Tuesday, January 31, 2012

switching to Teksavvy

I finally did it . . . I finally freed myself from the tyranny of Rogers High Speed Internet. It felt so, so satisfying to cancel. And no, I'm not interested in your 6-month half price deal because you fascists are going to make me sign ANOTHER one-year contract.

Teksavvy better not disappoint me. Because I'm not going back grovelling to Rogers to give me back my old deal. Took me a few hours, but finally got the DSL line, wireless router, and VoIP going. Here's to never having to check bandwidth usage again, wooo!!


Monday, January 30, 2012

UGC Bordeaux - finals thoughts on the 2009's

UGC Bordeaux 2012

UGC Bordeaux 2012

The infamous, one-off Karl Lagerfeld labels for Château Rauzan-Ségla 2009

UGC Bordeaux 2012

UGC Bordeaux 2012

DF and Aline Baly, Marketing & Communication Manager for Château Coutet

UGC Bordeaux 2012

DF and Jean-Pierre Foubet, Managing Director of Château Chasse-Spleen

UGC Bordeaux 2012

DF and Count Stephan Von Neipperg, Director of Château Canon-La Gaffelière

UGC Bordeaux 2012

DF with Anne and Olivier Bernard, Managers of Domaine de Chevalier

UGC Bordeaux 2012

UGC Bordeaux 2012

DF with friends

UGC Bordeaux 2012

So, what did we learn from this tasting? A lot, actually. The reds for one, are as good as advertised. Just sheer excitement and sex appeal. Fresh and pure, with the best ones remaining elegant and finely structured, showing enormous potential. The usual culprits (new oak and over-extraction) still lurk, but in such a ripe vintage, most of it is well contained.

The whites, both dry and sweet, clearly don't have the energy or excitement of the 2007's, or even the 2008's. I wouldn't go as far as saying they're flabby, but they do lack a certain acidic lift and dry extract. Good for early drinking though.

The wines feature fantastically high prices, almost shockingly so. One of the representatives of a more modestly-priced wine (and if you follow Bordeaux closely, you'll know who they are) had a rather interesting take on why some of them choose not to price higher. I was tasting his wine - fabulous, just exceptional in its purity and style. I commented that although he's always maintained a sane pricing strategy every vintage, the same could not be said about some of his colleagues. Was there any pressure to increase the price? His answer was that they were happy with their current customers, and had no trouble selling their wines. If they were to increase their prices, they would have to attract a completely different customer base, who may not be familiar with their wines. Essentially, they would have to prove, all over again, why their wines were worth a higher price.

An interesting explanation of pricing strategy. Although I doubt they'd have trouble selling their wines at a 25-30% premium. Don't tell them that though. On a whole, a great, great tasting. A chance to catch up with some old friends, both in the tasting circle as well as some of the estate directors and managers. Met a lot of new people - not providing spit cups does allow one to loosen up over the course of the evening and talk to more people. I'm looking forward to making good on that promise, Monsieur, Madame . . . I'll see you in Bordeaux!

Above all, this tasting reaffirmed that when the vintage is right, Bordeaux still creates some of the most exciting, dazzling wines in the world.

Please find all the tasting notes for the evening here:


Sunday, January 29, 2012

UGC Bordeaux - 2009 Right Bank & Left Bank

DF and Tom Hlasny, Château La Lagune

And now for the heavyweights. 2009 was always, from the very beginning, lauded as a fabulous vintage for the red wines. Legendary even, if you'd believe some of the breathless reports coming back from American critics. Lots of ripeness, soaring alcohol levels, all incredibly voluptuous - very Moulin Rouge, all sex and legs without being whoreish.

They delivered on that promise. The wines were, in a word, extraordinary. Ripe and approachable, exceedingly pure in fruit. Alcohols are high, but I did not detect any hint of an alcoholic burn in any of the wines. The most amazing thing about them though? The freshness. All of them were so fresh, so energetic, so lively. The triumph here, at this stage? In my opinion, the left bank. Pure fruit, finely structured, very elegant. Margaux was a bit off for me, the oak was incredibly intrusive. There were still some issues with over-extraction, especially on the right bank. Unfortunately, some also showed a dried, over-ripened character. Oak management is still an issue - you can't help but wonder if they got so excited with how ripe the fruit was that they figured, why not . . . let's just stick in as much new oak as we can.

Overall, the wines were so, so exciting, I was nearly turning delirious. My favourite wines? Gazin in the right bank, Pichon-Longueville-Baron in the left bank. Expensive as shit, but damn, fine as hell. By far one of the best showings of red wine in the 3 years that the UGC has been in Toronto. I just can't get over how exciting the 2009 reds are!!


Château Canon-La Gaffelière 2009: presented by the one and only Stephan Von Neipperg, dashing as always draped in an orange sweater; oaky rich fruit, great purity on the palate, oaky but quite structured, very long

Château Figeac 2009: oaky on the nose, crunchy fruit, very complex; palate disappoints, seems to completely drop off; at an awkward stage?

Château Troplong-Mondot 2009: So much oak here, dark fruit; refined and very elegant on the palate, finely structured, a good one


Château Clinet 2009: at $265 a bottle, certainly not being bashful; warm fruit, extremely ripe, slightly macerated; a bit disappointing, as I want richness and freshness in a warm Pomerol vintage

Château Gazin 2009: my favourite right bank wine, a real winner; this wine always quite rich, and ages very well - you almost feel like it'll never lose its fruit, in any vintage; dark and really big, rich fruit; dense oak on both the nose and palate, tannins are a bit coarse; very structured, needs time - all the elements are present, so much potential here

Château Petit-Village 2009: ripe fresh fruit, some oak, well integrated; big, grippy tannins


Château Poujeaux 2009: beautifully ripe, fresh fruit, so well put together; such an incredible fragrance, elegant palate, with the oak coming up slightly on the finish; very fine indeed

Château Chasse-Spleen 2009: my first time meeting Pierre Foubet, Managing Director of Chasse-Spleen, sans moustache (!); really fresh, pure fruit, so fine, so elegant, remaining structured and pure on the palate; delicious already, I'm SO glad I bought this wine


Château La Lagune 2009: the wine that introduced me to fine Bordeaux - 7 vintages in my cellar and counting; fresh fruit, really pure, some well integrated oak; grippy tannins, really structured, I'm really looking forward to seeing this age


Château Angludet 2009: complex, fine nose, really linear fruit, structured; really, really great

Château Brane-Cantenac 2009: so oaky, completely hiding the fruit; not offering much on the palate; can you say I'm awkward today?

Château Cantenac Brown 2009: that oaky nose again; ripe fruit, remaining fresh on the palate as well; finely structured

Château Du Tertre 2009: degree of oakiness, fine structure, but more luscious in texture

Château Giscours 2009: oaky all over, structured, pure fruit

Château Kirwan 2009: oaky ripe fruit, that middle of the line palate

Château Prieuré-Lichine 2009: so fresh, vibrant in fruit, really elegant; good structure, beautifully put together; 50% new oak

Château Rauzan-Ségla 2009: fine fruit, some oak, really linear palate; finely structured, really delicious; the famous (and hideous looking) Karl Lagerfeld-designed labels

Château Rauzan-Gassies 2009: crunchy, oaky fruit, good integration, fine palate; quite good in fact

Margaux . . . y u no stay consistent??!!


Château Beychevelle 2009: fresh, vibrant fruit, good density, rich but balanced; delicious already

Château Branaire Ducru 2009: I need to take a closer look at these wines; fine oak used, linear fruit, elegantly structured; so fresh, very good potential

Château Gruaud-Larose 2009: oaky, fine fruit; linear, fresh, well structured; it's the freshness and balance that was giving my boy Stefan the shakes

Château Langoa-Barton 2009: good depth, dark, and linear; finely structured, tight and dense; the potential here is obvious

Château Lagrange 2009: fresh, well integrated oak, good structured, slightly candied in fruit


Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2009: slightly bretty here, the only one (!); rustic palate, good structure, fine

Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron 2009: clearly the finest red wine here; really elegant, pure fruit, fresh, and incredible pedigree here; absolute silk on the palate, weightless; so fine, so grand, I'm losing my mind here

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse De Lalande 2009: some oak, fine fruit, elegant structured and with great breed; excellent potential here, one of the grand wines of Pauillac ($295 a bottle)

Final thoughts on the wines, and the vintage next.


UGC Bordeaux - 2009 Barsac & Sauternes

I don't want to suggest that Sauternes is in some trouble, but as with other sweet wines, it's near impossible to shed its label as something you only drink with dessert. And we all know how those go - almost no one actually opens another bottle after dinner, and no one even thinks of having it with dinner. Let's change that. In a great, cool vintage where the wines retain a good acidity, yet have ripeness and that all important botrytis character - a LOT like 2007 - the wines are absolutely stunning on the table. Few things in the world provide that deep satisfaction as old Sauternes, and yes, let's work together and change the perception of these wines. First by NEVER referring to them as dessert wines, omg.

The 2009 Sauternes share the ripeness of their dry white counterparts, but unfortunately, a few of them seem primary. All honey, big fruit, and lots of sweetness, but lacking in acidity, botrytis spice, and depth. Because the most interesting thing about a sweet wine should not be the fact that it's sweet. The best (most expensive) wines showed their pedigree though. You want to see lots of complexity, great acidity, great potential for decades of aging. These wines are expensive, and in my opinion, fall short of the 2007's as a whole.

Château Bastor-Lamontagne 2009: honey and apricots on the aroma, one of those aromas that cannot be mistaken for anything but a botrytis affected wine; ripe fruit, good acid on the palate

Château Climens 2009: pure, linear fruit already apparent; very pure and fine on the palate, sweet yet balanced

Château Coutet 2009: presented by the always articulate Aline Baly, Marketing & Communication Manager; honey and ripe fruit, viscous; round and sweet on the palate, long with good richness

Château de Fargues 2009: clearly the finest Sauternes of the tasting, and at $87 for a half bottle, it should be; botrytis spice on the nose, floral and ripe fruits; honey on the palate, long and a very spicy finish; fine and elegant, already complex with great depth

Château de Rayne-Vigneau 2009: ripe fruit, pure, mineral; compact on the palate, slightly bitter on the finish, interesting and needs time to come together

Château Doisy Daëne 2009: a wine I've been following for quite some time - I am SO excited for the 2007's to start coming around; pretty, almost floral in aroma, very refined fruit; really sweet, dense, rich, and long

Château Guiraud 2009: pure fruit, quite pretty, flowers and all that, the signature of Guiraud; ripe sweet fruit, textural and really viscous on the palate

Château La Tour Blanche 2009: blast of oak over the fruit, sweet palate, some spice on the finish; really needs time in the bottle

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2009: spicy oak on the nose, pure fruit, sweet but balanced palate

Château Suduiraut 2009: I have a half-bottle of the 1997 somewhere - we'll see soon enough how this ages after a decade in bottle; a bit reticent on the nose, but the fruit is very pure, concentrated and very sweet; a big, big wine

My tasting notes for the 2009 red wines next!


UGC Bordeaux - 2009 Graves & Pessac-Léognan

DF with Olivier and Anne Bernard, Domaine de Chevalier

The dry white wines of Bordeaux are always exciting to taste. The past few years have seen successive vintages of stunning dry whites from here - 2005, 2008, and definitely 2007 have all been winners. Just something about the acidity and levels of extract on the palate that make the experience feel like drinking electricity. And, might I add, these are the few white wines in the world that wear so much new oak with such style.

I always start tasting here, moving onto Sauternes, then the red wines. Certainly gets the palate going, as these tastings sometimes can feel like marathon sessions. Something about the 2009's was fairly obvious early on - they're all extremely ripe, with a few of the better ones showing an overt tropical fruit character. The impression of the acid is not quite as present, but not so much as to leave the wines flabby. Just does not have that same degree of dry extract in the mouth. New oak as always (and expected) in these wines when young. What I found interesting was that as ripe as the wines were, they remained balanced, with the sauvignon blanc character still present. Certainly very drinkable now, and being so ripe, one for the short to mid-term.

Château de Chantegrive Blanc 2009: a fair bit of oak here, round in fruit; creamy on the palate, soft acid

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2009: so delicate on the nose, linear and fresh, very clear fruit; a very cool style of wine indeed, very pure, with just a kiss of oak; very fine and elegant example, a favourite of mine

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2009: always such a pleasure talking to Monsieur and Madame Bernard, the passionate and eloquent managers of this estate; really well-integrated oak, floral notes, so fragrant already; delicate, ripe fruit, exceedingly elegant on the palate, showing the most amazing peach and tropical character on the palate; just a delicious, friendly, complex, and inviting wine

Château de Fieuzal Blanc 2009: slightly green in aroma, those sauvignon notes, with the fruit quite open; lean palate, put together, but altogether more grounded

Château Haut-Bergey Blanc 2009: I quite like this wine, but it was showing slightly awkward tonight; a fair bit of round oak, with the fruit reticent

Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion Blanc 2009: this wine is always well priced, showing well in 2007 and 2008; slightly green on the nose, fruit a bit shy at the moment; sweet oak on the palate; all the elements are there, just needs time to come together

Château Latour-Martillac Blanc 2009: that hideous label is an absolute eyesore, but the wine is the real deal; ripe fruit on the nose, fresh; beautifully extracted on the palate, with the fruit becoming almost crunchy in texture; a fabulous success for this estate, for this vintage

Château Malartic-Lagravière Blanc 2009: the oak is present, but remains in the background, rising up a bit in the mouth; nutty, but too bad the fruit is hidden

Château Pape Clément Blanc 2009: the heavyweight at, check it, $245 a bottle . . . horrifying; some oak on the nose, but the fruit is ripe and holds it nicely; really elegant in texture, very fine, with the oak rising up on the finish; heavyweight indeed

Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2009: for once, their reds out-price the whites; oaky ripe fruit, really bright on the palate; well integrated already with the oak rising on the finish; this estate always likes more structured white wines, and the 2009 does need some time to just come together and develop into itself

Tasting notes for Barsac and Sauternes next!


Saturday, January 28, 2012

three pints and a lamb burger

C'est What Brew/Vin Pub Restaurant is one of Toronto's hidden gems. All cozy and that, but it's so much more than just a bar, pouring some of the finest, most exciting beers in the city.

We (actually, just me) stumbled out of the UGC Bordeaux tasting excited and in the best mood. The wines were gorgeous, completely blowing me away. And since it seems that it's no longer Vintages policy to hand out paper spit cups at these tasting, I was trying to walk off 3 hours of non-stop drinking, alternating between white, red, dry and sweet wines. Hungry too. They need to bring the venue for this tasting back to the Four Seasons.

Because what else can you drink after a wine tasting than beer? And fuck me if I'm going to go for a pitcher of some bullshit, mass-produced brew. It was packed inside, so we settled at the bar first to have a round. I started with a pint of Neudstadt 10W30, just brilliance in rich, balanced, delicious brown ale.

I had the lamb burger - so satisfying. Also went on to have a pint of Railway City Dead Elephant Ale and a Big Butt Smoked Dark Ale. And I'm paying for it now, badly hungover. It was a good night, but everything after 11pm seems a bit hazy. Let me wake up, and I'll start posting my tasting notes.


Friday, January 27, 2012

just after the tasting

So, we've finished the UGC Bordeaux tasting of the 2009 vintage and are at C'est What, grabbing some food and a few pints. Just some quick thoughts - the reds were stunning across the board, with some truly exciting wines. The cabernets were a great success. Still an issue with some right bank wines being overextracted. Lots of new oak everywhere, but in the best examples, the elements are already well-integrated. The dry whites lacked energy, but did show ripe, tropical fruit characteristics. Sauternes was very sweet and rich.

A great, great tasting overall - a lesson that in good vintages, few regions can compete with Bordeaux in terms of sheer excitement. Detailed tasting notes and impressions to come soon. Time to indulge a bit in the wonderful ales they have here, and a lamb burger - someone is going to have to carry me home tonight.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

a spot of Grant's


I've lived alone with my father for 3 weeks now. And I can't believe it, but I've turned into a petulant teenager again, all would you leave me ALONE/just give me TWO minutes of quiet/NO I shouldn't have to confirm something we do every single day. Petulant like I can't even help myself.

This helps. The last few drops of Grant's. Strangely, that trail of fire you feel going down your throat into the stomach has a calming effect on me. What it's not helping with is the dreaming. I don't care so much about my dreams, but I did just watch Inception. I've been having these recurring dreams that all end up the same, horrible way. I dream that I'm in school again, and it's suddenly a deadline for an exam/assignment. And I suddenly realize that because I've skipped so many classes, I don't even know that exams are coming up for 2 of my classes. My subconscious is clearly trying to tell me something.

Anyways, I got a haircut today. Suddenly realized last night that I look like an idiot immigrant. Cleaned it up, and all the products were 100% vegan!! Looking forward to tomorrow's UGC Bordeaux tasting. In fact, I'm having a glass of young Clare Valley dry riesling right now to tune up my palate. No coffee, just light tea for tomorrow, and easy on the toothpaste. As last year, and the year before, I'll have tasting notes and general impressions up. If you're going to the tasting tomorrow (in Toronto), please send me an email - let's arrange to meet up.


because they have to be a certain way

I don't always eat chocolate, but when I do . . . . . . . . I eat tiramisu dessert cups mysteriously found in the bottom fridge drawer.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

something different to keep you nervous

Shirakawago Sasanigori.Shirakawago Sasanigori.

Shirakawago Sasanigori.

Shirakawago Sasanigori | Gifu Prefecture

It looks like milk doesn't it? It's good to challenge yourself with new things once in a while. Keeps you nervous, and as they say, on your toes.

The thing I miss most about being in Shanghai is eating with family. It's a different kind of food there - it's being back in the old country, and eating things that can't be found here. And the drinking. Oh yes, the rice wine. I've got these awesome uncles that everyone needs to have. It's a source of great pride for the Fangs that we are immune to the Asian glow. We drink until we can't stand/talk/walk straight, but we do not turn red. I particularly remember an amazing lunch we had the last time I was back home . . . . . oh God, that was almost two years ago. Food was amazing, just a full table of authentic, traditional Shanghai and Ningbo cuisine.

I've got so much love for two of my uncles, my father's oldest, and youngest brothers. And they were determined to see if I lived up to the Fang name. I'd like to think that I did pretty well. We finished something like 5 bottles of Shaoxing rice wine between the 3 of us - big 820 mL bottles, pushing 20% abv. I like drinking, but my goodness, it almost seemed a bit ridiculous to be indulging like this for lunch. We finished eating, about to have dessert served . . . I thought we were wrapping up when I fully realized the calibre of men I was drinking with. They called for 3 more (1 litre) bottles of beer to, as they said, rinse out the palate.

Needless to say, making our way back home through the Shanghai Metro was a bit of a struggle.

What a totally irrelevant story to this nigori sake. Milky white, with that extracted rice aroma. Gritty in texture, dry, with the alcohol showing a bit. Certainly a different experience. And it's good to open yourself to different things. Oh God I miss Shanghai.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the yellow croaker and home cooking

yellow croakeryellow croaker

yellow croaker

yellow croaker

yellow croaker

A Shanghai classic, yellow croaker and pickled cabbage soup. One of the most humble fish, that we can't even find fresh here . . . taking all of 20 minutes to put together. And as I was cooking, something occurred to me about how these dishes became, well, classics. Any real Shanghai native will recognize what this is. The simplest ingredients, but satisfies everything you want a a savoury fish soup to be.

Shanghai (and by extension its residents) seems glamorous, but people forget that my city suffered under the Communists. We carry the heaviest tax burden in all of China, and often feeling the most disconnected - government ideology notwithstanding, the divide between north and southern Chinese should not be underestimated. They think of us as arrogant and self-centered; that we think of ourselves as Shanghainese and everyone else as just Chinese should tell you everything you need to know about us. But what we all forget is that our home cooking is above all, economical. Flavour and texture, paramount of course. But as this is our daily food, we have to also be economical with our resources.

Yellow croaker and pickled vegetable soup:

Hard sear on the fish

Using the same pan and leftover oil, fry your pickled cabbage until tender

Add water, bring to a boil

Fish goes in, and boil hard until the soup turns milky

Season to taste


Monday, January 23, 2012

A New Year

My mother's still in Shanghai, so it's not much of a celebration this year. And of course, the first day of the new year today was a shitfest. Just nothing seeming to going right, from apparently losing my keys to not bringing my workout pants to, yes, even forgetting how I write my signature.

We had a New Year's dinner this Saturday at a family friend's. I brought the wine, a pair of South Americans - an Argentinean pinot noir, and a Chilean petit verdot. Yes, a varietal petit verdot. Both pleasing, in that innocuous, unremarkable, yet drinkable, easily likeable style. And with nothing left, we (I) had to turn to Coors, the company that apparently thinks its consumers are too stupid (or hammered beyond belief) to know if the bottles are cold or not, so they slapped on a temperature by colour label. Because North Americans have the common sense of, well, no common sense actually.

Food was good. And they went into the great effort to make egg dumplings. Hideously difficult and time-consuming, but it's nice to see traditions being honoured. Finished, and laid on top of a beautiful pork soup, loaded with stuffed bean curd and bamboo shoot. Shanghai classic.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

a bit of snow, a bit of red

snow like whoa

snow like whoa

It's snowing a bit. Out soon to a family friend's for dinner, to celebrate our New Year. Have the wines ready, some Chilean, some Argentinean. Ready to eat and become thoroughly, as they say, bottoms up. Photos, and possibly a tipsy video, to follow.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

cold and wet and a little miserable

It's been fairly miserable this week. Weather acting up, among other things. Look at this, we're getting foggy, muggy weather mid-January in Toronto. Like driving through a cloud. My office is only on the 4th floor, and I can't see the highway.

Last Friday's meal was a disaster. I was lazy and feeling for a one-pot meal, so I somehow got it in my mind that I'd cook spaghetti al ragù alla bolognese. We had a bottle of Niagara vidal lying around - I've been put on blast for saying this before, but if you don't know a thing about wine, DON'T BUY IT AS A GIFT!! Drives me apeshit crazy now that I owe someone a gift back for a shit bottle of wine I don't know what to do with. So, a simple meat sauce with half the bottle of wine. Only I forgot one simple, cardinal rule - don't trust a bullshit wine even for cooking. My beautiful bolognese sauce turned bitter, and all kinds of vile. Dinner shot to hell.

At least the wines were decent. And on such a foggy night, it was maybe appropriate to be drinking Barolo. I need to get serious about this whole let's replace all my Bordeaux with Barolo thing. Nebbiolo, derived from the Italian nebbia, meaning fog. And of course, a first taste of Faizeau 2009. A question of whether the producer has been doing something differently these past few vintages, because the character of the wines is totally different - but we'll ask that another time.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tian Mu Lake white tea




Tea is a constant in our family. We've always been conscious about drinking a lot of water, and good tea makes it a pleasure. It also helps that we don't pay for a lot of the tea that we drink, and we always receive interesting things to taste alongside the TieGuanYin, LongJing, and Pu'Er, standbys in our cupboard. What can I say, my family knows people.

This is one of those interesting things. Or rather, something new to taste. A white tea, from a place called Tian Mu Lake. I researched a bit about it - there aren't a lot of resources about this particular variety. It's a new tea, whatever that means. Is it a new style, or a new planting? All new tea farms? The land has always been there - and as far as I'm concerned, white tea is simply a marketing catchphrase. The explanation that it's the most tender shoots is utter nonsense, as proper green tea is already produced from the baby shoots. That's why green tea produced around QingMing holiday in early April is the most highly prized - it's when the first buds appear. Anyways, if you're interested in reading about this tea, Hank Horkoff has a terrific piece about it on The Network Sense. Really well-written, well-researched . . . well done sir.

We bought that glass teapot in Shanghai, when I was last home in 2010. We've used it maybe twice? It's actually a terrible vessel to brew tea in. Doesn't hold heat well, the spout doesn't really pour right, and the fit of the glass top is suspect. But you do get to see the tea leaves do their dance, moving up and down in the hot water. If only the tea were as interesting. Brews lightly flavoured water, a suggestion that you're drinking tea.

Eagerly waiting for our next shipment, and hoping for a better surprise. Say no to white tea, because we all should know better.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the ten year old Rioja


2001 Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva, DOCa Rioja

Eleven years ago when this wine was made - although technically, the wine was born towards the end of 2011, so ten years and a few months ago - I was beginning high school. Young, impressionable, clueless . . . yet somehow I thought I knew it all. We've all been there. So stupid. So immature.

My favourite class in the second semester was an art class called Media Arts. They let us play with digital cameras (giant bricks that you put 3.5" floppy disks in), Photoshop, iMovie . . . and taught us what art installations were. It was my first experience with non-Classical art, and in my first assignment for that class, I wrote I don't think this counts as art. A decade later, I still think it's questionable for the arts curriculum to insist that a bunch of 16 year olds learn contemporary art before the classics. What they don't teach you is that the most successful contemporary artists have a solid foundation in the classics - illustration, sketching, painting, etc. You can't just suddenly become conceptual without developing strong, basic art skills. It doesn't work like that, which is why our class produced students who were deluded into thinking that they were, in fact, artistic.

There are no shortcuts. When I send my piano students to performances and recitals, they sound magnificent on stage. It's a few minutes of glory, but what the audience doesn't see (or hear) are the hours and hours of practice, of technical exercises . . . of endless repetition and often, frustration. Fundamentals are everything. You can't become a artist/musician/whatever by showing up and trying to go right for the end product. You have to start at the beginning, and go through all the steps. Patient, methodical, and diligent work is not sexy (or easy), but it's the only way. As they say, it may take 100 hammer strikes to break the rock, but was it that 100th blow that did the job, or the preceding 99?

The last issue of Decanter magazine had an (excellent, as always) article written by Andrew Jefford, explaining exactly how oak is used in Rioja. The classification rules dictate the years that the wine must remain in oak and bottle before release. For example, Reserva wines require at least 1 year in oak, 2 years in bottle, and Gran Reserva requires 2 years in oak and 3 years in bottle; producers often age the wines even longer. What Jefford explained was that often, the wines are aged into several different types of wood before they're bottled. They may be aged first for a few months in new American white oak for toasty flavours and tannins, then into older French casks to allow for a subtle oxidation and a harmonious integration of all the parts. Or, the winemaker may experiment with casks of varying toasts. All very complex indeed, underlining the skill and precision demanded of the winemaker's palate. It's never so simple as simply sticking the wine in oak for 24 months, then into bottle. Good things take careful study and hard work. This particular wine, from a traditional producer of Rioja, is stunning. That gentle rusticity, that beautiful Rioja nose of strawberries and cream. Developing in the glass and with more air, becoming more complex, more refined, more singular. And at a decade old . . . it was worth the wait.


Monday, January 16, 2012

the last of the mulberry wine


I'm having these crippling episodes of self-doubt and anxiety again. I look like shit, I can't sleep, drinking heavily again . . . and the real business hasn't even started yet! It's been a few years since I've graduated, and lately, it's becoming quite clear that if I'm going to make something of myself, as they say, I need to go back to school. So it's time to tighten up that sphincter and get to work.

I'm reminded of the last of the mulberry wine we brought back from the old country. My paternal ancestry traces back to the coastal town of Ningbo, about 220 km or so south of Shanghai. It's an ancient town, with a history going back to 4800 B.C., and was an important trading port through the dynasties. My grandfather left the town as a young boy, moving to Shanghai to work - he apparently never lost his accent. We still have (distant) relatives living there, and who run a farm. High up on my list is to go visit and work the fields and chickens they still raise. I hear their homemade rice hooch is a winner as well.

I've written so much about this, but mulberry wine is a treasure handed down to us by our ancestors, and it's a tradition we need to protect. Mulberry is native to the area, and locals soak the ripe berries in baijiu, the fiery rice spirit possessing upwards of 40% abv. If the mulberries are of good quality, the liquid turns purple, becoming sweeter and purer in flavour and texture. The alcohol absorbs into the berries, preserving them and giving the texture of the fruit an amazing crispiness. And done right, all it takes is 3 berries to knock you the fuck out. We Ningbo country bumpkins appreciate people who can hold their liquor. My last visit back home, I experienced first-hand what it means for our people to drink hard. Those motherfuckers don't play around.

Locals actually use this for medicinal purposes. Particularly effective for bad bouts of diarrhea, I've been told. Country medicine ftw!!


Friday, January 13, 2012

looking forward to UGC 2012!

UGC in Toronto, 2012

Something to look forward to! Yes, it's that time of year again when all the aristocrats from Bordeaux come to Toronto to allow us the privilege of tasting their sweet sweet nectar. I'm so excited, because in 2 weeks, the UGC will once again host a tasting of their wines, this time the vaunted 2009 vintage. The last 2 years, the red wines were certainly underwhelming. This year looks to be much different.

I've always been so impressed with the quality of dry white Bordeaux, and 2007 was a wild success for Sauternes. The reds? Really hit and miss for me - I've felt indifferent about them far more than not at these tastings. The prices being asked for them certainly play a role in that perception. But the 2009 reds are said to be amazing, and I can't wait to taste. Also, looking forward to meeting and talking with some of the owners and estate managers again! Plus . . . it's all on a Friday night. Who knows, maybe we'll see a repeat performance.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Celt Experience - beer and food

Celt Experience

We want to take a look at these beers in a more natural setting; namely, the table. For individual tasting notes for each beer, refer here please.

It's almost a shame that beer is most often think of as being best enjoyed on its own. After all, few alcoholic beverages have the versatility to go with a wide range of foods as beer does. Wine certainly doesn't. Try to drink the wrong wine with the wrong dish . . . utterly disastrous. And unfortunately, wine and food can be tricky. Why do you think there are so many writers whose entire careers revolve around piece after boring piece about what to drink with what?

Just as the true winos have disproved the whole red meat with red wine, white meat with white wine absurdity, we have to get beyond the notion that beers are best ice cold and on its own. That's no good. So let's start now and make a conscious effort to drink good craft beers with food, and understand how different styles match different flavour profiles. Beer is versatile, so incredibly versatile with food. Savoury food, spicy food, all kinds of proteins, raw seafoods . . . start of meal, end of meal, and pretty much everything in between, beer can handle it all. The key is to know the style. And by style, we're really looking at the hop profile, the type of malt used, and what kind of roast was applied. So as long as we can identify the flavour profile of the beer, we can determine which ones to serve with any specific food.

Celt Experience Bleddyn 1075

Celt Experience Bleddyn 1075

Starting with the Bleddyn 1075, in the pale ale style. Really hop forward, with the bitterness rising on the finish. Bit of a higher alcohol too, at 5.6%, staying fresh and lean. With these types of beers, you want contrasting flavours. These bitter ales are really singular in both flavour and texture - those hoppy notes refresh the palate, and you want to eat food that wraps around that bitterness, not enhance it. So of course, common sense would dictate something either very rich, or very spicy. Rich dishes, meats or whatever you like, work because the beer cleans it all up in the mouth. You want your drinks to prep the palate for the next mouthful of food, letting you eat more than you should. Spicy foods - and whatever kind of spicy, chili peppers or peppercorns or whatever you're into - works extremely well. We do this poached beef tenderloin that's been tenderized in the pressure cooker, and eaten with a chili/garlic sauce. Spicy and almost numbing on the tongue, but a good pull of the Bleddyn 1075 cooled off the heat, with the hops taming that overt spiciness.

Not common, but I liked drinking this with seafood. We had these really fresh west coast shrimps, and simply poached them in salt water. Dipped in a savoury soy/sesame seed oil sauce, the hoppiness of the beer again seems to lift that marine flavour of the shrimp. With so many different flavours and textures of food around the table, a beer that cleanses and refreshes is very welcome indeed.

Celt Experience Golden               Celt Experience Bronze

Celt Experience Golden (left) and Bronze (right)

With these softer, rounder ales, I found them more easy of a companion, just because the hops weren't so overt. We didn't exactly find the perfect food match (if such a thing even exists), but nothing didn't work either. The beers went lovely with the roast duck we were having, showing just as well with the homegrown bok choy and celery as well, cooked in the Shanghainese style. I love the warm roasted malt character, the roundness on the palate, and that slight hoppy lift on the finish. I'd imagine this to be excellent with a pan seared rib steak, whatever protein you like eating. The beers have an effect of both building up the savoury elements of the food you're eating, as well as finishing dry, key in refreshing the palate. It's that complementary thing you want to aim for - the beer and food aligning up in flavour profile.

Celt Experience Native Storm               Celt Experience Dark-Age

Celt Experience Native Storm (left) and Dark-Age (right)

These ales with the heavier roasts are bit trickier, just because they can almost be a blanket on the palate, covering up more delicate flavours. But then you don't want your food to be too rich; if the flavours are both assertive, you're creating a brawl in the mouth. And that's no fun for anyone. Some say these stouts go well with raw oysters on the half-shell. I disagree, but then again I'm with the winos who swear by Sancerre and dry white Bordeaux (oaked sauvignon blanc) with shellfish. These richer beers, to me, are perfect for autumn flavours. Game, if you can find it, seared quickly with some thyme or rosemary or whatever you like. Mushrooms, oh yes. And my goodness, if you can find truffles . . . divine. What I like about these two beers is that the textures remain leaner and more refreshing. Serving the same function as acidity in wine, it's the texture of the beer that really determines how well it will pair with food.

Outlining specifically the dish that pair with each beer is a pointless exercise, and something that only food/wine writer hacks and wannabes concentrate. Context of how (and when and why) the beer or wine is being drunk is all important, not to mention the drinker's personal tastes. What we can do here is discuss some of the broader flavour profiles that seem to complement each style of beer, with encouragement that everyone experiments to see what works. And that's really the fun part right? The point I really want to make here isn't necessarily that certain styles of beer should only be drunk with certain styles of food. Rather, it's to make clear that fine craft beers deserve to be drunk with a meal, with loved ones, and with a sense of adventure. That's my point.

For friends in Ontario, this was shared with me by Rubaiyat Wine and Spirit - the availability of the following beers through the LCBO are as follows:

Celt Native Storm Crafted Ale, LCBO Item #260299, will be released as part of the LCBO's Spring Beers on February 26, 2012.

Celt Golden Crafted Ale, LCBO Item #224600, will be released as part of the LCBO's Summer Beers on May 20, 2011

Celt Bronze Crafted Ale, LCBO Item #236091, will probably be included in their Autumn Ales released in September, although this is not yet confirmed.