Wednesday, August 28, 2013

wheels turning

Vale chicos, so finally got internet at the flat, got my empadronamiento, and now all that's left to tick off (non-academically) is the NIE and bank account. Not exactly fully settled in yet, but closer.

This place has been pretty awesome so far. Not saying that I'm not a little homesick, or that I miss my friends back home, but it's certainly been an eye-opening experience moving to a new continent. People do things so differently here, and it's been a huge adjustment to understand how things get accomplished. The Spanish are exactly as people say they are. Relaxed, passionate, easy-going. Most of the city is shut down - we walked nearly half an hour to get to a restaurant the other night only to find it shuttered, without any explanation. I suppose that's the attitude you adopt when money really isn't a motivating factor.

What else ... the girls are as good looking as advertised. It's clean here, and even though dog owners don't pick up after their animals, I've yet to see a fly or mosquito. Weather is great, and amazingly, the same every single day. It's actually been cool the last few days - even busted out my hoodie. Lots of surprises. Everyone under 30 seems to be tattooed, none of the men seem to believe in leg days, and well, 10pm dinners. I started Spanish class this week, so that's been interesting. Good to be learning something useful, and be surrounded by a great group of classmates. With zero exaggeration, this is possibly the most international group of people I'll ever meet again. For example - today, before having lunch, I've already talked to someone from Saudi Arabia, England, Portugal, Singapore, Korea, Japan, America, a Kuwait, China, India, Germany, and Austria. What's tripping me up is Spanish pronunciation and some of the vocabulary - it's so different from French, and while I was never fluent in French, what little I did manage to learn is staying hard in my head. I really, really, really don't want to start developing a lisp!

I haven't really taken time to explore Barcelona yet, in any great detail, but I have at least strolled through some of the major areas. Sagrada Familia was epic. And the waterfront, from the Port to the beach is gorgeous. Tristemente, didn't have a cannabis mojito. yet.

Getting excited, my friends. It's been 4 months since my birthday today, and things have changed so much. All I did 4 months ago was accept the IESE offer. Am I ready to call Barcelona home yet? Maybe in a few more weeks. Hasta luego chicos.


Monday, August 26, 2013

settling in, remembering something sweet

Still adjusting, still trying to get settled. Which won't really happen until we get internet in the flat and I can stop climbing the hill to school to leach off their wifi. Patience is a virtue, especially in Spain. My first day of Spanish classes, and while we just had a half day today, tired. Need to get back into the routine of school, of learning. Of dragging my ass up before 9am. No complaints though ... I'm in Barcelona after all. Weather's been fabulous, consistently 28/29C everyday. I don't feel like the humidity's any higher than Toronto, but I'm constantly sweaty whenever I go out, so maybe not. I'll get used it, among other things. Until then, thinking about a trio of Sauternes I opened during my last few days in Toronto. Be back soon.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

I'm here!

I've arrived in Barcelona! Still no internet in the flat, so on campus for some much needed wifi access. Got my mobile set up though, so at least not completely in the dark. It's been a bit of an adjustment so far. I need a bit of time to settle in. Weather's been a lot nicer than I expected - although I feel constantly sweaty, it's not that humid and nights are really nice. Not a problem without air conditioning. Been going out, exploring the city on my own a bit. Went to the seafront, La Rambla, and of course, visited IESE campus. Caught the last night of the Gracia Street Festival. What an atmosphere - people of all ages dancing in the streets well past midnight on a Tuesday night. Because who cares about soaring unemployment and general economic malaise?


Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Old-Fashioned

So this is it. Everything's packed, all set for the big move to Barcelona. I'm excited, nervous, frightened ... but also hopeful. Hopeful that this is the first step in elevating myself, in reaching my goals. Who knows. It will certainly be an adventure. So let's raise a glass together for one final drink - in Toronto at least - of something classic and timeless, the Old-Fashioned. Many thanks and much appreciation to my loved ones for all the support and encouragement in the past 20 or so months. And now the real work begins. 

The Old-Fashioned

One sugar cube (white or brown sugar)
Orange bitters - Fee Brother's West Indian Orange Bitters
Angostura bitters
Bourbon - Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
Orange and lemon zest

In a mixing glass, place a cube of sugar, and saturate with Angostura and orange bitters

Add a splash of water and muddle until the sugar is completely dissolved

Add 2 ounces of bourbon

Fill to the top with ice and stir quickly for 25-30 seconds

Pour into a tumbler with ice if you wish; garnish with a lemon and orange twist


Friday, August 16, 2013

being true to oneself

2002 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Fame and fortune. Or a quiet, comfortable life. What do we go for, while we're young and can afford (or rather, are compelled) to make a push for it. We can never be too satisfied with how things are. It's incredibly frightening, but I'm pushing 30 and I feel like I've accomplished nothing. Niente. Not in my professional life, certainly not in my personal one. So what do we do? Well, in my case, I think at the very least, I've identified the path I need to be on to achieve what I want. As I told my parents, it's a far, far shot to actually make it, be on Forbes, but at the very least, it should be something to aspire to. Fame and fortune - one shot at it, one big push.

So, on the eve of my farewell to Toronto, a lot of things running through my mind. Deep insecurity. Uncertainty. I have no problem admitting that I'm a bit scared. I don't know what to expect, from the program or from my classmates. And yes, I do want to make friends, but I also want to remain true to myself. I'm a prick. And I don't like most people. Not the best quality in an MBA candidate, but I'm too old, too tired to be untrue to myself. Now that's a quality that I respect.

And with that thought, I want to talk about the Dunn. A big time wine that we bought after tasting it at the California Legends tasting earlier this year - a truly epic time with my best buddies. This stood out. A good amount of bottle age, showing an amazing depth and almost saline minerality. So my buddy and I bought 3 - one each, with one to share. And last Friday, we opened it as part of my farewell dinner. Peking duck and steamed eel, among other things. Decanted for about 6 hours, showing all the concentration and pure fruit of Californian fruit, with that graphite minerality and darkness of cabernet sauvignon. Alcohol at 13.8%, what I think of truly great Napa Valley wine. Fabulous.

Dunn is a good example of a producer that shuns hype and hyperbole, that's simply content to present the wines as they are. True confidence that is. And truly inspirational. You let your work speak for itself, without need for false promises. I'm reminded that I want to remain a good and decent man, that above all, I want to let my character and achievements speak for itself. I'm far, far away from it, but we all need to take first steps, and in one day, I begin mine. 

Here's to being true to oneself.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

back to what's so comforting

1992 Max Ferd. Richter Riesling Spätlese | QmP Mülheimer Sonnenlay | Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

We all have our own personal barometer of what style is, what comfort is, what taste is ... and anything not adhering to those personal standards is too often dismissed as wrong/bad/ugly/stupid/tacky. We all want to think of ourselves as having good taste - we all think of ourselves as having it. But that's altogether a far too one-dimensional view of things. Too many people are too quick to judge and it's becoming tiring to hear it, it really is. Why can't we all just be different, and be celebrated for liking different things? You should never have to defend your taste in things, in preferring certain things ... your preferences are simply what they are. It's easy to judge; it's far harder to accept things that are different.

I love Mosel riesling. I've loved it the first time I had a sip. There's an absolute honesty to these wines. And truth be told, I find I get along best with people who also appreciate them. You can always tell, when you serve Mosel to someone for the first time - there are those who are open to trying something new, and others who scrunch their faces at 'oh, it's a sweet wine'. Because after all, how can you be serious about wine if it's not a dry red wine?! Oops. Guess we can't be friends.

This, the Max Ferd. Richter, my last bottle from a bunch I bought way, way back. The Germans sulfur the hell out of their wines, making them relatively immortal. Quite a bit of bottle variation, but this one was fabulous. Open and expressive, with floral aromas, honey, and green apple. That signature minerality underlying everything, whiff of petrol as well. At full maturity. Good sweetness on the palate, with a lingering, spicy extract, great acidity and length. A delicious wine that is drinking beautifully.

I love these wines because they're delicious and all, but also because they're so comforting. There's no need to explain why I like sweet wines, why the Mosel speaks to me the way it does. I have zero affiliation with Germany or any Germans, but how come these wines taste of home? 

Spent the day downtown today. Toronto is home and I love living here, but goddamn, this city is boring. Nothing to do. So grabbed a peameal bacon sandwich at St. Lawrence Market, picked up some vegetables and steak to bring home, and called it a day. Champagne, Barolo, and Carema tonight, the last few bottles in the cellar. 


The Bandol that started it all

2004 Domaine Le Galantin | AC Bandol

I felt deeply conflicted as I uncorked this bottle. This particular wine holds great significance to me as it was the first wine I wrote about here, the wine that really started LCF all those years ago. I was always fascinated with these country wines, these wines that were unabashedly, unapologetically from the dirt and rock. Le Galantin was certainly one of them. I remember how ferocious this wine was, even after all this time. I bought two of these way back in second year university - the first bottle opened soon after, tannins so severe and hard my eyes teared up. Second one kept until now, under less than optimal conditions.

Immediately, the foil and cork looked terrible. Wine seeping through, depositing a sticky mess under the capsule. Cork soaked through, but still relatively intact. Fine, almost muddy sediment. Decanted it off, and had a quick taste.


Bandol, an area in the south of France producing rich, tannic monsters. Made of predominantly mourvèdre grapes (at least 50% by law), the wines are long-lived and celebrate those brett-y, barnyard-y characters of the countryside. And I remember this wine to be above all, stinky. As much stank in a wine as you can imagine - borderline undrinkable at the time. With a few years of bottle age, it begins making sense. The brett transforming into a wild, savoury quality, the minerality finally revealing itself, that blood iron aroma. Fruit, pure and sweet. Alcohol quite heady at 14.5%, but the palate carries it well, becoming sweeter and sweeter. Finely knit tannins, fully resolved and leaving just a tickle of texture on the finish.

Truth to the notion that even moderate terms of bottle age will benefit even modest wines. So why the conflicted feelings? Maybe I'm just complicated like that. Maybe there was this thing in the back of my head that once I uncorked this one, it would be gone. But I drank it with two of my best mates, the people I care most about. And I remember why we do this, that who you share wine with has as much meaning as what's in the glass.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

can Niagara do cabernet?

Left: 2003 Marynissen Estates Cabernet | VQA Niagara Peninsula
Right: 2002 Marynissen Estates Cabernet/Merlot | VQA Niagara Peninsula
2002 Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Merlot | VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Can Niagara do cabernet? And I don't mean make cabernet sauvignon or cabernet blends for the sake of it, because the going assumption is that you have to make those wines to be a 'proper' wine region. No, I mean credible cabernet wines that are varietal, show vintage character, and have ageability. Wines that stand up on their own against the benchmarks of the world. I was in Niagara yesterday, and although we didn't visit any wineries, that question lingered in my mind as we drove around and saw the acres and acres of land planted with vineyards. Cabernet has almost become the default grape that people think of when 'red wine' is mentioned - that and probably merlot. So can Niagara do cabernet?

I recalled a trio of Niagara cabernet blends I had a few weeks ago. All around the same amount of age, 2002's and one 2003. All from producers that I feel make very good wines, who have good experience with the varietal. Starting with the Marynissen ...

The 2003 Marynissen Cabernet is a special wine to me. It was the first wine I had with a very dear friend. We had known each other since junior high school, but it wasn't until we were both almost finished our undergraduates that we found out that she was one of my best friend's classmates. So for Christmas that year, I invited everyone for dinner, to catch up. Wine (and by extension, food), always takes on a different dimension when you're drinking/eating with people you like, and that night, the Marynissen was singing. A 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, this was a one-off, when the difficulties of the vintage meant that there simply wasn't enough fruit to do single varietal bottles. And now a few years later, it showed the warmth of that Niagara clay and sand. Integrated and drinking really well. A nice reminder of things that we shared years ago, a nice way to say goodbye. The 2002 Marynissen Cabernet Merlot, a more traditional blend. I really liked this wine. Lots of the graphite minerality, full with good depth. Tannins are still fine, still very much energetic.

It was almost by chance that I picked up the 2002 Southbrook. They are one of the few Niagara producers that holds back vintages to sell at maturity - in this case, at more than 10 years old. We benefit because the wines have been stored under the most ideal conditions, and what's really noteworthy, the prices remain very, very reasonable. I was in Niagara in the first week of May, and we chanced on this release. Easy purchase. This was my favourite wine of the three - lots of fresh, pure fruit, slight earthiness and reaching maturity, still very structured on the palate. I love the feel of those grippy, fine-grained tannins.

So, can Niagara do cabernet? In the best vintages, with experienced producers - yes, I do find these wines credible. But Marynissen is credited with bringing cabernet to Niagara, and Southbrook (or rather, its founding family) has been farming in the area since the '40's. Lots of pedigree here. But as a whole? I suppose there are a few red varietals I believe in more than cabernet, at least for Niagara. In the global context, Niagara cabernet still has a way to go. There's a certain elegance that these wines lack, and an overall complexity, that new oak and other tricks in the cellar can't replicate. Like all good things, that simply takes time.

Had a nice day in Niagara yesterday. Good lunch at Treadwell (newly moved to Queen Street, on Niagara-on-the-Lake's historical district), before a nice stroll, latte in hand. We've had a truly bizarre summer here. It's early August, and it feels like October, with temperatures barely above 20°C. Probably shouldn't complain as I'm headed to the Mediterranean, but still ... bizarre. We drove to the Butterfly Conservatory to walk around the gardens for a bit, before making our way to the Falls. Majestic as always. Dinner at Old Winery Restaurant, and as tradition, a pint of Keith's Pale Ale before setting off home. Dropped by a friend's place for a tiny (but important) side project (to be revealed soon). A good day. Today was totally different. Woke up with a headache - suffering from sluggishness and general malaise. Getting stressed out preparing for the move. Wanted a quiet day to work on things on the checklist, but of course, that never goes to plan. Never. Here's hoping for a better day tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

sushi and Le Clos Jordanne

I've been having a lot of 'farewell dinners' lately. Same group of friends, but whenever we say goodbye at the end of the night, hurts the same everytime. I'm so soft. So this night, the last time I'd get to have dinner with a dear friend who was off to work in Beijing, I dug out some Niagara gems. Le Clos Jordanne 2007/2008's, the Village Reserve chardonnays and pinot noirs. We laid them out on the table ...
... drew the corks ...
... and started tasting. The Village Reserves represent the basic LCJ blend of fruit from all their vineyards - 3 for chardonnay (Claystone Terrace, Le Clos Jordanne, and Talon Ridge), and 4 for pinot noir (those previous mentioned 3 and La Petite Colline). We started with the pair of chardonnays. 2008 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay | VQA Niagara Peninsula, showing minerality and structure, wonderful linearity. The 2007 Village Reserve Chardonnay, showing the creaminess and richness of that hot vintage, while retaining an elegance and depth.
We moved onto the pinot noirs. I've always loved these wines - such class and soul. The 2008 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir | VQA Niagara Peninsula, full of purity and minerality, drinking lovely now. The 2007 Village Reserve Pinot Noir, again showing the ripeness that the vintage achieved, and my wine of the night.
My buddy generously brought along one of his favourite Niagara chardonnays, a 2009 Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay | VQA Beamsville Bench. By far the fattest, richest, oakiest wine of the evening, but does retain harmony and balance.
And we ended the evening off with a colheita port, the Dalva 1997. All the roundness and notes of maturity we want in a colheita. Delicious.

Another day down, another day closer to the big move. Bittersweet, definitely, to leave home, to leave on this adventure. Many people I will miss dearly. But I'm being a grump again. A few more days left in Toronto means a few more chances to eat/drink/make merry with loved ones. Heading to Niagara today, for some sun and wine. Looking for some good local food too. Let's get to it!


Monday, August 12, 2013

the last of it

2004 Château de L'Estang | AC Côtes de Castillon

I try not to be overly sentimental about wine. But feelings are feelings, and when you come to the last bottle of a wine from your impressionable, naive youth, you have so many feels. The 2004 L'Estang was one of the first bottles of Bordeaux I bought for the cellar - 5 in total. At the time, I was blown away how an $18 wine could be so complex, so interesting, so delicious. So, many years later, and steadily sampling a bottle every year, I finally got to the last one.

The last one.

Tighter than the one I opened last year, more angular in structure. Those classic cabernet notes, matured fruit and underbrush. Autumnal. A subtle, graceful wine. 

How things have changed in a year. We go on, we try to improve ourselves, and if we're lucky, we have someone to grow alongside with, to build something together. But clearly, at this stage, I'm in no position to ask that of anybody. Not nobody. So we go on as best as we can, with what we have. I went to church with my parents yesterday. They asked me to come, to say goodbye to everyone, because I don't go. It was nice seeing some familiar faces, getting everyone's best wishes. We had lunch with a couple afterwards as well, which was very kind of them. Lots of good advice being shared, but above all, to be brave, to find your own path, and if one doesn't exist - to create your own. Much appreciation.

With the last bottle, there isn't a feeling of sadness. There's rather a lightness of spirit, that all the prior experiences have contributed to develop you into the person you are today. I'm ready to get this started.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Saying goodbye to old friends

Top: 1996 Baron-Fuenté Grand Millésimé Brut Champagne
Middle: 1993 Château Lafite Rothschild | AC Pauillac
Bottom: 2005 Domaine Du Petit Métris 'Les Tetuères' | AC Chaume 

He was kindhearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything; and even when he did anything, it did not prevent him from grumbling, losing his temper and swearing (mostly to himself).

― J.R.R. Tolkien, Leaf by Niggle

I think of myself as a sincere, kind, and well-intentioned person. And lately, I've been failing at it. Not by design, mind you - it's just that nothing I do seems to be right. I desperately want to do the right thing, the honourable thing, the things that will let me sleep soundly at night. Why do I do this to myself? Self-loathing? Shades of masochism? Self-destructive tendencies?

It's my last week at home before I make the big move. The big move. So I'm allowed to be a little emo, to sob a bit. This is probably (like yesterday) a terrible idea, but they do say that it's therapeutic to get things down in writing, so here we go. I try not to have any regrets, but I'm struggling with (at least) one major regret. My friends have been great and supportive, but when the table is cleared, the dishes are washed and put away, and everyone has gone home, I get what they call the post-performance blues. It sucks. I love my friends, and they're the most important people in my life, but we still need a partner - someone who takes on that different role that friendships can't fill. When you feel like you've had that with someone, and it's suddenly no more, that's the worst. Because you've had a taste of how amazing things are when you're with someone who gets you, who you want to be with even if you're not doing anything, who just feels comfortable to be around.

Utterly, utterly alone. Maybe I'm being a child, maybe (as my buddy says) I need to do everyone a favour and stop with the emails/messages/texts. But how do you control your feelings? I don't know how. Time? Booze? Other distractions? My mind fell into the rabbit-hole and for the life of me, I have no idea which way is up.

We had dinner recently with old friends. Sort of my last chance to cook and drink with everyone at home. We drank some interesting things. Started with a Champagne that was just starting to mature - the 1996's are certainly a powerhouse. Moving onto a bottle that these friends gave me a few years ago ... it was only proper that we waited for the Lafite to turn 20, and drink together. No decant, a masterclass in how these estates still produce wine of great elegance and charm in difficult vintages. And ending with something sweet, a Chaume that was powerful, rich, and complex.

This is becoming very difficult for me, as my time in Toronto is ending. Very difficult. I try to do the right thing, but I never seem to be able to vocalize what I really want to say, never seem to be able to express what I'm really feeling - in the moment. And so I go home and sit and stew over it, beating myself up. Physical trauma, I can deal with. But the heart? I don't know how to handle this anymore. I just don't.


Friday, August 9, 2013

El Catrin Restaurant at the Distillery District

Four events in the span of a week for #TeamLCF, culminating with the pre-launch of El Catrin Restaurant in Toronto's Distillery District. Where Boiler House used to be, this is a large, open space with patio and indoor dining area. Beautifully set up, El Catrin is hoping that it's authentic, fine Mexican cuisine will make a splash.
You have to see the painted murals on the massive wall inside to believe it. Gorgeous.
And of course, the wall of tequila.
The food was great - delicate flavours, great texture. The oyster ceviche is a stunner. We were also served margaritas ... by far, the best I ever had. Strong, well balanced between the acid and sugar, great aromatics from the tequila. Only quibble? Not the choice of glassware, but rather the clumped salt on the rim, and the straw. Because salting a rim means that you want your drinkers to drink from the glass, not a straw. Just like how you wouldn't wear a belt and suspenders together. Now officially opened, would very much like to go back, for a bite and a good cocktail. 


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Azure Restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel

This year, we were invited to dinner during Toronto's Summerlicious event, where participating restaurants offer a prix-fixe menu. This is a great opportunity to sample some of the finest restaurants in the city - some people take it very seriously. #TeamLCF was fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner at the InterContinental Hotel's Azure Restaurant, #ICTorontoCentre. We got dressed up, and sadly, this was to be my last time with Eugene. I don't want to talk about it; the pain is still too fresh, too raw.
A nice, airy dining room ...
... and started with the market greens and blue Benedictine cheese ...
... and the East Coast crab cake.
For entrées, we had the Pacific organic salmon ...
... and the Canadian farmed beef striploin.
To finish, the Bailey's chocolate torte ...
... and the icewine strawberry panna cotta.
Dinner was enjoyable. Indeed, sometimes it's not about the food - it's about the company too. My buddy is leaving the country, far, far away. Who knows when I'll be able to see her again. We went to a friend's gathering at the Spoke Club later that night - yet another pair that's going away for school. So we treasure these moments when we have them. Until we eat and drink together again, my friend!


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Drawing the curtains, readying the brooms

It's all coming to an end - lights dimming, stage hands ready to draw the curtains, night crew ready to clean up. I'm so sad. My buddy left for Beijing and I don't think I'll see her again for a long, long time. Trying to meet up with my friends as much as I can in the few days I have remaining in Toronto, yet trying to balance that out with family. I finally got my student visa yesterday from the Spanish consulate. Spent the day wandering downtown. An old family friend kindly gave me a gift card from Harry Rosen, and so did a bit of shopping. There were a pair of pink(ish) Versace pants I eyed, but those were some serious sausage casings. Could barely twitch without being seen, if you know what I mean. So, left empty-handed. Wanted to eat lunch at La Palette - they looked like they were doing some remodelling and wouldn't be open until Thursday. Had to eat KFC, Toonie Tuesday special. Felt so disgusted with myself afterwards.

It's all ending soon. My life here, life as I know it. As we were crossing the street today, we ran into a line of what looked like junior high school aged kids. We had to bisect them, and as I was walking through, one kid actually 'oh, excuse me sir'. SIR. We make a fuss about not being treated like children, about wanting to be my own man, but in many ways, I still see myself as immature, as in need of growing up. But in the eyes of a 14 year old, I'm a sir now. Shit.

Heading out to Yorkdale today. Need to pick up a phone, and check out the HR there, because I'm pretty determined to spend this gift card before I leave. I'm sure I'll find something to waste the money on. Now that I've got the visa in hand, can finally relax and enjoy my remaining Toronto time. Just please, no more KFC.