Tuesday, July 31, 2012

at the foot of the mountains


2010 Terredora Loggia Della Serra | DOCG Greco di Tufo


2011 Michele Chiarlo Le Marne | DOCG Gavi

Yes, so we're going to be actively searching for unfamiliar wines to be tasting (and learning about) right? Right. Like many others, my first experience with Italian whites was pinot grigio. The sort of wine for people who drink wine to look good. I've been hearing a lot about how there are a growing number of producers who are taking pinot grigio to the next level, but unfortunately, we seldom see good examples (in Ontario at least). Glorified dishwater is all it is, most of what we see here. Santa Margherita for fuck's sake.

But moving on; obscure Italian whites are kind of my thing now. Completely original, one-off wines that are unlike any other white wines in the world. You get a great sense of tradition with these bottles: the grecos, the pecorinos, the falanghinas, the corteses. Yet in the same sniff of the glass, there's a sense of modernity; the wines have a story to tell, and belong on the world stage. They have a terroir profile that is unlike anything else, with an elegance and drinkability that makes them brilliant on the dinner table. And we add two more examples here. The Greco di Tufo, lots of herbal, vegetal aromas, with subtle citrus fruit behind it all. And one of my favourite Italian producers, Michele Chiarlo, with a winner of a wine that in my opinion, matches favourably against any white Burgundy twice as expensive. From Gavi in Piedmont, the cortese grape makes wines of fabulous elegance and depth - just a wine that glides on your palate, with layers and layers of complexity.

Modernity can be such a tricky balance, but the more of these Italian country wines I drink, the more I'm excited for the (Italian white) category as a whole. Moving forward, without forgetting where you came from. Fresh, vibrant, balanced, and utterly unique . . . that's what I would call a great wine.


Monday, July 30, 2012

going back to what's comfortable


2001 Bodegas Lan Gran Reserva | DOCa Rioja


2004 Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir | VQA Niagara Peninsula

As winos, we need to think outside of the box. We tell everyone about the need to explore and try different things, to be brave. But do we listen to our own advice? Comfort level plays a huge part in the wines we drink, and we sometimes end up drinking the same thing, bottle after bottle, without even realizing it. Maybe it's a subconscious thing when we're shopping for wines. I'll have an idea of some wine I want to be drinking, and tend to ignore anything else. Because yes, there is such thing as a craving for a specific wine. Like many other things, the unknown is a bit scary, and when we pick wines we've drunk before, there's at the very least a sliver of a guarantee that we'll like what we taste.

Mature Gran Reserva Rioja and Niagara pinot noir, two of those very wines that always seem to offer consistent pleasure. The Rioja at nearly 11 years of age, just so elegant, becoming sweeter and sweeter. And of course, an old friend, the 2004 Inniskillin Montague Vineyard pinot noir, last tasted in December 2009. Still holding on nicely, finely structured, but blossoming with that Niagara clay warmth. Nice stemmy quality as well.

It's all about trying new things, educating yourself by tasting, and building new context around unfamiliar wines. But it takes effort. I've heard wine people - sommeliers and other professionals - suggest that the next time you're in a wine shop/restaurant you should buy/order something you either don't recognize, or can't pronounce. There might be some truth to that. So with the month of July nearly over, and with only about a month and a few weeks of summer left, let's be on the lookout for the unfamiliar, for the strange, for the esoteric, and for the mysterious!


Friday, July 27, 2012

O death


I've been having sleeping problems lately. Having trouble falling asleep, constantly waking up in the middle of the night . . . it's terrible. And it's starting to affect my mood, man. It does give me time to think though. I have these grandiose plans of what I want my life to look like at 30, but really, it's a free-for-all. THERE IS NO PLAN. But what am I saying, I always work better when I only have a general direction. It will all work itself out.

When you open a bottle, it loses all its value. That's the real truth about wine. And the great mystery, the great appeal of it all is that you never know what to expect when you taste that first glass. It may be as great as you expected; it may be tragic and damaged. But that's the beauty of wine, the part where you know nothing of what to expect. To look at it another way, what is a wine that you never open? Everyone has that one bottle, the ONE bottle that nothing ever seems important enough for, that no person seems worthy enough to taste. Does wine still have meaning if it is never tasted and drunk?

Hindu Buddhism teaches that eating food is the ultimate sacrifice. Once one has consumed another life-form, whether it be a vegetable or an animal, one has the obligation to try and live a life that is higher than that which was consumed. In other words, food serves to elevate one's being. It's almost silly for me to be writing about a religion and philosophy I almost know nothing about, but this whole consciousness they apply to food describes a simple, yet deeply meaningful truth. Everything you consume, whether it's food (or knowledge, or experience), should serve to enhance yourself as a human being. I'm reminded of what Paul Pontallier said, when describing French winemaking, that in every gesture, there is a margin of progress. So when we moan about how no occasion ever seems appropriate to open that special bottle of wine, think about what that wine can do for you. Yes, I may have appreciated a lot of the wines I drank 3 years ago a lot more if I drank them today, but would I have developed this appreciation without drinking those wines? Where we are now is simply a function of all the incremental steps we've taken.

A question, simple question. How do you impress a girl? What do you say, what do you do; it's all a big mystery, isn't it. A time when all your insecurities come out, because you can be all kinds of confident at work, in front of your friends, with strangers . . . but when it comes to that girl . . . THAT girl . . . how come we turn into a mess of indecisiveness and self-doubt? She's so pretty, she's so charming, OMG it has to be her. It has to be her.

Complete stream of consciousness thinking, thoughts as I try to lull myself to sleep. But straight truth - never claim to always be correct, but aim for truth . . . always speak the truth. Went out with a bunch of friends to watch The Dark Knight Rises last night. Wow. There are no other words to convey how epic this finale to Christopher Nolan's trilogy is. At once sentimental and emotional, eerie and completely terrifying. Nolan's a genius. I'm going to end all this babble with a song. The Appalachian dirge O Death sings of helplessness, despair, and ultimately, resignation to fate.

The old, the young, the rich or poor
All alike to me, you know
No wealth, no land, no silver no gold
Nothing satisfies me but your soul


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Courvoisier Collective: Culinary Masterpieces


Courvoisier is hosting another program courtesy of Matchstick, and this time it's all about the food. This is an opportunity for talented home cooks and culinary students to show off their talent, incorporating Courvoisier cognac as an ingredient in their dishes. So here's how it works: visit the Courvoisier Collective website, where you can submit a recipe, browse other people's recipes and vote for your favourite, or learn more about the chef judges. If you're going to get all social media about this, remember to use the hashtag #CVCollective.

Key Dates:

August 17, 2012 - Deadline for submissions and voting.

September 7, 2012 - Six finalists (3 from each category - at home chef and culinary students) are chosen based on votes collected and judging panel scores.

October 17, 2012 - Finalists attend an exclusive tasting event in Toronto where their recipes will be sampled by all attendees. Two winners from each category will receive a $1,000 cash prize.


Submitters may only be from Ontario but voting is open to all residents of Canada.

Eligible recipes must fall under the category of soup, salad, h'ors d'oeuvres or entrée.

Recipes must contain Courvoisier cognac (either the VS, VSOP, Exclusif, or XO expression)

Submissions must include a photo of the finished recipe.

So get to work!! I'll be submitting a dish myself soon - still refining and working on it. Good luck everyone, and remember, if you're cooking with cognac, you have to be drinking it the entire time as well!!!


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

My mind has totally been blown. BLOWN. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is nothing short of a masterpiece, those truly special films that inspire you and encourage you to dream. Jiro Ono is the 85 year old shokunin of すきやばし次郎 (Sukiyabashi Jirō), a 3 Michelin star sushi restaurant in Ginza. Jiro-san is the oldest chef in the world to earn 3 stars, and he runs the restaurant with his eldest son, Yoshikazu. His younger son Takashi runs his own restaurant in Roppongi Hills, and has earned 2 stars himself.

It's a story of hard work, dedication, and just pure discipline. Just an incredible man, showing that taking sushi to unknown heights takes more than just sourcing the best ingredients. If you haven't watched this yet, my goodness, get on it. In HD, just watching the way the sushi slowly relaxes once it's placed on the plate . . . what perfection is. Suddenly I want to visit my aunt in Tokyo again.


Monday, July 23, 2012

a night of Flat Rock - the pinot noirs

2006 Flat Rock Pinot Noir

2006 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir | VQA Twenty Mile Bench

2005 Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir

2005 Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir | VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasting Flat Rock

We moved onto the pinot noirs - MY star of the evening, but as these things turn out, my friends all preferred the rieslings. These wines that I've held for some time, that hold a special place in my education as a wino.

The 2005 pinot noir means so much to me. I picked it up in October 2007, that very first visit to Niagara wine country with 2 buddies. I still remember when we rolled into Flat Rock . . . it was drizzling, workers were harvesting the vineyards, and spirits were high. A friend wanted to celebrate her birthday in Niagara. She, along with the rest of our friends, was out in Buffalo shopping but naw, we weren't going to cross the border. No, the 3 of us spent a great day driving around Niagara, tasting at a few wineries, relaxing. And then dinnertime came. An hour passed, then two. No sign of the rest of our group. Three hours on, a call comes in - they're all (about 8 of them) stuck at the border. Just before midnight, when the restaurant is empty, and the kitchen staff is about to bounce . . . they roll in. Finished dinner, and then the plan was for the entire party to move to the casino. This wino, and my two tasting buddies, were absolutely beat, and decided to begin driving back to Toronto. As soon as we get back on the Niagara Parkway . . . bababoom!!! Bababoom!!!!!! Thunder and lightning and the mother of all rainstorms. All power suddenly goes off, and we're high-beaming it the entire time back to the QEW. A great (and very memorable) day in Niagara!!

Right. We started with the 2006 pinot noir. Fading in colour, even under screwcap. Dried fruits, but that warm Niagara clay still comes through. A beauty! The 2005 Gravity is their premium pinot noir, and it shows. A riper vintage, the wine is fresh, and retains a lot of that spice. Great purity, some sweet fruit - an elegant, albeit simple and straightforward Niagara pinot noir.

The night went on, and we moved onto mojitos using the fresh mint from my friend's garden. Refreshing and all kinds of awesome in the summer heat. The night of Flat Rock was a wonderful look at how these humble wines have aged, and under screwcap! Shows that the wines will age under this kind of closure. Flat Rock has always made honest, dependable wines that I think showcase that warmth and spiciness, and that odd stemmy-ness of true Niagara pinot noir. The wines filled out in texture with age, and although they may not necessarily blow anyone's mind away, they are a fabulous representation of what we may look back in 20 years to be the true Niagara character.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

a night of Flat Rock - the rieslings




2008 Flat Rock Cellars Riesling | VQA Twenty Mile Bench


2008 Flat Rock Cellars Nadja's Vineyard Riesling | VQA Twenty Mile Bench

So we got together at a friend's place last week to taste some Flat Rock wines I've been holding onto for a few years. It's always the best time when you hang out and eat-drink with people you like - I said it before, but I'll say again: I'm too old, I'm too tired, to be wasting time hanging out with people I don't enjoy. Raging over. Flat Rock has always bottled under screwcap, and this was my first opportunity to see how they did with some bottle age. Would they develop? Or would they be stuck in time? OR . . . was there nothing much to develop in the first place??

2008 was a special year for me. I graduated from university in the spring, with a (useless) degree in Economics, and promptly took a long trip out to visit family in Tokyo and Shanghai. It was all reality once I got back . . . crushing, depressing reality. I didn't have a job, I had a shitload of student loans to repay, and I got dumped by a girl. A trifecta of doom. So I moped around for a few months, aimless, picking up work where I could. Of course, I eventually found a job that made me happy in the fall, but those 6 months were ball-achingly painful. So 2008 Niagara wines hold a special place in my heart.

I had picked up both wines in late 2009, holding onto a few bottles until now. It was hot outside, I wanted to taste them all together, and best of all, my friend was cooking. Flat Rock is special. It was the first Niagara winery I ever visited, and a source of happy, honest wines. Chilled on ice, we started with the two rieslings first. The first one, the estate level riesling, is always a good introduction to the Niagara style of riesling. That ripe citrus, the lanolin cream aromas, the great acidity on the palate. Some extract too. Bottle age has rounded it all out, and it's drinking beautifully right now - all open and friendly, perfectly balanced with a slight sweetness.

The Nadja's Vineyard refers to a small parcel of Flat Rock's vineyards, which provides the grapes for this wine. We need to be careful about these single vineyard bottlings - not that they're misleading, but rather these vineyards are far too young for any meaningful distinction to be made. For example . . . the great vineyards of Burgundy were slowly mapped out over hundreds and hundreds of years, taking generations of hard work and diligence. Of course, things move much faster now, but it's become all too common in the New World to slap the name of a single vineyard on the label and charge a premium for it.

This bottle, the Nadja's Vineyard riesling, doesn't show so much a difference in vineyard qualities than in winemaking styles; and a big reason why is because no one knows if there is a distinct difference to start with. Maybe in a few decades, but for now, this wine is a function of the winemaking. Leaner and drier than the first riesling, great tension. Aromatic, with good length on the finish.

What a great start to dinner. If pressed, I'd go with the estate level riesling. But of course, that's a personal thing. I have a serious thing for Mosel wines, so of course I'd go for the riesling with a touch of sweetness. Both are delicious, and both show that even for simple, humble wines, patience will be rewarded.


Friday, July 20, 2012

a little fruity, lots of great


2011 Cabriz Rosé | DOC Dão


2011 Domaine des Carteresses Rosé | AC Tavel

Man, I just can't get enough of these pink wines. Portugal, coming through with an absolutely delicious wine at $11.95 (!!!). Rosés have this reputation of being the cheap floozies of the wine world, and in some cases, it deserves that rep. But damn, floozies can be SO MUCH FUN. No, in all seriousness - because these are serious wines - pink is the real deal.

In the heat and humidity of summer (my relatives don't believe me, but Toronto has scorching summers, continental climate people!!), with the charcoal going hard, sweat flying everywhere, I can't imagine a more pleasurable thing than downing an ice cold glass of rosé. But not just any rosé. See, these wines are so much more than tinted white wines. In the best cases, they have a fabulous purity of fruit (like the Cabriz), and a well-defined texture and structure (like the Carteresses). But where this Portuguese KO's the French bottle is in balance and alcohol. Because it's hot enough already; you don't need to be drinking a wine that'll knock you out before the yams are done.

That pretty much goes for all wine. Refreshing wines that actually pick you up instead of make you drop are what we all should be drinking more of. And besides, you want to be seducing girls with wine, not making everyone sloppy. Save that for the 3rd date.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

pulling out an old friend

2004 Château de L'Estang
2004 Château de L'Estang AC Côtes de Castillon

Because I refuse to call it Côtes De Bordeaux: Castillon.

This wine is like an old girlfriend that still makes you tingle a bit down there when you think of her. Ladies, you know what I mean too. You get caught up being busy everyday - work and all that - and you forget to take some time to reconnect with the past. You move on, you make new friends, whatever . . . that doesn't mean old relationships still don't give you a little bit of a thrill. Are we still talking about wine?!

There is no contradiction between Bordeaux and value. It's the big players that get all the attention, but with thousands upon thousands of tiny producers, how can you not find inexpensive, authentic wines from here? And in my opinion, Castillon leads the charge of these wines that are so much more than just value-driven . . . naw, these wines can be absolutely exciting. Like this bottle. This producer plants to about 70% merlot and 30% cabernet franc in the vineyards, and while I'm not completely sure about the final blend, the assemblage should reflect those proportions, with only about 30% aged in new oak. It was already delicious young - the last bottle tasted in May 2009. Even though it was sealed under reconstituted cork, I knew the wine had the structure and fruit to age gracefully. And I was proven right.

This has all the delicacy and purity that merlot can bring, with waves of absolutely delicious sweet fruit on the palate. Finely structured, lots of great energy. This is just one of those wines in full maturity that are simply a joy to have with dinner.

Most of the time, you need to let the past, be in the past. But damn, when you pull these mature wines out . . . you realize that there's still something special about Bordeaux, no matter how humble, or simple the wine might seem. As in life, balance and subtlety are the only things that are everlasting, and never out of style.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Post No. 2601

Profile - Colour

I've been thinking some serious truth lately. A lot of things seem to be suddenly going on at once - kind of overwhelming, actually! I'm still working on my business school applications, and no, still don't have a shortlist of schools I want to apply to. But it's all good. I'm getting there.

I've been drinking a lot! These past 10 weeks or so have been bottle after bottle of things I've pulled out of the cellar, things I've been holding onto for a while - it's been pretty great, because I'm sure after they're all gone, I won't have another opportunity (at least for the next 2-3 years) to drink like this again. Something about being serious about getting my shit together. Now, speaking of growing up . . .

Mothers are the best. They nurture you, they support you unconditionally, they know exactly how to cheer you up when you feel like tying a noose around your neck; they happily cook all your favourite foods for you, they always tell you great job, you're the best! even for the most trivial, inconsequential things, and they'll never, ever kick you out of the house. Those are the best mothers, and I have one of them.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are mothers who fancy themselves puppetmasters. They obsessively have to control everything and everyone, focusing the most attention on their own children. Just hovering, hovering, hovering. They have to micromanage every facet of their children's lives, because shit, they know best. Well, you don't. And for the dopes who let their parents run their lives - you deserve it if you end up spineless, clueless, and dependant on others to make decisions for you. Grow up. Overbearing parents: you're ruining your child's life. Pretty soon, they're going to be 40 and realize they don't know how to do a single fucking thing on their own.

Raging over.

I need to stop drinking so much water before I go to sleep. I keep having strange dreams in the early morning, and frequently jolt awake. And when it's time to actually get up for work, I feel like death. Maybe that's why I'm prone to grumpiness lately. And we all know winos aren't supposed to be grumpy . . .


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the utterly simple truth of life

Marco is a god among men. Pay close attention, beginning at 1:33, when Marco starts spitting straight truth.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

a mistake turns into a wonderful surprise


1998 Marqués De Valcarlos Gran Reserva | DO Navarra

Some mistakes go down easier than others.

Shouldn't have said that, shouldn't have done that, goddammit, SHOULDN'T HAVE ANSWERED THAT EMAIL. But this mistake - damn, this kind of mistake is just fine and dandy. You see, because I've always had a thing about Spain. Spanish food, wines, art, and *ahem* women; things to capture the imagination and the heart. I remember being mesmerized by the first bottle of Rioja I tasted. It had a bit of age on it, and as I recall, smelled of flowers and strawberries. Sunshine and happiness, in other words. We used to drink a lot of Rioja in university, the sort of thing we'd drink when we cooked what we thought was good food (steak and potatoes). And I started putting some away, including this bottle.

Yeah, this isn't not a Rioja, I realize now. Oops. It was a 1998, it was a Gran Reserva, and it came wrapped in a net, so I got all excited thinking it was something special. This wino has grown up a bit since those days, and as part of my cellar raid this year, I pulled it out to drink because what the hell, what kind of idiot puts away a bottle of Navarra?!

No special treatment, just pulled the cork and drank over 3 days. And it was wonderful. Beautiful colour, great saturation. All that strawberry and cream kind of love, with enough ornery rusticity to remind you of where it comes from. It's still energetic, with finely grained tannins, fabulous harmony on the palate. Keeps getting sweeter and sweeter; an absolute winner.

What a wonderful surprise, after kicking myself for my stupidity. I'm finding I'm doing a lot of that lately. But it's cool. These things, these websites are all about being passive aggressive, innit. You do something stupid, other people do something stupid, and instead of addressing it on the spot, you try and write something witty and clever after the fact. That's no good. So we should speak our mind freely and openly, and who cares if we offend or otherwise trample on other people's sensitivities.

In matters of wine, drink what I drink, do what I do; but for your own good, don't listen to anything else I say here.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

love for abalone




Everyone says you need to learn how to cook at home, because it's healthier and more economical. Well how come the best tasting stuff is so damn expensive? What is the world coming to, when the cheapest items in supermarkets is the type of stuff that is most likely to kill you. Right, and all the hippies and vegan activists yapping about farmers markets - charging $7.99 a pound for haricots verts isn't supporting local farmers, it's theft.

These mofos are delicious and all, but they're $4 each. EACH. Which is a complete ripoff, because you'd need to eat a good dozen of them for it to constitute a proper dish. But what am I saying, I'm such a sucker for suggestive-looking shellfish. A perfect combination of briny and savoury flavours, with the most amazingly firm texture. You start off the meal with two each; you can fill up later with sausages and yams on the grill.

Steamed abalone

When you buy abalone, look for a firmness in the meat, and just like oysters, they should feel weighty.

Scrub the shell with a brush, and rinse off all the grit. With a sharp knife, sever the single adductor muscle attaching the bottom of the abalone and the shell.

There is a pouch containing the digestive system and waste in the cup of the shell. It will be black. It will be dirty. Tear off the layer of film with your fingers and rinse the shell thoroughly, as you'll use it to serve the abalone.

The abalone goes back onto the cleaned shell. Finely julienne ginger root and green onion, placing an even amount of each on top of each abalone. Splash just a few drops of Shaoxing cooking wine - no other seasoning required.

Ring them on a plate, and steam them for no more than 3 minutes - remove from the heat as soon as the abalone is cooked through. Place the ginger and green onion under the abalone; thick slices and place back on the shell. Serve immediately.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Treadwell Farm-to-Table Cuisine







2011 2027 Cellars Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling | VQA Twenty Mile Bench

So for Canada's Day long weekend, I woke up the Sunday thinking I was going to take it easy - work out a bit, drink some wine, go out with some friends. Relax and laze.

That was not to be.

I got a call from my mother that she wanted to go out for dinner. In Niagara. A friend of mine was actually out there for the day, but still . . . there's a saying about keeping a rainy day fund for unexpected expenses right? Well, what happens when you log into your chequing account and immediately start laughing at your balance (and not in a maniacal I'm fucking rich!!!! kinda way)? So sad. I was reminded recently, indirectly of course, that I was way, way, wayyyy down the totem pole in terms of, well, the number of zeroes in the bank. Ha ha, it's funny, but I make enough to buy wine, steak, and shellfish and really, that's all I ever wanted. Who cares about getting my own place, it's all about the drink. I have no money, but hey, at least I'm not boring, o snap!

So we drove out for St. Catharines at 5 pm, making it in good time for our reservation at Treadwell. What a beautiful location, with a bright, airy patio right by a man-made lake. The weather was perfect, warm but breezy, and the sun began setting just as we took our seats. This was my first time eating here, and after tasting through a few things, I'm a believer. The farm to table movement is always a great thing for local restaurants to be embracing, but few do it well. There's a huge difference between simply being idealistic and only putting locally grown meats and produce on the menu, and actually elevating it all into something special. The thing I took most from this meal was this spirit of freshness, of being in the season. Treadwell's food manages to remain true to the very high quality ingredients, and is vibrant, fresh, and beautifully executed. Flip the menu to see all the farms that Treadwell sources their ingredients from.

Only a few photos, because it's a bit uncouth snapping pics before you touch the food. We started with the charcuterie, with a bit of salad. The tempura-style zucchini blossoms were an absolute triumph. Not in the true tempura style - the batter is a bit too heavy, but the dish was a revelation. So fresh, the blossoms staying firm and textural. I've never had it with the tiny zucchinis still attached, but they were so tender, so perfectly seasoned. A beauty of a dish. The Lake Huron whitefish was nicely done, some delicious butter poached lobster incorporated in the sauce. The Lake Erie pickerel, great flavour and texture, married with a ham broth with lots of sweetness and savoury aroma. Of all the dishes, maybe a little less impressed with the duck breast. Slightly tough - the gaminess of the meat comes through, but the foie gras jus is a bit overwhelming for the duck. But damn, the wild mushrooms were a dream come true, sautéed quickly, retaining all the lovely earthy flavours and texture. And of course, the vegetables in the dishes (carrots, turnips, chives, potatoes) were incredibly fresh and delicious. For dessert, a winner of a crème brûlée and raspberry sorbet; balance and finesse.

The wine list here is very well done, very comprehensive (in Niagara wines), and very well-priced. We drank a bottle of 2027 Cellars riesling, a fairly new virtual winery which produces wine out of Featherstone Estate Winery, no slouch themselves. The Fox Croft vineyard is a warmer site in the lower part of the Vineland Double Bench, located in Twenty Mile Bench. The winery was begun in 2007, but the name comes from the owner's (Kevin Panagapka) vineyard registry number. Bottled under screwcap, it's fresh and lively (of course, it's a baby wine), with lots of bright citrus and minerality that we love out of the Escarpment. Maybe a bit leaner, less extracted than other Niagara rieslings (such as Charles Baker or Thirty Bench), but this is a style that will age in a good way for the medium term.

What a great dinner. We left for the Falls to see the fireworks in the best mood. It's food that energizes you instead of makes you want to pass out, that underlines why Niagara is such a special, special place. We will definitely be back, hungry for more.


Monday, July 9, 2012

saying YES to a wish


2010 Vasse Felix Chardonnay | Margaret River | Southwest Australia

Decanter recently featured a piece about Margaret River wines, written by the always articulate Ch'ng Poh Tiong. There appears to be a gradual changing of styles of the wines from this region, with producers more keen on crafting elegant wines with more focus and precision - leaner wines with high acid, more tuned to classic European styles than the big, monstrous nukes the New World has championed. The tide of buttery, alcoholic, overly lees-aged wines has come and gone, and to no surprise, it's the producers who've (stubbornly) stuck to what chardonnay really is, and upheld minerality and finesse over big-ness that remain the standard bearers of this region.

And what a fabulous little corner of Australia this is. Margaret River is a wine producing region in the southwest corner of the Western Islands (shout-out to my New Zealand homies!). The region runs along the coast from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin in the south, featuring a ridge running from cape to cape that undulates with a maximum elevation of 90m. The climate is more maritime-influenced than any other major Australian region, with the lowest mean annual temperature range and with controlled precipitation; only 200mm of the annual 1160mm millimetres falls between October and April. The rainfall and diurnal climate draws comparisons to Bordeaux in a dry vintage.

The region is planted to nearly 5,500 hectares with vineyard, with the majority of wineries producing at a small scale. And this is where Vasse Felix comes in. Sort of a chicken or egg situation; I had bought this bottle a few weeks earlier, but it wasn't until I read Ch'ng Poh Tiong's Decanter piece that I realized how important this producer was to Margaret River. In 1967, Dr Tom Cullity planted the first vines in Margaret River, named the vineyard Vasse Felix, and the rest, as they say, is history. Their wines are known to showcase subtlety, finesse, and varietal character. All the elements that transcend fashion, trend, and fickle consumer tastes.

2010 was considered a very good vintage for Margaret River chardonnay. Moderate spring conditions in 2009 allowed for better flowering and fruit set than in the previous two years. High temperatures in late January and February saw rapid ripening for whites, allowing for healthy, ripe fruit at harvest, with minimal risk of disease. This chardonnay was fermented with indigenous yeasts, with each vineyard parcel handled separately. It was aged for 9 months in French oak, of which about 1/3 is new, with the rest being 1-2 year old barrels. Alcohol at 12.5%, which is wonderful to see.

This is a delicious wine. All the delicacy, the finesse, the beautiful elegance that chardonnay can show. A fine wine indeed. Fresh and lively, all kinds of energy going on. So why can't more chardonnays (and wines in general) be like this? It whispers sweet-nothings instead of shrieks mean-nothings, becomes more interesting with time instead of flashing and fizzling like a firecracker.

I wished for a wine I could drink all night without regret the next day, that could continue to change and develop with air. I got all that, and more. We need to be paying more attention to Margaret River, and not just the white wines . . . the cabernet sauvignon and syrah from here can be very interesting as well. I could go on and on about how we drank it, what we drank it with; the important thing is that these wines belong on the table, with lunch or dinner. We don't need to be talking about these fabulous wines - naw, we need to be drinking.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

lazy Sunday

Because it's all fun and games until you try a spinning back fist and trip over your own feet. But really, equally impressive was how Silva blocked both take down attempts by Sonnen prior to the ground and pound.

It's been a good weekend. Federer takes back his Wimbledon crown, and the Spider shuts up Sonnen. Pumped up, so went out for some intense running outside today - full length suicides on a football field, uphill sprints, then some core work. Beat up, but feel super. Showered and ready to head out to a friend's place for dinner. They asked what we wanted - a bbq or just dinner inside. I really don't care, as long as I don't have to do anything but eat and drink.

Hope everyone's enjoying the beautiful summer we've been having!!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

all messed in the head


I dreamt that I saved an alpaca from a burly, plaid-wearing hunter early this morning. A beautiful, tawny-coloured alpaca, with a furry patch on its head. I named it Sébastien. And it snuggled with me when I called its name.

Needless to say, the day went downhill from there.

Now that it looks like we'll be going back to Shanghai for sure sometime in the next few months . . . shit, something else to budget for. The last time I was back home, in spring of 2010, we attended the Expo on its soft opening. None of the pavilions were really finished, but the highlight was the pretty hostesses in the China Pavilion. Amazing. Even the Tibetan was stunning. But really, the most memorable part of the day was the restaurant we went to after. Our server was a super cute girl. Jaw on the floor cute. Cute little fringe, cute little smile, cute little way of saying, maybe you shouldn't be drinking your Shaoxing wine cold. Cute.

And now I'm feeling all shitty. First my alpaca, then my angelic server. And so I try to think about happy times, about great meals, and great wines.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

that rite of passage


Even for boys, shoes are important. Getting that first pair of Nikes is a rite of passage, a way for respect on the playground. I'm serious. Growing up a poor immigrant in a bad (non-Chinese) part of Toronto, that was sort of the only currency to be considered cool. There was a kid whose parents were divorced, and who cleverly was able to guilt-trip one of those idiots into buying all the things a grade schooler would want. Shoes, Power Ranger action figures, all sorts of things that he'd bring to recess and make the rest of us raging with jealousy. It was torture.

We've managed to outgrow all that, but sometimes I feel the same way about wine, the bottles at the top end anyways. It's fun to drink quirky wines from obscure regions, but can you be considered a true wino without drinking truly world-class wines, the legends? We're talking about First Growth Bordeaux, top Grand Cru Burgundy, cult Napa cabernet; the Nike's, the Maserati's, the Louis Vuitton's. I'm inclined to say no, you don't need to drink these hideously expensive bottles to understand wine, but that's my 10 year old, non-Nike wearing self talking. Let's be honest - we all want a Quattroporte in the garage - I'd do filthy, unspeakable things to put DRC in the cellar.

So the real question is . . . who wants to sponsor my trophy wine education? Because no one ever got any attention babbling about how great Mosel and Niagara pinot are.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

old wines and a night by the grill






I had a boozy weekend. Lots of corks pulled, but in the midst of all the fun, I suddenly realized it's July and oh shit, I need to get started on those business school applications.

Last week, on my way to the Art Gallery of Ontario, I walked through Chinatown for the first time in years. On Queen and Spadina, quite possibly the busiest intersection in all of downtown Toronto, I saw something that froze me a little. An old (Chinese) man was in the corner, selling vegetables. Chinese vegetables, that he was rinsing in a bucket of water, then laying out on newspapers. It struck me as odd, to not only see someone (illegally) selling produce on street corners, but also to see an old Chinese immigrant doing it.

I wanted to know . . . does he have children? How long has he been here? Is this what he wanted; to immigrant to Canada, and end up hawking vegetables on the street?

When my grandparents visited us many years ago, they found it quiet and boring. My grandmother actually entertained the idea of helping out at a church, or senior home. But the situation that this old man was in . . . I don't want to judge, but I question how he's being taken care of. I mean you have to wonder; just what steps were taken, what uncontrollable circumstances would lead one to immigrant to a new country thousands of miles away, and sell fucking produce on a Chinatown street corner??!! I'm reminded that decisions, no matter how small, cumulatively affect your future. We immigrant to North America to look for a better life than what we had in the old country. In the case of the elderly, it's to be closer to children, and to have someone to take care of them. Above all, I think I'm just shocked. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe the old man insists on selling his vegetables out of boredom, out of routine. Maybe he grows it himself, and selling it is better than throwing away excess. But that kind of work is not how our elderly should be spending their twilight years.

We drank nothing but riesling this weekend. Old Mosel, old Rheingau. It might have been a brief moment of bliss, but it was still a moment. Angus beef short ribs and veal rib steaks on the grill - smoky and tender, a mouthful of happiness.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Canada Day in Niagara




A little last minute, but decided to go have dinner in Niagara yesterday. Maybe catch the Canada Day fireworks (didn't make it). What a great day, beautiful weather and all that. Spent the afternoon washing, detailing, and waxing the G-mobile until she was all decent and ready for the road - after all, we don't track city dirt into beautiful wine country. I left to pick up my dinner companion, setting off to Niagara at 5 pm. Leave late afternoon, you must trust me on this, to avoid traffic.

A 7:30 reservation at Treadwell. Fabulous food, and then we set off for the Falls. At least the lights were on. So many people, my goodness. Certain groups just setting blankets down on the grass, everywhere - it must be an ethnic thing. And then at 11, everyone suddenly gets up, and the traffic simply stops. We chilled a bit until 12:30 before setting off. Avoid the 420, trust me on this again. Back in Toronto just after 2 am. A great Canada Day!