Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Recently bottled no doubt, but LBV is meant to be drunk young. Port all day, port all night . . . no need to decant, we'll be aight.
Exotic, heady, perfumed; alcohol a bit overwhelming. But you still go for it. Come back to this space often. Have plenty of exciting ports lined up to drink these holidays.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Experiencing and exploring a new wine region draws similarities to dating a new girlfriend. Exciting, intoxicating, a little confusing . . . but the payoff at night is mind-blowing. And Barolo blows my mind.
Oh yes, video taken by ROKChoi. I think unintentionally setting the pan on fire was a nice touch. Oops . . . shouldn't have admitted to that. I'm always in control in my kitchen.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
2009 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir, VQA Twenty Mile Bench
2007 Alain Geoffroy Beauroy, AC Chablis 1er Cru
2008 Domaine du Chardonnay, AC Chablis
Saturday, November 27, 2010
2009 Château de Mirande, AC Mâcon Villages
For a wonderfully pure expression of chardonnay, look no further than the Mâconnais. Always good to me, always reliable - love you too. These wines always express the best aspects of this magnificent grape - rich yet balanced, with a lovely stream of minerality.
Friday, November 26, 2010
2009 Chéreau-Carré La Griffe Bernard, AC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Whiting fish is a cheap ingredient, no way around it. But that doesn't make it any less exciting to work with. It's not difficult to be impressive when you cook something like tuna or bass, but when you're working with ingredients that don't have the reputation of other more highly-prized fishes, it's time to be creative.
Inspired by the cuisine I experienced in New York's Casa Mono, I got to work.
Score, season, and fry off in olive oil - I made sure to continuously baste the top facing side of the fish as I fried, to make sure that the skin would be crispy. Salad of zucchini ribbons, and the freshest lemon juice vinaigrette you can manage with grocery store lemons in Toronto, this time of year. Thick slice of lemon for the fish.
Humble ingredients, but the fish is delicate, tender, and absolutely delicious. This is the kind of food I want to cook more often.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
It's like I'm trapped in a speeding car with shot brakes. It's beginning to snow outside, end of the year coming very, very soon. And with it, the usual worry lines about whether I'll have enough wine to drink over the holidays. Every year, I try to drink more wine than I did before. Looking at how much wine I have at home, I won't have enough to beat 2009's mark. Budgeting? Not a chance.
You know when you look back at your writing from years ago, that feeling of stupidity about it all? Last night, I looked back at my pieces from 2007, 2008 . . . sheer stupidity. The writing was so clumsy, so vapid, so boring. Most of it was due to this utter idiocy of trying to write 100 posts a month - the other reasons, too arrogant to admit. But I'm working on it.
Always on the search for new ways to write about wine, on new ways to experience and taste it. A highlight of the past 2000 has definitely been my trips to Niagara - please look on the left, and click on the Niagara tags. Another highlight, the tastings I've attended. Learning and absorbing as much information as I can, to continue developing my understanding of wine and cuisine, and being able to communicate my experiences - that's the focus of my next thousand.
And now . . . let us drink.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Dory fish in a spice broth of chili peppers, chili paste, and Sichuan peppercorns. You layer with fresh sprouts and gently poach the fish - it turns out tender, infused with the beautiful perfume of all the spices, and is a can't put down dish, especially when the weather turns nippy.
Cockles are a fascinating, symmetrical bivalve - these are from New Zealand, showing a lovely green hue outside, shiny purple tinges inside. Again, just a touch of white wine to coax them out of their shells. Tender, succulent, and very delicious.
In steamed eggs, in white wine, savoury clams always win.
Oysters are becoming boring and clichéd starts to meals. So you think of ways to freshen your approach to beginning a long dinner. Kumamoto oysters, at their best, have this incredible creamy richness. Not as briny, but if they are fresh, they are absolutely delicious. Instead of slicing lemon, you make a salad of diced zucchini and lemon juice.
In one bite: creamy and rich, acidic and fresh.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
2004 Evans & Tate The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
Saturday, November 20, 2010
And here they are, two stunning ways to eat one of the greatest seafoods of the world. Salt baked abalone, one, and poached abalone, two. Poach gently in the richest, purest chicken stock you can possibly make - perfect in texture and flavour.
Salt baked abalone, I had no clue what I was doing, but I had on hand the most amazing fresh abalone. And I was just so, so hungry.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Abalone is one of the most extraordinary seafoods of the world, and a treasure of Chinese cuisine. My fishmonger has begun selling fresh abalone, and I've been eating them as fast as I can, taking advantage. Just amazing. You cut off the muscle to take them off the half shell, and remove the dirty innards underneath - the interior of the shell has just the most dazzling colour and shine.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I'm not. Retail staff at Toronto LCBO locations are indifferent at best, insulting at their worst, and exemplify all the prejudices that have been spun about union workers. Too many times have I been brushed off because an LCBO employee couldn't be bothered to answer a question. And that's if they acknowledge you at all; heaven forbid you disturb them during their shift.
There are two types of retail staff on the floor at major LCBO outlets, say at Queen's Quay, Summerhill, or Bayview Village. Blue shirts are general retail staff. White shirts are Vintages Products Consultants. Don't you dare try to ask a Blue shirt anything wine-related. Their only tasks are to stock shelves, appear busy, and avoid customers - you think I'm joking? If only. Want to ask them where you can find a particular bottle? Forget it. You'll get a grunt and shake of the head, indicating that you need to find a White shirt for that kind of daunting request. The Blue shirt is busy (not) stocking shelves with the latest releases - he simply cannot be bothered. White shirts, on the other hand, answer questions without actually answering any questions. Chin up, chest out, this is an actual conversation I had with one recently:
Hi, excuse me, I'm looking for a 2008 Château Connard.
It's not on shelves? Well, it's in the back then.
Really? Can you grab a few bottles for me?
You'll have to wait until they're on the shelf.
But it's physically in the store! Can't you just head into the back room and pick up a bottle?
It gets frustrating doesn't it? So what's going on? If you compare the wine retail experience of Ontario against anything in the United States, in Europe, even in Asia, there's a clear difference in the level of service being provided. Wine retail in other countries I've visited actually care about wine. They want to make you buy a lot, yes, but they care about selling you wine you'll enjoy, and making sure that you leave happier than when you entered. The days of being on a first name basis with a wine retailer who knows your tastes and educates you on the subject are gone. They're gone, get over it. It'd be nice though, if LCBO customers were treated with more respect. Wouldn't it be nice if they took time to actually talk to you, look you in the eye while they were replying, and give you a proper answer? Would it be so impossible to find that bottle of wine for you, or tell you conclusively when it'll arrive, or give you a decent recommendation for a purchase? I'm tired of chasing after an LCBO employee, only to have him shout some half-answer at me over his shoulder mid-stride, leaving me confused, pissed, and bewildered that I even bothered to ask.
Would you stand for this kind of service at any other retailer? Clothing store? Electronics shop? Commission-earning salespeople aside, there's no excuse for any retail operation to treat its customers so callously. LCBO has the f*ck you advantage of being a monopoly - you have to buy from them, but should that make a difference? We're not paying any less - in fact, we're paying much higher prices for wine than in almost anywhere else in North America. I'm not romanticizing the wine buying experience, but a certain standard of respect is mandatory.
There are lots of fine people at the LCBO location I shop at, but there are still times when I'm treated as little more than an afterthought - this, after I've been shopping there every two weeks for the past 6 years, dropping nearly $28K on Vintages products. And yet I've even started dreading going to different locations because the experience always leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The worst part is that if I spoke up about it, as I probably should have last Thursday, I'd be blacklisted and not allowed back in. I politely asked a question - all I wanted was a proper answer back. Don't give me attitude, don't talk to me like I'm the dipshit. Are these irregular occurences? I wish they were - I could then plead this post off as being temporarily paralyzed by rage. But it's not. This is a regular pattern of indifference exhibited by retail staff at the LCBO.
So, are you happy with the service you receive at your local LCBO outlet? I've met Greg Dunlop, as well as several other senior executives of the LCBO at various tastings. They've been nothing but friendly and cordial - why doesn't that translate to their employees?
I'm going to meditate on that. Until then, so I don't do anything rash (curse out someone, punch someone, bite someone, castrate someone), I'll be asking 关爷爷 for guidance. The fact that he wields an 80 pound halberd doesn't hurt either.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Shaoxing wine is an oxidized wine made out of rice and other grains - it does not benefit from additional bottle age. What it does benefit from is extended contact on its lees, denoted by the age given on the label. There is no vintage date, but what it will tell you is whether it's been aged for 5 year, 8 years, 10 years . . . with the general understanding that the longer it's been aged before filtering and bottling, the finer it is.
So, under that reasoning, would it not make sense for you to experience Shaoxing wine in its freshest state, very similar to Colheita Port? That you would want the closure to be as airtight as possible, because even the most minute transmission of oxygen will destroy the wine, not help it develop? Just how does an oxidized, otherwise understood as spoiled, wine develop? Not to mention that the corks used by Chinese producers are generally awful. Poor quality, shrivelled closures that I've never managed, ever, to cleanly draw out. And these bottles are usually shaped more like jars - there's no way to lie them flat, and you probably wouldn't want to. Such a poor fit all but guarantees that half the bottle will be tipped out.
The finale to this whole argument is simple. That I'm right and he's a moron is a foregone conclusion - it's that closures have to match the type of drink they're enclosing, rather than be done for some kind of notion that it represents how modern a producer is. Would I happily drink wines out of screwcap? Absolutely. But the evidence has yet to suggest, conclusively, that screwcaps will allow wines to age as gracefully as corks do.
Do you see that arrow on the screwcap? Apparently, Chinese wine producers don't trust that consumers have the good sense to twist the cap in the right direction. Counter-clockwise, follow the arrow you idiot!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
So here's what's going to happen. I'm going to be your guinea pig. I will ensure that their products are top notch, that you're getting what you're paying for, that indeed, this is the premiere Christmas shopping destination. Please, check back soon.
CSN Facebook Page
I don't have these strange cravings for sashimi . . . I've been to Tokyo enough times that I'm comfortable enough to say no to raw fish. Because that's exactly what it is - sashimi is rarely satisfying, and as interesting as the fish might be, what's the point if I have to go out for udon as soon as I leave the restaurant?
Monday, November 15, 2010
2006 Domaine des Baumard Clos de Saint Yves, AC Savennières
The sort of estate level bottling for this producer, I didn't want to let my general apathy about chenin blanc to prevent me from tasting a Savennières - we see so little of this region in Ontario that any poor buying decisions most likely won't be repeated.
Not a bad wine again - but is it a crime for being boring? At these prices, I think there's a strong case that it is. Maybe I'm not giving these wines a fair chance, maybe they show better with more bottle age, whatever . . . or maybe they're just boring wines that only wine hipsters enjoy (because they're just sooo much cooler than anyone else).
Sunday, November 14, 2010
NV Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley
A Californian sparkling wine made by the famed Champagne house Roederer - very promising. Served blind, certainly conjures the spirit of Champagne, if but with a little more forward fruit. Very nice indeed, although I don't want to be paying nearly $30 for it, when a very satisfying crémant or Cava can be found hovering around $20.
Am I being picky? I adore sparkling wines, and if I had the budget, I'd be drinking a lot more Champagne. A lot, lot, lot more. Other sparkling wines are becoming more ambitious, and with that ambition, beginning to charge more, but this is the problem. Sparkling wines can be good, but none compare to Champagne. None. So if they're priced higher, and the inevitable comparisons are being made, they always disappoint. Now, an $18 Cava is an entirely different story, especially the wines that offer a very high level of quality at very reasonable prices. Different pleasure points in the brain, perhaps, but producers who charge high prices for their sparkling wines have to be careful and make sure that the wines offer something distinct. Poorly-imitated Champagne is no fun, doubly so when you need to pay $30+ for it.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
2007 Domaine de Vaugondy Ph. Perdriaux, AC Vouvray
Chenin blanc is strange. A bit overrated, no? Everyone who fancies themself a wine drinker talks about how great it is, how versatile (look, it's as good as a dry wine as it is a sweet wine as it is sparkling!), how you cannot possibly have any taste if you don't appreciate it. I don't share the same enthusiasm. At least it's inexpensive. Dry vouvray under $25 is pretty much interchangeable with Muscadet, Alsace, pretty much any other nondescript, acidic French white. On par with riesling? You're out of your pea-sized mind.
Not a bad wine, certainly. But thin, acidic, lacking in character. Makes a beautiful cooking wine though.
Friday, November 12, 2010
So, another tasting trip to Niagara recorded in the tasting notebook. A very educational trip this time, expanding my understanding of the 2009 vintage, getting a glimpse of 2010, and gaining more insight into what works or not in Niagara. Highlights: the 2009 rieslings are stunning. Precise, austere, and aggressive, needing a long time in bottle. Syrah is going to be an important varietal in Niagara, as long as more producers are courageous enough to commit to it. The ones who make it are showing that intense, complex, and varietally-true syrahs can be made in Niagara that rival any cool-climate examples from the rest of the world . . . if only there was more courage. Until there is, we have to celebrate and support the few producers who are working hard for these wines. My dream is to see every single cabernet vine ripped out of Niagara, and replaced with syrah. One can dream, no?
Finished the day off with a mad dash to Upper Canada Cheese, to pick up a hunk of their sublime Niagara Gold Guernsey Cow's milk cheese. Then, a 30 km sprint to Niagara on the Lake, to pick up raspberry jam at Greaves. Not for me - I'm pretty sure my mother would not let me back in her house if she knew I was in Niagara and didn't pick up her favourite jam. Early dinner at my favourite spot, Old Winery Restaurant. The spiced curry lentil soup was beautifully seasoned, although a bit gritty in texture. The Mediterranean pizza was so satisfying, with artichoke heart, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta cheese - crust perfectly thin and crispy. After a long day of tasting dozens of wines, the only thing suitable for dinner was a pint of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale. The perfect pick-me-up for the long, congested drive back to Toronto.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
It's been a while since I've been to Fielding. I have one of their wines in my cellar - a 2006 riesling icewine I believe, one of those head-scratching purchases that you just can't explain. Not that it's a bad wine; if I recall, it was quite nice, balanced with good acidity, a rarity among Ontario icewines. I just don't have any experience with Fielding's wines, a good reason to pay another visit and taste. Hoped to taste the 2009's, as well as the 2010's. Some producers are more open to allowing you to taste barrel samples - this one was not. But that's fine, I'm not naive as to the reason why.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Some of the finest people I've ever met, I've met during my tasting trips to Niagara. Always generous with their knowledge and wines, always welcoming and friendly. Gushing aside, onto the wines . . .
I'd been looking forward to visiting this producer for quite some time. Schedule never able to cooperate, but this Sunday was the perfect opportunity to visit Flat Rock Cellars, to taste through some of the 2009's (including some exciting new wines!) as well as the embryonic 2010's. A few things before I begin on the actual wines tasted. Not all the 2009's have been released yet - of the reds, I believe only the estate pinot noir is on the market. I know it's sexy for wine writers and bloggers to write about how they get to taste out of tank/barrel; it's certainly exciting for me as well to experience a wine in its developmental stages, but to write about them as if they were finished products is very misleading. In a sense, they aren't wines yet - not until they are bottled does one get a true sense of what they are, something to keep in mind the next time you read a tasting note from a barrel sample. And of course, with ego kept in check . . . it's all about the wines and the stories behind them, no?
A few exciting new wines being produced here, beginning with a new sparkling wine. There are actually two sparkling wines, the first being the one I tasted, the 2007 Riddled (with higher level of dosage), and the 2006 Brut. Both made from a traditional Champenoise blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, but in differing styles. The 2006 Brut, focused and bright, perhaps a bit more fruit and less of the autolysis character you find in Champagne, but nevertheless a very strong first effort. Both wines bottled under crown cap - this should be an interesting exercise to see how they age. A few new reserve wines also being released: a pinot noir as well as a 2008 Reserve Riesling, in which the winemaker's decided to do malolactic fermentation, an entirely unique process for riesling - unfortunately, I think he shouldn't have messed with a good thing. Changing the structure of the acidity completely robs the riesling of its character - a riesling without its racy acidity is like non-fat yogurt, and no fun for anyone. For a richer body, more weight, why not play with lees age, oak, something else . . . inducing malolactic was a mistake. Fortunately, the rest of the wines tasted were delicious, with lots of character. The 2009 Estate Riesling, bright with lots of energy and ripe fruit.
We headed downstairs to taste through some 2010 tank and barrel samples. As mentioned earlier, these tasting notes are of wines in its earliest stage, fledglings which have yet to truly resemble finished wines. Many of the wines tasted were barely finished (or still) fermenting. Therefore, I won't go into each specific sample tasted - rather, I'll attempt to frame the tasting notes in a broader sense, and give an indication of what to expect from this vintage. However, a few things are clear (or rather, unhazy). Beginning with . . .
The 2010 vintage is going to be an exciting one.
The wines are incredibly precise in varietal character. Chardonnays from all the various plots have beautiful ripe citrus flavours, showing creaminess but also a lovely acidity that picks up the dense minerality. Rieslings are in a more extracted style, with ripe fruit and electricity running through them all - instantly identifiable as wines coming from the Bench. Gewurztraminer, spicy with a lovely lychee element, textbook flavours for this varietal. The chardonnays that see oak will be interesting - this producer is playing with barrels sourced from various cooperages, the goal being to match the character of the wine with an appropriate cooper. A unique approach, which speaks to elevating a wine to the best of its inherent potential, instead of fashioning a wine to a specific taste profile. All the oak-aged chardonnays are showing good creaminess, texture, and balance, although these were harder to judge at this stage, the majority having just finished, or still undergoing, fermentation.
The pinot noirs are exciting as ever. Lovely ruby colours already, just luminous. Elegant, floral bouquets, complex and very fine indeed. Flat Rock always makes distinctive pinot noirs - looking forward very much to see these in bottle.
This producer has proven its ability to make consistent, charming wines in the past - these new wines are an exciting addition. Having spent some time here now, it's clear that something special is going on. Inspired winemaking is the key to success, regardless of where you're producing the wine. The winemaker here planted mustard and buckwheat in between the vines this past vintage, to introduce more nitrogen into the soil (alleviating the need for synthetic fertilizer), as well as to attract predatory insects (to combat pests). The team here is committed to using just screwcaps, hence the push to bottle one of the (very) few sparkling wines on the market under crown cap. And the idea is to tone back the use of new oak, using puncheons, and really matching the appropriate type of barrel to the kind of fruit each parcel is producing.
Inspired winemaking, all around.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I drove up, alone, to Niagara this past Sunday to get my first serious look at the 2009 vintage in the bottle. As you may recall, I was in Niagara during the 2009 harvest last October - I most recently tasted a few barrel samples this May. While the majority of red wines have yet to be bottled, the 2009 rieslings are mostly on the market.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
I'm going to wear glasses again. Was about to give up on finding frames that were proper to my face, but Brooks Brothers came through for me again. I don't know exactly why I like them so much - I guess that's why glasses are so hard to get right. Designers can try to convince you all they want about what you should be wearing, but more often than not, your face should be the one deciding. Having worn glasses since I was 8, I've kind of figured out what works for me. And of course, like that tie, like that shirt, like that suit . . . it just needs to feel right when you put it on.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
2004 López de Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza, DOC Rioja
Oh how I love this estate, this wine, this region . . . all love, all love.
Continuing on a string of very strong releases, LCBO released another gem, from this revered Spanish producer. Light ruby colour, so aromatic, so distinct of time and place - the absolute epitome of what terroir is. Briary red fruits, finely integrated oak, great length. Lean, but perfect in balance and texture.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
2001 Medrano-Irazu Gran Reserva, DOC Rioja
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
You know, lost amidst all the foie gras and red Burgundy and fried cuttlefish, I failed to mention that I had spent an entire extended weekend in America. And I found Americans to be delightful. Despite what I was expecting, the Americans I met were nothing but polite, kind, and pleasant. No way will you receive the same reception in Shanghai. Not that my people are pricks . . . at least not on purpose.
I think I kind of like Americans now. My father, at dinner, tirades every night about how evil Americans are because of their constant pressure to the Chinese to revalue the RMB. Not that it has anything to do with him. Not that he at all understands the actual issue at hand - not when he thinks of Chinese gossip forums as sources of legitimate news. And he mocks me for reading the New York Times everyday. Right. Listen, I'm as big of a Chinaman as you'll find, but you have to get your news from multiple sources to really understand the issue. An important lesson I learned from one of my 4th year Economics professors. The news is only as complete as what the editor wants printed, and it's delusional to think that any one source presents an accurate picture.
Exciting things coming up, planning another trip up to Niagara - let's see how the 2009's are doing, and check up on teh fledgling 2010 vintage.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Oh how I feel like such a weight has been lifted . . . now we wait.