Thursday, February 28, 2013

a delight from Romania

Top: 2009 Cotnari Fetească Albă | DOCC Cotnari | Romania
Bottom: 2010 Cotnari Vin Alb Dulce Tãmâioasã Româneascã | DOCC Cotnari | Romania

My back hurts from the gym. Overdoing it a bit, and just generally some wear and tear. I love winter, and am actually enjoying this latest bit of snowy weather we've been getting here in Toronto, but I do miss being able to go for a run outside. No, not committed enough to get a set of winter running gear. Those headbands look fucking ridiculous.

A lot of these Eastern European countries have a rich history of viticulture and winemaking, but like with many other industries, the Soviets came with their socialist sledgehammers and destroyed it all. It's coming back though - Hungary is a good example of this resurgence. But not everyone can boast of a Tokay. Sometimes these fringe wines can bring a lot of pleasure, in that you know nothing about them, and therefore harbour no unfair preconceptions against them. And Cotnari has always given me a lot of pleasure.

Cotnari is a village in the Moldova region, located north-west of Iaşi and south of Hârlău. This larger commune (also called Cotnari) is made up of eleven villages: Bahluiu, Cârjoaia, Cireșeni, Cotnari, Făgăt, Hodora, Horodiștea, Iosupeni, Lupăria, Valea Racului, and Zbereni. This is an old wine region - take a look here. The Greeks were the first to bring wine to Romania, with the area eventually becoming quite well known for its sweet wines. A lot of European vinifera vines were planted, but the most widely grown grapes are still indigenous varietals, such as the two here.

Both wines are produced by the largest winery in the country, which also owns the most vineyard land. Lovely, fresh, interesting wines that are well balanced in sweetness and acidity. Reminiscent of a lighter style of muscat, with the lychee and tropical fruit. The Fetească Albă even showing some mineral elements. But the (lack of) pedigree shows. There's a sort of dilution on the palate, a flimsiness that makes the wine pleasant to drink, but little more. And there's nothing wrong with just being pleasant.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

like a flower

We've been hit by another big storm in Toronto. Started raining hard late last night, turning into snow overnight. Looks like it'll be going all day - wet, heavy, dense snow that's almost impossible to shovel. Fun. Getting into work will be interesting ...

I drink a lot of tea. Most of the time I don't think much about it - just part of my daily routine. But this one was special. My mother brought back this osmanthus oolong tea from Shanghai. She went out with a friend for lunch, and it's common in Shanghai now to purchase quality tea from an outside vendor in restaurants. No more of that cheap (imitation) pu'er or whatever they can find. No, you buy a pack of fine tea and the restaurant brews it for your accordingly, giving you the rest of it to take home. These flower teas are wonderful. Delicate, fragrant, and slightly sweet on the palate. What's critical for these teas is brewing temperature. It can't be too hot - water that's just off boiling will scorch the teas, as unscientific as that concept is, and completely destroy the delicate flavours and aromas. It's too aggressive. I learned this lesson the last time I was in Shanghai. My uncle and aunt took us out to dinner at this restaurant that specialized in roast pigeons. We ordered this kind of tea, and our server brought out a glass beaker of water, and what looked like a temperature-controlled cooking top. She set it at 85°C, and allowed only a short steeping time. My uncle made this offhand comment about how the tea wasn't hot enough (nothing's ever too hot for the Chinese), and she explained that boiling the tea would render it lifeless. I like that a lot. Doing things the right way; aiming for perfection at everything you do.


Monday, February 25, 2013

a wild, wild thing

2009 Poderi Colla Nebbiolo d'Alba 2009 | DOC

Man, nebbiolo gets me so excited. So many wines of the world lack consistency. Consistency in style, in quality, in character. There's a huge variation between expensive and cheap pinot noir, between expensive and cheap cabernet sauvignon, between expensive and cheap chardonnay ... and so on. And what bugs me most isn't so much a lack of drinkability, but rather a complete uniformity among cheap wines. Cheap cabernet tastes like cheap syrah tastes like cheap pinot tastes like cheap malbec. And that isn't - or rather shouldn't - be the point of wine. It's easy for this wino, an industry outsider, to say this, but wines should aspire to be much more than just drinkable.

Nebbiolo does this. Barolo and Barbaresco sit high on their thrones, but the crown of Piedmont is dotted with many, many smaller jewels. And the nebbiolo that comes out of these minor regions give great pleasure for the simple fact that they're honest, authentic, and full of character. Even the (relatively) less expensive bottlings show so much of the nebbiolo personality. This one, a simple nebbiolo of Alba, showing incredibly compact and tight, but over 2 days, opens up to become so expressive and perfumed. Earthy red fruits, lithe and tensile on the palate, if all a bit coarse. An unapologetically simple wine that introduces the magic of nebbiolo - its perfume, its rusticity, its structure, and its balance.


Friday, February 22, 2013

back to pinot grigio!

2011 Fantinel Sant'helena Pinot Grigio | Doc Collio | Friuli

Pinot grigio is a victim of its own success. Just Google it ... it's one of the most popular wines worldwide, with no signs of slowing down. The most widely bought, most readily ordered wine in restaurants - and I think I know why.

It's the Coor's Light of wine.

Pinot grigio that does well, that the majority of wine-drinkers like, tastes like nothing. It's slightly fruity, fresh, and most importantly, clean. No off aromas, no weird flavours, just fruit and acid and alcohol. It quite simply tastes like NOTHING. And if I was an Italian, I'd be pissed about that. That people around the world think of this wine (and this region) as nothing more than a simple and predictable, cheap drink.

Sadly ... devastatingly ... sometimes with wine, commercial success spells its doom. Doom in the sense that the character that made it great in the first place - its truth - is lost, once the region is whored out as The Next Big Thing. By the way, for some of the best writing on Italian wine, please put Alfonso Cevola's blog, On the Wine Trail in Italy, on your list. I never thought much of pinot grigio. Never thought much of people who (loudly) screech about how it's their favourite wine, how they just LOVE ordering it with dinner. But should we blame them? This style of wine, no matter how insipid, is getting them to actually drink wines with the their meals. And hopefully, it's inspiring them to eventually look beyond watery, pointless wines, and into what true Italian wine is.

And this bottle reminded me that when producers are true to what they do, when they believe and are committed - humility breeds greatness. A pinot grigio from Collio, located in the north-east of Italy, on the border of Slovenia in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The terroir is composed of layers of sandstone and loam rock that were once the ocean floor. The soils are impermeable so rainwater flows off their surface, producing little erosion and preventing standing water. This particular wine must be made with skin contact - there's a depth to the colour (almost coral/pink) and aroma that's so unique. It's so different from what I expected, all extract and density, the most amazing perfume. Slightly tropical, with intense minerality. A structured, well-extracted wine. Stunning, really, a long time since I last came across a wine that was so.

Proof that we all need to think twice about generalizations on a wine region. Even amidst all the murkiness and volume, there still remains jewels to be found.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

because I'm not trendy

NV Almirante Marqués Del Real Tesoro Oloroso | Do Jerez

Damn those wine hipsters. So apparently if you don't like sherry, you can't play with the cool kids. You know, the wine professionals that matter, the ones in New York. They write endless columns about how fascinating sherry is, fill up your Instagram feed with pictures of Jerez tasting trips, rhapsodize on how great (and wildly unexpected) last night's food/sherry pairing was. Leaving the rest of us feeling like we're missing out on all the fun.

Well, it's not worth all the fuss.

Sherry is not all that fun to drink. It's interesting, definitely. It's unique, absolutamente. But my friends, it is hardly worth all the hyperbole. There are some incredibly passionate wine professionals who place sherry on a pedestal, and whose wine opinions I respect, but try as I might, I simply cannot bring myself to share these views. Maybe it's a product of my own prejudice; maybe I'm going against my own maxim that personal preference has no place in wine criticism. But I've tried and I've tried, and I just can't drink sherry.

So what is sherry, exactly? There are a myriad of different styles, but to concise, sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes in the Jerez region of Spain. Once the grapes are fermented, a base spirit is added to increase the alcohol and stop fermentation. They are then transferred to American white oak barrels, which are only filled halfway. The climatic conditions of Jerez allow a thin layer of yeast to form on top of the wine inside the barrel, called flor. The flor protects the wine from oxidation, and contributes unique aromas and flavours. As this natural process acts unevenly and sometimes unpredictably, it is up to the cellarmaster to constantly taste the wines, and decide what style of wine to make each barrel.

Sherry can be made in so many different styles. Fino is the most reductive style, and lightest in colour due to the protection from the flor. Manzanilla is an even lighter style of fino, and made only in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanilla pasada is a manzanilla with longer aging, and slightly oxidised. Amontillado is a very rare style of sherry that is first aged under flor but is then exposed to oxygen - it is darker than a fino but lighter than an oloroso. Oloroso is made in an oxidative style and has the highest alcohols, between 18-20% abv, and produced as both dry and sweet wines. Palo Cortado is similar to amontillado but made in a style like oloroso, by letting the flor die naturally or through intervention. Jerez dulce are sweet sherries made with dried pedro ximénez or moscatel grapes.

I've tasted fino, manzanilla, oloroso (both dry and sweet), and cream sherries, and everytime, I have a hard time swallowing. The wines have been described as delicate, like shards of glass, but savoury and complex. And all I'm tasting is this slight reek from the flor, and this oddly hollow palate that somehow makes the yeasty flavours even more pronounced. The dry finish, leaving you hanging a bit, leaving your mouth reeking of yes, that flor flavour. I get it, the wines are minerally and lean, and depending on style, hinting of the salty sea and nutty tones from the oak. There's just no profoundness to the wines, at least not in the way sherry's most ardent fans want you to believe. And please don't try to convince it's because you just haven't tasted the right one yet.

This bottle, a dry oloroso, gains a bit of depth from extended oak aging. Round and nutty, though lean and possessing that crystalline sherry aroma and character. Certainly interesting to taste, intellectually - one does have to have an appreciation for all styles of wine. But it doesn't mean I have to do it with a smile on my face.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

reduction, sponti, and all sorts of fun

2005 Bollig-Lehnert Riesling Auslese | QmP Piesporter Goldtropfchen | Mosel

So I drink a fair amount of riesling, and like to think that I have a good idea of what the various styles are, what the various villages are generally like. And then I start reading a few articles about it from actual authorities on the subject, and I realize how ignorant I am, how much I have yet to learn.

The Mosel and Rheingau are the two regions I've had the most opportunities to taste mature vintages from, going back to the early '80's. I've never been really shy about sharing how I feel about these wines - riesling certainly being one to induce a bit of hyperventilating. These wines are so, so special, and as I've said again, and again, so much more than what their reputation suggests. I've had three bottles from this producer in the last few months, and I've come to get a sense of their style. The first two, a spätlese from Piesporter Goldtropfchen, and a kabinett from Trittenheimer Apotheke, showed as incredibly reduced. Throwing off aromas that I immediately associated with sulfur and reduction - until I learned that there's more to it. Much more.

First, an article by Lars Carlberg called Unlocking the Kabinett, and a blog post by Brooklynguy called  Weird Things About Wine #61 - Mosel and the Sulfur Stench (read the comments). Certain off aromas in riesling - mostly young riesling - comes from a variety of things. Reduction and aromas of sulfur may not be related. And there's another wrinkle, from wines fermented using native yeasts, referred to as sponti. Peter Liem, the esteemed wine writer, says that tasted against one other, each type of aroma is fairly distinct from one another. We need to clearly differentiate between the three, because the causes of each are distinct, and therefore the way we need to treat the wines will differ.

Right, so because none of us are chemists and chemistry is boring, let's dumb it down and describe each as it is. Reduction can occur from sulfur use, or be an effect of a reductive winemaking process. The generalized aroma for reduction is rotten eggs. Actual aromas of sulfur come from the addition of large amounts of sulfur during winemaking, and before bottling, as is the standard practice of many German riesling producers who create wines for long aging. The generalized aroma for sulfur is burnt matches. And sponti is the result of off aromas associated with native yeast fermentation, which of course is more exciting but less reliable than selected yeasts. This is where it gets tricky - Peter says that some aromas of sponti are very similar to sulfur, so much so that even wine professionals mistake the two. He says, Unfortunately, the vast majority of people, including most wine professionals, mistake this odor for sulfur, but if you take the time to compare the two, it is easily distinguished. And this is why I need to make friends like Peter.

Calling them flaws isn't truthful, because these off aromas are usually found only in young wines, which simply need bottle age to come around. Really enlightening, and now I have a hankering for riesling. So going back to what I smelled for my first 2 bottles of Bollig-Lehnert. They both smelled gassy, slightly oily, and rubbery. And I wrote them as suffering from reduction problems, caused by sulfur. I'm fairly convinced both were reduced - just maybe not so sure anymore that it was because of the sulfur. But this bottle, the Piesporter Goldtropfchen Auslese ... this one was just fine. Dense and compact, but expressive. Floral and citrusy, that undercurrent of green apple and intense minerality running through. Ripe but linear, beautiful extract and balance on the palate. A dream come true.

Thanks for the lesson, gentlemen.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

four days, in filters

The first long weekend of the new year, and it was wonderful to see an old friend again. I've missed you so much ...
... to picking out some colour and beauty to combat the depths of winter ...
... to actually wanting to celebrate Valentine's Day ...
... to an early Saturday morning and welcoming new students ... 
... to Abbona reminding once again why north Italian wines make my heart thump ...
... to spending Saturday evening working, and ending the night on an epic martini binge ...
... to waking up the next morning with a raging headache, and looking forward to the most amazing Limu Union coffee my friends bought me, all floral and citrus brightness. Hope everyone had a great long weekend with loved ones.


Monday, February 18, 2013

the wet martini

I drink far too much. Far, far too much. But hey, no one wants to live forever and besides, self-awareness is what matters. I is what I is. Family Day today, a completely random holiday, but that's how we do in Canada, and no one should be complaining about a day off in the middle of the most depressing month of the year.

I had to bring some work home from the office; never any fun, but the job has to get done one way or another. Saturday night, alone, and after an afternoon in front of the computer, needed a drink before dinner. One didn't seem enough, and before I knew it, I was on my fourth. The wet martini, with my pig's trotter, sea cucumber, and greens. Perfect.

Dry vermouth is fabulous. Yes, I get it, Martini & Rossi is hardly the best we can do, but it gets the job done. And sometimes as long as the peg fits into the hole, you go with it, square or round or otherwise. I like Tanqueray A LOT. And yes, again not the best gin you can find, but I love that spiciness, the overt herbal, juniper aromas. So it's all about proportions, and for mine, I use a 1:2 ratio for dry vermouth to gin. No shaking - lots of ice, and 30 seconds of spirited stirring (with a chopstick of course). And no olives ... god, no olives. Freshly peeled lemon zest, and you squirt the oils onto the martini before dropping it in. Two or three strips of lemon should do you just fine. They say that properly made, 1 martini is too little, and 2 is too many. What do they say about 4 then?

The wet martini

We need gin, dry white vermouth, lemon, and lots of ice.

Put a martini glass or coupe into the freezer to chill.

Fill a mixing glass with ice.

Add 1 ounce of dry white vermouth and 2 ounces of a quality London dry gin.

Stir in a smooth motion for 30 seconds - the ice should glide in the mixing glass and make very little sound.

Strain into your chilled martini glass or coupe.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel 2-3 strip of lemon zest, making sure there is no rind underneath.

Squirt the oils onto your martini and drop the lemon peel(s) in.

Enjoy. It will be ice-cold, complex and elegant, yet burn going down. You will be hungover the next morning. This is not a drink for pussies.


Friday, February 15, 2013

consistency and discipline

2001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial | DOCa Rioja Alta

After the Champagne, we went on to a mature Rioja. I love these wines, and I may have mentioned it many times before, but Rioja provides reliable, consistent wines that offer one of the few opportunities to taste something at maturity. My go-to wine, if there ever is such a thing. But this one was extra special.

The Reserva Especial label is given to exceptional vintages, and 2001 is a fabulous one for Rioja. The wines combine that characteristic linearity and precision with a density and structure that will undoubtedly allow the wines to age well for a very, very long time. The Viña Ardanza is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha from their vineyards in Fuenmayor and Rioja Baja (Ausejo and Tudelilla) respectively. The 2001 is only the third (!) vintage to be declared a Reserva Especial after 1964 and 1973, and was aged in American oak for 36 months. Holding onto its colour, although it does have a certain dullness in hue typical of Rioja. Decanted, and then back in the bottle for some chilling before dinner. Great vanilla and strawberry aromas, immediately - nothing else could smell like this. This intense minerality giving backbone. Very perfumed, developing a gamey savouriness. So seductive, so pure, all on a tensile, energetic palate showing fine tannins and integrated acidity. Mature, but certainly at the beginning of a long life.

Rioja is just so consistent, it's amazing actually. Their processes for aging wine in barrels is fascinating - they blend not only different varietals but also wines kept in barrels with different ages. It's so much more of a complicated process than just aging wine in oak for x number of years. So much more complicated, and something that Decanter magazine's Andrew Jefford covered a few months ago - a must read. It just comes down to discipline. Does the producer have the discipline to maintain traditions in the face of let's pump this shit out and make some money, and the determination to put in the work required to see it through? I sometimes lack in discipline, something I desperately need to work on. Talk, at the end of it all, is so fucking cheap - action is all that matters. And like these grand Riojas, progress is incremental, but constant.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

non-vintage Champagne and Lot numbers

NV J. Lassalle Brut Prèférence | Premier Cru | Chigny-Les-Roses

My mother celebrated her birthday a few weeks ago, and it was a weekend of wine and fabulous seafood. Oysters and uni, clams and shrimps, over the most satisfying hotpot. I haven't opened a Champagne in over a year - yes, criminal, but we had few things to be pleased with, and besides, I'm poor. So I've been holding onto this bottle for a few years now. Chris Kissack (the Winedoctor) wrote about giving non-vintage Champagnes 2-3 years of bottle age, and I'm putting that theory to the test.

When I bought this wine in late 2009, the catalogue listed it as Lot # 4271, indicating a disgorgement date of January 14, 2008. I remember drinking an earlier bottle of this, and being blown away by how complex and vibrant it was. About 3.5 years later, I was gagging to see if this particular lot shared any similar characteristics. The cork let go softly, the wine pouring with a shimmering gold hue. Fine mousse. Still feels tightly wound, structured - well extracted on the palate, mineral, and well-defined. You feel like it's almost there ... just almost there at the start of its maturity, but not quite. Amazing, to see these non-vintage wines show so much structure, so much youth still. The quality is very, very high.

So disgorgement date in Champagne is just as important as blend in determining its final character. That is truth. And the catalogue labelled it wrong. Because at the bottom of the bottle, there's a 4-digit number printed: 0609. And if I'm reading that correctly, it indicates a disgorgement date of June 2009. So quite a bit later than what I had thought. It's great that this producer is printing these dates, but there has to be a clearer way of presenting this information. Unless they don't really want you to know. Gasp. I still have a bottle of this (somewhere) ... I'll see you again in 5 years? 


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

cooking with animal fat

My parents grew up in a time when people still cooked with animal fats. Pork fat, chicken fat, duck fat ... it added flavour to the dishes, bolstered a diet that was decidedly more simple (and vegetarian), and meant that no part of the animal was wasted. They remember these dishes fondly and more than a bit wistfully - those taste memories are from a time that's long gone. 

So what's happened? Why does the thought of cooking with animal fat induce shudders? Certainly, nutrition, for one. People are worried (and rightfully so) about 'bad' cholesterol and overall health. And being in North America, where no one actually butchers their own meat, how do we even collect animal fat? A mistake, my friends. We need to be cooking more with animal fat.

But I'm talking like it's something I do regularly. I don't. But I should be saving the duck fat, and this ... beef fat ... to sear my steaks. Back in August 2011, my aunt came to visit from Tokyo, bearing the most amazing cuts of A5 wagyu steak. And with it, something that Japanese supermarkets sell alongside their beef - strips of the most amazing, creamy beef fat. So you melt it in the pan, adding just a touch of a neutral vegetable oil, to give the steaks an added touch of intensity and flavour.

Because cooking snout to tail includes the fat too.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

like purple sheets of bliss

I have a secret place where I get my prosciutto, salami, and other deli meats. It's tucked away somewhere in the north end of Toronto, and I'm not telling. Those old-timey places where you get a ticket at the counter and wait to be served. Where thickset Italian women slice the meat for you, and offer very generous tastes of things you might be interested in. Yeah, I'm not sharing.

This is bresaola, the most amazing air-cured beef. It's incredibly lean - the meat is salted and spiced with things like juniper berries, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and then dried for anywhere from one to three months. Sliced thin, it is simply divine. Intensely of beef, silky in texture ... beautiful with some olive oil and black pepper.


Monday, February 11, 2013

a new start

We do what we can, with what we have - there is never a perfect moment to do something. One just does.

We've been in Canada for more than 20 years, but we're still immigrants. That bit never really goes away. There is no plan, no model to follow - we try our best to make a good, decent living, and to create a better life here than the one my grandparents had. It's the whole point, isn't it ... that all this hard work, this sacrifice should lead to something better for the next generation? As immigrants, our closest friends share the same background. Same hometown, around the same ages. We spend all major holidays together, and this Chinese New Year, as usual with these big dinners, there was at least 5 different conversations going on at once, each one louder than the next. But amidst all the shouting and general buffoonery, one comment stood out. All of us around the table have strong opinions, but this one stood above the rest.

Young people today can't take hardship and aren't willing to work hard.

I didn't take it personal, and I still don't. But I absolutely refuse to believe this whole nonsense that people are getting worse, that each successive generation has declined, that we're not living up to the ideals and accomplishments of our forebears. 

It's so banal, isn't it ... modern wines don't hold a candle to wines from 50 years ago, we've lost the true taste of wine, the notion of terroir is dead. Bullshit. Wines aren't not getting worse, they're getting better - people aren't getting worse, we're just different. Society is different, circumstances are different - we're under different pressures, things our parents didn't even have to consider 20 or 30 years ago. I get it, this natural human impulse to express how your experiences speak to your character, that you've found success and created a better life for your kids - even if to do so means putting down those very brats. 

Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, of course. But it's the weak intellect that has the inability to allow for alternative perspectives. And we all need perspective, in wine, and life.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Chinese New Year!

Toronto's been hit pretty hard with snow this past week ...
... so we stayed indoors and began prepping for our Chinese New Year's feast ...
... Friday was a snowstorm we haven't seen in a long time, but you gotta do what you gotta do - both days downtown for me, attending MBA interviews and the World MBA Fair ...
... but we got out from under the snow to gather with the rest of the families on Saturday evening to celebrate the New Year ...
... where I stayed away from the wine, and woke up Sunday morning fresh, my breakfast channeling José Andrés.

Happy Chinese New Year!


Friday, February 8, 2013

celebrating uniqueness instead of greatness

2008 La Sala Riserva | DOCG Chianti Classico

Visiting Paris in spring 2011 was a dream come true. Seeing with my own eyes the monuments and museums ... feeling the history and culture of the city for myself was an experience I'll never forget. Yet the one blemish on the trip was our day spent in Versailles. It was a disaster, from waiting nearly 2 hours to get tickets, to the long lineup snaking around the grounds just to get in (which we bypassed by sneaking in with a Chinese tourist group), to the ridiculously overpriced and wildly mediocre lunch.  Touring the palace and gardens felt like an obligation, like checking off that box of things to do in Paris so people don't ask that most idiotic question what do you mean you didn't go to Versailles?! Yes, I did, and it was a shithole. Gaudy and supremely tacky, reminding that for all their admirable qualities, the French can still reek of poor taste and dull imagination.

We don't want grandeur and pomp without substance, in wine and other things. Versailles is meant to show the splendor of the House of Bourbon, but it had no toilets. Residents emptied their chamber pots straight out their windows, marinating the palace grounds in a unique aroma. Same way as a wine that impresses, superficially, with oak and extract, fruit and alcohol. Upon closer inspection - with bottle age, with time in the glass - there is nothing. It falls apart because it lacks substance, it lacks that all-important quality that no amount of maquillage can imitate ... that energy and personality and character that only the true great wines of the world possess.

This Chianti, in this wino's opinion, is a good example of a wine that's shy at first, needing time and patience from the drinker to coax it out of its shell. With time however, it proves its worth. The vineyards of La Sala were once owned by the Medicis - a 100% sangiovese wine, the Riserva is aged in a combination of American and French barriques for 12 months, followed by an additional 6 months in bottle. Young and dark, brooding in the glass. Reticent aromas, with the structure clearly evident. A tightly coiled, compact wine, more sinewy than muscular, very tensile. Drunk over 3 days, it begins releasing those sangiovese perfumes of red berries, that slight dustiness, a distinct minerality. Its potential evident, the only requirement, time.

Like the palace covered in gold and mirrors but devoid of taste or character, avoid the wines that grip you in a hug before you even know its name. The easy, friendly ones can sometimes be the most dangerous ...


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Izumi Ontario Spring Water Sake Company

Left: Karakuchi Genshu
Middle: Nama Nama
Right: Teion Sakura

The beautiful trio.

Izumi makes stunning sake, and in Ontario of all places. Firstly, the name - izumi means spring in Japanese, which is the han character you see. The pronounciations are different, but proper Japanese uses Chinese characters in their writing; a whole different topic altogether, so we won't get into that. They're located in Toronto's Distillery District, but the important things to know are that they use California rice, Japanese koji, and Ontario water. For those who've drunk some sake, these will be a totally different experience. They're pure rice wines, with that incredibly fragrant sweet/sour character any good Chinaman will recognize. Stunning drinks, really, a taste of the motherland. They make different brews, and when I went in just before Christmas, these were the offerings.

There has to be a bit of a burn in sakes, and indeed in rice wines - you have to feel that alcohol. It's not a drink for pussies. But yet you want that purity, that almost mineral element from the water. A combination of sweet and sour flavours, all coming together, complex, yet at the same time, utterly minimalist. We had my cousin over during the holidays, and being a citizen of the Empire of Japan (just can't resist), I had him translate the names.

The first, the Karakuchi Genshu. Genshu refers to 'cask strength', where the sake is not diluted and therefore slightly higher in alcohol. Karakuchi means 'dry', which the Japanese usually refer to beers, Asahi or whatever watery lager they like. This particular bottle has a subtle sweetness on the palate, with the alcohol almost forming a more rigid structure, finishing quite dry in fact. A stiff one. The Nama Nama, sort of the standby, which means what the han character to its left says, essentially 'raw'. It refers to the fact that the sake is unpasteurized, which would sterilize the sake but strip it of so much character. This is an absolutely delicious sake, round and with an intense rice aroma on the nose and palate. And finally, my favourite of the three, the Teion Sakura. Teion means 'low temperature', referring to the fermentation conditions. This was the lowest of the three in terms of alcohol level, and the most delicate. Floral and so fine, yet quite sturdy on the palate, finishing linear and the most wine-like. A beauty.

Man, I can't say enough about how exciting Izumi sakes are. They give so much pleasure to this wino, and remind that sometimes a taste of home can come from the most unexpected of places.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

trim the fat, leave the giblets


So some people are put off by the idea of eating rabbit. Cute and all, but get over yourself - rabbits are just as bad as vermin. They reproduce like you wouldn't believe and can decimate a carefully tended vegetable garden in minutes. We should all be eating more rabbit ... lean and delicious, meant for the table and our stomachs. The key is to trim it carefully - all the fat, all the connective tissue, all the membranes holding it together that give it a musky, dirty flavour if not removed. Legs, fore and aft, along with the loins for gentle braising. Bones for making a soup. And my favourite parts, the liver, kidneys and heart, seared quickly in butter, so they remain slightly pink inside.

A funny thing happened as I was breaking this down. I had just sharpened my knife, so removing the legs was relatively straight-forward. You kind of just slice where the joints are, and once you find the right spot, the knife goes right through - no need to hack or try to break the bone. The whole prep seemed so soothing, so calming. And then I realized why. For those 30 minutes or so, I felt in complete control, a feeling I haven't felt in a long, long time. This is going to be an important week for me, with a private 1 on 1 with a certain business school, and a world MBA fair on Saturday - potentially a full day of interviews and meet/greets. So, things still very much up in the air for me. And I'm trying, hard, to control what I can.

I'll be scared later. Right now I'm too mad.
- Bugs Bunny, Lumber Jack-Rabbit (1953)


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Wagyu, recut

Reliving a dream that (for one night at least) came true. Wagyu dinner, with the people that mean the most to me.


Monday, February 4, 2013

that feeling ...

... that feeling you get when the knife slides in and the oyster shell pops open ... when everything goes to plan, when all is as it should be. Happiness.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Gracias y adiós, José

I'm pretty angry. I've been supporting the Toronto Raptors for a long time, but I can't anymore. Not after this latest trade, this latest example of how inept and clueless team management is. Why they would trade the clear leader of this team, and the only reason the team's been playing with a modicum of respectability thus far in a hilariously awful season, is beyond the comprehension of any sane  NBA observer. José Calderón has consistently been the most reliable player on the team since he's been here - among the best in the NBA at running an offense and being a true leader on the team. He's been through so much nonsense over the years, shuffling without a word to the bench whenever top brass brings in the new-flavour point guard ... from Mike James to T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack to Jerryd Bayless, and the latest, Kyle Lowry. And yet he's been nothing but professional, and aside from Damon Stoudamire, the best point guard in Raptors history. He doesn't deserve this. He doesn't deserve to be shipped to the Detroit fucking Pistons of all teams, a team with perhaps an even bleaker outlook than Toronto.

What now? What's the plan Bryan?! We lose our leader, and a promising young big man in Ed Davis, to bring in a max-contract player who can't even make an All-Star team. We've become wafer-thin at the point guard position, and completely log-jammed with swingmen. Who's going to have to sacrifice minutes ... Derozan? Anderson? Fields? The most obvious, and upsetting, is that bringing in a chucker like Rudy Gay who needs the ball to be effective stunts the development of Terrence Ross and Jonas Valenciunas. Despite all the losing, there was an upside to the team - young guys who had great potential, playing hard, developing. Not suggesting that we're going to be like the Thunder boys, but this was an entertaining unit to watch. And now? Done in by the salary cap, all because Bryan has a man-crush.

Thank you, and farewell José. I hope you re-sign with a contender, someone who will give you the respect you so deserve. I'm glad I attended a game this year, and got to see José achieve his second career triple double. Wherever he ends up, I'm going to try to see him the next time he comes to town ... give him a standing ovation, and remember him as one of the best to ever put on a Raptors jersey.