Monday, December 31, 2012

As we wave goodbye to 2012

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

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

Happy new year.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

A year of wine, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Collins: Learning a new cocktail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gimlet: For the fall, learning the Gimlet.

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

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

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


Friday, December 28, 2012

as the peregrine falcon soars

2010 Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot | Margaret River | Western Australia

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 27, 2012

it's white and merry

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


Friday, December 21, 2012

it's finally over...

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

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


down under giving us a chard to get down with

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 20, 2012

hand in the air for Australian whites

2011 Pewsey Vale Riesling | Eden Valley | South Australia

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Amsterdam Brewery

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

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

Visit them, you won't be disappointed.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Toronto Raptors/Houston Rockets

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

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

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


Monday, December 17, 2012

on your snow white wings

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

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


Saturday, December 15, 2012

with a soft sigh

2008 Doufouleur Père & Fils | AC Crémant De Bourgogne

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

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


Thursday, December 13, 2012

reading the back label

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


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

you'd be surprised

2009 Domaine Rotier Les Gravels | AC Gaillac

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the country bumpkin

2010 Clos La Coutale | AC Cahors

A selection from the portfolio of the great Kermit Lynch.

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

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

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


Monday, December 10, 2012

giving the wrong idea

2008 Lomond Syrah | WO Cape Agulhas | South Africa

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 7, 2012

changing tastes

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Privatizing the LCBO

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

5 Year Anniversary

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

not a single f given

2009 Château Toumilon Blanc | AC Graves

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

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

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

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

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

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

And buy dry-aged beef.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

and it's December!

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