Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cameron's Rye Pale Ale

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.


Monday, November 26, 2012

knowing what she likes

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.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

a taste of something new

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?


Thursday, November 22, 2012

ApéroChic, The French Touch in Toronto

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!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

reaching for the green bottle

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.


Monday, November 19, 2012

ready to go at it again

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.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

white wines on the table

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? 


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

choosing wine that mirrors its drinkers

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 .....


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

dogmatists in beer & food

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?


Monday, November 5, 2012

I want some dirty

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.