Monday, April 30, 2012

dying a little

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I'll do whatever it is that I'm expected to do but you can't expect me to sell my heart. Never expect that.

Fuck me. Taking GMAT is ruining my life. The past 3 months have been seriously shit-tastic, like putting my nuts in a mortar and pestle and letting a Mexican line cook go at it. Guacamole-d. The old bushido Japanese had this very Zen way of looking at the world, of essentially clearing your mind of any and all distractions. No mind, or something close to that. I think I'm taking that concept a bit too literally. My mind is literally (along with being full of fuck) empty everytime I look at a goddamn practice exam. For the masochists that enjoy being pistol-whipped by critical thinking questions, these computer adaptive tests are for you.

About 3 more weeks to go. And then, good or bad results notwithstanding, I'm going to go apeshit because months and months of tension and stress have to be relieved somehow. Spring is here, and things have to get better, because otherwise, what the fuck am I doing all this for??!!

DF

Sunday, April 29, 2012

4-28

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Well, I guess I'm 26 now. Quiet dinner last night with the people I love the most. Right, only positive thoughts, big things coming up in the next few months!

DF

Thursday, April 26, 2012

a year ago...

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. . . I had just arrived in the greatest city on earth. In the middle of all that I love. A long lunch, lots of wine, and yes, a little self-indulgently, enjoying an afternoon cigar at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Life is pretty shit, but we'll always have Paris.

DF

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

like a thunderbolt from heaven

2009 Paul Anheuser Riesling Kabinett

2009 Paul Anheuser Riesling Kabinett | QmP Schlossböckelheimer Königsfels | Nahe

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2008 Vollenweider Riesling Kabinett | QmP Wolfer Goldgrube | Mosel

I'm a simple-to-please kind of guy. All I ever want is to drink wines that don't compromise, that are soulful, and that don't give a shit what other people think. It's something that doesn't have to do with price or region, or even varietal for that matter. Great wines come from a place of humility, we have to remember. Riesling is something I can go on for a long time, and be very boring about; quite simply, it's a treasure of the wine world. And chances are, if you don't like drinking riesling, I don't much care for you as a human being. Two examples here of why this sublime grape instills such fire. The Nahe, a bit lacking in concentration for this vintage, but otherwise textbook. And the Vollenweider, with depth and complexity, even at barely 4 years of age.

Why can't people who write about wine (professionally) take a harder stance on wines that they really like. No, sometimes, it's not about what tastes good to you. That doesn't work if a person doesn't have a palate.So as the professional, it's up to you to educate people, instead of this democratic, equal-opportunity bullshit. We'd all be much better off for it, because timid, p-c, pieces are no fun for anyone.

DF

Monday, April 23, 2012

why I'll never open a restaurant

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I have this weird thing about birthday gifts. My parents buy me something every year, but since I've started working, I've become increasingly uncomfortable accepting presents, from anyone. If you want it, work for it yourself right?

The past few years, I've had this obsession with kitchen tools. Basics, like knives and pans, but the focus is on (high) quality. It always was. Fundamental tools that are indestructible. As my buddy ROKChoi says, anyone can buy new gear - the question is, will a new purchase truly help you improve, or is it just because you want new gear? I use an 8" Wüsthof cook's knife (Christmas 2008) and while I've been salivating over these gorgeous Japanese knives - another story altogether - the European style blade has been wonderful. But now it's starting to get a little dull, and no amount of honing on a steel is going to help. I have a combination sharpening stone at home, but everyone's forgotten if it's an oil or water stone, and parts of it have already been damaged. So I need sharpening stones - specifically, Naniwa Super Stones, the most amazing wet stones from Japan. They're expensive, but they get the job done the right way. I'm working on sourcing a set.

Now, where was I taking this? Oh right. I had lunch today at a Sichuan restaurant in Markham, Toronto. Decently located (opposite Pacific Mall), just in time for the lunch crowd, except . . . there was no one. We were told that this place cooked truly authentic Sichuan dishes, the owner being a native of Chongqing. But the restaurant was empty. And then we found out why. The owner of the place was also server, busboy, and cook. One guy, manning the entire restaurant. A total of 5 tables, 12 covers. The food, as you can see, was extraordinary. That incredible fragrance of the peppercorn, fresh ingredients, and a spice that altogether lifts on your palate, and encourages another mouthful. Delicious. But the poor man, running in and out, taking orders and hurrying back with dishes. Incredibly fast, polite, attentive. Proof that you only wish owning a restaurant on your worst enemies.

It's a shame really. All the elements are there to be a success - good food (most importantly), good location, good prices. So why hasn't this place caught on? He spends a lot of money advertising his place, and extends all sorts of discounts for local office workers. The food clearly speaks for itself.

Sometimes it all just doesn't make sense. None of it.

DF

Sunday, April 22, 2012

baking cured fish

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It's been a nice, chilled weekend. Out for drinks and all that kind of chill. There's a new Biermarkt opened up at Shops at Don Mills, but unfortunately, it was absolutely packed when we went, and no, I'm not waiting an hour for a beer.

We finished the last of these. Cured fish that my mother brought back from Tsukiji Fish Market, baked and simple and great. They don't even bother labelling the type of fish, because it's not important. It's always some kind of mackerel or other cheap fish. Curing and baking fish gives it a savouriness that is almost meaty - really something we should be doing over the grill.

I'm gonna be chilling for the next month or so, so please bear with me. I've been drinking a lot of bourbon lately, and it's been awesome. 30 more days of madness left!

DF

Friday, April 20, 2012

grown up flavours

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A few weeks ago, Mei Chin, food writer, wrote a great piece on conquering her fear of cilantro (coriander) as an adult. We've all been there. That flavour/texture of a certain food that we just couldn't stand as a child, but that we now go crazy for. I have a lot of specific food items I can share, but for me, coriander was one of the biggest steps in my palate's maturation.

I hated coriander. Pungent, with that peculiar, utterly unique green flavour. Being Shanghainese, we'd use it, very much like European cuisine, as a finishing touch in our dishes, for some fragrance. It was never the primary element of a dish - that is, unless we were having hotpot. My mother still makes the most amazing, Shanghai-style dipping sauce with a peanut butter base, adding in soy sauce, shacha sauce, chili oil, and topped off with a very generous handful of chopped coriander. It's funny - it's not that I screamed every time I saw it, but rather, I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy it. I never understood how my mother could eat so much of it, like there could never be enough of it in her sauce.

And then I grew up. Kind of.

One of those moments that you just suddenly realize, hey, this stuff is GOOD. Probably because I accidentally dropped a sprig of it into the boiling water, and tried it with a generous dip in hot sauce. And now I can't get enough of it. In hotpot, of course, but also in the Shanghainese curry beef soup we make, in other greens, and of course, in this particular dish. We love eating jellyfish. I can't name this particular variety, but it's a type of jellyfish, I'm certain of it. Crunchy in texture, with the most delicate and exquisite marine flavours. Can't find it here, so anytime anyone goes back to the Motherland, I pretty much beg for a few bags to be brought over.

Cold dish of jellyfish in a soy sauce/vinegar dressing

The most critical, as always, is the quality of the main ingredient. You want to be careful when buying jellyfish - never pick the ones that look pure white. They've been bleached. The best quality jellyfish has a darkish, uneven colour to it, and is firm to the touch.

Wash and tear into shreds. Keep it rustic and in big chunks - this isn't a pansy dish.

Dress with 3 parts soy sauce, 1 part rice vinegar. Add sugar to taste. Slight drizzle of sesame oil.

Smother with a layer of fresh coriander leaves.

DF

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

cheap and cheerful on a birthday

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Birthdays suck. Now that we're (slightly) older, all it does is remind you that you need to be more responsible, more mature, more adult-like.

Went out to get a birthday gift for a friend - cedar shoe trees, the sort of old-timers thing I really like. Nothing makes a Harry Rosen sales rep go soft faster than when you say, yes, that's all I'm looking for. No I don't want two pairs. No, I don't want to look at anything else. Kind of amazing how transparently sales-oriented they've become there (on a consistent basis), that sort of attitude of fuck off, you're not worth my time, as soon as they realize you're not willing to drop more than a few bills. Even more disappointing is that you expect better from middle-aged men, who, let's be fucking frank, play dress-up and hustle rich customers for a living. As if wearing expensive suits and matching handkerchiefs with ties means anything. Such a shame. I met Harry Rosen a few years ago, when he gave a lecture at my school about entrepreneurship. You'd imagine that under his watch, such behaviour would not be tolerated . . .

I'm allowed to say shit like this once in a while because it's absolutely true and because, well, I'm a grumpy prick. A bit too lazy to bother putting up the names of the wines pictured, but they're all big labels, easy to find, and really, they don't need any more trumpeting. Cheap but cheerful wines to celebrate my friend's birthday this past weekend. We were going for wine to go down easy and just be fun - no thinking required (or desired). Low alcohol, so we could drink a lot. Pure, clean fruit flavours, balanced acidity. Freshness, because my buddy had prepared a large amount of food. And well, cheap - all for under $12 or so a bottle.

I think I did rather well in the 6 bottles I picked up. A box wine chardonnay, to mess around with another wine-loving friend, but French Rabbit's always been very drinkable. My first taste of Fuzion shiraz/malbec, as shitty of a wine as I had imagined it to be. The rest were actually quite good. The C'est La Vie from the Midi, gorgeous pure red fruits, very, very fresh. And the pair of Cono Sur wines, always dependable. I've been drinking their $10 pinot noir since second-year university, and in my opinion, it's one of the best wines at that price. Good acid, good fruit, even a bit of minerality/earthiness. The last two bottles, brought over by said wine-loving friend, a Bordeaux and a vermentino from Lodi(!) were solid, if unspectacular.

As these things go, we ate a long lunch, drank a shitload of wine, and promptly became hungry again. 10pm on a Sunday evening, out to get some congee before calling it a night. A great day. Wine is for thought and contemplation and all that, but sometimes, on a rare occasion (for me), a simple drink is all I want. Simple, honest, chuggable juice.

DF

Monday, April 16, 2012

beerbistro

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Dupont Brewery | Saison Dupont | Belgium

I had a very busy, very good weekend. First up, a long-awaited dinner with Tom Newman, Director of The Celt Experience beer and his Ontario agent, Paul Flint of Rubaiyat Wine and Spirit Merchants. You recall we did a few things together a few months ago - Tom, via Paul, sent over bottles of his entire lineup, with a focus on finding a good place on the dinner table for each beer.

Tom was in Ontario for a visit, and we arranged to meet at Beer Bistro (or rather, beerbistro). Good atmosphere inside, live band and all - that typically obnoxious King St. crowd, but the beer list here is one of the best I've ever seen. I like the selection a lot, much more so than Biermarkt's, where you sometimes get the sense that they just put anything Belgian on the list and think they can get away with a 300% markup. You go through the beer list at beerbistro, and what is immediately clear is that a lot of thought has been put into categorizing and describing each beer. Where else can you see a menu that lists beers by mood?!

It was a great evening - a chance to finally meet Tom and Paul in person, and get to know each other a bit. Learned a lot. The passion and dedication in brewing parallels that of good winemaking. It all comes down to vision, doesn't it, and whether the person behind it all has the courage to follow through and not compromise. Really enjoyed the evening. Had the braised veal cheeks, fantastic. My first beer was a Junction Conductor's Craft Ale, an IPA style beer from Junction Craft Brewing, a new Toronto brewery. A great representation of that tight, hoppy style. Good texture. But the real surprise for me was this, the Saison Dupont.

Paul is responsible for bringing in many of the Belgian beers on beerbistro's list, including this one, making him really the best person to order for you. For my veal cheeks, we went with this - a Saison style beer, so named because it was brewed for the saisoniers, French-speaking farm workers in Belgium. Top fermented and unfiltered, just look at that stunning colour. It even looks textural, and with the most amazing head of foam, just couldn't wait for a taste. Incredible aroma, the fragrance of a thousand flowers, basketfuls of fruits . . . texture, beautiful integration on the palate, incredibly dry, a long, hoppy finish. Simply divine, and the best beer I've had in a long, long time.

And really, this is coming from someone who doesn't think much about Belgian beers at all. Clearly, I haven't been drinking beer with the right people. Proves that the most important thing about food and drink is to keep an open mind. Thank you Tom and Paul for a great evening!

DF

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rhinestone cowboy





I've been listening to a lot of country music lately. Maybe it's because I've been drinking (a lot) more bourbon as well, but these songs are great. Glen Campbell is the best. A real country legend, and look, not a single goddamn cowboy hat in sight. I think deep down, country music purists are suffering as much as hip hop purists are, because today's music is terrible.

A measure of a true singer is their ability to perform live. Fuck the recordings and the studio work. That moment when you're in front of a mike with nothing but a guitar is when true magic happens. I love the song in the first video, Southern Nights. It was written by Allen Toussaint, who was describing his memories of visiting relatives in the Louisiana countryside as a child. Glen's cover of it is the most well-known, and the lyrics spoke to his childhood spent on an Arkansas farm.

In music, as in all things, all we're searching for is a truth. Honest, singular truth.

DF

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

if I HAD to choose...

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2008 Inniskillin Winemaker's Series Two Vineyards Cabernet Franc VQA Niagara Peninsula
. . . the most interesting wines of the largest Niagara producers come from Inniskillin. Interesting, in the sense that, it actually tastes like a varietal wine and not a watered down approximation; their Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir is a good example of that. I first tasted this particular bottle (blind) at the Fermentations! tasting a few months ago, and it was clearly the best red wine of the evening - not just in the cabernet franc flight. Surprise, no? It was varietal, with excellent texture and structure.
Is there a contradiction between size of winery and production of truly exciting wines? Not suggesting that Inniskillin is simply pumping out wine in volume, like certain global wine brands; but with a seriously extensive lineup of products from white, red, sweet, and sparkling wines, can these large wineries ever claim to produce fine wines? I tend to roll my eyes, because wineries that put out tv ads, with a huge marketing budget and all kind of tells you everything you need to know. Generalizing, yet again, but these large wineries are concerned with yes, branding. You're buying brand wines, not vins de terroirs. These wineries have been very commercially successful, especially their icewines. Can you imagine, the only Canadian wine in PuDao, one of the best wine shops in Shanghai, was an Inniskillin Vidal Icewine. No, I don't mean to say that success comes at the expense of making real wine, but too often, consumers are fooled by clever marketing and fancy packaging. Even this, a wine I like, is a prime example. Why is there the need to label it as the Winemaker's Series? So you can justify charging more than your entry-level bottles? Does that make the cheap wines Non-Winemaker's bottles? The Two Vineyards bit is just as silly, because it simply refers to the fact that the wine is a blend of fruit from two (or possibly more) vineyards. Just like any other blended wine, most of which don't have to resort to kitschy, catchy wine phrases on the label.

I'm being a bit negative, because all this takes away from what is otherwise a very well-made wine. On sale the week I dropped by my local LCBO. And a very credible example of why cabernet franc can be a success in Niagara. I just don't believe at all in the methods used to trick the consumer into thinking that the wine is unique from the rest of the lineup. And I'm slightly upset because consumers have bought so hard into the marketing that Niagara for them instantly reminds not of the small, artisanal producers, but the big names. No, we've got too many people working too hard to be dismissed by consumers simply for the fact that they're not going to waste money on advertising. Since when is the strength of your advertising a barometer of success for wineries? Where does the quality of the wine fit into all of this?

We need to get back to the wine, and come to an understanding that lets us filter out all the marketing nonsense and focus on what the stuff inside the bottle is. We are, after all, drinking the wine, and not the words on the label or the media ads we see. But how do we accomplish this?

DF

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

it was waiting for me

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2009 Kuehn Florimont Riesling | AC Alsace Grand Cru

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2004 Prinz Von Hessen Riesling Spätlese | QmP Winkeler Hasensprung | Rheingau

One of those days, just one of those days when you want to think only about happy things. I remember the first time I ate sushi and sashimi. Just a child, and at the age of 10, raw fish isn't food; it's a novelty, like Kinder Surprise eggs. Everyone knows you don't eat them because of the milk chocolate.

I first visited Tokyo when I was 12. What a great experience. What a great summer, in fact. My aunt and cousin visited us first, spending a few weeks in Toronto, before we all flew to Vancouver to stay with a family friend. Then, I flew back with them, spending about 6 weeks in Japan. I learned so many new things that summer, but my strongest memories are of the food. Everything was so new, so different . . . I was a pretty bad eater, picky and a bit squeamish, but I learned to try everything there. All kinds of fish, the most amazing hairy crabs - even the peaches and pears we ate get me worked up again. It was a summer of adventure, and I grew up a lot during those 2 months; truth to the Chinese proverb that One would rather travel 10,000 miles than read 10,000 books.

The novelty of raw fish has certainly worn off, and I've come to (grudgingly) respect it. If the purpose of cuisine is to concentrate and present the very essence of the ingredient, then in some cases, sushi is the pinnacle. For the Chinese, raw hardly seems like the proper way to eat a beautiful fish, but if we look outside the tunnel vision that familiarity sometimes gives us, we often find inspiration. I was hungry for seafood. Hungry for shellfish, something like abalone or geoduck - feeling adventurous. But the fishmongers weren't cooperating, and I was about to return home empty-handed when I saw the most amazingly pinkish red hunk of tuna. It was meant to be. Diana's Seafood, pulls through in the clutch again, and with a sense of humour too: man behind the counter says Beautiful huh? It was waiting here for you this whole time!

You skin it, section it, and slice it. Thick and even. Look at the colour, the beautiful grain of the meat, the way it almost seems translucent. Incredibly fresh, considering where we are. Absolutely divine in flavour and texture. What to drink? I had a few chardonnays, but I was tired, and wanted an energetic wine to pick me up. Riesling, you're up.

An Alsace, from the Grand Cru of Florimont, along with a Rheingau riesling, from the Winkeler Hasensprung vineyard. I've been becoming more skeptical of these Alsatian wines - all flash no substance. Slightly disappointed in the Kuehn, all awkwardly handled residual sugar, little texture or extract. But that's why the German was on the table. Perfect isn't a term which should be used lightly in wine, but my god, the Rheingau riesling was perfect. Mineral and tension, still wound up and tight but with so much energy. Beautifully managed texture, on a long and extracted finish. Stunning wine for a stunning piece of fish.

Is this the best way to eat tuna? I don't know. Cuisine is about presenting food in the best way possible, but it's also about respecting it. A part of that means not overworking it. Eating in this way almost demands something out of the person eating. It's when you quiet down and really focus on the subtleties, that you really begin noticing why sashimi is a really special way of eating tuna. For one night at least, I was a believer.

DF

Monday, April 9, 2012

falcon punch of bitter

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Tree Brewing Hophead Double India Pale Ale | Kelowna | British Columbia

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Southern Tier Brewing Company Unearthly Imperial India Pale Ale | New York

One East Coast, one West. One American, one American-wannabe. Oops . . . meant to say Canadian. But that's ok. We all (to some degree) want to stand under Old Glory.

The beers are delicious, clear proof that the most exciting beer in the world is being brewed by North Americans. But these incredibly hoppy brews that really slap you around a bit have the effect of altogether making you more aggressive, even slightly combative, than say, if you were drinking a Guinness. It's almost all a bit too much. It's a great thing that the pendulum is swinging back from the horrid, tasteless, fizz water that Bud, Coors and the rest of those fuckers sell, but one has to remember that it can swing too hard the other way as well. Certainly depends on your point of view of why you're drinking, but knock-out beers require a particular state of mind to enjoy.

But I need to go back and make clear that the beers are stunning. Vibrant and penetratingly well made, that seam of hops just roaring and tearing at your palate. Certain not for lovers of subtlety. With food? I wouldn't chance it, unless it was in the dead heat of summer and in front of the grill. There's no finesse here, just sheer power, although both beers do manage to stay agile, despite the high alcohols. Think Dwight Howard instead of (Lakers) Shaq. Really impressive beers, but I'm yet to be sold on this kind of style. I'll be meeting with a British brewer this weekend - really looking forward to having some of my beer questions answered. We'll keep it under wraps until then, but please come back for updates.

We'd all like for certain things to be knock-outs, and that takes into account the area of women as well. But on occasion, you want what's in your glass to be a bit more calm, a bit more mellow, and just a bit less . . . American. Should I make a Napa cab/Barossa Valley shiraz stereotype?

DF

Sunday, April 8, 2012

umezuke

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Oooof, yeah, a lot of jibberish last night. A fairly severe hungover, but that's how we gauge party success. Two of the kids last night are in their last year of high school, and (anxiously) waiting for university acceptance letters. Everyone's all grown up. But I'll stay childish forever. What fun would it be if I tried acting all mature and shit?

There are no hangover cures, but lots of ice water and umezuke help. These pickled plums my mother brought back from Japan, that they eat with rice porridge. Incredibly fragrant yet acidic, salty and sour. Big, almost shocking flavours on the palate. Certainly wakes you up.

I love to party, but really, I'm a little out of practice. Strong will, weak stamina. Three straight nights of (fairly heavy) drinking, and I'm already looking forward to work tomorrow.

DF

you're kidding me

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Long weekend, so we just got back from dinner at a family friend's. Sometimes, the food ain't the point. Drunk out my point, but still drinking because wtf, what really is enough? And so goes the holiday, with not much else to look forward to but studying tomorrow. An Oregon pinto noir to finish off the night, a mistake actually - the plan was for a chardonnay. So predictable. Yet, for those who know and love DF . . . you surprised?

DF

Friday, April 6, 2012

out for the night

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Hung out until late last night (or technically, early this morning) with the boys, but no complaints. My buddy ROKChoi picked up a pair of Flat Rock wines, a 2010 Nadja's Vineyard Riesling, and their 2010 Pinot Noir. Always solid, dependable wines, typical of the Niagara style. The pinot noir, however, is a bit of a bigger wine that what I remembered previous vintages to be. The riesling, high-toned and lean, but already open with citrus and lanolin cream aromas. A fun, slightly out of the ordinary night.

A good start to a busy Easter weekend for me.

DF

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tasting 2010 Lailey

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I got to spend some time with Derek Barnett of Lailey again, always a highlight of my trips to Niagara. You'll never find a more modest, unassuming man who really, I mean really makes wines with purpose and dedication. I always come out of these tastings feeling enlightened and inspired, and this time was no different.

We went through his 2010's; Derek's young vintages always seem quite expressive, although that does tend to vary between the different bottlings. When you taste a horizontal across all the various wines, there's always a surprise. But not this time. Most of the wines, the earliest being bottled for no more than 6 months, were open and already drinking beautifully (to varying degrees of course). As always, the pinot noirs were incredible, true expressions, all you look for in singular, terroir-specific wines. Chardonnays were brilliant, and something I want to look at in closer detail. But the real mindblower was a wine made from a grape that I personally don't think too highly of - giving truth to the notion that the most important thing that shapes a wine, after all, is the winemaker's palate. Name starts with a g, slightly difficult to pronounce, instantly recognizable on the nose. Keep reading.

I asked to start with the chardonnay and Derek pulled out three. Going through the blended estate level 2010 Chardonnay, with its impeccable balance of subtle oak creaminess and bright citrus. Moving onto the 2010 Brickyard Chardonnay, all extracted acidity and a firm stream of minerality. And then the 2010 Canadian Oak Chardonnay, showing more luscious oak, though retaining a tension and density. All structured wines that demand time in the bottle to fully integrate - simply fabulous examples of what this varietal can achieve in Niagara in a good vintage. A really exciting start to the tasting. Then, out of nowhere, Derek threw a couple of surprises at me. A 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, barrel fermented and showing lovely purity of fruit, with the oak giving it texture and depth. Beautifully (and delicately) handled. The big surprise came next, a left hook out of nowhere. I was handed a glass from an unlabelled bottle, and before Derek said anything, I blurted out gewürztraminer! I momentarily felt that oh shit, I should have kept my mouth shut, I'm probably wayyyyy off . . . but I wasn't, and we could focus on the wine. A 2011 Gewürztraminer that will be bottled (and labelled) soon, just singing of all that's great about this varietal. Lychees and a heavenly fragrance, dry on the palate. Low alcohol and quite refined in fact - and this is coming from someone who has quite a low opinion of gewurz - an utterly fascinating wine. It all made sense when Derek said the wine's floral scent reminded him of his childhood memories of his mother's bedroom. All too often, we forget that the most deeply ingrained and powerful memories lie in smell and taste.

We moved onto the red wines, always a thrill for me. Starting with the 2010 Brickyard Pinot Noir, lean with a beautiful texture, expressive already. The 2010 Canadian Oak Pinot Noir, showing some creamy oak, lovely structure. 2010 Old Vines Pinot Noir, always a stunner, earthy and rustic, textural, and all that's beautiful about this varietal. The 2010 Lot 48 Pinot Noir, of which only a minuscule amount was made (< 50 cases), showing some overt ripeness and jammy fruit, although it retains good acidity and firm tannins. No surprise, the pinot noirs were gorgeous wines, soulful and with depth, purity and structure. Derek also opened bottles of his Bordeaux varieties. His 2010 Cabernet Franc showing a lovely density on the nose, earthy mocha aromas, with a spicy palate - very Bordelais indeed. The 2010 Merlot and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, structured and a bit tight at the moment. What I always look forward to tasting, the 2010 Syrah was just booming of black pepper and already showing same gamey, savoury notes, that true syrah character. And finally, with a wink and nod, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine, impeccably balanced and begging to be drunk.

A great tasting. The 2010 wines were stunning across the board. Wineries rarely show this level of consistency across ALL the wines produced, but Derek manages it. The wines have soul, character, and most of all, feeling. They feel of Niagara, of the vintage, of the experience and humble sensibilities of the man putting it all together. As always, I'm touched by Derek's humility, his generosity, and his genuine understanding of what true wine is. Many thanks, and see you soon!

DF

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tasting at Fielding Estate Winery

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Fielding represents the best of what is happening in Niagara wine, that spirit to experiment and explore and shake off the status quo because to say that's the way things were always done simply isn't good enough. Easier said than done, but they've got a great team here, and as this year's Cuvée Awards proved, people are starting to recognize the results.

I got the opportunity to meet winemaker Richie Roberts for the first time. Richie kindly took some time to show me around the winery, as well as take me through quite a comprehensive tasting of the 2010's and 2011's in barrel and bottle. Take a look at the stainless steel tanks: double tanks, one stacked on top of the other, controlled using one wall-mounted touchscreen panel. Right, and if he wanted it to, the system could send mobile alerts if something in the tanks changed. Impressive indeed. Fielding also owns its own bottling machine. During my last visit, in November 2010, they still had a fair proportion of wines under cork. That has dramatically changed in the year and a half or so since, with Richie now bottling around 90% under screwcap.

What's even more interesting, and my first indication that Fielding was looking to push boundaries, is their experiments with screwcap liners. As Richie explained, screwcaps contain two layers of liner: one of plastic and the other metal (to put it simply, and because I frankly can't recall their exact names). The liner inside the screwcap dictates how much oxygen is allowed to permeate through the closure. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, screwcaps still need to allow miniscule amounts of air through because yes, oxygen is needed for wine to develop. Richie is playing around with different liners, to, as he put it, have a greater degree of control in how much air gets in.

The cellars are beautiful. Barrels mounted over loose stone a few feet deep, which rest directly on top of exposed earth, allowing humidity to be naturally regulated. Going through the 2010 and 2011 barrel samples was an interesting exercise in seeing how oak and oxidation affects the same wine. Richie experiments with different barrels of different ages/grains/toasts, using French, American, and Hungarian oak. Lots going on here, but the samples we tasted were genuinely exciting. The 2011 chardonnay, from the Jack Rabbit Flats vineyard showed typicity and balance, with a lovely stream of acidity rising up. The 2010 and 2011 syrahs, sourced from vineyards owned by the Lowrey family were beautifully pure and varietal, dense and structured. The 2010 and 2011 cabernet francs, also from the Lowrey's, showed lots of spice and depth. With the extra year of age, the 2010's are already showing some polish and elegance. The 2011's are a bit coarse now, but their (high) potential is obvious.

We then moved back upstairs to the lovely tasting room upstairs, looking right over Lake Ontario. Bright, clear day, which offered a view of the Toronto skyline - the first time I've seen downtown TO from Niagara. We started with a new wine for Fielding, an NV Traditional Brut, just disgorged. Racy and lean, some autolytic character, the sort of oysters and shellfish kind of love. We moved through some of their more popular wines, the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2011 Rock Pile Pinot Gris, and 2010 Viognier all showing a lovely purity of fruit, being friendly yet retaining good amounts of acid. The sauvignon, by the way, made more in the spirit of Sancerre, showing bright fruit, with only a touch of wood to round out the texture without imparting oakiness. The 2010 Estate Bottled Riesling was lovely, all lanolin cream and racy acidity, nicely balanced with just a hint of sweetness to round it out. That clean, pure style of riesling that I think sings of the best of Niagara. The 2010 Chardonnay is a bit weightier, bit richer, finishing with a lovely stream of acidity. And yes, it's all about the acid.

The red wines, in my opinion, were more clearly defined. Wines always show the hand of the people crafting it - upon reflection, these wines seemed more sure of themselves, that delicate balance of making an impression on the palate yet remaining balanced and pure. I'm so fucking full of it. But some of the red wines were really exciting. The 2009 Pinot Noir showed the elegance I associate with the vintage, but with a structure I've yet to see in any other '09 pinot. The 2009 Red Conception, a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah, showed a lot of primary cabernet characters at this stage, that sort of graphite, road tar earthiness. Needs time to integrate. The 2010 Cabernet Franc was wonderful. Dense and quite expressive considering its youth, with lots of structure. A big wine for the cellar. Then, ending with the 2007 Meritage, a blend of about 60% merlot, 35% cabernet sauvignon, and the rest cabernet franc. Showing quite nicely at the moment, though I suspect it needs at least another 5 years to really come together. Alcohol comes up a bit, and the oak juts out just a bit. Patience required.

To make any sort of definitive judgement on these wine is pointless, and frankly, I don't do that shit because it doesn't mean anything. The wines are clearly well made, but what's interesting to me isn't to try to define or label them. I want to share with people the spirit of experimentation and adventure going on here, that excitement of blazing an original and innovative path to discover not just what good wine is, but what a true Niagara wine is.

Richie said something that was really inspiring. Paraphrasing (slightly), but he says Of course it's important that the wines express a sense of place; we, however, can't dehumanize it. Whether it's the people farming the grapes, to the people harvesting, to the people crafting it all into wine . . . we can't overlook the human element that brings it all together. Many thanks Richie, hope to see you soon.

DF