Thursday, January 31, 2013

yet again, dry versus sweet

Top: 2010 Gustave Lorentz Réserve Riesling | AC Alsace
Bottom: 2009 Reichsrat Von Buhl Riesling Spätlese | QmP Forster Jesuitengarten | Pfalz

Routine is great. I like order in my life ... but then again, I like a bit of chaos too. And so you try to apply that same philosophy to the food you cook and eat. Yes, it's perfectly fine to drink the proper wine with certain dishes - dry, light white wines with your seafood, dark reds with your meats, whatever. But there should also be an element of mystery in food, of wonder and surprise. So when you're serving savoury foods - in this case, seafood - you surprise everyone with a glass of sweet wine. And suddenly the fog lifts, the sun shines through, and everyone around the table starts sighing in pleasure.

A contrast in styles.

When I was young(er) and still heavily involved in piano, I remember this guy I went up against once at a competition. He was about 3 years older than me, and I hated him the moment I met him. I hated the way he talked, I hated the way he played the piano, and I straight-up hated his face. We had completely different styles of playing. Having stronger hands, his whole thing was to pound the keyboard, banking on impressing the judges with waves of sound leaving little to subtlety or nuance, while I was the polar opposite, favouring a more delicate, structured approach - his sledgehammer to my yanagi-ba-bōchō (there's a new world/old world wine metaphor in there somewhere). We both entered a competition which featured the two of us performing the same piece, and I still grind my teeth when I think about it. Should not have stayed in the room when he was playing (2 spots ahead of me). It was a Chopin, and a big one - runs and pounding octaves, playing right into his style. On the spot, I decided to ramp up my own performance, so it would at least sound similar to his. Fatal error. While he didn't win, he ranked a full 4 places ahead of me. That fucking smirk on his face as we shook hands after ...

So you see, you shouldn't be afraid of contrast, of being true to what you are. There is no singular style of riesling - its beauty, like the beauty of all wine, lies in the variations on its theme. We were having a lot of seafood - fish, clams, mussels, sea cucumber. Differences, if subtle, in flavour and texture. So therefore although we wanted a wine that would drink well with everything on the table, it all had to contrast enough with the overall seafood theme for it to be interesting. The first wine, an Alsatian riesling, was fresh and vibrant, that lovely steely riesling minerality. The Pfalz, a spätlesen, with more substance on the palate, and balanced sweetness providing a great foil to the savouriness of the shellfish. Delicious all around.

It's going to sound all Disney and shit, but things would be so much better if everyone acted true to themselves. These wines aren't meant for everyone - there are still those (terribly, terribly ignorant) people who think sweet wines are all floozy and the antithesis of "serious" wine. But the point is to be brave enough to think outside what is supposedly the accepted wine to drink with a meal, and to infuse some excitement, some mystery into it all. Above all, don't be afraid of being different - to try the contrasting, rather than the complementing thing. And JS, you bowl-cutted twat - I'm up for a rematch, any day, all day.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Winterlicious at Chiado Restaurant

We went out to Chiado Restaurant last Friday - lunch in Little Italy. For the longest time, I've refused to take part in these cheap promotions masquerading as proper meals ... I've never thought too highly about Winterlicious/Summerlicious. Bad experiences I suppose, and it's still a minefield. So many restaurants that try to pass off catering-quality food as fine dining. Terrible bang-for-buck (BFB in my buddy's lexicon). But they publish all the menus online now, and having been almost 2 years since my last visit, I really wanted to revisit Chiado. Their Winterlicious lunch menu looked promising - lots of fish. And I was not disappointed ... not in the least.

The meal was a triumph of the pleasures of a good piece of fish. Starting with the lobster bisque and grilled sardines, showing as much savoury aromas and flavours as you can possibly find in seafood. And then the monkfish, the skate, and roasted capon - simply divine. Divine. Texture, flavour, character, finesse, everything that makes us go mad and takes our breath away.

With lunch, a white wine from Douro, made with grapes you never even heard of (45% Viosinho, 20% Moscatel, 20% Malvasia Fina, and 15% Rabigato). A 2011 Quinta do Portal Colheita Branco, a bottle not printed on the wine list apparently. Chiado has a fairly extensive list of Portuguese wines, so of course, you have to take advantage. I was looking at a pair of wines from Dão, but was steered towards this one - a great suggestion, reminding once again that a good sommelier is a golden source of knowledge. Lithe, mineral, and linear - perfect with our meal, leaving you energized and refreshed.

A dream come true. Proof that there is no contradiction between refinement and authenticity; between sophistication and soul. 


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

UGC Bordeaux - in notes

So I didn't get to them all, but 2010 Bordeaux is a fabulous vintage. A great uniform quality across dry/sweet whites, and red wines. Classic, really, with all the communes showing great typicity and character. For dry whites, my favourites had fresh sauvignon aromas on the nose, with integrated oak, on a well-extracted palate. The reds are dense and tight, with many of them showing hard tannins, but the complexity is there. They simply need time; expect the dark fruit and minerality to unravel and start showing off after a decade in the bottle. And the Sauternes - I tasted through all of them that were presenting this year, and they were just as exciting as 2007. Maybe a notch below, if we were pressed to compare them, but the best wines are balanced and fresh, with botrytis character already showing. Destined for a long, glorious life. 

And so, my tasting notes for this year's UGC Bordeaux tasting ...


2010 Château de Chantegrive Blanc: minty, lithe nose, sweetness on the palate; balanced, slightly creamy already in texture
2010 Château Rahoul Blanc: oaky nose, extracted palate, lemon citrus finish; very interesting potential

DF with Anne and Olivier Bernard, Managers of Domaine de Chevalier and President of the UGCB


2010 Château Bouscaut Blanc: oak on the nose, but elegant, linear fruit giving it freshness on the otherwise oaky palate
2010 Château Carbonnieux Blanc: always one of my favourites; fresh sweet fruit, mineral and floral; very pretty here, palate slightly awkward at the moment, but big potential
2010 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc: my chats with the Bernards always a highlight of the tasting; great fruit here, ripe and framed by creamy vanilla; sweet on the palate, great acidity; will need time to round out the palate, especially on the finish
2010 Château de Fieuzal Blanc: oak and citrus, textbook dry Bordeaux here, great extract, long
2010 Château de France Blanc: fresh, some cedar-y oak, oily; sweet palate, tropical fruit, a big wine
2010 Château La Louvière Blanc: greenish nose, oil and petrol, sweet palate, finishing slightly bitter
2010 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc: pale, subtle oak, good roundness and a buttery aroma; great freshness, clean, textural
2010 Château Latour-Martillac Blanc: grassy nose, sauvignon booming; fabulous intensity and focus, spicy and lean at the moment, with the acidity a bit shrill
2010 Château Malartic-Lagravière Blanc: a bit closed, but subtle oak, great juicy fruit on the palate, fresh, compact, and dense
2010 Château Olivier Blanc: again, slightly closed, with the alcohol rising up, good texture and extract on the palate
2010 Château Pape Clément Blanc: good fruit, lean, definitely closed off
2010 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc: intense sauvignon aromas here, lean, and really floral

DF and Comte Stephan von Neipperg, Director of Château Canon-La-Gaffelière


2010 Château Canon-La-Gaffelière: with the always dapper Count present, a wine that keeps getting more impressive; round sweet nose, some oak, but very integrated palate; a dense wine for the cellar
2010 Château La Gaffelière: oaky, alcohol coming up, dense fruit
2010 Château Troplong-Mondot: jammy fruit here, slightly spicy, lean with high acid on the palate


2010 Château Clinet: graphite minerality, dense fruit, tight palate, on very fine tannin; like its director, handsome
2010 Château Gazin: inky, dark fruit, really dense but fresh, tannins a bit harder; showing that cabernet profile
2010 Château La Conseillante: powerful, intense sweet fruit perfume, tannic, tight, but a very fresh wine
2010 Château Le Bon Pasteur: with the lovely Dany Rolland presenting; fruit forward with some alcohol showing, but fresh, juicy, and linear

DF with Jean-Pierre Foubet, Managing Director of Château Chasse-Spleen


2010 Château Poujeaux: oaky, dark nose, lean palate with lots of that oak replaying
2010 Château Chasse-Spleen: always a pleasure to talk to J-P Foubet, even if I didn't immediately recognize him with the beard; graphite minerality, lean palate, very fresh dark fruit, yet chewy on the palate; truly a great Bordeaux 
2010 Château La Lagune: a wine close to my heart; rustic and earthy, a hallmark; complex palate, harder tannins at the moment, great potential


2010 Château Brane-Cantenac: lean, tense red fruits, tannic, and very four-square
2010 Château Rauzan-Ségla: layers of fruit here, tight tannins, very high acid; wound up tight


2010 Château Branaire Ducru: graphite minerality, very elegant and soft right away; a plushy wine on the palate, with great fruit
2010 Château Gruaud Larose: again that graphite minerality, tight fruit, really sweet and juicy on the palate
2010 Château Langoa-Barton: dense, tannic, high acid, and very lean
2010 Château Léoville Poyferré: a bit of alcohol here, with dense fruit, harder tannin, clear potential


2010 Château Batailley: graphite minerality, lean, with an oaky palate
2010 Château Clerc Milon: coffee oak, lean great fruit, dense, linear palate; a very hard wine
2010 Château d'Armailhac: really floral and perfumed, with integrated oak, good extraction; great acidity and fine tannin
2010 Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron: the wine I'm always so impressed by yet saddened at how expensive it is; dense nose, with oak coming off as mocha; great fruit, balanced palate, beautiful structure
2010 Château Lynch-Bages: graphite minerality, dense fruit, really fine and elegant, if a bit high-strung at the moment
2010 Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: elegant, mineral nose, dense fruit with high acid and hard tannin


2010 Château Lafon-Rochet: more graphite, dense fruit, round palate, following on the palate; long

DF with Aline Baly, Marketing & Communication Manager of Château Coutet


2010 Château Bastor-Lamontagne: minty, great freshness, floral; almost dry on the nose; extracted minerality on the palate, long; an achingly gorgeous wine
2010 Château Climens: honey and citrus, rich, slightly candied on the palate; well-integrated acidity, really sweet, long
2010 Château Coutet: always look forward to seeing and chatting with Aline every year; apricot nose, perfume; apricots replay on palate, showing that botrytis character already; fabulous balance and finish; a star of a wine
2010 Château de Fargues: concentrated, dense fruit; great sweet, cool fruit on the palate, very fresh
2010 Château de Rayne Vigneau: fresh, clean nose; great balance already on the palate
2010 Château Doisy-Daëne: one of my favourites of the region; fresh nose, minty, with good sweetness and extracted acidity; very long
2010 Château Guiraud: floral, perfumed, with delicate sweetness; long and finishing a bit dried
2010 Château La Tour Blanche: fresh, clean nose, with some mintiness; great sweet tropical fruit on the palate, round and very elegant
2010 Château Suduiraut: some alcohol here, very tropical; rich, sweet, with a creamy texture


Monday, January 28, 2013

UGC Bordeaux - tasting the 2010's

DF and Comte Stephan von Neipperg, Director of Château Canon-La-Gaffelière

When we go to these tastings, we need to wrap our heads around exactly what we want to get out of the evening. Is it to actually taste and evaluate the wines? Or is it to hang out with friends and have a good time? I've generally gone in guns blazing, looking to taste everything. But Friday night, at the UGC tasting of 2010 Bordeaux in Toronto, all I wanted to do was to blow off some steam, talk to some familiar faces, and drink a lot of expensive wines. As one does when in the same room as Bordeaux nobility.

So no, I didn't get to taste all the wine; not even most of them. But I did taste all the white wines, dry and sweet, and they are extraordinary. Lithe and tensile, with all the energy and structure I'm looking for in white Bordeaux. Some of the better dry whites have a lovely dry extract, giving a distinct chewiness on the palate - certainly candidates for aging. Vibrant, racy wines that remain linear and elegant. And Sauternes, getting back to that botrytis spice and apricot character we're looking for, showing a beautiful balance already. Delicious wines of great finesse.

I came into the tasting with a murky impression of the red wines. So much print has been published about how the 2010's are shaping up to be yet another grand vintage. A contrast with the flamboyant 2009's - a return to classicism. And after tasting (a limited number) of wines in each commune, I've gotten a clearer picture of the vintage. The wines showed a lot of purity and minerality. Dark fruits, with a lot of the wines slightly closed off. Lean at the moment, with evident tannin and acidity - they're structured wines, but the tannins remain quite fine and in many cases, delicately balanced. It's not a knock-out vintage that's instantly charming, but the quality is apparent. All the elements just need time - a lot of time - to really come together. Temper your expectations for the next few years, because this vintage will (in this wino's humble opinion) require a lot of patience. A vintage for those who love classic Bordeaux, as the wines will need age for the acidity (more so than the tannin) to integrate. Chiseled, well-defined wines that will take time to fill out. 

Overall, a fantastic tasting. The quality of the wines are just so high - really, winemaking at its highest level. Detailed tasting notes of the wines I tasted tomorrow. We (well, I) stumbled back uptown for a late dinner, more than a little tipsy, more than a little happy, and more than a little inspired.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

UGC comes to town again

So it's been a rough week for me. Lots of disappointment to go around, after what seems like a year of endless struggle, endless headache. Moving forward ... always looking forward. UGC is once again coming to Toronto. 2010 Bordeaux to taste, and I can't wait. Last year's tasting was phenomenal, but if all the vintage reports I've been reading are accurate, this year is going to be mind-blowing. A great weekend of wine lined up!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

with age and proper care

Matt Kramer writes a great blog called Drinking Out Loud, and in his latest piece, he asks Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore? A great question, and more complicated than simply complaining that more and more producers are turning to that overtly fruity, soft, big, style of wine that doesn't develop in the bottle and won't live past 2 years. It's an issue that raises more questions than answers really, and here are mine.

Firstly, a distinction has to be made between wines that will develop nuance and character with bottle age, and wines that absolutely demand aging. We need to look at what kind of wines we want to be aging, and Matt makes a good point of this in his article. We need to broaden our minds to truly understand what it is about a wine that makes it ageworthy - after all, longevity isn't exclusive to cabernets and merlots. Decades ago, much of the so-called classical fine wines of Europe - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Vintage Port - were undrinkable in their youth. Harsh, in tannin and acidity, needing years and years to soften and round out. A far cry from the voluptuous texture and smoothness that's now considered the hallmark of fine wines. So why do we age now? Simply put, for interest. Benchmark wines don't need aging so much for drinkability now as for the purposes of developing complexity. When that primary fruit sheds away, we're looking for secondary aromas and flavours to develop, as all the elements of the wine integrate and break down. The fruit, the alcohol, the acidity, the tannin - all those things that make up the wine. Whether that happens in 2 or 5, 10 or 15 years is anybody's guess. But that's what we're looking for when we refer to maturity - that moment in a wine's life when it becomes the truest expression of what it is.

Winos are obsessive fanatics, always chasing that unicorn of drinking a wine at its peak. But how does one determine when a wine 'peaks'? Unless we have cases and cases of a single wine, affording the chance to taste a bottle every 3 months ... how else will we know beyond a doubt that a wine has developed into the best it ever will be? Matt's article implies that the drinking window - or rather, a wine's race to maturity - has shortened due to a variety of factors including (but not limited to) climate change, viticulture practices, and winemaking techniques. This evolution of developments has led to a better understanding of how exactly to achieve health and ripeness in the vineyard, which translates to wines which are more attractive and accessible in their youth. Whether this means that wines won't live as long as their forebears has yet to be seen; the great thing about wine is that everything is learned by drinking.

So, do we go so far as to absolutely say that today's wines are better, or that the wine's of the past remain the true standard bearers of what wine should be? Can we not take a more nuanced view? Maybe it's not so much a question of which era of wine is better, but rather acknowledging the simple fact that, just as people change from generation to generation, so do wines. So with that understanding, the concept (and purpose) of aging wine has also changed. Where perhaps it was once an absolute necessity to age wine because it would otherwise be undrinkable, such bottles are now few and far between. And maybe because wines are now more approachable, it's logically sound to assume that they will mature quicker as well. Ah, so we come to the final question, the question I'm most interested in understanding: are the 'peaks' of today's wines as high as the 'peaks' of their ancestors from decades past?  

This debate, sadly, is inconsequential for the average consumer who don't put much wine away, and have no desire to subject themselves to this slow torture of is it worth putting this bottle away and will it ever live up to expectations. For us poor, poor winos, it's just not feasible or possible to have a cellar full of old treasures. I try ... and I'll keep trying to build the cellar of my dreams. But dusty 30-something year old bottles have always been a novelty. A more realistic and practical approach should be applied to building and maintaining a cellar. Maybe now, with this generation's style of wine ... it's become possible to build decent cellar of interests and oddities and more importantly, have a shot at actually being able to drink our beloved bottles at maturity.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013