Saturday, March 29, 2008

1717 Avenue Street LCBO

Before I dropped into Waterloo this past Saturday, I went into LCBO to pick up some bottles from the latest release. For some reason, which I completely do not understand, these bottles were not available at Bayview Village.

My shopping list:

2005 CH. Croze de Pys, AC Cahors
2005 CH. La Fleur Jonquet Blanc, AC Graves
2004 DOM. La Bastide Blanche, AC Bandol
J. Lassalle Brut Champagne Preference, AC Champagne

I picked up 2 bottles of the Graves white. Have not yet tried the white wines of the 2005 Bordeaux vintage, and Ièm very excited to taste them.

I was very disappointed with the 1717 Ave. LCBO location. Terrible layout and terrible organization. Incredibly cluttered Vintages section, and the wines were so hard to find. They were almost hidden, there were no signs to point you in the right direction, and the cramped quarters certainly did not help. I was terrified of bumping into someone and taking out a whole shelf of bottles. Terrible. I am spoiled by Bayview Village.

Bayview Village LCBO, my love for you burns stronger each day.

Rushes restaurant

I havn't written in quite a while. I didn't abandon this, I've just been...preoccupied. Very pleased today, received our Health Economics midterm marks. Performed a lot better than what I expected.

On Saturday evening this week, we went out to Rushes restaurant, at Waterloo Inn, in Waterloo. Just myself, the roomates, and our neighbour. I made reservations too, because I was under the impression that it was a really well-known place. I even came back early from Toronto, just to make dinner.

I've heard good things about their wine list. And it was impressive. But the quality of the choices? I'm not really sure. Let me give you one example. They represent Niagara pinot noir fairly well, with Malivoire and Flat Rock Cellars. But no Lailey. And you know how I feel about Lailey pinot noir. Looking further down, they offer a cabernet-merlot from Lailey. I don`t understand how they feel that that bottle is a better represention of the estate. For dinner, I ordered a bottle of 2004 Malivoire Estate Pinot Noir. Just a wonderful wine. Earthy, bright cherry notes, hint of herbs, and of course, that racy acidity. Really, really indicative of the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation, but how well do these wines age?

The dining room was nice. Tasteful interior design, perfectly dim lighting, quiet, and clean. It had a partition in the middle, giving you quite a bit of privacy from other tables. A nice cozy feeling. The only problem was the wrinkly tablecloth. That was embroidered with this floral pattern. And it wasn't pure white. Also, the very busy table arrangement. Too many useless utensils on the table. The fresh daffodils? Unsure about that, maybe another flower would have been a better choice.

I ordered the chicken and rice soup for appetizer. It looked like canned chicken soup. No exaggeration. Too much vegetables - carrots, celery, corn...keep it simple. And quite simply, too much herbs. Much too much rosemary. It would have been better to cook with the rosemary, then remove it when you're serving. Instead of placing a few leaves on top as a garnish. When you bite into fresh rosemary, it's so strong that it completely overwhelms the palate. The vegetables were overcooked, probably the result of not enough soup orders getting out, and being constantly on a burner. I'm not surprised. At 7pm, only 3 tables were seated. Including ours.

For the main, I wanted to stick with a simpler dish. Duck leg confit. Simple enough right? I mean, a restaurant who presents a menu with a section for traditional dishes better do a simple confit de canard properly. Again, I felt they were off with this dish. It was served on top of a bed of lentil beans, with a side of bok choy. Yes, what we Chinese people eat. And on top? A slice of green apple, tempura fried. What the fuck?! Duck confit is preserved and a bit salty. Apple is sweet. Frying it like tempura makes it sweeter. Bok choy is sweet. Simply, the flavour profiles were way off base. It was 3 seperate dishes combined into one. And let's just not talk about the beans. The duck, however, was the most disappointing. Just - dry. Completely dry. I mean, it is a confit, but come on!!

I decided to forgo desert. Just a coffee. I'm pretty sure no one can screw up on coffee. And I was right. The girls had cheesecake and creme brulee, both of which were less than satisfying.

My overall impression of this restaurant is that the chef is either one of two things:

1: They have no clue what is going on, and they use this fusion cuisine bullshit to hide it. If you cant do traditional cuisine properly, dont even attempt to be all fancy. And all this stuff about using regional ingredients? What a load of shit. Since when did Waterloo grow Chinese vegetables?

2: Business is really bad and they need to think of ways to attract new customers. I dont blame them. But using these techniques is not going to work. Cook good, local food and people will respond to that.

A bright spot of the evening was our server. Very attentive, polite, and professional. But sad to say, I will not be returning to Rushes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Honest Loire

I moved all the wine in our cupboard at Waterloo back home this weekend. Needed to remove all the temptation before finals begin.

Saturday night, I wanted to finish my last bottle, a Val de Loire red wine, from Chinon. It's made from of course, 100% cabernet franc. I've been very VERY disappointed with the Loire red wines I've had. All had this unripe, and quite frankly, disgusting quality to them. I don't know if the winemakers give a shit up there or not, but these wines are an embarrassment to the entire region.

But, at last, this bottle, a 2003 Couly-Dutheil La Baronnie Madeleine, AC Chinon, was a very pleasant surprise. But I don't want to talk about just this bottle. What struck me the most was that it noticeable showed a strong connection to every single bottle of Loire reds that I've ever drank. They've all featured this vegetal quality, highlighted by bright red fruits and a tart acidity. What a sense of place! This last bottle was well above the quality of the other ones, but no doubt, I knew exactly what I was drinking.

It's these kinds of wines that really make you think. Wines that really represent the soil and land that they come from. I learned a great deal from this wine. Now, if only LCBO would smarten up, and begin importing more quality Loire reds. And whoever made the decision to bring in those bottles of Eric Louis, AC Sancerre, should be shot and skewered on a pole. Palate of a fucking pig.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wine Glass

It seems that if you want to pick up any kind of hobby, you also need a set of equipment to go along with it. Car tuners needs Civics, photographers need D-SLR's...same for wine. Although there's infinite variations in style and quality, and correspondingly, price, the essentials remain unchanged. What is the most important tool to a wine drinker? The wine glass of course. Also, as it seems lately, lots and lots of cash.

People argue that you should buy different styles of wine glasses for each type of wine. Well, the people at Riedel do. And I think that is a rather large load of bullshit, more suited for douches who'd rather showcase their hobby, rather than enjoy it.

All you need is a wine glass made of crystal, with a thin lip, so as to better deliver the wine into your mouth. You need one with a nice stem, to grip on and so you don't affect the temperature of the wine. And of course, you need one with a sizeable bowl, to properly aerate the wine. Why does it need to be crystal? Because the material distorts the appearance of the wine to a minimal degree. You want to be able to see the colour. The most offensive glasses are the coloured and the cut ones. You might as well drink your wine out of a coffee mug.

The most important thing about a wine glass? The bowl. You need a bowl that's sizeable, that's tulip-shaped, and something that curves in towards the lip. The bottom allows the wine to aerate properly, while the lip focusses all the aromas toward the nose. Why is it so important to be so particular? Because why would you pay $25 for a bottle, only to drink it out of any glass? You won't get the full experience, of all the aromas and components of the wine. I guarantee you, with the proper glass, you're enjoyment will increase 100%. It really does make a difference, try it if you don't believe me.

My favourite wine glasses are from Caban. Unfortunately, for some reason, they've disappeared from Toronto. Another favourite is Spigelau, but it is pricier. The ultimate I'd like to buy, someday, is a set of Riedel Sommelier glasses. But I'm fine with what I'm using.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

It is...perfect

I've been tardy about posting recently. The past week has been very hard on me, no need to go into details. I want to talk about this bottle. A 2005 Ch. La Gasparde, AC Cotes de Castillon. It was released 2 weeks ago. The fact that it was a 2005 and from this region caught my attention. If you've been reading about wine, you know that the 2005 vintage has been described in short, as nothing short of legendary. I'm also very attracted to this region, as it produces wines that are quite amazing.

The moment I opened this bottle, I was blown away by how concentrated it was. I mean, a pitch black wine. And the nose! My goodness, such fruit, such freshness! It continues on the palate, showing a very stiff tannic structure, while remaining very balanced. The extract of the fruit, and the hints of complexity are intriguing. This shows very well the potential of the vintage, one of incredible, almost perfect ripeness. There are wines that are 3 to 4 times as expensive, that don't show half as well as this bottle.

So there you go. Never associate price with quality. This bottle left a deep impression, and I hurried out to buy 3 more bottles before it ran out. Fortunately, the majority (90%) of the wine-drinking population have never heard of this region, and quite frankly, I hope they never do. Leaves more wine for the true wine lovers and less for the phonies.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

My taste

I've always felt that I have good taste. In everything. Sure, it's changed a lot as I've grown up, whether we're talking about food, clothing, music, girls, whatever...But I want to talk about my palate regarding wine specifically. Maybe it'll give a better idea as to why I love or hate certain wines.

When I began drinking wine, I followed a fairly standard learning curve of starting on New World whites, a few off dry wines, and lighter reds. It wasn't until maybe just before my 19th birthday that I really began to appreciate red wines, and wines with generally more heavier bodies. But lately, I've noticed that I'm moving away from that - a really clear change in tastes.

I used to really love big, masculine, brutish wines. Not overoaked fruitbombs though - I want to make VERY VERY clear that I've never liked those wines. Ever. I'm not a fucking yuppie fag. Excuse the language. I refer to Rhone valley wines in particular, as well as wines from the Southwest of France and of course, Riojas. I enjoyed an edge to the wine, a coarseness to it. And of course, a wonderful sense of earthiness, of terroir. Certainly, also because I was able to find Rhones in the $10-15, which was the price point that I aimed for in my first 2 years of serious wine drinking.

The problem with these wines is that I found them to be hard to really mesh with Chinese food. At home, the vast majority of our cooking is Chinese, which can sometimes be easily overwhelmed by stronger wines.

Since around October of last year, for some strange reason, I began to notice wines that were leaner, but more focussed. Wines with a really racy acidity to it, with good structure but also delicate enough to go with light foods. The bottle that did it? A 2005 Flat Rock Cellars pinot noir. It had beautiful complexity, underlined with this tight acidity that was really razor sharp. The intensity and the precision just captivated me.

To me, a wine`s structure is very, very important. My friends hear me talking about that all the time. I don`t care much for upfront fruit flavours. Ripeness is nice, but ripeness without backbone is like a building without a sturdy foundation. At present, it doesn`t provide any fascinating secondary and tertiary elements to the wine, and sooner or later, it will collapse.

So this is the wine that I`m starting to learn to appreciate more and more. I want a wine that is focussed. Wines which tells stories, and maybe makes you work a bit to uncover all the elements. Something that is harsher, with an edge. Wines that cut into your palate, that don`t float around. Wines that are meant for the table, instead of these `sipping`wines that I suppose are more fashionable. And definitely, wines that are true to where they are from, that showcase gusto della terra.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A pair of outstanding Riojas

Had dinner last night at Rocky and Pris' place. The previous night, I opened a 2001 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva DOC, that was so amazing I had to save some for them. Had to let Rocky have a taste.

As you know, Rioja was my introduction to Spanish wine. And what a great introduction. I don't think I've ever been disappointed by a Rioja Reserva. Definitely by some of the Crianza, but I can't recall having even a mediocre Reserva. So I definitely had high expections for the Beronia.

It had a beautiful, rich brick red colour, nicely saturated. Just released at LCBO. Wonderful nose - really wonderful. Nice ripe, red fruits, cigar, some coffee, and this wonderful pungent earthiness to it. Great use of oak as well, what's interesting is that this wine was aged for 18 months in a combination of American and French barriques. The aromas translate almost directly in the mouth, with really lush, ripe fruit, and a great stream of well integrated acidity. Tannins are very, very ripe. Over two days, one constant was the ripeness. The fruit, the structure was so well built, and so ripe, almost perfectly ripe. None of that jammy, candied nonsense. Truly, one of the greatest Riojas I've ever drank.

Second bottle was also a 2001, a Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva DOC. This one featured a much light colour, and a more candied nose. Needed a bit more time to open it, this one had a really tight core, which I actually discovered that I really enjoyed. The Ondarre shows much more focussed acidity and was bone dry, just absolute puckered up mouth dryness. Which was fantastic by the way. Just the precision of the wine, the way it "cuts" instead of "floats" on the palate was amazing. What it lacked in complexity, it made up in structure and harmony and focus. Another great effort.

Thankfully, I have picked up a bottle from nearly every single release of Rioja Reservas. I really love this region. The expression of the earth, the solidness, and the masculinity of these wines is just everything I want from a red wine.
I think it's time for a change. I'm going to start moving away from French wines and start exploring Italian. Barbera D'Alba and Barbera D'Asti, along with some Brunello di Montalcino seem like some great wines to start off with. I have some limited experience was wines from Sicilia and Sardegna, so I'm very eager to jump right into Italia!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A little recollecting

Had a wine today that really brought me back to a great term, my 2A term in Waterloo with my roommates Rocky and Ming. We had some great times, and drank some great wine and the bottle I opened today reminded me of that.

I opened a 2001 Bodegas Beronia DOC Rioja Reserva. Beautiful wine, lots of complexity and a really honest earthiness to it. Lovely. We discovered Rioja that term. It was our introduction to Spanish wine, and really, an introduction to full-bodied, masculine wines. The kinds of wine with a punch, that'll make your toes curl a little bit. When I drink these wines, I'm transported to the countryside. It's like I'm back in France, soaking in the sun, looking at the sun-drenched hills, taking in the sights and smells. Truly, a wine that holds a very special place in my heart.

My memories of the time I spent in Nice came back to me today. I was talking about food with my roommates, about duck in particular, and I remembered La Resto. Let me tell you about this very, very magical restaurant.

La Resto is a restaurant in Vieux Nice. It`s near the square, quite a busy place in fact. A small, family-owned establishment. I went there for dinner 3 times, because quite simply, I fell in love with their food and their genuine warmth for their customers. The first night, I had a glass of their vin rouge, a salade nicoise, and entrecote. The salad was good, but just not my kind of food. The entrecote was spectacular - really juicy piece of steak served with fries. Perfectly simple food, nicely cooked. This was the kind food that I was looking for when I was in France. The owner, and especially his son, was so nice that I had to go a second time.

The second dinner I had there, I had a vegetable soup, which was quite good. Nice texture, really fresh. For the entree, I had magrets de canard. Duck breast, pan seared, rare, with a side of fries. So delicious, I will never forget this dish. With a lovely sauce au champignon, really, really wonderful. And the girl that served me, as my roommates know, is my love. She was dressed all in black, and I remember quite clearly that she had a thick, black Chanel bracelet on, with the logo in white. She was a classic French beauty - brunette, and legs that went on forever. Really sweet too. She had this adorable way of saying, Et voila! when she served the food. I talked quite a bit with the owner`s son, David, that night. He spoke some English, and was really friendly. I promised him that I`d return before I left town.

I never break a promise, so the last night I was in Nice, I went back to La Resto. David remembered me, and he quickly ushered me to my table. That night, I just wanted something light, because I had a 7am flight the next morning. I hada Perrier and the magrets de canard again. I was the only person in the restaurant at the time, and we talked a bit. The girl was there. Margot. My love. She was dressed all in camel today, a sweater dress, I don`t really know the exact way to describe it. It was a long sweater, that ends in a skirt at the bottom. She was also wearing matching colour cowboy boots, with sparkles. With the outfit, and the hair, and the glowing tanned complexion, it was just too much. I love France! And I really love La Resto. When I go back, this will be my first stop. Definitely. That`s what I promised David on the way out, and I intend to keep my word. Oh and after dinner, he poured me a digestif, this sweet lemony liquer. I don`t know what it`s called, but it was a very nice touch.

So, in conclusion. I`m very thankful for these experiences. Because wine and food aren`t meant to be taken apart and analyzed like some sort of science. It`s meant to be shared, and it brings people together. That`s when you create memories that really last a lifetime.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cult and hype

Lately, everything here has been negative. I admit it, and I am sorry for it. It's not the purpose of this thing when I started, and I really can't understand how it all started. I suppose it's a reflection of my current mood; just havn't been able to find the energy or the optimism that I usually have. So I certainly don't need anyone else contributing to this, this aura of negativity. I really fucking don't. The weather definitely isn't helping either - I have a serious case of the winter blues. You know why my sinus infection and cold won't go away? This is why!

Moving on to some things that I find partly amusing and also partly highly frustrating. The phenomenon of cult wines and market hype.

Let's start with a relatively new, high profile, Niagara winery, called Le Clos Jordanne. It's a partnership between Vincor, of Canada, and Boisset, of Bourgogne, France. Two giant consolidators of the global wine market. I've tried to visit this winery, but as I was told by the gentleman at Malivoire, they havn't even built a facility to accomodate guests yet. They produce several wines, most notably a pinot noir that's been receiving fantastic reviews from everyone. I've been trying to get my hands on a bottle for 10 months now at least, to no avail. LCBO has released bottles several times over the last year, but getting one is almost like trying to win the lottery. It's just impossible.

How many vintages has Le Clos Jordanne produced? Not that many. Certainly, only enough to be able to count on one hand. Currently, the entry level bottle is the Village Reserve, at $25 per bottle. Certainly a reasonable price, but how are you going to buy it? Not at the winery, because you can't visit it. And apparently not at the LCBO, because it disappears within an hour of release. And the press is just building it up, as one of Canada's first 'cult' wines. What the fuck does that even mean? Are we trying to be Californian here? There's no such thing as a cult wine. There is good wine and there is bad wine. If Le Clos Jordanne does indeed produce the finest pinot noir west of Burgundy, then let the consumer decide. Don't hype it up into something it's not. But then again, I'll still be searching for a bottle. Unbelievable that even little Waterloo, the town of whisky and beer drinkers get caught up in this hype. The King St. LCBO Vintages store was out of stock instantly as well.

Next thing I want to talk about is a post from Eric Asimov's blog, The Pour. Asimov writes for the New York Times, and I enjoy his writing very much.

It's what he wrote on February 29 that really bothers me. He wrote about his meeting with an executive from the famed Krug, one of the most luxurious Champagne brands in LVMH's portfolio. They were releasing a brand new, top of the line cuvee, called Clos d'Ambonnay. This is a single vineyard, blanc de noirs, made from 100% pinot noir and very, very special indeed. I believe it. What made my mind explode was that the suggested retail price was $3000-$3500. Per bottle. Not per lot, not per case, but per bottle. Now, I'm a firm believer that you should splurge on expensive things once in a while. But $3000+ for a single bottle of wine sounds not only excessive, but absolutely criminal. Unless this contains an elixir that cures all your illnesses and keeps you young forever, there is no way that a producer can justify selling wine at this price. And have no doubt, the price will only increase once it hits the market, due to speculators and limited supply.

What is really unsettling is that Asimov seems to say that yes, they are justified in setting this price. He says that it's Worth every penny, if money is no object. Are you kidding me? Really, are you kidding me? I read an article today, talking about Bordeaux producers getting fed up with the futures system. They say that prices are artificially being driven up. A recent vintage of Ch. Mouton Rothschild costs between 400 to 500 Euros wholesale, and once it reaches retail, prices can climb well past 1000 Euros. But as some people argue, it only costs 10 to 12 Euros per bottle to produce. You calculate the markup.

My biggest fear out of all of this is that wine is going to become accessible only to the super rich and well connected, as Asimov clearly is. How can any regular consumer afford these kinds of prices? I can't. Can you? And does the wine industry really want some fucking rich douchebag, who doesn't know shit about wine to be chugging their prized products down? Instead of honest consumers who really care and are passionate about wine? Unfortunately, the hunger for profits most often wins, a slap in the face to us all.

Talking to a brick wall

You ever talk to someone, and you're all excited about what you're saying, and the other person goes on to say something that just kills it? Just totally makes you want to stand up and leave the room? I have that with my father, as I'm realizing more and more.

This weekend, I was eager to go back home. I was sick, with a bad cold, and I wanted a few days to relax and get some home cooking. I was also looking forward to opening a bottle of 2002 Ch. Cesseras, AC Minervois la Liviniere. It's an estate that I've been following for some time. The wine is predominantly merlot, with this combination of grace and power that I've really fallen in love with. It's one of the first producers that I've followed seriously.

Anyways, at the dinner table, we were talking about how wine develops structure, and we were comparing impressions of the wine. I was talking to my father about how the acidity and balance of the wine really stood out, when he remarked that, "What do you think this wine is doing for that cough of yours?" It doesn't seem like much, but it's fast becoming his trademark. To ruin whatever good family moment we're having. To be this self-righteous, preachy, unbelievably negative presence. You know, at this point, I expected for some kind of mutual respect, but if he keeps treating me like a 5 year old, then he can forget about us having any kind of meaningful conversation. If he can't respect my love for my hobby, if he can't stop behaving like an incessant nag, then that's it, I'm not making any more effort. Some people just don't get it. And it's a shame, but then at least my mother understands me. There's a line between parenting and being an annoyance. I'm really, really fed up with it, and I'm done. I've tried hard enough, the man is too thick, and I'm exhausted.

So that's it, c'est fini - I'm still coughing, but nothing will ever stop me from indulging in my wine. Nothing.