Monday, December 31, 2012

As we wave goodbye to 2012

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A lot has happened in 12 months. A year ago, I said it was time to get to work. Well, I did. And while I'm still waiting to see if all the hard graft will bear any fruit, this whole business school application process has taught me a lot about myself, and focused what I want to be doing. From not really knowing what the plan was in January of this year, to plunging headfirst into GMAT prep - to proving that diligence and hard work pays off at the exam, to putting together a shortlist of schools to apply to. It's all been a long road - a year of nothing else but thinking about an MBA. On a personal level, a lot's changed too. When it rains, it fucking pours and at times, it's all been a bit of a mess. I like order and procedure, but then again, sometimes I like chaos too.

And so the work continues - no time to be letting up. The next few months may be a pivotal time that'll determine my next 40 years, as they say. So at this time, I remember and remain deeply indebted to my friends - my true friends - who always have my back, who always have my happiness and best interests in mind, and who always, always, speak the clear, unvarnished truth. Much love and appreciation. For the first time in what seems like years, I'm hopeful for the new year. And I'm looking forward to beginning my adventure. 

Happy new year.

DF

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A year of wine, 2012

DF
It's been an eventful 12 months hasn't it. Start of the year, right away, bang ... the start of 5 tough months of studying and quite possibly making one of the worst mistakes of my personal life. But we got out fine, GMAT and otherwise. Then, a great summer of grilling and old wines from the cellar. And of course, meeting someone in the most unexpected (or maybe least unexpected) of places :)

The past 6 months have been the second half of the whole business school application process - working on the actual applications. It's been rough, but now that it's over, time to reflect a bit? Wine-wise, the theme for this year has probably been frugality. Simple, humble wines, on a simple, humble budget. Some exciting things though, and not all in wine. Generally I like closing out the year with some Burgundy and Champagne. It won't be the case this year. But then again, it's not so much what you drink as who you're drinking with. My most memorable wines of 2012 ...

The Celt Experience - Crafted Ale: Tom Newman sent over a case of his brews - fine ales, showing balance, character, and drinkability on the dinner table.

Mulberry wine: The last of it, from our distant relatives in Ningbo. Way past its best, but a taste of tradition and family history.

Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, 2012: What a fabulous tasting of 2009 Bordeaux - went in worrying about hype, but the wines were stunning. Truth that Bordeaux still offers excitement like few other regions in the world.

2007 Lornano | DOCG Chianti Classico: A humble chianti, coarse and a bit unruly, but as much character as you'll ever find in a wine.

Tasting at Fielding Estate Winery: My first time meeting Richie Roberts, Fielding's winemaker - the new generation of winemakers pushing the envelope of what Niagara wines can be.

Tasting 2010 Lailey: Proving that he's still showing them how it's done, Derek handles the wines with grace and conviction in a beautiful vintage for pinot noir and syrah.

Saison Dupont: Making me look at Belgian brews in a completely different light; complex and interesting, a style that needs a revival.

C'est La Vie | Vin de Pays: Cheap and cheerful for a friend's birthday, yet utterly, utterly delicious.

2001 Château Les Ormes de Pez | AC Saint-Estèphe: A Bordeaux with some age, for a simple birthday celebration.

2011 Mas des Bressades | AC Costières de Nîmes: Opened in celebration of a successful GMAT; wine never tasted so sweet.

2009 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay | Wolff Vineyard | Edna Valley: Part of a pair of chardonnays drunk over one of the best seafood dinners I've ever had a hand in cooking.

Tom Collins: Learning a new cocktail.

2006 Saint-Émilion: A pair of St-Émilion's that demonstrated why patience is needed.

2010 Vasse Felix Chardonnay | Margaret River: Australia can do it - a wine of purity and elegance.

2005 Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir | VQA Twenty Mile Bench: One of the first Niagara pinot noirs I bought, way back in my undergrad years ... opened to impress a girl. I do believe it worked.


2006 Château d'Aquéria | AC Tavel: The lost bottle of rosé that was found, and drunk alongside it's younger brother.

2002 Domaine Daniel-Etienne Defaix Les Lys | AC Chablis Premier Cru: My first old(er) Chablis, showing maturity and why these chardonnays are so special.


2005 Fruitière Vinicole d'Arbois Vin Jaune: My first vin jaune, an intellectual wine.

2007 Château Soucherie | AC Chaume: From not knowing what Chaume was to falling head over heels in love.

The Gimlet: For the fall, learning the Gimlet.

Catch the Wave, Australian wine tasting: Red syrup all around, but a chance to break the ice, and re-convene a new (and larger) tasting group.

2010 Marcel Lapierre Morgon: What else can I say but merci bien, Marcel.

2010 Tomić Plavac Mali: Tasted with Ludo, Sommelier of the Spoke Club. This is why we need good wine professionals to show us the way.

DF

Friday, December 28, 2012

as the peregrine falcon soars

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2010 Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot | Margaret River | Western Australia

Dr. Tom Cullity trained a peregrine falcon to guard his vineyards from pests. Unfortunately, it flew away as soon as it was released to do some work, the winged bastard. The falcon logo has been used on every Vasse Felix label since the 1971 vintage. And story aside, it perfectly encapsulates what makes these wines some of the most exciting to come out of Australia, and possibly, the new world. 

The peregrine falcon is one of the fastest animals on earth, reaching up to 322 km/h (200 mph) during its high speed dives. It's an efficient hunter, striking and capturing its prey mid-air. These qualities have lead to several cultures associating it with aggression and martial prowess. Native Americans of the Mississippian culture used the peregrine falcon in imagery as a symbol of aerial (celestial) power and buried men of high status in costumes associating to the ferocity of these birds. In the late Middle Ages, the Western European nobility considered it a royal bird - more armed by its courage than its claws.

The wine is simply stunning. I'm a firm believer that a true mark of a great producer is the quality found in their least expensive wines. And now that I've tasted both the basic chardonnay and this estate level cabernet merlot, it's pretty obvious to me that Vasse Felix possesses all the characters I look for in a great wine. Varietal and vintage character; depth and complexity; texture and structure; drinkability and ageability. Above all, the wines are quietly intense, full of nuance that asks a lot from the drinker, but also offers great rewards for those that take the time to listen. The wines find a great balance between old world character with new world brightness and purity.

The notes for the wine show a blend of primarily cabernet sauvignon, but with good amounts of merlot, finished with malbec. It comes together to give the graphite minerality and dark fruits of the cabernet, with an initial sweetness from the merlot, ending with a fine and elegant structure. Handled beautifully in the cellar, with only 7% new French oak, with the rest being aged in 1-5 year old barrels. I'm not dogmatic about alcohol levels, but I am quite sensitive to anything above 14% abv. At a listed 14.5%, the alcohol in this wine is imperceptible, a testament to the ripeness of the fruit, and how well it was managed in the cellar. The skill of the winemaking team clearly in play. Fresh, vibrant, energetic, with all the character and backbone you want in a cabernet blend. Bravo!

I could be accused of getting a bit carried away, but after that disastrous tasting of red syrup at Catch the Wave, I needed to remind myself that sometimes philosophy about winemaking counts more than raw materials. Australia is clearly capable of producing true, authentic red wines - so why aren't more producers doing it? Why do they insist on nuking their fruit and making wines out of dead grapes - to only try to convince you that that's what red wine should be? Elegance and subtlety aren't contradicting characters to soulful, exciting wines. So will more Australian producers begin getting it already?!

DF

Thursday, December 27, 2012

it's white and merry

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It snowed last night in Toronto, our first snowstorm of the year. Back to work today, after a quick few days off ...
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... managing to get in one dinner with the people I love, tasting a few things from my past ...
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... opening some old wines ...
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... and learning something new in the process ...
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... to spending Christmas Eve with family friends, and drinking something decidedly humbler ...
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... where I finally got everyone to take a group shot ...
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... and of course being able to drink with my brother again as he spends the holidays with us ...
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... where we had a chance to sample some Ontario sake with hotpot ...
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... among other things ...
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... and with some new toys. It's been a good few days off - hope everyone's had a wonderful holiday so far as well!

DF

Friday, December 21, 2012

it's finally over...

DF
I sent out my 4th and final business school application last night. When I started this whole process, I had all these grandiose, Ivy-League dreams. A few months later, I've been decidedly humbled. This whole thing has taught me a lot about myself - I feel like I'm in a much better position to answer the questions Who are you? and What do your career to be? Many thanks to my friends who've supported me through this whole process, who've had to endure my moaning and groaning. And a special debt of gratitude to my family friend who was always there to edit my work and give me honest, direct feedback - someone I could ALWAYS rely and trust to give me the straight truth. Much appreciation.

So, a few weeks off for the holidays, before I start stressing about other things ... like when/will I get an interview request?! A never-ending struggle, a never-ending fight, but I think I'm up for it. Now ... let's drink and make merry!!!!!

DF

down under giving us a chard to get down with

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2009 Nugan Estate Frasca's Lane Vineyard Chardonnay | King Valley | Victoria

And then we moved onto a chardonnay from Victoria, from a sub-appellation called King Valley. It's located in northeastern Victoria, centred on King River, and is known as an agricultural region. Vineyards are planted to a wide range of varietals, a great number of them Italian. Nugan Estate is a large producer, owning vineyards in Riverina, King Valley, and McLaren Vale, and sourcing fruit from Coonawarra. The notes for this wine can be found here.

Pale colour, almost close to the previous riesling. Finesse and delicacy on the nose - it's clearly a chardonnay, with a buttery roundness to the aroma, but there's fine mineral elements as well. Great handling of the extract on the palate, on a long, bitter-tinged finish. Again, a vibrant, exciting style of chardonnay that has structure yet elegance. Bottled under screwcap as well.

Having gone through a good sized Australian wine tasting recently, it's apparent to me that their white wines are infinitely more interesting than their reds. And why? Acidity and freshness, that's why. As drinkers, we need to get over this nonsense that high alcohol and obscene amounts of oak equals quality - wasn't this whole bigger, bolder, better crap dead and done with? Here's a test to check the quality of a wine, and it's a simple one: don't judge a wine on a single glass. If you can finish the entire bottle, you know it's a good one. And with these two white wines - a single bottle isn't enough.

DF

Thursday, December 20, 2012

hand in the air for Australian whites

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2011 Pewsey Vale Riesling | Eden Valley | South Australia

I had a trio of Australian wines recently that blew my mind so thoroughly I'm going to have to write about each separately to relive all the awesomeness.  Two whites and a red, and all the hyperbole aside, I wonder ... why aren't more Australian wines like this, when it's obvious that they're more than capable of producing graceful, terroir-driven wines?

Pewsey Vale has a long history going back to the mid 1800's, and was the site of the first vineyard planted in Eden Valley. Eden Valley, along with Clare Valley, form an unequivocally formidable duo that's producing some of the most exciting dry riesling in the world. In a New World framework, of course - these are different from Alsatian wines, but are nonetheless terroir wines, and authentic interpretations of the varietal. As a mark of their unique heritage, select Eden Valley producers have even adopted an industry standard bottle. Drinkers accustomed to (and expect) that heavy-handed, syrupy style of wine they associate with Australian shiraz will be pleasantly surprised here - the wines have great finesse, with impeccable balance. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a better value for what you're paying.

A Friday night, dinner at home, and feeling kind of beatdown. What better way to pick yourself up than going through a pair of Australian whites? This was, in a word, magnificent. Mineral and vibrant, fabulous extract running through the palate. A crescendo of energy and intensity that roars through the finish. Just a brilliant example of that linear New World style of riesling, with structure and concentration, yet remaining perfectly balanced. Stunning.

One other note: this was bottled under screwcap, and with wines this young, you sometimes wonder if the wines need to settle in a bit. No awkwardness here - the wine was open and expressive, and although clearly a good candidate to lay down for a few years, drinking beautifully. We forget sometimes that winemaking is as much a craft as an art, and that it extends all the way to how you seal the wine in the bottle. A fabulous start to dinner, and then we poured the chardonnay ...

DF

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Amsterdam Brewery

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Leaside seems to be the place to be in Toronto - all kinds of interesting things going on in that corner of town. I had a great beer from Amsterdam Brewery this summer - who knew, that they'd be a 15 minute drive away? For the month of December, every Saturday from 1-5pm, they're offering free tours  tastings. Great chance to taste some new things and support a local brewery.

We went down the line, starting with the Amsterdam Natural Blonde, a clean, refreshing beer. Next was the Big Wheel Amber Ale, which I really enjoyed. Great balance between the malt and the hops, sort of that Anchor Steam style of beer, but a bit drier on the finish.  The (416) Wheat gives that distinct wheat character, a slight whiff of skunkiness on the palate. The Boneshaker IPA, a brew that'll take your head off, a true powerhouse of that distinctly North American style of IPA. The KLB Raspberry Wheat with a very concentrated nose of fresh raspberries, dry on the palate. And the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, perhaps a bit lighter in body, but satisfying on a cold day. 

Visit them, you won't be disappointed.

DF

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Toronto Raptors/Houston Rockets

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Got out to see my first Raptors game in what seems like an age this Sunday. And we won! Jose Calderon with a tidy triple double (18 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds), grabbing his 10th rebound in the dying seconds of the game. It's been soul-sucking to be a Raptors fan the past few years, but nothing quite matches the excitement of a live game.

We sat diagonal to the baseline, across from the Houston bench. What was interesting was to see the players' body language, the dynamic between James Harden and Jeremy Lin. You get a distinct sense that the Rockets seem to get along fine, but are still lacking that all important chemistry. I was a bit disappointed to see that Jonas Valunciunas has fallen a bit out of the rotation. Ed Davis gave some good energy in the 3rd - at one point, he had three straight dunks, all off of backdoor cuts. And Alan Anderson (who?!) to seal the game. All in all, a very entertaining way to spend a Sunday afternoon, - if I could, I'd go to a lot more games.

Hope everyone had a good Monday ... a week to go before Christmas. Had to come into the office early today, to get on a call with someone from Newfoundland. First thing he says when I call in is, can we reschedule for 2pm, my time? So much for that early morning. And why did he have to break the appointment? The man was 3/4 of the way into baking cookies. Because no amount of work or professionalism is enough to disturb cookie baking. Few more days to go before I send out my last application - almost there!

DF

Monday, December 17, 2012

on your snow white wings


I feel sorrow, I feel anger, I feel helplessness. I don't know what to think, how any of this makes sense. There is no explanation, none - nothing logic or religion or any amount of investigation can uncover, to explain why something like this has happened. I wish for solace and peace to the families, in the days and months ahead.

Oh come, angel band,
come and around me stand,
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings,
to my immortal home.
-The Land of Beulah, William Bradbury

DF

Saturday, December 15, 2012

with a soft sigh

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2008 Doufouleur Père & Fils | AC Crémant De Bourgogne

If it's done right, the cork releases itself gently, sighing in the way only a satisfied woman can, as they say. Oh, the French. No one quite makes sparkling wines like they do. Or innuendo.

I love drinking crémant - happiness on a budget. But when it's done right, it's so much more than just refreshing fizz. No one's claiming that it's a substitute for Champagne, but good crémant can be incredibly vinous in its own way. Take this one, from Doufouleur of Nuits-Saint-Georges. This Crémant de Bourgogne, a vintage-dated rarity, has an uncommon complexity and subtle richness to it. Fresh and vibrant on the palate, it does what sparkling wine should do, and that is lift you up, energize you, make you hungry for another bite of food, think of things you shouldn't be thinking about. The very best kind of wine.

DF

Thursday, December 13, 2012

reading the back label

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Depending on initial impressons, casual drinkers may forever associate certain varietals with a specific style of winemaking. Take riesling. It can be confusing - is it sweet, is it dry, is it something in between? So look at this fabulous label, from a fabulous Australian riesling out of the Eden Valley. A clear indication of exactly where it lies on the dry/sweet meter, and on top of it, detailed viticulture information. Is this the future of wine labels? Are people interested in knowing the rainfall during harvest, or the soil type the grapes were grown on? Maybe, maybe not. But like dressing up for a party, more information is always better than none at all.

DF

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

you'd be surprised

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2009 Domaine Rotier Les Gravels | AC Gaillac

We're talking about country wines because lately, it's all I've been in the mood for. Something pure, that touch of authenticity, and an absolute honesty. So once again, a bottle from an obscure region on the table. A wine of Gaillac, blended with two varieties found in southwest France (30% Duras, 45% Braucol) and 25% Syrah. It was a good wine - fresh and vibrant, with interesting aromas of herbs and stalks and minerals. But it was how it developed that showed why first impressions, in wine and life, sometimes don't stick.

We were having our first hotpot of the season, and while I usually reach for a white wine, I wanted a taste of this. First glass, showing very tight, dull even. Uninspired. So I poured it into a decanter and opened something else. About 5 hours in, had another glass and while a bit more fruit was starting to peak out, she was still shy. So I decanted back into the bottle, and stuck it in the fridge for the night. The next evening, we took another look at it - and finally, the wine started whispering back. With about 24 hours of air, it was much more expressive. Pure fruit aromas, that really bright freshness. But what was most interesting was how it changed on the palate - it became more structured, with wooly tannins and showing a certain sweetness too. Very interesting indeed - a wine to revisit in 10 years.

You never know. If you don't like how a wine is showing, be a bit patient. Stick in the fridge for the night and see how it turns out the next day. After all, it's the holidays - you should always have another bottle ready to go.

DF

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the country bumpkin

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2010 Clos La Coutale | AC Cahors

A selection from the portfolio of the great Kermit Lynch.

It's been a long time since I've drank a Cahors. It's these country wines from pockets of old wine regions around Europe that remind you what a true vin de terroir is, but all too often, they're neglected because they simply lack in pleasure. The wines are authentic and honest, but it's always tough to convince casual drinkers of their appeal, when faced with a glass of coarse, unruly red wine. This producer, however, shows that in the right hands, even humble varietals from humble regions (and at very humble prices) can show a glimmer of grandeur.

Dark and varietal, that kind of spiciness, but what's really exceptional is the texture. Like silk and sleek marble all at the same time; elegant but underneath it all, an evident structure. A beautiful woman with eyes that blaze fire. Malbec is never truly exciting, but these linear, minerally wines are something special. The question, is what constitutes authenticity in these wines? Is it trying to be something it's not? I don't think so, not this one. Cahors and elegance aren't contradictions - nor does it say anywhere that country wines have to be rough and lack subtlety. Sure, this producer goes for nuance as opposed to something more obvious, but the end result is something that can't be mistaken for anything other than Cahors, from colour to nose to palate.

So, close, really close to finishing all my business school applications. If all goes well, I'll have the last one out by Friday. If all goes well ... oh, and by the way, yes, I realize a huge number of the past photos have been off of Instagram. Bear with me. I've been distracted by other things lately, and it's much quicker to run a photo through IG than it is to set up a shot with D-SLR + flash, then processing.

DF

Monday, December 10, 2012

giving the wrong idea

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2008 Lomond Syrah | WO Cape Agulhas | South Africa

No one likes to be jerked around. Dirty jokes aside, we all want a certain degree of reliability in wine. Life too, in general, but it's far too difficult now to find truly reliable people. So we make do with what we have. When we go wine shopping, what certainty do we have that we're going to like a wine? Unless it's something that we've tasted before, most often we're going in blind. Less bitter to swallow for something under $10 ... increasingly harder to accept for anything higher. It's been a common topic lately to discuss the use of tasting notes, and how as consumers, we need to be aware of the types of wines certain critics prefer - after all, one man's 95 pointer may be another man's 80.

Tasting notes are tricky - some people write out pantry lists of ingredients they think they smell/taste, while others leave it more poetic, more abstract. I believe there's a middle ground between the two approaches, because neither one achieves the real point of it all - offering a complete perspective of what the wine is. And of course, let's not forget, most wine critics aren't writers. Read a few tasting notes from some of the most widely circulated American critics and you'll see that most of what passes for wine writing is nothing more than a string of (the same) flavour descriptors.

So I've got beef with this wine. And as a friend once said, beef goes well with wine, so here we go. This example, a S. African syrah was described as reminiscent of a northern Rhône wine, that savoury, peppery style of syrah. It's fucking anything but. Which isn't a problem per se - it's just that when it's described as such, we should have certain expectations when we buy it. The wine is done in that big style, what most people think of as what syrah should taste like. A bit disappointing, but in this case, it's the inaccurate tasting note that's the source of the problem.

Reliability, though not sexy or particularly exciting, is a virtue. I lack a lot of things, but reliability is not one of them. And I want my tasting notes to be so as well.

DF

Friday, December 7, 2012

changing tastes

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2009 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay | Columbia Valley | Washington State

I used to despise chardonnay. All in that sort of irrational way, the that's the way I am kind of justification. You know when people are trying to convince you that the only reason you don't like something is because you haven't tried the right one? Like, if you had 'the right' food/wine/whatever, you'd be all up in that shit? Well, thanks for the advice, but fuck you. Everyone has their preference for things - stop trying to convince them that they're doing something wrong if they don't share yours. 

I've come around, but there's still a lot of chardonnay that pisses me off. It's a victim of its own success almost, like cabernet. Most of the wines being produced are flavoured primarily of oak and excessive lees aging and overdone malolactic fermentation, and all that ... outside of France it seems, few people are doing that lean, structured, varietal style of chardonnay. And even the French hiccup sometimes - chardonnay has that propensity for unctuousness that it's almost so easy to go overboard. Drinking a buttery, vanilla-tinged confection is no fun for anyone. American chardonnay is what it is - the American palate goes for that rich style, but some of the sub-$20 examples are drinkable. Take this one, from Columbia Valley. Made in a style that's immediately recognizable on the nose, that almost overt caramel/butter note, but good amounts of acidity on the palate save it. Because yet again, it's all about acidity.

Everyone excited for the holidays yet? Busy with scheduling parties, choosing which get-togethers to attend? I'm actually looking forward to this year, yeah. Some things to take care of first though, with one more business school application to send out. Hoping to wrap it all up in the next 10 days or so. I've been prepping the wines though, and while not particularly eye popping, I think it's an interesting lineup. Still a few more weeks of hard graft left ... and then I'm not sobering up until mid-January.

DF

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Privatizing the LCBO

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Is this it? Are we finally going to get serious about doing this?

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak is the latest to publicly call for privatization as part of his platform. This debate has been brought up before, and has quickly died everytime. On one side, the LCBO brings in billions of revenue to the government - they operate hundreds of outlets servicing the most obscure towns in the province, and they are the world's largest buyers of wine. On the other hand, prices that Ontarians are charged clearly are not competitive, and this whole paternalistic notion that we, as adults, need to have our alcohol consumption regulated is shocking in a free society.

So what are the reasons being given to privatize some or all of the LCBO? Well, choice for one. Ontarians should not be restricted to LCBO outlets to buy alcohol, and corner shops and private stores should be able to carry it. Privatizing alcohol retail will create jobs and small businesses. And most importantly, prices for booze will be more competitive. I should not have to pay over $30 for a bottle of Lapierre Morgon when they pay $18 in New York.

The reasons to keep the monopoly in place? Lost government revenue, of course. Decrease in the variety of products available. And the social cost involved, because of course, if the government stops controlling alcohol, we're all going to turn into raving alcoholics smashing shit up and fornicating in public. First of all, we won't lose variety - we'll gain it. We'll have importers and shops who specialize in specific wines or beers or spirits, instead of variety stores. We want boutiques, not fucking Wal-Marts. LCBO is the world's largest buyer of wine by volume, but look at what they're buying. Sub-$10 wine doesn't count as giving people 'choice' - no, it's finding the cheapest wine available because there will always be a market for it. And there is no evidence that the absence of government controlled retail of alcohol leads to increased alcohol-related offences. The LCBO's supposed mandate to promote local wines (Canada's two main wine regions being Ontario and British Columbia) is a joke. It's a numbers game. The LCBO (and Vintages) asks for volume, and many of these producers simply don't produce enough wine; the wine that they do produce, they can't afford to sell through the LCBO.

I definitely think this issue needs to be seriously debated, and a conclusive solution reached. The interests of local wine producers aren't being answered; and it's becoming harder and harder to convince everyone that the public interest is being met. Take a look here: My Wine Shop, and show your support for consumer choice.

DF

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

5 Year Anniversary

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I never seem to remember these things on the actual date, but Monday, December 3rd marked 5 years of LCF. I'm deeply grateful for everyone's support along the way - the people I've met, the things I've been able to experience. And I'm looking forward to the next 5 years.

It's a bit too early to start reflecting on the past year and all of that - we still have an entire month left to go. But I have begun prepping for holiday drinking. Last year, I was on a heavy budget, and ended up drinking more cheap Chianti than anything else. More than that, I was just unhappy about how things were going in my life. I feel more optimistic about how things are lately, where things are headed. It's been a journey, these 5 years. Turmoil and chaos, and frightening, frightening chasms of insecurity and depression so deep not a whisper of light can reach it ... but amidst all the doom and gloom, a glimmer of something. Hope? Possibilities? I'm not asking for much, but conviction of purpose, and the courage to see it through. This past year has seen me consumed with getting into business school - I suppose I'm understanding now that I absolutely need this. I have no choice; there is no other way.

The process is not yet over. But there is the consolation that I won't have to endure it alone. I'm grateful for my pretty lady. And grateful to have you - many thanks.

DF

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

not a single f given

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2009 Château Toumilon Blanc | AC Graves

The filter ramps up the colour a bit, but really, if the steak's not pink, what's the point. A few weeks ago, I was ditched by my pretty lady for the evening, so dinner at home - beef and a white (!) wine, offering some degree of consolation.

I'm a big believer that beef should be dry aged. No marinating, no foolishness, but dry age is an absolute necessity to get a tender, flavoursome piece of meat. Steak is really the furthest thing that a traditionally Chinese family would cook at home, so it's taken a while for us to learn what the different cuts are, where to get the best beef, how to consistently cook beautifully pink steak. Starting with Chinese grocery stores, we advanced to Costco - cheap and all, but the problem is, Costco doesn't dry age their steaks. What you get is something that, although correct in marbling and flavour, lacks in texture and tenderness. And that to me is the key reason of why beef should be aged - the process yields more succulent meat, and more intensity of flavour. So if Costco wasn't going to do it for me, then I'd try and do it myself.

Side note: I don't eat a lot of red meat, so on the rare occasions when I'm desperately craving beef and actually go out to grab some steaks, I buy rib steaks from Pusateri's. They age for about 5 weeks, and cut it well over an inch thick - a dinosaur bone of a steak. But my mother was away in Shanghai, and I wanted to stay strictly within our grocery budget, so I picked up 4 steaks from Costco, at $10.99 a pound. 

The whole idea behind dry aging beef is to remove moisture. As the beef dries, protein molecules break down, rendering a more tender texture. At least that's what I think happens - what do I look like, a food nerd?! I packed each piece individually and stuck it in the freezer. Eating one every week gave me a good idea of whether this method worked, and really, the whole point was to satisfy my red meat urges. Win-win all around.  

I'm sad to report that it didn't really work. No, the beef just wasn't very good from the start. Decent amount of fat marbling, but it stays tough, even as I tried adjusting final temperature from rare to medium-rare. Good flavour though, but for a more transcendant beef experience, let the professionals do the aging for you. 

The wine was good though. Are people still talking/referring/prescribing to matching colour of wines with protein types? Because really, white wine goes with everything. EVERYTHING. Good amounts of acidity, a roundness of texture, bright fresh flavours - as long as you have those elements, the wine will complement your meal beautifully. And that's what happened here. Dry white Bordeaux is all love, that sharp sauvignon blanc aroma that carries new oak so well, blended with the depth and body of semillon. This one, a more humbler iteration, does the job very well. Hits the spot, as they say. The main event for the evening was the steak, and you therefore don't want the wine to be overbearing. Fairly straightforward concept. So when we're pairing food + wine, let's ditch the colour-coding and instead talk about those 3 things - acid, texture, and freshness of flavour. 

And buy dry-aged beef.

DF

Sunday, December 2, 2012

and it's December!

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It's suddenly December. And I'm fish-sitting for a neighbour ...
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... my mother was returning from Shanghai ...
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... so I picked up some things to welcome the Queen's arrival ...
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... which touched down 30 minutes early.
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She brought back some things to eat ...
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... and we celebrated with a bottle of vintage crémant and hotpot.

DF

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cameron's Rye Pale Ale

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Cameron's Rye Pale Ale | Oakville | Ontario

There's another Cameron's brew coming out soon, and this one is a winner. These really hoppy, bitter pale ales have their time and place - and lately, I've been favouring more balanced, calmer brews. Sometimes you just want a good session beer, all a little bit more relaxed and less aggressive. But it's been a stressful past few weeks and in that context, a beer that blows your head off is exactly what I needed.

We never talk about aroma in beer. And with these hoppy ales, we need to. It almost feels silly to be nosing beer but the aromas this is giving off are fabulous. Citrus and herbs, all sorts of fragrance. They're happy hops. The addition of rye with the barley altogether gives a subtle sweetness on the palate, finishing dry and to the point. While it's interesting to taste beer like it's a wine, we can't be bores and try to yet again intellectualize the whole thing. No, beer is something different - a drink that's purely meant for drinking and not tasting.

This is an aggressive beer. And a damn good one. I find that I reach for beers when I'm either angry or completely lazed out - sort of the two extremes of a non-contemplative mood. And they have the effect of either making me angrier and more worked up, or even lazier. I have no idea where I'm taking this. Anyways ... this is a good beer, hoppy and all that, try it out. For our business school applications, we're supposed to be writing about inspirations - or at least I am - but for the past few months, I've been feeling anything but inspired. Bear with me - just bear with me.

DF

Monday, November 26, 2012

knowing what she likes

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2009 Bollig-Lehnert Riesling Kabinett | QmP Trittenheimer Apotheke | Mosel

I don't really treat my pieces here as reviews, so in that sense, the wines I write about aren't so much recommendations as they are a collection of what I find interesting and exciting. If we have common tastes, great; if not, no big deal. Just as long as we have a common understanding of what a truly great wine is - authenticity, character, balance, drinkability, and ageability.

Knowing the wines your friends and loved ones enjoy - that's the whole point isn't it. You want to show them new things, but wine isn't about imposing yourself on others. If there isn't a spirit of generosity and pleasure to it all, wine loses a lot of its meaning. And so I've studied my friends, and I think I've come to a good understanding of what their palate preferences are. I've got friends that have sweet tooths and those who are strictly savoury - friends who devour meat, and others who favour seafood. And I'm most thankful for the friends I don't have - the picky eaters, the close-minded, the vegetarian.

Knowing these preferences gives you more confidence to share new wines. So I'm trying to impress and charm someone (a girl, duh) with a decided sweet tooth. But in the midst of all the compotes and tarts, she gets savoury foods too. So we start with something she absolutely gets - kabinett wines from the Mosel, with that touch of sweetness on the palate. But as we're drinking, I get her to notice other things as well. The acidity, the minerality, the extract ... giving her a more complete perspective of the wine, outside of it's a sweet wine. So we'll start moving onto drier wines, but those that retain a certain brightness of fruit and freshness. My end-game is to have her appreciate the gloriously earthy, country wines of Europe, but as you see, it's all a process. One step at a time - after all, we can't go straight into Bandol, old Rioja, and Barolo.

That's sort of the intellectual side of it, the wine consultant speaking. From a straight wino point of view - instinctively knowing what a person likes to eat and drink is one of the most intimate, nurturing things one person can do for another. It's why eating in your mother's kitchen tops any fine dining experience - mother knows exactly what you want to eat, and how you like to eat it. And so for my friends at least, I'll keep trying until I get it right. Finding that one wine that makes them close their eyes and say yes, this is the one.

DF

Saturday, November 24, 2012

a taste of something new

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And this is why the industry is in desperate need of good sommeliers. Despite the fact that we'd like to think we know what we're doing, we still need guidance from true wine professionals to introduce and teach us new things. New regions, new varieties, new producers. And this particular bottle is by far the greatest wine experience I've had all year. A Croatian plavac, served by the glass at The Spoke Club in Toronto, brought in by sommelier Ludo.

I've heard great things about Croatia. It's sort of a hidden part of Europe, a little gem that tourists haven't yet picked up on. It's wine history dates 2500 years ago to the Ancient Greek settlers, who arrived on the Croatian coast in the 5th century BC, with wine production on the southern Dalmatian islands of Vis, Hvar and Korčula. Empires came and went, and in the 1400's, the Ottoman Turks governed under Islamic law, which forbade alcohol. However, they allowed Christians to maintain Catholic traditions, and this was to have saved wine production, in the form of Sacremental wine. The Habsburg Empire came into power in the 18th century, and wine culture really developed during this time - it lasted until the early 1900's, with the onset of phylloxera, and then Communism under Yugoslavia, which decimated fine wine production by swallowing vineyards into large cooperatives. The early 1990's saw the beginning of a revival of traditional Croatian wines, after the Croatian War of Independance.

Plavac Mali is the most widely planted grape along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. In Croatian, mali means small and plavac means what is blue. It's the descendant of zinfandel - a cross between Crljenak Kastelanski (an ancestral Zinfandel) and Dobričić. The best quality is achieved on the southern slopes of Hvar Island, which is where this wine is from. This particular bottle, the 2010 Tomić Plavac Mali from Hvar, is stunning. So unique and utterly original. A bright crimson hue, showing lots of spicy, floral notes, with delicate red berries. This follows on the palate, showing great balance and texture. Finishes very dry, finely structured, with a soft kiss of cranberries and red currants.

We need good sommeliers. How else do we get to learn about, and experience wines like this? As winos, we always speak to the importance of keeping an open mind, and trying new things, but sometimes that's the hardest thing. Vintages and the LCBO certainly don't mind it if people drink only French/Italian/Californian/Australian. So the burden falls upon agencies, restaurants, sommeliers, and yes, wine consultants, to introduce people to truly unique wines from previously unheard of parts of the world. It's only when we step outside what we're familiar/comfortable/accepting of that we come to a  closer understanding of what wine is. Now - where do I find a bottle?

DF

Thursday, November 22, 2012

ApéroChic, The French Touch in Toronto

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Timing really is everything.

Last Thursday was the kind of day that turns you inside out. All of last week actually - I think I slept a total of 20 hours over 5 days. Exhausted, but after sending off my third application, it was time to head to The Spoke Club, to celebrate the release of 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau.

The event was put on by ApéroChic, a social club that puts together monthly events in Toronto, all with a French flair. They partner with some of the top venues in the city, always looking for interesting new things to do. Take a look at the website to see past events. In their own words, ApéroChic was born a year ago, created by Peggy Harvey (aka « La Parisienne »). Her idea was to initiate a monthly itinerant and informal evening, starting just after work hours where one could take time to share a glass and experiences, meet with friends and new people and even a dance for those who want to. Estelle Saint-Martin joined Peggy a few months later, helping her continue and further develop this new “rendez-vous”. Every ApéroChic has a theme : Beaujolais nouveau, the Galette des Rois  - Twelfth Night Cake - Red, Spring, VIP Night , Summer garden Party, Chic Escape , Serenity … We also organize special events following the life of Toronto (A kick-off TIFF party in September), or a sponsor or venue’s demand (Girl only in December).

The night was a lot of fun. And the two Beaujolais Nouveau wines for taste were ... incredibly drinkable. One from Beaujolais, one from Ardèche. Both showing good structure, freshness - some fumes from the carbonic maceration, to remind you that these are barely wines - and overall, not bad. From a wine standpoint, however, what really got me excited was learning about the wine list at The Spoke Club. Sommelier Ludo is putting together a really interesting lineup of wines by the glass, as well as a selection of natural wines. We tasted two, both available by the glass. A muscadet, completely blowing me away with its refinement and texture. A certain purity of fruit too, that you don't get out of most muscadet which tends to be very lean. And then he showed me a red wine that left me speechless. A Croatian plavac, my first ever experience with wines out of this part of the world. Incredible. Just ... incredible. So unique, with indescribable character. Balanced and fresh, with a lovely spiciness and delicate red berry fruit. Finished so dry, with a lingering cranberry/red currant kiss on the palate.

And now we're getting a little carried away. Sign up with ApéroChic to receive event news. A fabulous way to meet people, socialize, and get your French on!

DF

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

reaching for the green bottle

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2010 Dr. H. Thanisch Riesling Spätlese | QmP Bernkasteler Badstube | Mosel

Re-reading the last few posts, and yes, the phrase it's been a long week does come up a lot, in one form or the other. Toronto's really cooling down, and I haven't had one single damn oyster yet - serious problem here, guys. Keep having these ideas of what I want to eat, what I want to cook, what I want to drink ... we'll wait until all the applications have been submitted, and really go all out for the holidays. Until then, bread and water.

Wow, I love riesling so much. As much as I try to remind myself of the need to drink different things, Mosel keeps drawing me back. My true love, in all its green bottled glory. I know exactly what to expect out of these wines, yet every time ... every single goddamn time ... they blow my mind and leave me spread-eagled on the floor (figuratively, of course). Completely riveting, a bolt of lightening; perfect extract and tension, lingering on the palate like a sweet, sweet kiss from your beloved. My true love.

You know, writing all these business school applications - I know it's so important to write for content before style, but can it all go too far? I've been writing for a long time, and whether it's any good or not, I've developed a personal style of putting my thoughts into words. Writing all dry and stern and business-like seems like I'm not being true to myself. Because if anything, I hate being tense - taking the piss is my way to cope with things. It's been far too long since I had dinner with my friends. Cooking at home, that is. The last time was literally 7 months ago, for my birthday. I know, I need to stay focused for the last of my apps, but I miss the excitement of grocery shopping the day of, the prepping, the drinking ... and most of all, I miss getting everyone around the dinner table. A few more weeks of hard graft to go.

DF

Monday, November 19, 2012

ready to go at it again

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All photos courtesy of ROKChoi Photography

It's been a long week. A long year, in fact. A tough few months all around, but amidst all the bitterness and suffering, a glimmer of sweetness.

I've been missing from here, was busy all of last week sending in my 3rd application. I knew this whole process was going to take a lot out of me, but I didn't expect this much. Writing the essays and reflecting on what I bring to an MBA vis–à–vis existing skill-sets and experience ... goddammit, it's drawing out all these insecurities. You think you're a clever, unique person, but really, you're not. You're just like all the other schmucks submitting, innit. It's a bit difficult to accept, but there it is. This last application in particular, has actually taught me a lot. You think you're creative, you think you're brilliant and have all these profound ideas ... much more work needed, more focus, more thought.

And this process has really made me thankful for my true friends. I'm so lucky to have people in my life I trust, who always have my back, who always speak the bright, blessed truth. So the overriding question of this whole thing is Who am I? And shit, that's one of the most difficult questions I've ever had to answer. So let's take it one step at a time, one topic at a time. And naturally, I start with wine.

I suppose above all, I love wine for its honesty. For the moments of clarity it gives, when you taste something so deeply meaningful and profound that the clouds part, the sun shines through, and you suddenly understand the point of it all. Fleeting, and like a good dream, forgotten just as quickly ... but we know those moments exist, and we try to cherish them when they come. I was asked if the wines you like the most are a reflection of your personality. I believe so, strongly. I can only speak for myself - if you take a running list of the wines that mean the most to me ... well, that's DF right there. Honest, authentic wines, completely odious and hard to love right away. But over time, as they mature and you really come to understand them, they will be the most enlightening wine experiences you will ever have. Yes I'm introverted, yes I don't generally get along (or even like) most people, but come on, I'm old enough to not waste my time hanging out with people I don't particularly care for. And you can call me snobbish or standoff-ish, or even asshole-ish for it.

So what's next? I haven't actually been drinking much wine recently. Not in the mood, kind of trying to budget more carefully - lots of reasons why things have been a bit dry at home. One more school to work on, then it's a few months of sweating it out for a decision to come down. Fun. But at least the holidays are coming up. Hope everyone has a great week! No rest for the hard-working.

DF

Thursday, November 8, 2012

white wines on the table

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2010 Domaine Long-Depaquit Les Vaillons | AC Chablis 1er Cru

As winos, we go through love affairs with different wines - intense periods where we're so focused on a certain wine or style as to almost be obsessive. Clearly, winos don't place a premium on taking it easy.  I've had a Bordeaux phase, a Mosel phase, a Chinon phase, a Barolo phase ... there isn't much of a plan anymore, beyond what am I in the mood for? There's still a thrill though, of really focusing on a specific wine, sort of on an accelerated learning curve. Be intense or don't even bother - that's what I've always believed in, in wine and life.

The past 12 months have been rough. Lots going on, from GMAT to the still ongoing business school application process, so wine really has taken a bit of a backseat. Add on the need to really start budgeting more aggressively, and well, the boozing has suffered. I've been drinking more white wine though. Riesling and chardonnay really, if we're generalizing. I think it's this subconscious craving for focus and precision, which I find more consistently in the white wines that I drink. All high acid, low alcohol, linear wines that go beautifully with food. No posturing, no chest-puffing ... I think my palate has readjusted to the point that I'm turned off more than ever by overdone, macerated reds.

This bottle, from Les Vaillons, a Chablis Premier Cru, is sublime. It's still a baby, but already showing beautiful chardonnay character, and that textbook Chablis minerality and focus. Seductive yet with a backbone of steel. So now that the weather is cooling, what wines are you in to? What phase (if any) are you in now? 

DF

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

choosing wine that mirrors its drinkers

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1989 Cruz Vintage Port | Douro

So the elections are finally over for America and the rest of the world should be very grateful that the President has been re-elected. In my opinion, the job of POTUS is at least 75% foreign policy. The government is more than capable of handling domestic issues on its own - what the President needs to focus on is how to maintain and spread American influence internationally. And with all sorts of conflict happening, you just can't trust a corporate shark who can't point out Syria on a map to capably devise and carry out foreign policy. Just can't. So thanks America, you've allowed us all to breathe a sigh of relief until 2016. 

Monday night was my old man's birthday, and since my mother's in Shanghai at the moment and I'm smack in the middle of the worst shitstorm of my life ... a more subdued celebration seemed more appropriate. So we just cooked a simple dinner, and I pulled my last bottle of this 1989 Cruz. Like the other bottles I've had, it looks remarkably youthful, but is anything but a refined example of how grand of a wine Vintage Port can be. Coarse and thin, with the alcohol overwhelming the wine. Some sweet, dried berries on the nose, but you do have to search a little. A drinkable wine, at maturity ... it'll hold on for many more years, but what's the point?

I like to think that when you pull a special bottle to celebrate a person's special occasion, the wine doesn't just have to be something that they like - wouldn't it be interesting if the wine actually mirrored that person? We talk and write about wine in human terms, so wouldn't it be logical if we tried to choose wine by corresponding personality traits. Pleasant, honest, straightforward; lean, odious, understated - those are all things we can apply to both wine and people. Beyond choosing wine for flavour profile, let's see if we can dig deeper, and choose wine by its character. I already know what wine I'd like served in my honour. Something linear and acidic, subtle yet focused; elegant on the palate with a firm, long finish. That is, unless I'm in the mood for gin .....

DF

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

dogmatists in beer & food

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The Royal Ontario Museum is showing a photo exhibit called Observance and Memorial, Photographs from S-21, Cambodia. It's a collection of photos recovered from prisoner documents of the most notorious detention facility during the Khmer Rouge's time in power from 1975-1979. The photos were of detainees, the majority of whom were innocent, who were tortured for false confessions, and ultimately executed. Entire families exterminated. The exhibit explains the history first, to give some context before you see the photos. I left feeling angry, sad ... there's a photo of a mother and her baby I can't get out of my head. The photos almost feel like portraits, with many of the subjects projecting a certain calmness, weariness. I'm shocked at how meaningless their deaths were, how utterly horrendous an extreme idealogy like communism can be. Which reminds me - now seems an appropriate time to watch Land of the Blind again.

So we stepped out a bit too early for dinner (why in the fuck the museum closes at 5:30 on a weekend I'll never comprehend) and we slowly wandered westward to Yorkville and then out to Bathurst, where we ate at Fresh, a vegetarian restaurant. Packed, and if even only half the people were true vegetarians, a depressing thought. But you have to suck it up sometimes. The food was ... edible? I refuse, however, to abide by the beer they choose to stock. Nickel Brook Gluten Free beer - and we're being very, very, motherfucking very, charitable with the word 'beer' - was a mess. Sorghum being the grain of choice, with pear juice and demerara sugar because really, sorghum gives you jack shit. This is what happens when idealogy and dogmatism trumps common fucking sense. If you can't drink beer for whatever reason, DON'T. There's no reason for gluten free beer, just like there's no reason for non-alcoholic beer. At best, they're dirt cheap imitations of the real thing. Exactly like vegetarian food.

You can call it a beer if you want to, but really, what's the point?

DF

Monday, November 5, 2012

I want some dirty

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Hope everyone had a good weekend! So Daylight Savings Time ended for us here in Canada, and I was looking forward to it because well, it was going to let me sleep in a bit more on Sunday morning, after a long day (and night) out. But alas ... it was not to be. My neighbour decided that Sunday morning, 10 am, was the perfect time to start blasting 'Pagliacci'. Now, I live in a townhouse, and we have thin walls, made all the worse when his room is adjacent to my bedroom. And I love Pagliacci. But being roused awake after a night of drinking by ...

La gente paga, e rider vuole qua.
E se Arlecchin t'invola Colombina,
ridi, Pagliaccio, e ognun applaudirà!

 ... is not my idea of a good way to slowly arise from a deep slumber. Right. So he won't mind if I get my bluegrass on and start wailing to Man of Constant Sorrow.

I haven't been drinking much wine lately. Something about budgeting more carefully. So I guess I'm paying a bit more attention to the things I have been buying. And so the wine I want to drink now is moving away from I just want a pleasant bottle to drink with dinner to this bottle better blow my mind. That's not asking too much now, is it? At the very least, wines to make you think a bit, and teach a little something. And it's become quite obvious that while many, many new world wines are pleasant and drinkable enough, only occasionally do they satisfy on an intellectual level. Everyone speaks marketing cliches about terroir and bottling the vineyard, but so few actually understand what an actual terroir-driven wine is. There's an endless argument about the role of fruit in all this, but it's clear that while fruit expression is a big part of a wine, truly terroir-driven wines encompass a whole lot more.

North Americans like to be too clean. Though cleanliness is a virtue, it can often take a sharp left into sterility and lifelessness. Wine has to be a bit dirty to be interesting. It's the winemaker's perogrative to scream and fuss about brett and VA, but middle-of-the-road fruit and nondescript varietal character is no better than obvious flaws in the wine. And really, it's the flaws that make it all the more interesting. I don't believe in dogma, in wine or anything really, but many of these wines seriously veer into an almost neurotic approach to technical proficiency. I think these wines, as clean as they may be, lack all nuance and charm. What then, is the point, if winemaking is no more than an exercise in chemistry? Life is depressing enough as it is ... I'd like the things we eat and drink to be heart-thumpingly romantic because after all, we're all a bit soft and cuddly inside.

Wine crystals are potassium bitartrate crystals that most commonly forms sedimentation in white wines. Wines which have not gone through extensive fining or cold stabilization retain this important tartaric acid, and white wines that exhibit these sediments are often good examples of non-interventionist winemaking. This particular wine is a Mosel riesling, from Bernkasteler Badstube vineyard. And it's everything I want in a true terroir-driven wine. Racy and pure, with fabulously ripe fruit, but the most amazing underlying complexity and structure. This shouldn't be a debate about new world/old world sensibilities, or to insinuate that old world wines are the only true wines of the world, but to, as they say, truly bottle the vineyard, I think winemakers need to be a bit less finicky about getting a bit dirty.

DF

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Moonshiners



This is legitimately the best show Discovery Channel has ever aired. Appalachia suddenly jumped into the list of places I want to visit. Bluegrass and hooch ... and overalls coming back in a BIG way. It's all a bit of drummed up drama - running around in the woods, hiding your distilling equipment from the police. Maybe the bigger (and more important) question is why moonshine operations are illegal. America needs to get over itself with alcohol. Really, it's almost a joke that so much effort is expended to catch a few moonshiners, and all the while, they have their own tv show. Come on guys, it's just a little booze. And as dangerous as hooch can be, watch the series, especially the bit about how they find the best water for brewing the mash - these are hillbilly artisans.

DF

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

looking for some sunshine

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2009 First Press Cabernet Sauvignon | Napa Valley

We were lucky in Toronto - intense wind and rain last night, but nothing too catastrophic from Post-tropical storm Sandy. Was looking at pictures of New York, and they've been hammered. Hope my buddies in NYC and Chicago are ok ... stay dry and safe my friends.

I don't drink much Californian wine. Price certainly has something to do with it, but it's also that much of what I drink seems to be so boring. Yes, we all know how much Americans like fruit in their wines, but really, by that logic, they would just as be well served by drinking juice. Wine is wine only because it expresses something a bit more than middle-of-the-road, clean fruit flavours. Oak and alcohol are always going to be obnoxious issues to talk about in American wine, but in this wino's opinion, it's how they choose to express their fruit that turns me away from these wines. Of course, I'm generalizing here, as you could make the same claim for any new world wine.

I like First Press a lot. Maybe it's just me, but it's always these sub-$20 wines that seem more interesting. A little less ripe, a little less showy - simply more drinkable, pleasant wines. This cabernet, showing all the slightly jammy fruit that reminds you of its origin, but with this subtle stemminess that holds onto that bit of varietal character. Alcohol a bit high, but balanced, and altogether, a very agreeable wine with dinner. Now why can't more new world wines be like this? I mean, is it so painful for people to pick just a bit earlier, and hold back just a bit on the extraction?

Eventually, I think all the worst excesses of this whole high alcohol, macerated fruit nonsense will be reined back, at least in America (the Australians can keep their syrup wines). But as consumers, we have to send a message that what we're looking for is elegance and balance - true balance, with acidity - instead of a wine that's constantly shouting and trying to prove how impressive it is.

DF