Thursday, March 14, 2013

Toronto Raptors vs Cleveland Cavaliers

100-96, Toronto.

Went out to my second game of the season on Sunday, hoping for my first look at Rudy Gay in person. He was an unannounced scratch with a stiff back. Good to see Valanciunas and Ross get some extended minutes. I like Lowry - he has heart - but without Calderon, the team's guard play and ball movement has really suffered. Kyrie Irving left with a left shoulder injury, but the Cavs managed to keep it close. Never really a threat though, with Lowry scoring on a spinning fadeaway and Derozan sealing it with 2 free throws for the win, and free pizza. A fun game.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

a welcome taste of tradition

2005 R. López De Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza | DOC Rioja

Every family has mealtime traditions. Those little quirks that get passed down, because that's how we've always done it. My family likes to undercook our greens. We like having lots of seafood for hotpot. We always add a pinch of sugar when we cook. We pride ourselves on making the most amazing clear chicken broths using chicken and only chicken. And we insist on continually wiping down the countertops and stoves as we cook. Matters of habit, perhaps, but these traditions are every bit as important to our cooking as recipes and techniques.

Wine, however, is a new tradition.

As immigrants, we're left to fend for ourselves. There is no template to follow, no support system outside a tight-knit group of friends. We have to figure things out on our own, and yes, that means sometimes it's a free-for-all. And we've adopted wine as a regular part of our routine. Maybe more than a regular part. Ok, so maybe I'm verging on an obsession here, but no one's qualified to make that diagnosis. As a family, we started slowly ... a bottle on the weekends, chosen methodically by region or varietal usually, and always, always drunk with food. About 10 years down, it's developed into something a bit more, but the principle never changes - we drink wine as part of our meal, one enhancing the other. Wine serves an intellectual purpose, certainly, but also works to bring us together, to stimulate good conversation and a sense of family.

I try not to be so rigid when I choose what wine to drink anymore, rather letting my mood guide me. Usually this time of year, I reach for red wine, something structured and dense. Yes, not very imaginative, but then again, my definition of 'density' still falls in with the high acid/moderate alcohol crowd. The cool crowd. This bottle, one of their more simpler cuvées, reminds me of why traditions aren't necessarily exciting or noteworthy, but always comforting and incredibly satisfying. R. López de Heredia is one of the stalwarts of Rioja, holding up the banner for the traditionalists. And while young, this crianza sings of what Rioja wine is, all strawberries and subtle vanilla, fine tannins and linear texture. Finesse, yes, and understatement, totally.

When we have people over for dinner, it's always gratifying to share some of our traditions with them. And although we do little more than pick out bottles off the shelf, I like to think that the wine we serve follows along the same lines - strict purity and authenticity that derives great pleasure.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In the rocks

This is mind-blowing stuff. Grant Achatz and Craig Schoettler of Chicago's Alinea and Aviary work on an egg-shaped ice ball that is hollowed out, allowing you to inject a drink inside. The customer then cracks open the egg in the glass, creating their own drink on the rocks. This is an Old Fashioned cocktail, but as Mr. Schoettler says, there are endless possibilities ... clear ice, coloured ice, ice flavoured with a cocktail ingredient ...



Monday, March 11, 2013

hanging out at Parts & Labour

So we went out to Parts & Labour on Toronto's Queen St. West last week - what a great find. Sitting at the bar, our dinner was so incredibly satisfying. The kind of food that warms you up, fills your soul, makes you happy. From the kale salad to the hanger steak to the sweetbread sliders - happiness.

I was watching the bartender make drinks all night, and man, could she move. So I asked her, do you do an Old Fashioned? Her reply? I'll make the best Old Fashioned you've ever had. Well, she wasn't lying. In a mixing glass, a sugar cube, a few dashes of bitters, and a splash of water, all muddled together. Then, slowly, half a measure of whiskey stirred in with ice - once she achieved the proper temperature and dilution, the other half a measure went in. Strained into a rocks glasses with one large ice cube, and garnished with an orange peel and brandied cherries. A perfect way to end dinner.

Went off into the night buzzing with inspiration.


Friday, March 8, 2013

a night out

'Twas a dark and stormy night last Wednesday ...
... but we managed to get out to Pravda Vodka Bar ...
... where the ghosts of old revolutionary heroes are venerated in busts ...
... where after an uninspired vodka martini, we retired to the warmth of C'est What for a lamb burger and a beautiful Ontario perry.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

little Lake Erie and the Ontario style

2011 Cooper's Hawk Riesling | VQA Lake Erie North Shore

Lake Erie North Shore is, as the name suggests, in the southwestern part of Ontario, along Lake Erie. The growing season here is generally the warmest out of the 3 viticultural areas of Ontario (Niagara and Prince Edward County being the other 2), with soils mainly consisting of sandy loam and gravel deposits on top of shale limestone bedrock.

We could go on and on about the specifics of this terroir (see VQA website), but this isn't the way to present the wines. Even living in Toronto, we rarely hear about this region and these wineries, so the question isn't so much about climate, soil, and geography, but rather on how these wines can be successfully marketed. And it's not about the vineyards. Because despite what the VQA and the producers would like to think, these minor areas are not necessarily special.

Canadian wine starts and ends with Niagara and the Okanagan Valley. Period. All these other smaller regions may produce interesting, even good wines, but in the larger Canadian wine industry, their contributions are insignificant. I'm not trying to disparage Lake Erie North Shore by any means ... I'm just certain that trying to convince consumers that the wines coming out of here are at all unique or more profound is not a successful strategy. As someone who constantly rails against homogeneity, I can't believe I'm about to say this ... but these smaller regions need to create a distinct, unified style of wine that is easily recognizable to consumers.

Take this riesling, for example. It fits into that mold of Ontario riesling - clean fruit, slight sweetness, low(ish) alcohol. Relative to a Niagara riesling, you're not getting that extract or minerality, but it's a pleasant enough drink. Consumers want reliability - that's why Yellowtail is such a success. People know that it's shit, just like they know McDonald's isn't real food. But they're also getting exactly what they expect, and really, people aren't all that adventurous when it comes to wine. So when they're looking for a white wine that hovers around $15, this should be the type of wine they're reaching for. When they look at a Lake Erie North Shore riesling, there should be a style associated with it, regardless of which winery it is. It's essentially branding the entire region, and associating it with a certain style of wine. And that's how you're going to move those bottles.

As a wino, I want to be an idealist and be all romantic about wine, but as someone who wants to get into the industry - you've got to find a way to make that money.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013


2010 Marziano Abbona Rinaldi | DOC Barbera d'Alba

Is there a contradiction between wines we admire on an intellectual level, and wines that simply give us pleasure?

I love stinky country wines, I really do. These aromas and flavours used to be simply what the wines were - brettanomyces wasn't something to be scared of. And now most consumers (and winemakers) have not only forgotten how magical a bit of brett can be, but have come to see it as a deadly flaw. Well you shouldn't be afraid of a little stank in wine (or in life). Don't judge a stinky wine too soon - it might surprise you, delight you, and eventually win you over. 

It was fairly late at night, but I wanted to open this wine for a quick taste, in preparation for the next night's dinner. And dammit, it reeked. I would venture to say that this was by far the stinkiest wine I've ever nosed, simply rolling in fumes of manure and barnyard. But Abbona is one of my favourite Piedmontese producers, and I was certain all it needed was some time in the decanter. About 12 hours later, it began rewarding my patience - rich, savoury aromas, full of spice and cured meats. Dark but fresh, with fabulous concentration, harmony, and complexity already.

So yet again, these great producers teach us that even humble varietals yield wines of finesse and beauty. Wonderful, if you have the patience and understanding of how brett affects wine. Don't be afraid of the stink - decant it, and take a look again the next day. Just like how you should never trust a woman who can't fart in front of you. If she's hiding a basic bodily function, what other deep, dark, horrible secrets is she keeping from you?!

So no, wines that we love on a sensual and intellectual level don't have to be exclusive to each other. That would be a shame, wouldn't it. As Depardieu once said, I can live with very little, but I like to have a lot in my glass.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

Two Italians

Left: 2008 Sampietrana 1952 Riserva | DOC Brindisi | Puglia
Right: 2011 Pelassa Bricco Enrichetta | DOC Langhe

You know sometimes I think wine is a free for all. Sometimes I feel that they make these blends out of necessity instead of any kind of need to express terroir. These wines show zero character from each of its parts ... I suppose the point is to go for something simple, easy to understand, all the things that upwardly-mobile yuppies go for.

The Sampietrana is a blend of negroamaro and montepulciano, but who cares, it's soft and fruity and pleasant. The Pelassa is a blend of equal parts barbera and nebbiolo, but expresses little personality of either. Both the same thing really - solid red wines that don't require much from the drinker.

It's been a long, tiring few days. No rest even on the weekend. Just so much stuff to do around the house, with the cleaning, laundry ... and not even getting to the application work. Yes, still hard at it, a few more schools on the list to apply to, a few more weeks of pain and suffering. I've been drinking pretty hard lately. It's getting to be a problem, even for me. But shit, who wants to live forever.