Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mi mama is here!!

We talk nearly everyday, but FaceTime or WeChat is never the same as being in person. I've been waiting for this for a long time. Just lots of stuff happening here, that I'm finding it hard to share with other people. But my mom understands. My mom always understands. Arriving Sunday afternoon, I got to El Prat early. If you want to see humanity at its best, see the arrivals gate of any major airport. Pure joy is what it is. As soon as she saw me, mi mama started crying all the way over. But she's here, and I can finally show her my home for the past 8 months, this life I've built for myself here. And it's great, because she's the only person who truly feels the excitement I feel, can see the happiness I'm experiencing here. And please, coming from Toronto, this weather and sun is paradise.

A first day of visiting IESE, and doing a quick walk around of Barcelona. Cool. In need of a good night's sleep - tomorrow's going to be a great day. Brunch in the morning, a stroll through Passeig de Gracia ... and then back to El Prat to catch a flight to Madrid. Let's go!!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

and a week passes

What a week. So many things going on, my brain is shot. And I still made it to Spanish class - a newly minted módulo 6 student(!). Undeserving? Perhaps. But we reviewed the exam results today, and the number's don't lie. I'm exhausted. And why am I still up? Because instead of going out with the Japanese guys to the beer fiesta at Drassanes, I stayed in to finish up an assignment for our Quantitative Methods class. Due just before we return to class from Semana Santa, but let's be honest, I'm not touching schoolwork in between. So let's get this wrapped up and submitted, and free our minds to worry about other things.

Lots of uncertainty man, lots of things I need to figure out still. But I'm getting better at it. 


Thursday, April 10, 2014

that long, rocky road

It's been a long week. Fun and exciting, lots of stuff going on ... but long. Had meetings, of all kinds, with MBA committees, professors, clubs ... had my final Spanish exams for módulo 5. Tried to squeeze in some time with friends, some social events, including today's Fun Run 2014 up Tibidabo. By all means, in the top 3 of the busiest weeks I've had here so far. But I've survived. So far. One more day to go tomorrow, but really, really ... let me rest. Three more days until my mom arrives to Barca.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

no rest out in the wild

Yeah. We like it like that. Frosty, with a drop of Angostura bitters on top. Outside of (of course) all the incredible Spanish and Catalan food (see what I did there) I've been learning about here, another new experience has been Peruvian food. Man. That stuff is good. Ceviche. Lomo saltado. Tacu tacu. And of course, the Pisco Sour. Apologies to Chile. Balanced, with great extract from the lime juice, spiciness from the pisco, texture from the egg white ... delicious.

So apparently there's a sizeable Peruvian population in Barcelona. And yes, I'm pretty determined to visit every single Peruvian restaurant in town. Good, honest, unfussy food.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

high and lonesome

What is bluegrass? Songs of sorrow, of weariness ... songs of salvation to salve the soul. A high and lonesome sound. That good old-timey music.

How's all, son?

Not too good. 3rd term's starting off on a rough note. Beat down after 8 months here. Still no internship.

Can't be all that bad. 

No it can't. We are, after all, in Barcelona. It's 23°C outside. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and runs on the beach clear the head and lift the spirit. But man, my ribs are getting sore. I don't know how much more punishment I can keep taking.

We're doers, son. Stop bitching and just get on with it. We do the best with what we have.

Big weekend here. School event and all, for business schools across Europe. Partied hard for 3 nights now. What a waste of time. It's all the same, no, no matter where you are?  How many drinks am I going to have? How late am I staying? How come the music is so bad? Who am I (trying to) taking home tonight?

Focus is key.

Right. So a big week ahead. Lots to deal with before Easter.

Take a minute, take a breathe. And then get to it.

Easier said than done. But yeah. Yeah. At least we have bluegrass.

At least we have bluegrass.


Monday, March 31, 2014

a box of chocolates

Oh bury me beneath the willow,
under the weeping willow tree
So He may know where I am sleepin' and
perhaps He'll weep for me

- Weeping Willow, The Stanley Brothers

A tough week. That's an understatement, no? Life is tough. And sometimes, despite the effort, the sleepless nights, the suffering ... things simply don't come out the other end like you expected. Like you wanted. So we sit down, take a moment, re-visit, re-assess, re-evaluate ... all those things good MBA's are taught. Last term was tough, no doubt. Did my efforts pay off, those long nights studying, those sunny weekends spent at my desk? Maybe. Maybe not. As in all things, it's a matter of perspective. But of course, that's not how the world works. There are rules. And regulations. And guidelines that must be enforced, in the name of standards. 

We move onto happy things. I went out for calçotada last weekend, a seasonal tradition in Catalunya. Calçots are a type of spring onion that are in season now. A local custom, they're grilled, and eaten with a dipping sauce, sort of like a tomato-y hollandaise. And they're fantastic. Tender, yet retaining that beautifully robust texture, sweet and soft in the mouth. Delicious. A fantastic Sunday lunch with my favourite people in the program.

No complaints man, no moaning. The things that've transpired ... it's over and done with. Let's figure out next steps, what we need to do to move on. 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

taking a moment

We get so caught up in day to day nonsense, don't we ... or rather, I get so caught up, worked up, messed up, thrown up. We need to take a moment, and smell the roses. To remind ourselves yet again that while the MBA is our absolute priority, there are other things too that we can't neglect. We need to be good to ourselves and take a beer - a good one, undoubtedly, but you already knew that. A quiet afternoon, alone, doing some work, doing some thinking, a good brew alongside. Who cares what this beer was. It served the most noble of purposes - a faithful, constant nod to the old ways, when honesty, respect, and integrity still meant something.

Going south here. But it's late, and this weekend has been all over the place. I can't deal with so many emotions man ... from finishing final exams to starting a new term, to finally feeling like I can hang out with my friends to getting grades back ... it's just too much for this wino to handle. So like all introverts, I go to my safe place, to sort out my head, to get things straight. At the moment, maybe I don't know which way is up, what the right thing to do is. So in these moments of uncertainty, we take a brief respite to collect ourselves, and then continue on ahead, head down, ready to work. Let's go get it. And this time, I mean it.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

settling in

Cervesa del Montseny Negra | Barcelona

First day of our 3rd term here - unbelievable how fast things are going. Yet, looking back, so many new things seen, heard, tasted, smelled, experienced. I'm a lucky, lucky man. Every term, the MBA Office likes to spice things up, and change our seating arrangement. And every term, I end up closer and closer to the front ... the hot seats. The professors all know about the (totally justified) 3rd term apathy among students, and have already warned us that we will be cold-called and quizzed mercilessly. And I've got the best seats in the house. But I'm happy. I'm sitting with my best friend in the program, and well, you take the good with the bad. 

Stout being brewed in Catalunya. Correct in every way, albeit a bit lacking in texture and roundness on the palate. But this is a good one. Satisfying. Started booking travel plans for the upcoming Easter holidays, and I'm debating whether to get my mother to bring Canadian wine or craft beer. Tough decisions.

But now that I'm all settled in here ... let's just keep seeing what Barcelona has to offer.



Beer is good. German beer, even more so. Man, I'm so behind, and when I actually get to sorting out the photos, going over notes again, I lose interest and don't even bother actually writing about the bottles. It's all good though. My drinking life doesn't revolve around tasting notes. 

So, German beers from El Corte Ingles. Decent selection, I suppose, but it's all relative. Good, solid, satisfying brews - nothing terribly exciting, but like a good hug from an old friend, something to soothe the soul. 

Just like that, our short break is over. Second term ended last Friday, with the final 2 exams. Confident about how I performed? We all know the answer to that one, so yeah, let's move on. I tried my best though. A nice, relaxing weekend of going out to brunch, enjoying the weather, going for long runs by the beach ... fantastic. Got some culture too, seeing the Le Corbusier exhibit at the Caixaforum. Spent some time with buddies outside of class (finally!), and got to know some classmates better as well. And yes, drank copious amounts of gin cocktails. A long day today, dragging myself out of bed on 3 hours of sleep to go to campus, to film a video promoting the exchange program here. A fun day of shooting, and really, really excited to see the results. Will post it as soon as it's completed. Let's make me a Youtube star chicos

Is the worst behind us? Can I finally focus a bit, and figure out a plan to get a summer internship? Let's get it on!


Monday, March 24, 2014

Heart and soul

I walked a tightrope during our last day of Operations Management class last week, and was rewarded for it. That thin line between honesty and stupidity. A fool I remain. But at least a brave one, to the end. At the beginning of the term, we were given the option of submitting a 'Show and Tell'. Something, anything we came across, experienced, whatever, that was applicable as an operations case. And so I submitted something about wine, to the surprise of no one. I know what I'm about son. 

I talked about sherry - specifically, the complexities of the solera system, and the scale of the number of botas these bodegas manage. The night before, I get an email from the professors asking me to prepare a short presentation for the class. Right. I had to make a choice. And I decided to go in a direction opposite of where I was probably supposed to go. At a fork in the road, and I went left instead of right. But hey, always be true to yourself, right. I went up there, in front of all my classmates and professors, and proclaimed that for sherry bodegas, operational efficiency was not important, and would destroy its heart and soul. Bold statements. Maybe not the best thing to say before the final exam. No, definitely not the best thing to say. But I said it, the class voted The Cask of Fino as the best out of the 3 'Show and Tells', and I walked out with a bottle of Cava. A good final day of classes.

I'm reminded of why I love wine. In a word, honesty. Because to begin understanding and truly appreciating wine, we have to first find that honesty. In wine, and also in ourselves. A wine will never lie to you - all the marketing, all the nonsense critics come up with - it's all for naught, because what is in the glass cannot hide. But to be able to see through the smoke and mirrors requires honesty from ourselves too. To put aside egos, to know that there's far more that we don't know than what we do ... to always be curious, to always have a sense of excitement, of mystery. To still be able to be stunned speechless in wonder by a glass.

In front of an MBA class, talking about heart and soul is, well, pointless. But if I can get one person ... just one person to see what I'm trying to get at, to feel instead of analyze ... I will be very happy indeed.

Heart and soul baby. Heart and soul. 


Sunday, March 16, 2014

a bit of variety

Martin's IPA | Belgium

Belgian beer! IPA!! Sunshine and brightness!!!

Last week was, by all accounts, a shitshow. Among many shitshows so far in the MBA, but this one stood out. You see, dear reader, I came to Spain with the promise that I would be different - more positive, more social, more engaged. Ah yes, that magical, wonderful, meaningless word. We've been through periods of intense work, high stress, a crush of deliverables ... but I've always managed to (more or less) get through it all with a smile. Last week felt different. I felt defeated, overwhelmed, but most concerning, a bit deflated. Just in a bad place emotionally. And we all know how emotional this wino gets. Terrible. But last week, I let it get to me. It was a combination of personal issues, lack of sleep, stress, whatever ... but my mood was awful. 

I needed a moment.

Some time alone, just as the weather here is beginning to get balmy, was just what I needed. Had a good afternoon of wine and jamón shopping on Saturday. Perfecto. A bit of time to reflect, to get my head straight - remind myself of all the reasons why I came here, why this is such an amazing time in my life. A few sips of a Brunus Montsant, a few slices of jamón, and I was back. 

Beer is dismal here. Spanish beer is, well, Spanish beer. And the variety (and quality) of imports leaves much to be desired. But occasionally, one finds the exception. An IPA from Belgium, full of that bright, citrusy hop character. Finesse and balance on the palate, finishing with a most pleasing bitterness. Can you see I've been desperate for some good beer? What I wouldn't give for some proper North American craft brews ...

So things are getting better. I'm always hopeful. The sun is shining, Barcelona is hitting 20C, and final exams or not, I'm going to enjoy myself. Because that's what I came here to do ... to be happy. Simple, isn't it. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

as the night blurs

Man. I'm feeling under the weather. I need to get better soon. Why? So I can die this Saturday. And what's happening Saturday? Only the biggest show of debauchery at IESE, Multi-Culti. Straight and reckless alcoholism, in the guise of diversity and multiculturalism. But what am I saying. We're only living up to that greatest and truest of MBA traditions - push yourself to the limit, in everything and anything you do, no?

This was the lineup way back, for Christmas Eve dinner. All sorts of things - a rosado (for me), some whites, some Rioja, a bit of Ribera. All cheap and cheerful bottles. Good stuff. Things started getting a bit hazy after the 3rd bottle. But, we celebrated, we enjoyed ourselves, and I made it home, safe. Fantastic. Schoolwork's been tough, really taking a chunk off my ass this term. But, we power through. Claw, bite, punch, whack, kick, jab ... whatever we need to do to get the job done. And then we celebrate, but only if victory is well-earned. A question to keep asking myself ...


Friday, February 28, 2014

a kilo of what?

A little dried, a little funky, a little chewy. All kinds of good. All kinds of happiness. All kinds of love. This isn't a kilo of well-marbled, dry-aged ribeye. No son, this is cecina de vaca, proving that when it comes to cured meats, the Spanish are one of a kind. Cured beef, tight and dry, with all the savoury, intensely beefy aromas and flavours that drive us carnivores wild. Mad I tell you, mad. I bought this chunk from El Corte Ingles as it was because on principle, I refuse to pay extra to have it sliced for me. A sharp knife, a steady hand, and carefully tucked in fingers are all you really need. Trim off the moldy skin, and away you go. A few slices of manchego cheese, some olives, some pepinos, a bit of bread, and of course, a few drops of wine ... that's the perfect lunch, no? Followed by a 2 hour siesta, Dios mío, what a wonderful country.


never too old for toys ...

... and never too old to be learning. Even if the learning seems a little frivolous. I might not ever be a (professional) bartender, and I think Bieber is the worst human alive, but hey man, never say never. All this talk about vino and shit, I think deep inside all I am is a frustrated cocktail slinger.

I am the last barman poet
I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make
Americans getting stinky on something I stir or shake
The sex on the beach, the schnapps made from peach
The velvet hammer, the Alabama slammer ... 
I make things with juice and froth
The pink squirrel, the three-toed sloth.
I make drinks so sweet and snazzy
The iced tea, the kamakazi 
The orgasm, tthe death spasm
The Singapore sling, the dingaling.
America you've just been devoted to every flavor I got
But if you want to got loaded, why don't you just order a shot?

- Brian Flanagan, Cocktail (1988)

Spain still makes my (big) head spin. And sometimes not in a good way. Or maybe it's just the Catalans, but man, it's hilarious the way they just assume the worst about you. It's never, let me find out why you're bank account is locked, let me help you figure out why your metro card malfunctioned. No. Them folks here ... it's an interrogation of you didn't make sure that I didn't validate shit properly even though technically that's entirely my responsibility and hey cabrone, I'm not replacing your metro card, you could have stolen it. Visca el Barça i visca Catalunya, right? But credit where credit is due. The cocktail culture here is off the charts. The Spaniards have a unique, incredibly distinct approach to cocktail making, and they really have a way with gin. Enough to cover their other blemishes? That may be a matter of opinion, but for this wino, it does make them a bit more bearable.

Garnish tongs. You see, they don't actually touch the garnishes with their hands, as is the custom in the  (what I consider to be) other 2 great cocktail cultures of the world, America and Japan. Everything is done with tongs, including expressing those beautiful oils from whatever citrus zest the cocktail calls for. And it's 10 times harder than Cristina (Slow Barcelona) made it look. But we keep practicing and playing.

Relax. I'm joking about a career in bartending ... for now. 


on that treadmill

Perspective is important, no? That sense of purpose, the bigger picture. It's so easy to lose it here, amid all the hustle, all the (at times) nonsense going on, in class and otherwise. The schedule is packed, every moment micro-managed, and although we try to get out and diversify our experiences, try to cram it all in, at some point, the wick burns through and a moment is needed.

IESE hosted the Doing Good Doing Well Conference last weekend. Lots of interesting speakers, insightful panels, ending with John Bird, high on his perch. Excellent. Followed with our second team building event this week, spending a day in the woods doing fun-tivities. Including, well, partaking in that most dignified of traditions, the game of drink. A little drop on my collar, but no matter. My ass feels chapped lately. A little under the weather, a little burned out, a little in need of a moment. I think it's time to hibernate this weekend. 


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

a little bit of age

2004 Irache Reserva | DO Navara

We get comfortable sometimes, we get complacent. We get stinky in our own scent, like a pig in shit, and we love it. So, as higher beings, we have to consciously recognize when we start experiencing those symptoms, to break out of it, to keep moving forward. Today was one of those days.

IESE organized a team building event today. A day in the woods, doing trust exercises with the team. And it was fantastic. A love fest. But it solidified that I'm so lucky to have these 7 teammates in my life ... my 7 life-long friends. Lucky. 

Old, familiar things give us comfort. And although I'm far from being Spanish (as Barcelona constantly reminds me), I've had a bit of experience with tempranillo blends. A simple wine, the Irache shows some good character with some age. Gritty, textural, full. A good, firm hug. I'm a simple person - I don't deal well with complications. As an emotional person, I just don't know what to do with myself sometimes. But some days, some wines ... they just feel right.


Monday, February 24, 2014

IESE Wine & Spirits at L'Anima del Vi

2012 Xavier Benier 'Pur Jus' | AC Beaujolais-Villages
2012 Simon Busser 'Sauvages' | AC Cahors
2012 Cueva by Mariano Vino Natural | DO Utiel-Requena | Valencia
Take courage when the road is long
Don't ever forget you're never alone

I want you to live forever
Underneath the sky so blue

I want you to live forever
Underneath the sky so blue

- Live Forever, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors

I'm so proud to announce the official kicking off of the IESE Wine & Spirits Club, at an event that was at once both a realization of a personal dream as well as a statement about Europe as a continuing source of inspiration in wine. Firstly, much gratitude and credit to my other club officers for helping me set up IWS, as well as this first tasting.

And what a tasting it was.

This (as yet) adolescent wine adventure has been a roller-coaster, so to speak. Barcelona's been fantastic for cheap and cheerful bottles, but we should never be settling, no ... never accepting. Give me a decent bottle, or I'll break your fingers. Nicely. Gently. Because without a challenge, without constant change, we get lazy, we get complacent, we start to think we know it all. And if I want to accomplish anything with IWS, it's to challenge our members' perception of what wine is, what taste is ... in short, everything they thought they knew about wine. If I can get just one person to say, You know what, eff this, I'm drinking this the way I want to drink it, I think we've done our job. Hack at the feet, pull that noose tight around its neck ... let's pull down those statues the old standby worshipped, and be free to have our own personal relationship with wine.

Right. Back to the tasting, before I took a sharp right. There's a tiny wine bar in Barcelona, in one of my favourite neighbourhoods. El Born is such a cool place, with all these little alleys hidden away in dark corners. And in one of them stands L'Anima del Vi, run by a man absolutely committed to natural wines. Benoit brings in interesting things, across France and Spain ... and the latter was the big learning for me. I've been to L'Anima del Vi many, many times, always finding something new to taste, something inspiring. I never knew that there was such a large group of Spanish natural winemakers, but there are - and they're doing a great job. Wines of great depth and purity, with all the sunshine-y brightness you expect from Spain. As I said to my members, this first tasting was organized partly for selfish reasons, and partly because I wanted to set the tone for what IWS will stand for. Selfish, because I'm a bit obsessed with natural wines at the moment ... but more importantly, IWS will be about real wines, true wines, and wines that sing of honesty, authenticity, and character.

After all that build up, how did the wines show? Benoit chose some good ones. Beginning with a Beaujolais-Villages (100% gamay), sharp and expressive, like a rapier. Deadly acidity, screeching in the natural style. The Sauvage Cahors was next. Simon Busser, a disciple of Olivier Cousin in the Loire, who returned to the Cahors to make wines of great finesse and depth. Dark, with an animale personality that roars on the bouquet, yet coos on the palate. A bit of love from the fact that Simon farms these 100% malbec wines with horses? Or simply because he's able to stick to the principles (zero sulphur) yet create these magical wines that change a hundred times in the glass. We ended with a Spanish wine from Valencia made from a varietal that no one's even heard of, much less tasted. Bobal, a native grape, and for all intents and purposes, a minor blending varietal. And as luck would have it (or the other way around), the winemaker was at the next table. Immediately recognizable as a lush, full-blooded Spaniard (the wine, but also the man). Sunshine and spice, like all things nice. Soft and round, that glorious ripe, raisin-tinged fruit.

Good. A good start. The Chairman is pleased. Many thanks and much appreciation for those who attended, and all those who supported IWS. Many, many, many big things coming up for us!


Sunday, February 23, 2014

half the gin tonic ...

... is the tonic water, no? You want a complement to the gin that's elegant, that has balance, that will not obscure in any way the character of the spirit. A completely new concept to me, that tonic water could be so ... good. Man, they know gin cocktails here. Fever-Tree, a premium tonic water, expensive but worth every penny. At once floral and perfumed, dancing on your palate with tiny bubbles. A beautiful complement to citrusy, fruit-dominant gins.

Two days of attending the IESE Doing Good Doing Well Conference on sustainability. You know, I actually referenced this thing in my application essays. Some interesting speakers, especially today. John Bird with the quote of the conference: I'm a young 68. Younger than you lot. You're just superficially young. I wake up every morning and say, how can I change the world? Do you?


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

that little thing that says Catalunya

2011 Orto Vins Blanc d'Or Flor | DO Montsant

Battle lines, once drawn, are hard to withdraw. Once you've made up a first impression, an idea about something, about someone, it's hard to shake. Generalizations are terrible, but you get the idea. Yesterday marked exactly 6 months that I've lived here in Barcelona. Catalunya is at once a beautiful, imaginative place, but at times, I can't help but feel its narrow-minded tendencies. And let's not even begin talking about politics. Even after 300 years, it feels like its fragile marriage with Madrid has yet to be consummated. 

The wines feel the same way.

I didn't know a thing about Catalan wines before coming here. Maybe I had the odd Priorat, but if I can't remember exactly when, it's probably because I was either too drunk to care or the wine was too shit to be remembered. No matter. I've had the misfortune of trying more than a few bottles of Catalunya DO wine here, and they're the rare example of an actually undrinkable wine. But we keep our heads up and blindly plunge on, among the filth and waste, hoping for better times ahead.

Montsant is a good place to start. This whole Catalan identity thing is pretty fascinating. Catalans are Spanish, right? Let's get that clear. But I imagine that if they had the choice, they'd prefer a little more distance between them. The wines feel like that. The better Catalan wines - this one - just seem to try to be something else, something different from the Spanish, if only for the sake of being different. Maybe that's not a bad thing, but is it its true identity? I don't know. The wines are good though. This one, a 100% garnacha blanca, is textural, it's vibrant, it's pretty damn exciting. It's aged on its lees for 7 months in stainless steel, giving it a certain amount of structure, of creaminess. But is it French or Spanish? Or something else entirely?

We talk about identity in wine just as we discuss identity in people. Is who we are determined by our upbringing, or is it something more innate? Genetics? Can we consciously create who we are? Questions that are not for a sober mind.


Monday, February 17, 2014

rethinking sherry

Top: Duque Manzanilla | Sanlúcar de Barrameda
Bottom: La Guita Manzanilla | Sanlúcar de Barrameda

You people, with your green drinks and your parties and your subterfuges! You’re all playing at love. One minute her, the next minute someone else, flit, flit, flit! Well I’m not playing. 

Love is not a game.

- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Love, it doesn't have a face. Or rather, it shouldn't. It shouldn't be decided by any factor other than feeling. That deep, personal, indefinable feeling that you have about someone, about something, that links your spirits together, attaches you and makes you feel like things greater than what you know are at play. That's love for me. It's much easier to say I love you than to genuinely feel it. And just like we have to be careful of our feelings, we have to be even more careful with our words, actions. I'm far, far too emotional for my own good - too unstable at times, too impractical, too volatile. But I feel what I feel, and well, all I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don't break them for no one.

I've learned to love sherry. Manzanilla, that beautiful maiden and you meet, and she asks what's for breakfast. It's taken a while; years of slowly understanding her, experiencing more of her, immersing myself in her charms. And she's a prickly one. At times unloveable. But when she's on ... dios mío, she'll make your head (the both of them) spin. Two Manzanillas here. The Duque, more simple, the La Guita, picture perfect - salinity and elegance, dreamy with shellfish.

Love is not a game. There are no winners, no losers. But it's a battlefield nonetheless. You trudge through, cautious and weary, hoping that your ideals, your values, your feelings are taking you on the right path. It's an act of faith, isn't it? A hope that with time, things will sort themselves out ... that like the Manzanillas of Jerez, those on love's battlefield will reveal their true characters. 

What is it that makes my head
Go 'round and 'round
While my heart just stands still so much?

- If I Didn't Care, The Ink Spots


Sunday, February 16, 2014

fun things

2012 Lolo Albariño | DO Rias Baixas

Quality of the wine notwithstanding, Spanish wine labels have the most fun. As a North American, we're far, far too concerned with inane details, these minuscule bits of information that we demand, yet have no idea what to do with. We want to see all manner of things on a wine label - region, grape, vinification ... what type of oak was used, how long it was aged in barrel, what temperature to serve it at, with what to serve it ... and now (North American) winemakers want to print an 'ingredients' lists as well? It's been repeated infinite times, but chicos, less is more. 

This is a fun wine. Simple, charming, fresh and vibrant albariño. Bone-dry, great acidity, but with enough fruit to keep it all in balance. Fantastic. But more than that, it's a wine that picks you up, cheers you up. And friends, that there is what wine is about.

Finished midterms! Tough all around, but if I'm speaking honestly, I've divorced my learning from my grades. A good policy, no. So Thursday night, out to Astoria Club for a few drinks. Fantastic times, all love in the club. A big, warm IESE family hug. The weather in Barcelona has been, in a word, perfect. Not going out on the big ski trip this weekend, but enjoying the city, the sun, and getting some culture. Big things coming up in the next two weeks - now that midterms are over with, time to focus on career planning. Let's go get it. 


Thursday, February 13, 2014

the unfussy gin tonic

I'm a fairly simple guy. I like simple things, the small things. Like an unfussy, well-made, simple gin tonic ... truly a great pleasure of life.

It's been a rough 2 weeks. Second term courses have been very, very difficult, every which way you look at it - material-wise, workload-wise, stress-wise. But it's all good. It's what we signed up for, no? I'm currently in the depths of midterms, having finished 2 today, with 2 more to go tomorrow. It's good, to be learning all this great new stuff, and we have to keep reminding ourselves that grades are not necessarily in line with actual learning. Cool. So we've got that settled.

One of the most honest cocktails, the gin tonic. No, I haven't been drinking. But one can dream. One more day to go.

The 'unfussy' gin tonic

Tanqueray Rangpur Gin
Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water
Orange and lemon slice

Chill your glass down with big chunks of ice

Slight squeeze of orange and lemon juice

3-4 ounces of gin, whatever your pleasure

A quick stir, and slowly add the tonic water

Drop in an orange and lemon slice, and gently stir once to combine it all together.


Friday, January 31, 2014

at a temple of sherry

Back to business. School's been tough, as usual; the academics, I can (more or less) deal with. The other stuff? An absolute waste of time. Why can't we just go about our business, put all the self-righteousness aside, and stop judging others? Evidently a difficult concept to grasp, even for (some) MBA's. We're a silly, boring, unimaginative group. I'm sad to say that Jose's opinion of us is very justified.

Who's Jose? I have to first back it up a bit. It's been a while since I wrote - travelling photos don't really count. We want to think that what we're writing has meaning, has depth, has soul. We're allowed to have our delusions of grandeur - thank you, dear reader, for indulging this wino for so long. What do I always say about wine? What do I always say? The great wines are the wines that speak not only to your tongue, lips, and head, but also to your heart ... your spirit. I've been thinking about this for a long time, because the owners here aren't too crazy about being written about, but I have to share it with you. More than the wines here, it's the soul of the place that left my head spinning and my heart racing.

La Venencia, a magical little sherry bar in Madrid. Named after the traditional wine thief used to draw a measure of sherry out of the bota. A friend of a friend took us here, and stepping inside was a step back in time. Old wood everywhere, dusty posters from what looked like the early 1900's, dark barrels along one wall, and the distinct feeling that a bar full of (Spanish) eyeballs were suddenly starting at this group of 4 Asians and 1 Venezuelan. Crowded and noisy and local. My kind of bar. We sort of half squeeze, half push our way into the middle, where there stood (I swear) a dead ringer for John Malkovich. Darker hair, moodier, but an absolutely uncanny resemblance. They apparently purchase sherry by the barrel here, filling up their own bottles to pour. There's a selection for each style - fino, manzanilla, palo cortado, amontillado, and oloroso. Who cares about producer. Who cares about vintage. The manzanilla and amontillado were simply stunning. They mark your order in chalk right on the wooden bar, where you stand, adding it up when it's time to pay. The tapas is good too - the cecina was excellent, as were the olives, but what was most surprising (and delicious to my Japanese colleagues) was the cured cod roe, above. Yeah, those huge orange strips. Cured in huge blocks (not unlike sopressata salami), it's from Andalusia, and per Jose, one of the owners, not even the Spanish really know about it, much less eat it. And I can see why. It's fishy like you wouldn't believe, and the sticky texture certainly doesn't help. Wow, does it have length.

This place is such a one-off. From the ambiance to the curmudgeons behind the bar (who will warm up to you if you're nice), this place is authenticity and honesty. The second night we were there, the bar was a bit quieter ... just a bit quieter. So we had a chance to talk with Jose. He's one of those characters from another time, when people seemed more sociable, more jovial, more relaxed, more human. Quotable, even in another language, he complained that speaking in English makes my throat itch. He explained the solera system (pictured above), he talked about cecina de vaca, he talked a bit about why sherry was an interesting wine, to a point (I don't believe in counting the age of wine ... it can have a teardrop of a wine of 15 years). But man, we went deep that night ... deep and real heavy.

We went all philosophical. Jose has this rule that you can't take pictures inside the bar. Everything else seems to be laid-back, free for all. So why no photos, why do phones need to be put away? The answer turned out to be simple, really. It's a matter of principle, of the deep belief that Jose and his comrades have - that the most important thing of La Venencia isn't the wines or the food, or even them for that matter. The only thing that matters and is worth protecting is something he likes to call the soul of the place. Allowing photos and other incivilities robs such a beautiful place of that indefinable quality.

Why is it important, this whole notion of soul and spirit and principle? Is it even a real thing? We met one of his regulars, Javier, who coincidentally is also an IESE graduate. He put it simply - look at this place. There is no business model in the world that can explain why it is success. It makes no sense. But now that you are here, you can see it for yourself. This place is alive, where people can take a sherry and talk with friends, and enjoy life. Jose has a unique perspective on his bar, business-wise. He told us, I'm no worried about customers. We do fine. That's why I don't want people go to computer, type type type, and all other people come. Poor business sense? Narrow-minded and stuck in the past?  Spanish? Perhaps. But we need more people like Jose ... dreamers, hedonists, artists, and idealists. We need them to protect these noble ideals, to preserve imagination, courage, and authenticity in wine.

You MBA's? No, I won't explain to you. You don't understand.


Thursday, January 30, 2014


It's the new year! As you can see, buried in cases, Spanish classes, and other (fun) school-related activities. Fun-tivities. Something simple for dinner, away from family. Some pork ribs I had in the freezer, some rice. But I had to drink something that reminded me of wine, as cheap and borderline drinkable as it was. So, a Shaoxing wine normally reserved for cooking. More a symbolic gesture, really, but it worked. Looking forward to big things in the year of the horse!


Fuente de la Amapola

The Fountain of the Poppy, in Sacromonte, Granada. As local legend has it, drinking from the fountain brings you kisses from centuries of people who've walked the narrow alleys, climbed the sacred mountain, gazed upon the Alhambra. And, as our lovely guide Rosa told us, it makes you 10 years younger too. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

the Moor's last sigh

As the Reconquista of the Reyes Católicos claimed the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, Muhammad XII, former lord of the Alhambra, led the royal party south, towards exile. Legend has it that as he reached the last overpass that afforded him a view of Granada and his beloved palace, he reined in his horse, gazed down into the valley for the final time, and promptly burst into tears. His (formidable) mother proceeded to say thus ...

ابك اليوم بكاء النساء على ملك لم تحفظه حفظ الرجال
Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man

And so, that pass was forever called Puerto del Suspiro del Moro - Pass of the Moor's Sigh. The Spanish love telling that story.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

it's in the details

Every room, every courtyard, every hall of the Alhambra seems to be filled with hidden surprises ...