? It's not just about a town having good bars. For a culture to form, there needs to be traditions, collective behaviours, habits ... an environment that allows top bartenders to succeed, with a clientele that is enthusiastic, and a trade that brings it all together. Si, and those ice-makers too.

Schweppes does this line of flavoured tonic waters that is an exercise in how much of an impact each ingredient of the gin tonic has. As we talked about earlier, the tonic water is the *heart* of the gin tonic, to borrow a sushi shokunin saying. We know who wears the crown in that relationship, so to speak. So naturally, to express each at its fullest, we use only one gin - Citadelle - and the same garnish - a lime wheel. But really, the ice, in my opinion, is an oft-forgotten element, that crucial piece that takes a good gin tonic to the sublime. Why? Well, what purpose does ice serve, in any cocktail? Two purposes, as a matter of fact - dilution and chilling. So why are large ice cubes crucial to a great cocktail? In a word, control. As in all things, the more factors you can control, the more of yourself you can put in. With large ice cubes, one can carefully monitor both dilution and temperature, and can better achieve that most elusive drink - the one that gets better as you drink.

Right. The tonic waters. Schweppes Premium Mixers, in 4 expressions. The Original Tonic - slightly sweet, letting some of the Citadelle's alcohol come through. As you drink though, with more dilution, becomes dryer, more powerful. Well extracted on the palate. Next, the Pimienta Rosa (pink pepper) - aromatic, very peppery, sort of a combination of the aroma of white pepper with the heat of black pepper. A slight note of curry powder as well. Great balance, although too sweet (take a note of personal preference). What you end up with is a really floral tonic water that in some ways obfuscates the gin. Third, the Azahar y Lavanda (lavender and orange blossom) - quite aromatic, but more subtle, bringing forth more of the herbal notes of the Citadelle. Slight bitterness on the palate, which I enjoy. Subtleness rules here. And the final, the Ginger y Cardamomo (ginger and cardamo) - very dry, distinctly floral. I love using cardamom as a garnish, but this tonic doesn't give you so much of those aromas as much as a slight curry power again, with a touch of sweetness on the finish. The alcohol of the Citadelle slips through again, breaking the balance a bit. Overall, for all 4 - great work on the texture, on the finesse of the carbonation, but just a touch too sweet, which obscures the gin, Citadelle being a more neutral example. I would, for instance, never use a Spanish gin such as Gin Mare, or Xoriguer here - far too much going on. You want love-making in your mouth, not a shouting match.

I miss long, quiet, hot summer nights in Barcelona. Last year around this time, I had just wrapped up the final draft of the business case I was authoring, Oliver Conti - A Dream with a Glow. I was getting ready to move to the town of Zaragoza, to begin my second project. So as I send out yet another application/CV/cover letter, I'm reminded of how great, how lucky I was to do an MBA, to study at IESE, and to have lived in Barcelona. The times we spent in class. With friends. With gin tonics in hand. 

Where did it all go?! 


Sunday, July 12, 2015

tonics should have their moment of glory too

We say, the sushi rice is the *heart* of the sushi.

So goes the wisdom. Perfection you see, as they say, is achieved not when you cannot add anymore, but rather when you cannot take anymore away. Gin tonics, like sushi, like all things which strive for that elusive perfection, is about simplicity, about minimalism, about a deep respect for the natural character of each ingredient. Forget about this trendiness in foodyism spreading like a virus - you don't create a drink or a dish, so much as discover the essence of what you're working with. Bear with me ... I'm in that mood this week

One year ago, I was in Pamplona with friends, taking in the festival of San Fermin. Good times. But that's neither here nor there. What's here is this situation I'm in - job hunting is like death by a thousand cuts. I'm ten times the man I was before leaving for Barcelona, and I'll be fucked before I go back to the sad sucker I was. Hell gon' freeze over. Let's keep things simple, no? Do things the right way, with patience, with humility.

The right gin with the right tonic with the right garnish. See how smooth I did that? The right tonic water has to be aromatic, bubbly, and dry. Yes, dry - a subtle sweetness is needed, of course, to balance out any roughness you may get from the gin. But it has to have that dryness, that extract on the palate that gives you a feeling of freshness. Schweppes has that, particularly these Premium Mixer bottles. A whisper of citrus, a balanced bitterness, all over a layer of dry extract that gives you everything you want in a tonic.

Simplicity, perfection - important in all elements of a cocktail. Supporting players need some love too.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

the bitter truth

So it's June 27th, I've been home for a few weeks now, and it's pouring rain outside.

Is this really summer here in Toronto? Is this it? Never thought I'd be complaining about June weather here, but damn, it blows. Hard. Yet another reason to wax poetic about the bright, sunny skies of Barcelona. Wind blowing softly on that run to the beach, visions of vermut and jamón waiting for me on the mind. Alas ... alas. Those days are no more, but, hey, life goals right? I can live very simply, but I do like to have a lot on my table.

Bitters! In gin tonics!! I'm a big, big fan of finding the right orange bitters to give a bit of lift and spice to a gin tonic. Turning an otherwise very good drink to a great one. Complex but with balance you see - always with balance. Too much and you completely destroy the drink - the bitterness overwhelms the palate. Too little, and well, what's the point then? Balance. The most difficult, yet the most key element in food and booze. This particular one I really like. Rich orange oils, a slight spiciness, and quite powerful - only a few dashes needed.

Job hunting has been rough. It's soul-sucking, really, to send application after application into cyberspace, like this dark, empty void where nothing ever returns. It's a truly humbling experience when you spend an hour crafting the most poetic fucking cover letter only to be sent an automated rejection in 30 minutes. You know how after grad school, you're supposed to know what you want to do? I mean ... that's why we went to get a masters right?! And the bitter truth of it all? We have these grandiose dreams of coming out with an MBA to be agents of change, of contributing to whatever company and industry we join, to doing something different. But a month out, it's getting harder to stay so hopeful.

Chin up. Always hustle. What a trip back to reality.


Monday, June 15, 2015

France's gin game strong

Gin is the truth.

Two German classmates visited Toronto last week, on their Canadian leg of a big trip through the East Coast. Big vodka guys, one told me he liked vodka because 'it's the most honest drink there is'. I've been thinking about what he meant by that. Maybe just a random one-liner between (somewhat) drunk friends, but while we're on the topic of honesty ...

I've always loved gin, even before living in Spain. But man, that first real glass of gin tonic changes you. Even on a student budget, I drank oceans of gin tonics during my time in Barcelona, learning to see cocktails in an entirely different light. Spanish bartenders take a culinary approach to the cocktails, what North American hipster mixologists < BARF > call craft cocktailing - an excuse for them to completely sissify a good solid drink. They don't do that shit in Spain. No, the approach they take is always to respect the base spirit they use, in this case, gin. So you look at the character of the gin you're using to decide what tonic to marry it with, and what to garnish. And always, like any good chef, the star is the gin, not yourself. You can throw a half-dozen garnishes in the glass to appear impressive, but really, you have no clue - using flash and superfluousness to overcompensate for professional insecurities.

So of course, living there meant that I had access to the most amazing Spanish gins. But I want to talk about this one first, because I think Citadelle is an incredibly, almost criminally, underrated gin. Fresh, vibrant, floral with a touch of spice - but most impressive is that texture, a silkiness that hides the alcohol and leaves your mouth in full happiness. So when using a gin like this in a gin tonic, what approach do you take? You look at the elements of the gin that you want to emphasize - for me, it's the elements of freshness and texture. First thing to decide is what tonic to use. After all, the tonic makes up 2/3 of the drink. Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water is my preferred choice. It has that freshness from the herbs that's fully integrated in the aromas - not too sweet - and just enough dry extract to give you a sensation of texture while still remaining elegant. Garnish of a lime wheel to play up Citadelle's floral notes and give some citric lift.

And we come back to trying to understand what makes a drink honest. At this point, all I want to say is - honesty comes from respecting the ingredients going into your drink, and being thoughtful in what you put together. What gin with what tonic with what garnish(es). And always, always, always ... leaving your ego out of it. The gin tonic ... the most honest drink there is.

Gin tonic de Citadelle

Citadelle Gin
Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
Lime wheel

Fill a gin tonic glass with large chunks of ice

Pour 3 ounces of Citadelle gin

Stir for 30 seconds to lower the temperature and texturize the gin

Pour the Fever-Tree into the glass slowly, over the back of the barspoon

Stir once to integrate, and garnish with a lime wheel


Thursday, June 11, 2015

the pride of Peru

So ... does one shake or blend?

It was really cool meeting the parents of some of my Spanish classmates. After months of cramped quarters living with roommates (men in their late 20's/early 30's - supposed adults - can still be dirty animals), it was nice to go into a real house, make drinks in a real kitchen. A lot of these parents, particularly the men, recall their trips to Peru in their youth fondly. And a lot of those memories revolve around the pisco sour.

Pisco is a brandy that's the subject of much contention as to its origin, particularly between the Peruvians and the Chileans. But there's really no need to fight. Both countries seem to have unique ways of serving it - the Chileans drink piscola (pisco and cola, duh), while they do it like this in Lima. Personally, I have my foot in both camps, with good friends on both sides not to mention a delightful young Chilean chica I met in Barcelona who, can I say, is just my kind of woman. Now, if I had to choose - had to - based purely on my personal, subjective preferences, as an outsider - I'll go with a pisco sour. This pisco sour.

The IESE pisco sour

Fresh lime juice
Sugar syrup
Egg white
Angostura bitters

In a cocktail shaker, pour 2 ounces of pisco

Add 0.75 ounces of sugar syrup, 0.5 ounces of lime juice, and half an egg white

Dry shake until egg white emulsifies

Fill shaker with ice and hard shake for 45 seconds

Strain into a chilled glass, allowing the egg white to create a half inch layer of head

Finish with a few drops of Angostura bitters

I've been told (by my Peruvian teammate) that most households in Lima employ a blender, crushing the ice into essentially a boozy slushie. I don't like it. It's lazy and we can do better. This is a pisco sour done in the IESE way - staying true to its roots, with a touch of refinement.

It's now nearly 5pm. Pisc-o-clock.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

David Fang, MBA

What a ride.

Growth. Development. Learning. All these buzzwords giving justification about why we moved to Europe, why we went deep into debt, why we called timeout on 2 years of our lives ... the endless questions about why in the f*ck would you go to Spain?! Well, at the end of this journey, you realize that all this, it's just noise. Because if not from school, then from Barcelona - the city changes you, changes your outlook on the things that are important (and just importantly, superfluous). Am I better person? Or simply a different person?

We graduated as IESE MBA's, Class of 2015 on May 15. What a day. Bright and sunny, perfect Barcelona weather. Prof. Lago held a presentation in the morning. A good idea, to explain to friends and family that no, despite what we've been posting online the past few months, we haven't just been partying/travelling/boozing. Graduation ceremony in the afternoon on the North Campus terrace, reception, and dinner. And then of course, a blowout party at Astoria and then Bling Bling, stumbling out at dawn. I stayed in town until the 27th - out of the sunshine, back to grey, muggy Toronto.

There will be plenty of time for reflection, I suppose. We've certainly had a few months already to reflect on what we've taken out of the MBA, what IESE has meant for us. At this moment, I simply feel gratitude and pride, for the experience, for the friends I've made, for truly giving all of myself to the program. It's been a precious two years that I will treasure forever. Many thanks to my teammates ... #LaFamiliaB5 forever.

And now it's back (hopefully temporarily) to Toronto. Slowly getting back to real life, to disconnect a little from our IESE bubble, and figure out our next move. Plenty of things I want to share though, about life in Barcelona. The food. The gin tonics. The travelling.

What a ride it's been.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

change and renewal

It's April.

My favourite month of the year. And you know why? Nah son, it's not just because it's my birthday, but because of what this beautiful month brings. Growth. Change. A start of something new.

It's semana santa again ... and let me tell you something. I'm the only person in our class who hasn't been back home this entire time. I don't feel homesick, I don't feel like I missed out on anything. What is there to miss out on? The snow? The routine? The depressingly sameness of it all, the fact that nothing ever changes?! I mean, the decided mediocrity of it all is just ... check it out, Europe and Spain, they certainly aren't perfect. But it's been a thrill to be here unlike any other. Whether they like it or not, I'm of Catalunya now. Deal with it.

I can't afford a gym here. And even if I could, I can't afford the proper food to keep on those gains. So what can be done then. In a word - run. I've got a route that I've been running for more than a year now. The exact same steps, facilitated now that I'm living in Gracia. Down to Diagonal, west to La Marina, straight south to Torre Mapfre ... east to Barceloneta, up Laietana, then onto Pau Claris all the way back home. A clean 10 km. Easy-peasy. A lot of sweat equity expended on this route ...  many, many hours and kilometres. It gives me peace, it gives me a lot of joy. I'm a little at the point now where big, life-altering decisions have to be made because like it or not, the MBA is done in a month, and well, what's next? Where do we go? All questions keeping me up at night, especially tonight. Not a wink of sleep, but guess what - will get some eggs, some milk in the system, and yes, go for a run. Clear the head a little, get focused again.

After all, it's April.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

L'Anima del Vi, delivering truth in wine

T: 2007 Coll de Sabater | DO Conca de Barberà
B: 2012 Lapierre Morgon

It's been a rough week.

There was a wine trade show last week in Düsseldorf called Prowein. I really wanted to go. And if I went, I would have most likely taken a Germanwings flight. I've flown with them before. It's a good airline, and although we are very used to these types of carriers here in Europe, I think it needs to be made clear for my fellow N. Americans that low cost carriers are in fact extremely safe, and (generally) very pleasant to fly with. As more details come out, this whole event becomes more and more unspeakably horrific. It hits close to home, and not because of me - because of the many German classmates I have, who I know have been affected by what happened. 

Monday's news hit like a thunderbolt. On Thursday I was hit by an earthquake. My neighbour (from back home) of nearly 20 years, has been given 6 months to live. He beat cancer once. It came back last summer, and now the doctors have stopped treatment. I don't know what to think. I don't know what to say. He is a good and kind man and doesn't deserve this.

With so much death and suffering around ... I can't handle it. I'd like nothing more than to get out of Barcelona for a few days, go to the beach, get some food, some good drinks ... but that doesn't make this past week make any more sense to me. No enlightenment possible, why these things happen. So I suppose we keep going, keep putting our heads down and charging forward. The only way to go.

L'Anima del Vi is one of my favourite wine places in the world. Yes. Todo el mundo. It's not particularly cozy, it's not totally comfortable, but it's totally honest, and totally unique. The man in the middle of it all? One of the greatest people in wine I've ever met, and someone I'm proud to consider a friend - even if we don't sometimes understand each other. The homie, Benoît, a Frenchman in Spain, bringing in some of the shining lights of biodynamic and natural wine, from his homeland and his adopted country. A while back, when my brother was visiting me over the summer, I took him here, for one boozy evening. We started with a Spanish wine, the Coll de Sabater, a Bordeaux style blend that was at once concentrated and rich, yet harmonious and pure. And then I had to show him the Lapierre Morgon (and share a few glasses with Benoît). Such grace and precision, reminding me why my life will be devoted to this magical, ethereal, mysterious nectar.

It's been a rough week. None of it makes sense. There are no words of comfort, no solace we can find. So for me, I go back and find inspiration in the things that mean the world to me. There is still good in this world, I'm sure of it. Just a little hard to see at this moment.


Monday, March 9, 2015

being a cowboy in Barna

I've been away. 

It's hard to spend time on LCF when I feel like there's a million other more pressing things to apply myself to, but as we heard from the head of marketing of Haribo, there is time to do everything. Ok. Let's give it a shot.

He's right, you know. We do have time - maybe not to do everything, but at least enough time to do things we really care about. Do I really care about LCF? Perhaps not as much as I once did, but it's important to spend some time, in regular intervals, to do a bit of writing. Just for myself. 

So shit, what's been going on? Plenty of cool things, actually. Man, I will miss IESE - in a flash, it's been 18 months and suddenly, we have graduation rehearsals coming up Thursday. Having just wrapped our best party of the year in #MultiCulti2015, I'm not ready yet. I know it's time to go, time to move on and do other things, but I'm not ready yet.

Bourbon. We take it for granted in North America ... the selection, the availability. And then you come here to Spain, land of gin and terrible beer, and everything else becomes an afterthought. Will you ever reach the level of desperation needed to go for JD? I never imagined I'd be so happy to see Bulleit. Tears weren't necessarily shed, but I did stand in the middle of El Corte Inglés with the biggest shit-eating grin. Embarrassing, but when you deprive a man of bourbon, well, all bets are off, as they say.

What is it about bourbon? For the moment, forget about the actual drink. It could be that most cowboy of drinks, the mighty Old-Fashioned, a mint julep, or even a whiskey sour, but in whatever iteration, the character of that sweet, sweet nectar comes through. Siempre. Bulleit has that spice, that touch of honey, that big boom of alcohol. The bee's knees. This wino is grateful for a little taste of home, that reminder that while gin is dope, bourbon is the one and only for the throwback's soul.

At the Haribo session, our guest speaker continued. Did you know they managed to create a whole market for soft candy in Spain? That they not only built a brand here, but in fact changed consumer behaviour? Proving that people are endlessly malleable, despite protestations to the contrary - you just have to know which buttons to press. 9½ weeks left before I graduate as an MBA. 


Friday, January 30, 2015

beginning the last chapters of IESE

After 35 days on the road, I'm back in Barcelona. A little weary, a little wary ... a little more grown up. A winding road that took me through Porto, Aveiro, Praja de Barra, Batalha, Lisbon, Cologne, Vienna, Friesach, Salzburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Shanghai. At times it was difficult. But it's been an absolutely unforgettable month of my life. And now we're back. 

The IESE schedule makers are trying to kill me ... 10 hours of class everyday, no lunch break in between. But before I start grumbling too much, I'm reminded that in a few months, I'll be reminiscing about this place. And I've been enjoying the classes - innovation, negotiation, project management, brands - great insights, all. I think this is it for me. I think this is the last time I'll ever be in a classroom like this for a formal degree. A masters degree is my upper limit, academically speaking, but the learning continues. The learning always continues.

So, here's to the final term, the final few months of being an IESE student. What comes next, I have no clue, but I remain hopeful and excited.


Friday, December 19, 2014

7 years of LCF

DF Profile - BW
So I've been missing. But LCF turns 7, so a quick update. Been busy, been doing some things. More or less keeping out of trouble, but as they say, it's not creepy if she likes it. 

Man. 7 years. I'm too tired, too drunk at the moment ... too disinterested for reflection, so let's move onto something more interesting. Classes finished last week, but DF never stops hustling. Working with my professor to finish the business case we started writing this summer. A winery in the north of Catalunya, in the mountains and the winds and the sea. Really not that much time to slow down, relax a little, as we finished 4th term. Damn son, only a few more months left. Only a few more months left before we're ejaculated out into the real world, but you know what's funny - that's not even giving me the most anxiety. What's messing with my head most now is this sudden realization that while I'm here in Barna having the time of my life - learning and experiencing all these new things - everything back home has been the same. Things haven't changed, while take it however way you want, I'm a new goddamn person. I don't fit in anymore, at least not back to that life. None of us do, for better or worse, so what now ... what next?

I'll tell you what. I try not to plan anything beyond the next 3 days. That's my trick, to keep me sane. So for now, for the meantime ... I'm focusing on enjoying my holidays. Flying out to Portugal on Monday. Porto for a day, to visit some port producers and taste some things. Driving down to Lisbon to spend Christmas with a buddy's family. Then off to Vienna on Boxing Day, where we'll hopefully get to hit some hot springs, and I get to drink some legit Austrian whites. New Year's Eve at another buddy's cabin, deep in the Austrian forest, before we head to Salzburg - been practicing Edelweiss - and then ending this go-around in Berlin. One night back in Barcelona, before a long flight to Shanghai, where I'll be taking 1 week of intensive courses at CEIBS, and 1 week of family time. Back in Barcelona on January 25th. About 35 days on the road in all. I feel ready. Mind and spirit, body and liver. 

7 years of grind and hustle, leading to this moment. 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

on a hiatus

I'm still alive, in case anyone's worried. Just on a (not-so-brief) hiatus.

Travelling, mostly. Drinking, definitely. Making the most of the few months I have remaining as an IESE student, I suppose. Seeing new things, new places, but most importantly, spending this time with people I've come to deeply, deeply care about.

So. Bordeaux and Sitges in September. Munich, Islay, and Morocco in October. Alella in November, what figures to be a soft month because after all, we still do have classes to attend to. Still planning, but the north of Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic for the holidays. And in January, as Heineken so helpfully suggests, Shanghai.

It's good to still be alive.  


Monday, October 20, 2014

crowns at Château de Fargues

And so I ended my trip through Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes here, a true jewel of the region.
The slow drive into the property was beautiful, tranquil and calm ...
... noble and old.
And while they are currently remodeling and remaking anew ...
... some things are better left untouched.
Sometimes, the old ways remain the best.
That's it, ladies and gentlemen. This row and the row to the left. That's all there is of the 2013 vintage. A difficult, challenging one. As I learned, quality is a virtue that one fights for - that one commits to. It's not the grand vintages that make the estate ... it's the ones that keep you up at night that forge true character. 
What a wine. A grand triumph of balance, nobility, strength, and character. What a wine.
And how else to end this trip but to say goodbye to Philippe de Lur Saluces in front of the vineyards of Fargues. Inimitable charm, and a great ambassador of Bordeaux. What a trip!

Tasting notes:

2009 Château de Fargues: Great spicy notes, complex, and purity. Incredible depth, like staring into a dark well. What a gorgeous mouth - unbelievably spicy, with great length, tension, and extract. Complex, open, structured, and muscular - a powerful yet agile wine for the ages.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

the Château Coutet of my dreams

You walk in, and immediately feel a sense of serenity. A truly grand estate, history and heritage. Beautiful. Sun shining, birds chirping, as they say. 
I've been an admirer of Coutet for a long time. The wines always show well at big tastings - rich and creamy, great depth and presence. A family-owned business, the new generation is doing a great job bringing the estate (and Sauternes) into new markets, new times.
It was a great privilege to visit. I got out early, making the nearly hour long drive from Bordeaux into the tiny commune of Barsac.
Like many of their neighbours, the sauvignon blanc is close to harvest. Production volumes will be low again this year, following a challenging summer (cool and wet), but Coutet is anticipating good quality. Botrytis coming along nicely, and as long as the sunshine and mild temperatures continue, this could be a very good vintage.
Barriques being quietly filled with sweet nectar. What a great privilege to finally visit Coutet, finally see the property I've dreamed of visiting for so long.

Tasting notes:

2012 Château Coutet: A big nose, ripe fruit, with lots of botrytis character but restrained. Mineral and very pure. Great freshness on the finish, very young and needs to settle down. Linear and extracted. A beauty.

2013 Château Coutet (barrel sample): Slightly woody aromas (for obvious reasons), already with great density and texture. Bigger than the 2012.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

tasting botrytis at Château Bastor-Lamontagne

What a great pleasure to visit Bastor-Lamontagne - the first true wino's stop of the trip ...
... Alexandre took me out to the vineyard first. Of course. We wouldn't have it any other way, would we - to be able to see the various stages of botrytis up close - in bliss.
Botrytis just beginning to develop on the larger berry, while the shrivelled one is ready to harvest. Sweet, but with fabulously crunchy acidity as well. Real texture, even in the grape. The skin is dry and flakes off easily - very little juice. 
This most precious nectar, bottled, and ready to share with the world. But first, a tasting ...
... ending with an incredible example of how sublime mature Sauternes can be. An indescribable privilege to spend time here.

Tasting notes:

2011 Caprice de Bastor-Lamontagne: A blend of sauvignon blanc and muscadet. Fresh fruit, but lacking some depth and weight. Only half-botrytized fruit. Acidity needs time to settle in.

2010 SO Sauternes: Now as of 2010. Meant as an aperitif, but a more traditional Sauternes. Really elegant here, lots of apricots, freshness - honey and bitter orange peel, very spicy. Great length. Concentration with balance. Finish is linear and extracted - gorgeous.

2009 Bastor-Lamontagne: A blend of 80% semillon and 20% sauvignon blanc. A huge nose - so much thick apricot, botrytis character. So rich, so thick and dense, but with great elegance and texture. Very long and incredibly spicy on the finish.

1989 Bastor-Lamontagne: What a treat to taste. Opened a day earlier. These indescribable notes of oxidized fruit, honey, dried apples - incredible depth and complexity. Totally integrated. Very spicy on the palate, still thick and vibrant. Perfection.