Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2003 Late Bottled Vintage Port

2003 Quinta do Noval LBV

2003 Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage Port, DOC Douro

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.

DF

Monday, November 29, 2010

2005 Barolo Bussia

2005 Poderi Colla Barolo

2005 Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia, DOCG Barolo

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.

From the Dardi Le Rose vineyard within the cru of Bussia, I'm in total love with these wines. They stimulate the intellect in all the right ways, and are as fascinating, complex, and hauntingly beautiful as any Burgundy can be. Yes, when the Italians get it right, they get it real right. All the lovely intense aromatics I want in a Barolo, earthy and pure. Tight, but not as compacted as the 2005 Marziano Abona I drank a few weeks ago. So linear, so balanced, so much character.

DF

Taste the Sea - Yeah I'm all that


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.

DF

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Taste the Sea - 2009 Twenty Mile Bench

2009 Flat Rock Pinot Noir

2009 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

At this point of dinner, with most of my friends having headed home, sitting in the kitchen with a buddy . . . should have called it a night. Alas, we were stupid and decided to keep drinking. Regretted it an hour later, and the next morning, and the next morning after that. But at least the wine was good.

The estate level pinot noir from this producer always represents what I regard as true Niagara wine. Very aromatic, lean, with a lovely stream of pure fruit and minerality. Finely structured as well - should be very interesting to see how these wines age. The 2009's I've been tasting are very interesting - all the floral bouquet of 2008, with riper fruit. This producer always has a good grip on alcohol levels.

Too bad I indulged a bit too much to fully appreciate it.

DF

Taste the Sea - 2007 Chablis Beauroy

2007 Alain Geoffroy Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru

2007 Alain Geoffroy Beauroy, AC Chablis 1er Cru

And now to the main event - Chablis premier cru wines are just about the most stunning examples of chardonnay in the world. Yes, there's Montrachet and the Côte d'Or, but Chablis wines are rich and sleek at the same time, brimming with electric energy and minerality. Sublime.

I love this wine. Saline minerality all around, ripe fruit, and so elegantly textured as to make you question whether your palate could be trusted. Delicious, I need to put more of these premier crus away.

DF

Taste the Sea - 2008 Chablis

2008 Domaine du Chardonnay

2008 Domaine du Chardonnay, AC Chablis

Yes, onto the big leagues, and the reason for Taste the Sea. Chablis occupies a special place in my heart. I used to refuse chardonnay. And then I tasted Montmains, and as they say about first times . . . unforgettable.

Been hearing great things about the 2008 vintage in Chablis. Simply a village level wine with a horrifically cheesy name, but rich after a 3 hour decant, balanced, with lovely minerals dancing on the palate. Ripe fruit yet showing the austerity of proper Chablis. With our fish dishes, sublime.

DF

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Taste the Sea - 2009 Mâcon Villages

2009 Chateau de Mirande

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.

And this bottle was no different. Satisfying in that unctuous way that only chardonnay can do. You know they call this grape the nipple-erector, right?

DF

Friday, November 26, 2010

Taste the Sea - 2009 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine

2009 Chereau-Carre la Griffe Bernard Chereau Muscadet Sevre et Maine

2009 Chéreau-Carré La Griffe Bernard, AC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie

Muscadet with oysters? Yes. Clean, crisp, simple, yet a perfect start to the meal. You don't sip on muscadet, you drink it in big gulps.

DF

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Taste the Sea - Whiting

Whitting

Whitting

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.

DF

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Post No. 2001

Profile - Colour

Yes, at 2000 posts.

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.

DF

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Taste the Sea - Dory

Dory

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.

DF

Taste the Sea - Cockles

Cockles

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.

DF

Taste the Sea - Clams

Savoury

Clams (or any other bivalve) are tricky to cook. Easy to overcook, they can quickly shrivel into a lump with the consistency of rubber - if they aren't fresh, they can die quickly, stinking up the entire pot. But savoury clams are so fun. When you cook clams, you look for the shells to open, then immediately serve. These clams pop wide open in the most dramatic fashion. As the name suggests, they have a very delicate, sweet flavour. White wine is all you really need, with a deft touch of seasoning.

In steamed eggs, in white wine, savoury clams always win.

DF

Taste the Sea - Oysters

Kumamoto

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.

DF

Taste the Sea

DSC_7380

Let us drink and be merry. Feeling for some serious seafood, and hoping to take advantage of the shellfish coming into season, so dinner chez Fang.

Began putting together the wines I wanted to serve a few weeks beforehand - wanted to cook around a selection of white Burgundy. Made up my mind that I was going to just serve seafood. And hoping to incorporate some of the inspiration I gained after eating in New York.

Taste the Sea, coming up.

DF

Monday, November 22, 2010

2005 Barolo Ravera

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2005 Marziano Abona Terlo Ravera, DOCG Barolo

One of my obsessions lately has been with Barolo. I want to understand and learn to appreciate this stunning wine - a wine which in my opinion is finer and infinitely more authentic than any super-Tuscan can ever be. What I love about these wines most of all is their absolute uncompromising nature - you have to allow them to age in bottle. Other great wines, red Burgundy, even red Bordeaux . . . most other wines won't give you too much grief if you drink them young. It'd be a shame, but you could still do it. Not great Barolo. As I quickly learned, these wines can be so austere, so tannic, so hard to penetrate that drinking them young is an utterly masochistic act.

What of this one? At a mere 5 years of age, not taking my own advice as usual. From the cru of Ravera in Novello, from the 2005 vintage, a vintage yielding more accessible, friendly wines as opposed to the classic and monumental 2004's. Decanted for many, many hours, overnight in fact. I always trust my first nose in everything I taste . . . this wine was simply divine. Mushroomy, earthy aromas that came off as so thick, a concentrated bouquet that was just extraordinary in its intensity. Dark berries, but that characteristic tar and spice of Barolo shines. Very austere in the mouth, very tightly wound, but so complex, so minerally, so balanced. Concentrated and viscous but absolutely precise and elegant in texture. Absolutely delicious, my goodness . . . truly one of the great wines of the world.

Continuing on with really exploring this region, I've made up my mind to drink more Barolo before the year ends. I've kind of begun shopping for Christmas break drinking . . . never to early to start. Not putting any away yet - need more experience, need to drink a few more bottles before I begin adding to the cellar.

DF

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2004 Margaret River

2004 Evans & Tate Cabernet

2004 Evans & Tate The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River

I've got to confess - I have a deep prejudice against the wines of Australia. Unfair, definitely. And I've even got family there - one cousin who lives in Melbourne, the other in Sydney (not that we've ever shared a wine together). But we've been conditioned in North America to accept that all Australian wines are in the mold of monster McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley shiraz, or worse, the Yellowtail ocean. There has to be proper Australian wines, as there are good and undrinkable examples in all wine regions of the world - but how do you experience it when general tastes are less than refined?

I found one. I actually found an Aussie that is complex, subtle, and shows character. Needle in a haystack, yes, but finding these treasures affirms all that is good and true and honest about wine. From the Margaret River, not sure if this is 100% varietal cabernet, but enough to be labelled as such. Dark red, with a nice ruby edge, rustic and minty on the bouquet, generous cabernet fruit, but with a beautiful underlying minerality. Fine, elegant palate, although it does lack a certain lushness in the mouth. This is Australia, after all. Slightly bitter on the finish, fine tannins. Delicious.

Varietally correct wine, but I can't help but feel that if perhaps if a bit of merlot or shiraz were added, to give some roundness in the palate, it could be even more impressive. Nonetheless, a very noble example of cabernet, subtle and age-worthy. Proof that yes, some of them do know what they're doing down there.

DF

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Abalone, two ways

Abalone

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.

What to drink alongside?

DF

Salt baked abalone

Abalone

Abalone

Abalone

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.

I made a salt crust for the cleaned abalone, wrapped it in blanched cabbage leaves, then in a baking sheet, and prayed in front of the oven for it to turn out presentable. Not so successful - a lot of the salt remained on the abalone when I removed the crust, and the meat had shrunk. More developing needed, but I need to hurry - it seems the season is coming to an end.

DF

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fresh abalone

Abalone

Abalone

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.

There are many ways of eating them. Chinese gourmands generally prize dried abalone more than fresh, and I have to agree. Eating them live is an entirely different experience, and I thoroughly enjoy both. There are many methods to prepare these - as always, the simplest methods are the best, preserving both natural flavour and texture. As for how I prepared mine, I decided to cook them two ways . . .

DF

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You happy with the service at the LCBO?

GuanYu

Let's meditate on something, you and me, in front of 关爷爷. Are you happy with the service you receive at the LCBO?

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.

DF

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vacu Vin Lucite

VacuVin

Spout

I've been keeping an eye out for the perfect wine bottle spout for a few months now. I'm not a good pourer . . . dripping everywhere is a problem, as many middle-aged men will attest to. And it just makes such a poor impression when I begin slurping up the precious drops off the dinner table. My template for the perfect spout has been the metal ones used during the UGC Bordeaux tasting held this January in Toronto. The producers all had their labels emblazened on these perfectly shaped metal spouts, which apparently is manufactured in house because I've scoured the internet and not a single retailer has them.

So I found the next best thing. Junors at Bayview Village, coming through in the clutch for me, yet again.

These are Vacu Vin Lucite Wine Pourers, exquisitely shaped and very similar to what I was looking for. Finally, I'm drip free. Why would I need such a thing? A lot of what I want (in wine, food, clothing) doesn't make sense and has no relevance in real life. But I tell myself I'm special like that . . . no, I have no problems falling asleep at night. Drip free at last, drip free at least, tha . . . . . . . . . . . (ok, I'll stop)

DF

The arrow points . . .

Shaoxing wine

It's funny how quickly screwcaps have become the primary closure for Shaoxing wines - I still have a few bottles (very, very few) that were bottled under cork, but contrary to the debate in wine, all these bottles should be under screwcap. Why? Because it's clearly more appropriate for this type of wine. This all came up, by the way, during an increasingly animated discussion I enjoyed recently with an older family friend about the merits of different types of bottle closures. The conversation quickly devolved into him telling me he knows better because he's lived 30 more years on this earth than I have, and me retorting that I've spit out more wine than he's swallowed.

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!

DF

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CSN Stores

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La Cave de Fang is collaborating with CSN Stores to help you out with your Christmas shopping - yes, it truly is never too early to start. Founded in 2002, this is a group of over 200 online stores based in Boston, featuring all the cookware, furniture, toys, electronics, extra tall bar stools . . . everything upwardly mobile, North American yuppies could possibly desire.

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
CSN Twitter
CSN Blog

DF

Albacore

Albacore Tuna

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?

Now, after all that . . . it is rare to see a beautiful piece of albacore tuna being offered at my fishmonger's. Slightly frozen, thinly sliced, just a touch of the most amazing fresh wasabi, and a delicate, savoury soy sauce - yes, I'll make an exception. Buttery and creamy flavour, exquisite texture, oh yes, tuna is like no other. Enjoyed with a few glasses of Ontario riesling.

DF

Monday, November 15, 2010

2006 Savennières

2006 Baumard Clos St. Yves

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).

DF

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NV Anderson Valley

NV Roederer Sparkling Brut

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.

DF

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2007 Vouvray

2007 Domaine de Vaugondy

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.

DF

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tasting Niagara

To taste

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?

Tasting at Thirty Bench Wine Makers
Tasting at Flat Rock Cellars
Tasting at Fielding Estate Winery

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.

DF

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tasting at Fielding Estate Winery

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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.

Beginning as always, with the whites. They have a Riesling Sparkling Brut, not vintage dated, but this is made entirely from 2009 grapes. I find these wines odd - riesling just doesn't seem as aromatic as a sparkling wine, doesn't have that lift or intensity. 2009 Riesling, much more successful, extracted and long. The 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay, made with 50% chardonnay musqué, was balanced, with good richness and nicely contrasting acidity. The 2009 Chardonnay is soft, and unfortunately, without character.

The red wines I tasted were certainly interesting. The 2008 Pinot Noir was intense, complex, and well-structured. 2007 Merlot, very interesting, one of the few Ontario merlots surprisingly more than just mediocre. Tight and structured, but already quite fine. And then we got to my favourite - the 2007 Syrah. I have high hopes for this varietal in Niagara, and this wine fits the exact profile of what I'm looking for. 2007 was a hot, dry vintage, and this wine reflects that with pure fruit, fine tannins, and incredible aromatics. Just a hint of white pepper underneath the fruit, but this needs a good 7-10 years to unwind. A great success - expensive, but a wonderful wine.

The philosophy behind this producer is unique - they're focused on making wines according to vintage conditions for each varietal. Therefore, you won't find, for example, a riesling every year. That's unique, and not necessarily something I agree with. A modern producer all around, making stylish wines that manages to yield a few surprises (a syrah!!!).

DF

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tasting at Flat Rock Cellars

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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.

DF

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tasting at Thirty Bench Wine Makers

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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.

My first stop was to Thirty Bench Wine Makers. A stunning producer of rieslings above all else - but they seem to enjoy telling everyone about everything but. A shame, because let's be honest, their vineyards, and winemaking team, were made for creating distinctive, terroir-specific rieslings. Austere with impeccable balance, with discernible character across all their vineyards, these rieslings are simply stunning in their purity, clarity, and luminosity.

Their estate level riesling, the 2009 Winemaker's Riesling is always quite developed in its minerality early on, creamy lanolin and citrus. High acid as always, but the fruit seems riper. Clean wine, that needs a good 3-5 years to come around. Onto the single vineyard rieslings. I always have a hard time choosing between Steel Post and Triangle Vineyard - each vintage seems to favour different vineyards. 2005 and 2006 were clear successes for Steel Post, but in 2007 and 2008, Triangle Vineyard showed better. Of course, this is how I judged them when they were just bottled - I can't yet determine a correlation between vintage conditions and each vineyard.

2009 Steel Post Riesling, shining in its minerality and high levels of extract on the palate. Very austere, extremely high acidity completely hiding the residual sugar, but balanced and very long. Will need at least 5 years, but this is very exciting. 2009 Triangle Vineyard Riesling, more fruit-forward at this point, lots of grapefruit and citrus. High acid, and at this point, still very primary. 2009 Wood Post Riesling, a bit fuller in body and rounder, and again, the fruit is obscuring all else.

Finished off the tasting with two other wines, just to gain a bigger picture of the rest of the white wines. 2008 Pinot Gris, made in a slightly sweet style, round, and very, very soft. You know, I never thought much about pinot gris - this wine certainly did not do much to change that opinion. 2008 Chardonnay, showing some overt oak at this point. The acidity shows as balanced, but soft - of course, this was after tasting the absolutely electric rieslings.

This tasting showed without a doubt how successful the rieslings are here. I won't go into specifics about why I think they make so many other white (and red) wines, instead of sticking exclusively to their strengths. I'm not naive - wine production isn't all romance, it's a business. But I do think Thirty Bench can do a much better job of promoting their range of rieslings. These are exciting, electric wines. Powerful too, a different style than the absolute finesse and precision of say, Mosel wines.

Always a pleasure to taste these wines. Slowly but surely, building my vertical. With a solid push, a surprise entry in some international riesling contest, more aggressive promoting, whatever . . . these wines speak for themselves, and all it takes is for the right critic/writer/trade professional to have a taste, for them to get the recognition they deserve.

DF

Monday, November 8, 2010

From Michael

Brooks Brothers

A week after I returned, my guy from the Brooks Brothers at Liberty Plaza sent me a card - what a touch of class. And all I bought was a few cardigans and bow ties. Old school, all day, all day.

DF

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back from a day in Niagara

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Spent the day tasting in Niagara today - beautiful day, time to take a closer look at some of the 2009 wines being released, as well as some of the baby 2010's. A very successful trip all around. More detailed analysis of each producer I visited later, and the wines tasted too . . .

DF

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Four eyes

Brooks Brothers

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.

My guy's working on it. I'm having Nikon lens made - they're thinner than other lenses, so I'm comforted by the fact that I won't look too much like a nerd. Not too much.

DF

Friday, November 5, 2010

So how many?

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How many wines can one realistically taste in a single session?

That was the question posed by John Szabo, Master Sommelier in his latest Wine Align newsletter. He was referring to the LCBO product release tastings he participates in. Sir, if the workload is getting too strenuous for you . . . please, please get in touch with me, I know a Chinese blogger who'd love to relieve you of that burden.

But it's a good question. How many wines can a wine taster properly assess in one go, before the palate (or mind) starts to fail? It's not something one would readily admit - I'm hardly a professional and even I won't admit anywhere near the idea that my palate would be, oh shit, fallible. I suppose the answer is in experience. With experience, tasters know what to look for in any particular wine, provided that the wines aren't served blind. For example, identifying the obvious flavour profiles are important (red fruit, black fruit, etc.), but also the regional specifics (slate minerals in Mosel, tar and spice in Barolo), as well as vintage character (hot 2007 Ontario wines, lean 2008's). And that's where experience comes in. Because with experience, tasters know what to look for, in say, a lineup of Riojas. Or Volnay, or whatever. Instead of aimlessly swirling the wine around, trying to identify and pick out each specific flavour element, experienced tasters understand what to focus on for each wine region, style, vintage, and are able to quickly provide an accurate tasting note which is reflective of that specific wine/region/vintage/varietal. And of course, examining colour, balance, texture, and length are all crucial to a well-written tasting note.

So, how many wines until everything starts tasting the same? I'd say around 60, personally. I've done tastings where I start losing focus around this number (especially when young red Bordeaux is involved, or any other tannic wine). Spitting is essential, but after a few rounds, enough alcohol is absorbed through the palate membranes that things start becoming hazy. In a good way, mind you - there's nothing like chilling with a fun drunk at a proper (business attire only) tasting. But 55-60 wines is where I peg my palate as the upper limit, before I begin writing single word tasting notes (ie. Good. Bad. Horny).

Much practice is needed, to push this number up, for sure. Because I'm heading back up to Niagara this weekend, to taste through the 2009 vintage, as well as see how the baby 2010's are coming along. Fun, and I'll be sure to keep a bottle of sparkling water in the car.

DF

Thursday, November 4, 2010

2004 Rioja

2004 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo

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.

As perfect of a wine experience as I could hope for. I was imagining drinking this with tapas. Grilled seafood or something. What a special wine.

DF

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

2001 Rioja

2001 Medrano Irazu Gran Reserva

2001 Medrano-Irazu Gran Reserva, DOC Rioja

Back to what I'm so comfortable with, like hot water and epsom salts after a brutal workout. Fall weather, kind of stressed, eating mushrooms . . . a few glasses of Gran Reserva Rioja sounded perfect. All the bright colour of traditional Rioja, with that wonderful interplay of ripe red berries and vanilla that makes Spanish reds so special. Wonderful texture, good length, a delicious wine all around.

What is it about some wines and oak? The different sides regarding oak use are pretty clear by now . . . like many things, I think it can be very misguided to go to extremes. Some wines need oak. Some need it to take it to another level, and Rioja (and Ribera del Duero) is certainly one of those wines. Tempranillo just somehow does so much better with that subtle injection of flavour, structure, and oxidation of oak, and this wine proves it. Usually, vanilla in wine is horrifying - not in this case. Keep an open mind.

DF

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Outlook

United Nations

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.

DF

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mismatched, like Harry

Paul Smith

Oh how I feel like such a weight has been lifted . . . now we wait.

In the meantime, look at how beautiful my new cufflinks are. What do I love the most about them? They don't match. The colours of the stripes are different - and one say Paul, the other, Smith. I met the great Harry Rosen a few years ago, when he gave a lecture at the University of Waterloo. One of his trademarks is always to wear separate cufflinks. I like that about the man. Because it's a personal detail that only he really knows - unless you look really, really closely at his wrists.

Mismatched, like Harry.

DF