Wednesday, February 29, 2012

how I like them

2007 Cennatoio Chianti Classico DOCG

2009 Cennatoio | DOCG Chianti Classico

I'm being totally serious; I met a guy who told me he liked his Chianti like he did his women: pale, cheerful, and cheap. Not surprisingly, he was twice divorced and heading for a third.

This bottle continues a strong run of Chianti Classico's I've been tasting lately. Full of that dustiness, that earthiness I always think of as crucial to true sangiovese. A beautiful wine, proving yet again that intensity (in wine and other things) is measured by focus, not by screaming louder than everyone else.

That's how I like them.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

to the south of France!

2009 M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage

2009 M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche | AC Crozes-Hermitage

2009 Olivier Ravoire Plan de Dieu Cotes du Rhone Villages

2009 Olivier Ravoire Plan De Dieu | AC Côtes Du Rhône Villages

Who would have thought, after all his pontificating about how great his vision in wine is, that it'd be the Chapoutier bottle that was just piss poor?! I'm disappointed. It's all the self-righteousness coming back to bite him in the ass, because this bottle is a caricature of itself. Read the feature piece about him in the latest issue of Decanter magazine, where he rails against pretty much everyone who doesn't practice his brand of winemaking. The guy is clearly a genius, and his Hermitage wines are fabulous (with prices to match), but come on, there's no need to further yourself by bashing others. That's just poor form, and a Frenchman should know better.

I love, love, love the Rhône Valley. When I was just a young fella at 18 years of age (God, it seems so long ago), and still feeling my way around the wines of France, these were the first red wines that got me excited. Value priced, yes, but what was so interesting was how much the wines seemed to offer. Fruit and earthiness, structure and richness, all at once. Amazing! At once masculine and brawny, the kind of wines that can teach you more with one sniff, one sip, than entire chapters of some wine books. Syrah and grenache, in the hands of these vignerons, turned into absolute jewels. As I continued exploring France and then Spain and Germany, I drank less of these wines. There's renewed interest now, particularly in the wines of the south Rhône, but it's never about trends, yes? The wines that are getting the scores, as always, stick to the template of the crass American palate - all overripe, macerated fruit, bombarded with the most atrocious levels of new oak. That's not wine. And it certainly isn't what the Rhône Valley is.

These wines are precious. Their heritage, their history . . . we're losing a treasure if the traditionalists lose out to score-chasing traitors. I'm far from the fanatic who insists that the old ways are always better (not true, especially in matters of cellar hygiene and viticulture), but this fashion of forsaking traditions in favour of economic drivers has got to stop or we will lose these wines. Consumers have little power to exert this idea that what matters is authenticity in wine; making a wine that simply tastes good is utterly meaningless. The responsibility, on the retail side, lies with importers and retailers and writers, who first have to educate the public about what constitutes authenticity in that particular wine region, and prove to producers that people respond to what is true, not to what is aesthetically attractive (but substance-less).

I was disappointed in the Chapoutier. A tragically muddled, cheapened wine with little to tell. The Olivier Ravoire, however, brought me back to why I first fell in love with these wines. Brusque, yes, but with the most amazing depth and perfume with time. Broad shouldered and dignified; but is it strong enough to hold back the forces (of business models and trends) which threatens its survival?


Monday, February 27, 2012

the air that gives it life

When we talk about a wine opening up, we talk about the stems used, serving temperature, whether it's been decanted (or not), and general ambiance. But do we ever really consider the actual air that the wine is in contact with? Surely, as air is different in Toronto as it is in Hong Kong, that must affect how the wine reacts. And not just with climate, but things like the air's humidity, pressure, pollutant levels. Just as they say coastal areas smell of the sea, surely the quality of air the wine is in contact with affects how it is perceived.

So the question is . . . when filthy rich people taste 1961 Cheval Blanc in Hong Kong, are they tasting the same thing as in New York? When a gnarly old vigneron in Chambolle-Musigny tastes in his cellars, will it be anything like what ends up (in bottle) in San Francisco? Not suggesting that any one will show the wine in a better way . . . just differently.

Maybe tasting notes should include a line about the environment the wines were tasted in. It would certainly be an interesting exercise, to compare tasting notes of the same wines, but tasted on different continents. Who wants to sponsor my wine-around-the-world experiment?


Sunday, February 26, 2012

to the king

To the king, down in one!

You know, sometimes late at night, when you feel like a real drink - scotch or something - it only feels right if you watch Casablanca as you drink. Admire the way Humphrey Bogart does that thumb/middle finger thing with his cigarette, the way he swigs his glass of bourbon . . .

Feeling like a drunkard. But as Captain Renault would say, that makes me a citizen of the world. And what kind of man is Captain Renault, you say? Well, just like any other man . . . only more so.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Frankfurter Kranz I eat you again!!

It's here again!!! Oh FK, I've loved you for so long, so long. The way it's creamy but not overly rich, sweet but just so . . . how it crumbles and lingers in your mouth. They use two round stickers, one on top of the other, so when you peel it off, you don't rip the wax paper. Those short bastards think of everything, don't they? It figures, for the Japanese to perfect the perfect Bavarian treat.


Friday, February 24, 2012

black roosters on the label

2007 Lornano Chianti Classico DOCG

2007 Lornano Chianti Classico DOCG

2007 Lornano Chianti Classico DOCG

2007 Lornano Chianti Classico DOCG

2007 Lornano | DOCG Chianti Classico

We were waiting for the bus to take us to Haneda Airport. We were running a bit late, and our flight to Shanghai was leaving in 2 hours. If the bus ran late, we'd miss the flight; if we missed the flight, we'd have to wait until the next day; and if we didn't arrive in Shanghai that day . . . well, then there was no point in going to Shanghai at all. Sometimes I get the feeling that my family (in China) thinks that all it takes for us to fly over is to wait for a good deal on ticket prices. I enjoy traveling over to see everyone, but I'd like for them to experience North American airport security and customs just once.

So I was freaking out a bit, and wondering (aloud) why we didn't call for a taxi (like I suggested the night before). I was told to shut up and wait - the bus schedule said 3:17 pm, and it was only 3:15. And would you believe it . . . the bus shows up literally 10 seconds after 3:17. Proving to me yet again that few peoples in the world are as reliable as the Japanese. Legendary. I'm firmly convinced that to be reliable is one of the most important character traits to have. And it's not just about being honest and dependable and being true to your word; it's doing all that consistently.

The great wines of the world achieve that reliability. And I'm not talking so much about specific producers as I am in a broader sense about appellations and general typicities. How does a wine like Mosel or Barolo or Volnay achieve its reputation? It's certainly not the work of a single or few producers, but rather the entire community that consistently produces wines of a singular expression and character, vintage after vintage. That's what a great wine is.

All silliness aside, something needs to be said about these honest, authentic, humble Chiantis. Incredible, simply incredible. Is there truth to the idea that maybe sometimes these inexpensive bottlings are the most interesting? I can certainly argue that for this bottle. Such a humble wine, yet singing of sangiovese in all its earthy glory. Maybe a bit coarse, but elegance can be overrated. Refinement is only so if it's not overdone. And this is nothing if not honest.

We ended up making it to Shanghai fine. As we were leaving, my aunt remarked that in Japan, no one's in a rush; everyone knows that everything runs exactly on schedule. Reliability.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

can you see the angels?

I don't know why I keep doing this to myself. Masochism, that surely must be it, I just like wrecking myself. I know I shouldn't trust certain South American syrahs, I know I shouldn't. I should know better than to go for a wine that Jay Miller has reviewed as a 90.

If there was a refund policy at the LCBO for stupidity I'd be in line every Monday. The Italians have this drinking game (I swear I saw this somewhere) in which you down tumblers of some cheap wine in one go, and look into the bottom of the glass for angels. You keep drinking until you do. Granted, you should probably be drinking (cheap) Italian wines, but in this case, these fruity, sweetly candied, high alcohol South American wines are surprisingly good for that. Down in one, but alas, no angels.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

tasting the wines of Colaneri Estate Winery



Dan Rabinovitch, President of Azureau Wine Agency


Nick Colaneri


Andrej Lepinski, winemaker



The Wine Bar

The Wine Bar

The Wine Bar

Self-indulgent (see below) pieces aside, let's talk about wine. I was fortunate enough to be invited recently to a tasting hosted by Colaneri Estate Winery and Azureau Wine Agency, showcasing the entire Colaneri lineup. Presented by winemaker Andrej Lepinski, the wines are interesting for a number of reasons, most important of which is the style that they are made in. Colaneri wines are made using the appassimento process, a style associated with wine from the Veneto region of Italy. The harvested grapes are dried for concentration, making the resulting wines (called passito wines), richer with higher alcohols. The wines, depending on method, can be either sweet or dry. Colaneri produces both dry and sweet wines, the latter in the recioto style, and icewines (of course).

Nick Colaneri first gave us a bit of background on the winery. The Colaneri family has been in Niagara for decades, mostly growing table grapes and selling juice. In 1998, those were all pulled out and in 2000, the family replanted their vineyards completely with vinifera vines, with the intention of producing their own wines. Their first vintage was 2008, with Andrej leading the cellar team, producing Italian-style, appassimento-method wines. Andrej explained his approach to using this method as a way of concentrating the wines, but maintaining a degree of freshness and brightness of fruit, with controlled alcohol levels. As Niagara is not bound by traditional Veneto appassimento regulations (stating a 90 day drying period), they are able to achieve that balance through shorter drying times.

Andrej provided the most inspiring quote of the tasting - he said that even in the worst (quality) years, the wines have to be worth that money; in the best years, it's a bonus.

We tasted the whites first: 2009 riesling, 2010 pinot grigio, 2009 gewürztraminer, and the 2009 chardonnay. The sweet white wines tasted were: 2010 chenin blanc (recioto), 2010 sauvignon blanc (recioto), and the 2010 gewürztraminer (recioto). I only list the vintage and varietal here, as the wines each have proprietary names attached to them.

The reds showed the merits of using this type of winemaking style in a cool climate. We tasted: 2009 pinot noir, 2009 syrah, 2009 cabernet (50/50 cabernet sauvignon and franc, in the ripasso style), 2009 cabernet franc, 2009 red blend (1/3 each of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah), 2009 cabernet sauvignon (in the Amarone style).

The wines are certainly interesting, and quite a departure from what you would expect appassimento-style wines to be. They're looking for sort of a best-of-both-worlds type situation. where the wines have richness (and all that that entails), along with a freshness. The wines are certainly not shy of alcohol, with some (including the whites) pushing well past 15.5%. But in the best examples, the acidity is also extracted, which helps keep the wines from being fatiguing on the palate, and somewhat masks the alcohol.

This is a huge lineup of wines. They work with a lot of varietals, a lot of different winemaking styles - I counted 24 different wines in their brochure. Of the samples that we were shown, the reds were clearly the strengths of the portfolio. Good depth, varietal character, and acidity. Alcohols quite high in some, but the blends showed that expressive dry wines can be made with this method. The whites, in my opinion, were a little less consistent. A lot of off aromas, not much varietal character. Certainly a huge departure from that really transparent, linear style found in the best Niagara white wines (riesling, chardonnay, etc). The recioto wines are solid, simple, sweet wines.

Nick was kind enough to give me a bottle of the 2009 cabernet ripasso, to taste at home. My favourite wine of the tasting, and as it later showed, a really great way to be handling cabernet in a challenging Niagara vintage. Many thanks to Nick and Andrej for the tasting, as well as Dan and Alan of Azureau Wine Agency for putting it all together. The venue, Wine Bar, is an interesting little spot on the corner of Front and Church; the beef cheeks over mashed potatoes was especially good.

Please let me know if you'd like any more information, or tasting notes, of any of the wines listed above. A more in-depth examination of the 2009 cabernet ripasso, to follow.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Post No. 2501

Profile - Colour

So the holidays came and went, and things kind of suck again. End of December used to be a happy time, but who knows now. We drank a lot. I drank a lot. Some people might think of it as a problem, but really, if I don't drink, what else am I going to do with my money?

It's interesting - the last 2 years now, I've focused more and more on drinking more Italian wines. Barolo, any chance I can get. Really interesting whites too, like arneis and pecorino. For this year's holidays, I was forced to slash and hack wine spending with a machete, so Barolo and Barberesco were out of the question. I've always had a tricky relationship with Chianti. I want to like sangiovese, I really do. When it's done right, traditional sangiovese wines are utterly beautiful, noble expressions of something true and authentic. What's been happening (still!) is the continued bastardization of these wines, with over-extraction and over-zealous oak use. But surprise, surprise . . . most of the Chianti's we tasted the past few months have been fabulous. Delicious, with lots of character.

My mother was in Shanghai and Tokyo for nearly 7 weeks. It's been a bit rough, for everyone. But she's back now, so the house is slowly regaining some normalcy. And I can finally focus - I mean really focus - on studying for my GMAT. It's a big commitment, and to say that I underestimated the challenge would be putting it kindly.

I have no fucking clue what I'm doing.

Halfway through the first book, on basic number properties - what an integer is, what even/odd numbers are, BEDMAS rules . . . I'm just bombing each practice question. And it's not even that I'm not trying hard, I just don't know how to do this anymore. I'm so freaked out of my mind I keep snapping my pencils; now I don't have anymore pencils and I'm still getting wrong answers. A rage comic feels oddly appropriate right now, if my life didn't depend on getting a high score.

So we drink, and then drink some more. A few rieslings lined up, some old. Funny - I had planned to eat and drink all these amazing things over the holidays. All seafood. Oysters and shellfish, abalone and sea cucumber. We did manage to do most of that, at least for one evening. But sadly, we missed two items.

There were the old wines I had planned. A vintage (grower) Champagne, and a (half) bottle of 1997 Suduiraut. And of course, the most amazing, live geoduck. We've got a few more weeks left before spring - we can still make the geoduck happen. As for the wine - they've both made it so far, what's a few more months?

What's next, David, what's next? I've been getting that more from friends recently. I don't know what's next. For once, maybe someone else can do all the work and I just show up?


Sunday, February 19, 2012

family day

So we just had dinner at a family friend's because we're all off tomorrow for Family Day. Dumplings, mostly. It's all good, satisfying and all that. Don't know why we needed to have wine, to be honest. And it was insipid, this monstrosity made from both Australian and Canadian juice. Horror.

Question. Are wine glass charms necessary? Because if you start randomly drinking from any and all glasses on the table, that's a sign to just stop drinking.


Friday, February 17, 2012

if i die young

What's the point of living forever? Ricky Gervais has got it right - The only reason I want to live longer is so that I can drink more!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

if you cannot say what you mean, you will never mean what you say

. . . and a gentleman should always mean what he says.

So said Reginald Fleming Johnston to Puyi (in Bertolucci's Oscar winning film The Last Emperor), that shitstain of a Manchurian whose family allowed China's humiliations after humiliations at the hands of foreign powers over the 19th and early 20th centuries. And as it turns out, those words of wisdom are even more relevant in wine writing.

The latest issue of Decanter magazine has an interesting article by Ch'ng Poh Tiong, publisher of The Singapore Wine Review. Titled 'We should mean what we write, and write what we mean', CPH starts off strong with why wine writers should choose their words carefully, before taking a hard right and veering off into the sordid Jay Miller/Pancho Campo kickback scandal and finishing with a kick at Michel Bettane's campaign to stop publishing Bordeaux En Primeur tasting notes before price releases. But you really only need to read the first few paragraphs.

Ch'ng writes: So if we pronounce a wine to be 'Good' or 'Exceptional', we must sincerely feel that way about it. (We may, of course, be sincere but sincerely wrong, but the subjective view must be personally held in the first place.) Otherwise, were we to declare a wine 'Good' or 'Exceptional' when we know it to be merely mediocre or, worse still, poor, or goodness forbid, utterly hopeless, then we are but hypocrites and liars.

He raises an interesting point. Too often, writers throw out words in description of wine without really thinking or considering what they truly mean. I have a few points of contention I want to raise with how many people talk about wine. In particular, with the following terms, as a start:

"Great" wine. We need to stop using great as a catch-all descriptor for anything we find to be tasty, and instead, reserve it for wines that truly deserve the moniker of being great. Otherwise we just cheapen it. Great wines are wines that firstly satisfy an authenticity to region, varietal, and vintage; in other words, typicity. And secondly, they must be absolutely singular in expression, and invoke an emotion and experience in you that cannot (and never will) be replicated again. These are wines that suddenly deepen your understanding of what wine is, and serve as benchmarks for all future experiences. That's what a truly great wine is.

Smooth. Such a cheap term to use, isn't it? This is smoooooooth. What people are trying to describe with this term is texture. But it is used to talk about everything from tannins to acid to alcohol. We need to be more precise. What exactly are you describing as smooth? Leave the word out of it, and just get down to exactly the element you're discussing. This acid is really balanced, the tannins are really finely grained, the alcohol is well integrated.

Fresh/juicy. This is in relation to the quality of fruit. But really, what we're talking about here is the acidity. Good amounts of acid are what pushes the fruit aromas out of the wine, and preserve a sense of freshness in the wine. Fresh doesn't necessarily refer to a fruity or otherwise primary wine aroma. It's all about the acid.

Jammy. This is a tricky one, because some use jammy in a positive manner, while others (DF included) often use it as a pejorative. Jamminess describes an overtly fruit-rich wine that verges on overripeness. Often, the wines have a marked sweetness and unctuousness to them. In the best cases, the acid levels are high enough to balance them out and retain a degree of freshness. So we have to make a clear distinction here between wines that are actually jammy and wines that are simple and fruit-forward. Jammy wines are, by definition, low in acid and overwhelmingly rich in fruit aromas and flavours.

Oak descriptors. Robert Parker (and many, many other American critics) is known for using several different descriptors to talk about oak. It's just toasted wood aromas - a simple, the wine shows toasty oak, will suffice. But, the American way decrees that the only way to impress your readers of your tasting skills is to list as many laughably specific taste descriptors. Coffee, mocha, vanilla, butterscotch, butter, and the famous pain grillé, favoured by RP Jr. What utter nonsense. It's not so much the flavours of oak that are important to a wine. It's what that oak does to the wine. Is it balanced? Do the wood tannins integrate? Is the actual character of the wine obscured? Who the fuck cares if the oak tastes like coffee or vanilla?

I know there are more words I want to talk about, but this is a start. We really need to be careful about how we write about wine, and really develop a precise, understandable way of describing it. Otherwise, we risk misleading our readers, and forever be typecast as idiot, pretentious twats. And that's not what we want now . . . is it?


Monday, February 13, 2012

that beautiful music

Fume hoods cut down on grease, but then you don't get to hear the magnificent symphony of duck cooking in its own fat, in all its sizzling, crackling glory. We forget, the sensation of sound in cooking is important too.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

and to drink with the sea cucumber


2009 Château Faizeau Vieilles Vignes | AC Montagne-St. Émilion


2007 Abbona La Pieve | DOCG Barolo

Where one disappoints, another redeems. In wine and otherwise, so we drink some more. Food and wine are one and the same, but it's precisely that that causes so much anxiety. One can never flourish without the other, but first, they have to prove themselves marriageable.

When you think about sea cucumber, don't think about it so much as strictly seafood; it's such a singular experience in flavour and texture that to try and categorize what it is would only lead to confusion. Ch'ng Poh Tiong, the Singapore-based wine writer who regularly contributes to Decanter magazine, once wrote an article about how the firm texture and subtle flavours of sea cucumber lends itself well to mature Bordeaux. I'm inclined to agree - older red wines do seem to be a more friendly companion to this dish. You don't want a wine that cuts through the palate. Rather, you want to find something that sort of wraps around the food, bolstering its flavour.

Faizeau Vieilles Vignes has always been a great example of what merlot from great terroir can achieve. Always ripe, but with structure; as the name suggests, the wines are 100% merlot from fantastically old vines (oldest planted around 1910), aged in about 50% new oak. The consulting enologist is none other than Michel Rolland. The wines have always been fabulous, just walking that tightrope of ripeness, purity of fruit, structure, and most importantly, freshness. The alcohols always hover around 14.5 - 15%, but are never intrusive. So it's with some degree of alarm that I'm noticing a distinct change in the character of the wines, starting from the 2007 vintage. The first vintage of Faizeau I tasted was the 2001, and having tasted each subsequent wine, it always maintained a certain freshness of fruit. The 2007, however, began showing signs of over-extraction, that cheap, candied fruit on aroma and palate. 2008 and now, the 2009 follow that style. I'm a bit worried. Is this a new direction for Faizeau, or a (temporary) aberration? The wines are increasingly losing their personality, that beautifully chalky merlot distinctiveness.

La Pieve's Barolo helped save the evening. Classic (and authentic) nebbiolo aroma, earthy red fruits, minerals, rose petals. Great freshness. Lacking some texture of some of the finer Barolos, but delicious nevertheless. Fine-grained tannins grip the palate. The structure has a way of firming up the texture of the sea cucumber, and the pure fruit flavours enhance the subtle marine flavours of the dish. And with the crisp bamboo shoot, my goodness; simply divine.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

braised sea cucumber with bamboo shoot and shrimp roe

sea cucumber

sea cucumber

sea cucumber

sea cucumber

When you work with fresh, quality, seasonal ingredients, the cooking part is simple.


getting it nice and plump

Sea cucumber comes in many forms. I'd love for a chance to cook and taste one fresh, but the real prized ones, like abalone, are all dried. There are few places in Toronto to get high quality, dried sea cucumber, so yes, I'm keeping the identity of my supplier a secret. Prices increase by about 15-20% every year, so really, we don't want to be encouraging any more excitement. One of my favourite dishes for the winter, as the Shanghainese style calls for fresh bamboo shoots, which can only be found during this season.

It's much easier to prep than you'd expect. Soak it, clean it, pressure cook, then soak it some more. All it takes is some time; all the great ones do.


Rinse and soak - 0 hours


24 hours


48 hours


72 hours - clean and pressure cook


96 hours


120 hours


144 hours

Braised sea cucumber with bamboo shoot and shrimp roe