Tuesday, April 30, 2013

showing its true colours

2007 Thirty Bench Riesling | VQA Beamsville Bench

I've been visiting Thirty Bench for a long time. I've always thought of them as a source of some of the best rieslings in Niagara. Lean wines, yes, but with impressive extract and great balance - interesting mineral expression too, leaning towards petrol and lanolin cream. They make an entry level cuvée, a blend of all their vineyards, which is this bottle, as well as 3 single vineyard rieslings. It's always a great introduction to the Niagara style of riesling. A slight amount of residual sugar and lowish alcohols (around 11%), with searing acidity when they're young. Bottled under stelvin, the obvious question was how well they aged ...

The 2007 vintage was a turning point in my understanding of Niagara. Hot and dry, producing wines with a concentration and density that were rarely seen in Niagara. These wines however, remained balanced and linear. Early picking, the wines see no oak and are made in a reductive style. So, with about 5 years of age, I wanted to see how they were coming along. And like usual, I was surprised. Age hasn't been kind to the wine, and perhaps is revealing its true character a little. Stripping off the varnish, so to speak. The girl you wake up next to and go omfg beer goggles are a bitch!

There's no fruit left. No charm, no finesse. Just an un-harmonized collection of aromas and flavours. Petrol and all that, bitter on the palate, slight amount of sugar underneath it all. Just doesn't work, and a far cry from what I remember tasting a few years ago. Oh well. I want to keep in mind things like bottle variation, the vagaries of aging under stelvin, issues with reduction, sulfur, etc. Or maybe bottle age has exposed all the things that the are (and aren't). That's why we put things away, isn't it?

Heading to Niagara this Thursday. I've been enjoying my week off - getting a lot of housework done, and a bit of drinking too. Fun. You know, usually it seems like time flies during vacations, but this one has felt ... a bit more slow-paced. No complaints. Loving retired life.


divining its purpose

2011 Calera Chardonnay | Central Coast

I had a conversation with friends over dinner Saturday about how despite all the talk about terroir and expression of place, the single most important factor of how a wine tastes is the preferences of the winemaker. It all comes down to the palate of the winemaker, doesn't it. And if they're doing it properly, they're making wines that they like. Because wine can be selfish that way. Sure, there are lots of big wine companies that pump out millions of bottles annually who stick to a formulaic approach to wine, but anything else should be an expression of the winemaker's taste. Really, if you think about it, if you're dedicating your career to wine, shouldn't you at least be working to make wines that you like to drink yourself, that represent what your taste is? Otherwise, the fuck are you wasting your time for?!

Shit. I shouldn't swear, especially not with a photo of Calera wine posted. Because Josh Jensen is a true gentleman, and a visionary of what California wine is, and should be. These wines are so true to the west coast - alcohol way over 14% - yet so impeccably balanced and truly expressive. The acidity is high, but great wine is more than something that ticks off all the boxes chemically-speaking. As idiotically nonsensical as it sounds, there is something we can call soul in wine, as impossible as it is to define empirically. And Josh's wines have SOUL. Breathtaking really, how a wine as simple as this - a blended chardonnay from Central Coast vineyards - can have such expression. Ripe, sweet citrus aromas, that made it stand out so much during the tasting, but at home, in a more contemplative setting, the wines shows as even more profound. Minerals and all that, but the palate is so elegant, so balanced, so sure of itself. Class and soul, all we hope for in a wine.

So we ask ourselves, what's the point of wine? Is it mostly an exercise of ego, of arrogance? A chance for us to fawn at the skill of the winemaker, and how great their taste is? No. Because as we conversed about over dinner, it's ridiculous to automatically pre-suppose that winemakers have good taste. No, it still, as clichéd as it may be, comes down to what a true expression of the wine is. And what is that? Well, it may take a lifetime to divine that true purpose.

The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.

- Katsumoto, The Last Samurai (2003)


Monday, April 29, 2013

waiting for spring showers and sunshine

1999 Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt Riesling Spätlese | QmP Piesporter Goldtröpfchen | Mosel

It's been nice to stay at home, get some stuff done. Weather's not really co-operating (it's been drizzling nonstop), but at least it's getting warmer. When you live in Canada, you learn to savour the little things. I love spring, that smell in the air that's full of fragrance and promises of good things coming up. Maybe that rings truer for me this year than any other time in recent memory. It's been a bit frightening, but I've been out of university for 5 years. Man, we thought we were the shit back then, at the age of 22. Reality has a way of taking you down a few notches. So we try to stay motivated, stay hungry. My applications for business school are still unfinished - waiting to interview with one more school, but I expect The Decision to come soon. 

True winos are seasonal drinkers, and as spring ushers in all kinds of new produce, so should the wines that show up on the dinner table. Fresh, vibrant wines, that mirror the energy happening outside. Riesling? Shit, riesling is good year round, but in this wino's opinion, especially delicious this time of year. And these mature ones with a decade or so of age ... close to paradise. Balanced yet showing developed aromas of apple and honey, all underlined with minerality and vibrant acidity. Slightly drying out, almost a touch of oxidation, but drinking beautifully now, and close to its peak. This producer's wines are always quite rich, and certainly very ripe, but what carries it is its dry extract on the palate which gives it texture and weight.

I'm savouring this slow crawl to spring, as I do believe it's going to be my last one in Toronto for a while. No rush at the moment - simply content to enjoy everything as it comes. 


Sunday, April 28, 2013

DF turns 27

Twenty seven years ago today, I was but a gleam in my mother's eye. And look at me now. Did we know that after all the years of school and tutors, hours spent in front of the piano and in art class, the end result would be this? That despite (or in spite) of all the mentoring in finance and accounting, I'd want to devote my life to wine? What a fucking idiot I am. That smile that just says there is no plan in place.

It's all come full circle. As a high schooler, you want to go out for birthdays, go out all the time to prove that you're a grown-up. And now that I've been out of university longer than I've been in it, all we want is to live a BFB (Bang for Buck) lifestyle. And all I wanted for my birthday was to eat my mother's cooking at home, with the friends that mean the most to me. Yes, it's not particularly exciting, but we get to relax and drink a lot of wine. Not having to deal with the logistics of going out means that the 8 hours or so we have with each other are entirely devoted to talking, eating, and laughing. Good times, and the thing I'm going to miss the most when I leave for school.

We had a long dinner last night - no surprise, but what made it epic was the wines I wanted to drink. We focused on one Niagara producer - Thirty Bench - and one varietal - riesling. A horizontal of both their estate blend, and 3 single vineyard bottlings, across the 2008 and 2007 vintages, and one 2005 as well. A very interesting, enlightening tasting - full tasting notes to follow. Of course, we moved onto martinis and Old Fashioneds afterwards. Memory a little blurry after that. My mother cooked all the foods I love, from pig's trotters to her soy chicken to steamed fish. Lots of sashimi and uni on the table as well, and greens to balance it all out.

A wonderful evening, satisfying and filling the appetite, and heart. Many thanks and much appreciation to the loved ones in my life. 


Saturday, April 27, 2013

calm before the storm

So it's about 4 hours before dinner, and most of the prep work has been completed. All that's left is to set the table, give the wines a quick taste, and wait for my buddies to arrive. The calm before the storm. I love these moments before big dinners, when you go get groceries with only a rough idea of what you want to serve - what's fresh, what's seasonal is always the fundamental theme. This is most likely the last birthday I'm going to have in Toronto for a long time. And while a bit sad, we make the most of these moments because it's sometimes not so much what you eat, as who you're eating with. 

My last day of being 26, and maybe I should be a bit more reflective, but I want to get going. #DFdoesdinner.


Friday, April 26, 2013

gaining wisdom

This is the Yarai mixing glass from Japan. It's my favourite piece of bar gear I have - bought from the ever reliable Cocktail Kingdom. Yes, the past few weeks have been ALL about the cocktails. Gin drinks, whisky cocktails, all kinds of citrus fruit squeezed, zested, and expressed. I'm a firm believer that if you're really going to do something, you do it the right way. Unfortunately, doing it the right way often doesn't correspond with doing things on a budget. But it doesn't mean you have to ball so hard. You just have to do it smart.

Wisdom. I'm maybe not getting any smarter, but at least I think I'm getting wiser. With all these things, whether it's photography, wine, food, cocktails ... certain investments have to be made. And as is usually the case, we all have to make some bad investments first before we see the light - that is, unless we have parents (who share the same interests) who pass things on to us. I don't. So I have to start from scratch, which is good in a way because I can rightfully claim that I was entirely self-taught in wine (thus far) and my latest obsession, cocktails.

So you need a basic set of bar gear. Shakers, jiggers, strainers, spoon, muddler, presses, and yes, mixing glasses. So how do we avoid making bad investments (now that I'm - nearly - 27 and therefore wiser)? Careful observation and research. It's simple really. You figure out what kind of cocktails you want to focus on - throwback classics - and the tools required to make them, and make your purchases from there. I knew I wanted to focus on gin, whisky, and rum cocktails. All throwbacks, simple drinks with minimal ingredients. And like cooking, the key is always to use fresh ingredients - like wine, to drink seasonally. So, the martini, the gimlet, the Tom Collins ... the Old-Fashioned, the Manhattan ... the mojito, the daquiri.

Always count on the Japanese to take a concept and perfect it, as foreign as it may be. It's easy to forget that cocktails are a completely foreign invention in Japan. It's still a (light) beer drinking culture - even sake doesn't make regular appearances on most dinner tables there. Yet the Japanese cocktail culture is now widely viewed as the finest, and purest in the world. From their equipment (the Yarai, the Japanese-style jigger) to their techniques (the hard shake, 'nuf said), they've managed to perfect the art of making cocktails. And yet like all other aspects of their culture, it's minimalist. They're economical in everything they do ... everything is calculated down to the last drop, the last swirl, the last shake. And that's the philosophy one should adopt. Invest in the right equipment, and no more than what is necessary.

The Yarai. With a capacity of 500 mL, a heavy base to stabilize the glass as you stir, with that stunning lattice pattern to admire for its beauty, and its grip when condensation builds from the ice. Seamless all around, with a spout for a perfect pour. A beauty.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

and spring, we're still waiting ...

NV Cave De Hoen Heimberger Brut Rosé | AC Crémant d'Alsace

It's been a cold year. We're all desperate for some sun and warmth here in Toronto. DESPERATE FOR SPRING!! 

I like this time of year. There's a cluster of trees outside my kitchen window, and every spring, it's wonderful to watch the leaves sprout and slowly bloom into a green canopy. I looked this morning and the branches are still bare. It's the end of April, and even for Canada, this is ridiculous. So we have to turn to other things for those springtime feelings. And one of them is rosé.

Cave de Hoen is a solid producer - it's one of the few crémants that are made with 100% pinot noir, but it can be a bit inconsistent from year to year. And without printing lot numbers, who knows what you're getting. I remember a bottle I had last year being wonderfully dry and steely, with lovely delicate berries. This particular bottle was the opposite. Candied, with the dosage sticking out like the juiced out tool (at the Goodlife I go to) who struts around after every set. At what point does jacked and ripped become thickset and breast-y? Yes, in wine and in life, we appreciate power and strength, but there's also something to be said about definition and shape. 

Big weekend coming up for me - I turn 27 in a few days. There'll probably be time after for reflection and all that, but for now, all I'm concerned with is what I'm going to cook, and what bottles to drink. After a few years of frugality (especially last year's), I'm ready to do it big, because for the first time in a motherfucking long time, I've got something to celebrate. 

Here's to spring!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

through amber-hued lenses

2009 Massandra White Muscat | South Coast | Ukraine

Winemaking in Ukraine began in the southern Crimea, and dates to the 4th century BC. The first modern winery was established during the rule of Catherine II. Massandra is the oldest winery in the country. Its vineyards go along the south coast of the Crimea, with the soils compromising mostly detritus loam. The winery was built under the czar's direction in the 1890's, and includes extensive cellars and tunnels large enough for over a million bottles of wine. It's collection today is one of the largest collections of old wines in the world, containing a sherry from 1775.

This bottle, the white muscat, is aged in oak casks for at least 2 years, and has been produced since 1940. High in alcohol, but remaining balanced - a pleasant, simple, and balanced wine showing mature, oxidative aromas and flavours.

I'm tired. I went back to my friend's place this past Sunday, where I'm housing all my wines. Much appreciation for taking care of my babies, as always. I looked around and saw a bunch of shit I should never have bought in the first place. Regrets all around. So what can you do but pull them out and start drinking. Lots of Niagara riesling, some (bad) chardonnays, some pinot noirs. Because it takes a few duds before we learn to love Barolo, Bandol, and Mosel.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

that may or may not fall into place

Inevitability. The things that should happen ... that are destined to happen.

I've been wary of simply expecting things, whether it's due to insecurity, lack of confidence, or whatever ... immigrants have a cynical way of staying far, far away from things that seem even remotely too good to be true. I got an email this morning from one of the schools I applied to. One of the most important emails I've ever received. With one part of the application process over, it will soon be time to make a decision. THE Decision. And I still can't shake this feeling that damn, the path is still littered with obstacles, and I've yet to find my yellow brick road.  More questions than answers, and all I want to accomplish (for this week at least) is some clarity as to my next move.

I'm not accomplished, or arrogant enough to simply assume that things will fall into place, that it's all destiny that I get into business school, that I figure out where my tuition funding will come from. No. So I try not to get ahead of myself, and plan as the need arises - putting out the stemware, bottles on ice, all with the understanding that we take things as they come, and make do with what we have.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Squirming on the plate, Sik Gaek Chun Ha

So we met up with my buddy Saturday night. I hadn't seen him in a long time, and catching up was more important, but who were we kidding - if the food was no good, what was the point? So, we made the long, arduous trek to Queens, to Sik Gaek Chun Ha.
I have video of the live octopus (to be posted), but the highlight of the meal was our seafood hotpot. Full of all kinds of the most amazing shellfish.
Just all kinds of satisfaction, from the (still live) lobster, abalone, clams, conch, octopus, mussels, squid, shrimp, noodles, and rice cakes.
My buddy ordered some rice wine, served in prison issue metal bowls.
And despite a valiant effort, this was the aftermath we left behind. Satisfaction and happiness.


Friday, April 19, 2013

lunch at a leisurely pace, Casa Mono

On my one free day in New York, a Saturday, we wandered around Union Square, taking in the chess masters and hustlers ...
... before making our way to the wonderful single-macarooned Casa Mono, one of my favourite joints in the city.
There was an abundance of seafood, starting with razor clams and sardines ...
... reaching its peak with intensely savoury and textural pulpo on fennel and grapefruit ...
... before moving onto sweetbreads and quail.
Appetite and thirst were abetted by what else in a tapas bar, but sidra, from bottle and spout ...
... executing the perfect long pour ...
... showing all those pungent pickled fruit notes.

In a word, happiness.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

making the pilgrimage to Chambers Street Wines

As part of my day off in New York, I visited the temple of wine retail that is Chambers Street Wine in Lower Manhattan. I'm a bit upset that I didn't get to visit the Met - it'd be criminal if I didn't get to do a bit of wine shopping. So, after a nice, leisurely lunch, we made our way down in search of some old (and odd) bottles to bring back home.

As luck would have it, Dominik Sona of Koehler-Ruprecht from the Pfalz was pouring a range of his wines. We started with his 2010 Pinot Blanc Kabinett Trocken, with lovely lifted fruit and floral aromas. His 2010 Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett Trocken had pure fruit, on a good tensile palate. The 2010 Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Kabinett Trocken showed a bit more density, a very elegant style of trocken. And then the granddaddy of them all - the 2008 Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Spätlese Trocken 'R', a Reserve bottling that utilizes the smallest berries, is aged for at least 4 years before release, and is only produced in agreeable vintages. Impressive weight and precision here, lovely elegance, but certainly a feeling that it's just sleeping now, not ready to open up before 10 years of age - at $82.99 a bottle, one would hope that buyers have great patience to see it unfold to its full potential. And finally, the only wine in the lineup with residual sugar, the 2010 Kallstadter Steinacker Riesling Kabinett, shimmering with tropical fruits on a linear palate. Lovely wines, understated yet showing the charm and elegance of the Pfalz.

The shop is a tiny space, but packed with all sorts of interesting selections. I spent the most time checking out the Barolos - had my hands on a 1967 Burlotto, but ended up going with (on a recommendation) a 1995 Oddero. Picked up a Puffeney Poulsard, as well as a half bottle of 1988 Lamothe-Guignard. The staff were engaged, and fun to talk to. I hate to bash on our folks here, but LCBO Vintages could gain a lot from a visit to these kinds of wine shops. Lots to see, lots to learn here - like the proverbial kid in a candy store (although being a Canadian, it'd be the Bulk Barn).

It was a good day.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

long live the World Trade

In light of the events of this week in Boston, we're reminded of the horrors and evils of this world ...
... we're reminded of its senselessness, of its cruelty.
We are all impacted, whether we live in Boston, New York, Toronto, or Shanghai.
But we're also reminded of our resilience, of our hope that humanity is good and pure and still full of promise.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

big lights will inspire you

Thinking of Boston, and the bombing victims.

I went to New York for 4 days, just got back. It's been a whirlwind these past 2 weeks ... I got two invites to interview with two schools in New York, with very little time to prep and book. Exciting, always a pleasure to come to New York, even on short notice! Decided to drive down through Kingston this time, and what a good call - much faster and an overall easier drive. Stayed at a hotel in Hell's Kitchen.

Interviews went well. As part of my interview with the second school, I was invited to participate in what they called 'Assessment Day'. The school brought together 18 applicants total, giving us group activities and exercises to do. It was everything I expected - intense, challenging, nerve-wracking - and even some things I didn't expect - collaborative, fun. Meeting my fellow applicants was a great experience, and getting to work (briefly) with my team on a presentation was a great way to get a feel of what it might be to be in the program. And who would have guessed, we had some good Toronto representation. And I scored the 3rd highest quiz!

There was no planning for this trip, no idea of what I wanted to do outside of prepping for these interviews. So on the one free day I did have to walk around, I did the only thing I know how to do - find places to eat and drink. And that I did, if only to make myself happy, because it's about time I start acting a bit more selfishly. A successful trip, I would say. We got back after 10 hours on the road, arriving in Toronto just before 8pm on Sunday. And I can't wait to go back.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

dreaming of blue skies

I dream of blue skies ...
... of being on the frontier ...
... and of staying true to classics. Off to New York!


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Soave and pizza

2011 Monte Tondo | DOC Soave Classico

We made pizza at home a few weeks ago. It was good - we got stuff from a fancy grocery store (i.e. we didn't cook so much as assemble). Simple, with mushrooms and prosciutto, lots of cheese and basil. And with it, a bottle of Soave. Clean, fresh, and balanced. A simple wine for a simple meal.

I'm tired. And a little anxious. Been anxious for quite a while now. It hardly seems like it's been more than a year since I first started thinking about business school, but looking at the calendar the other day, I was shocked to realize that this time last year, I was about 5 weeks away from taking my GMAT and freaking the fk out. But I survived that, and all that followed during the summer and fall. I've been working on applications for a solid 8 months now. And the process is still ongoing. But I think the next 2 months will be big for me, when the table gets set and wine poured, figuratively speaking.

My mind's a bit of a mess right now ... all almost overwhelming. Almost. So I have to remind myself that all this work, this pain and suffering will be worth it in the end. Because I just want to be happy. Not asking for much. Just happiness, like Soave and pizza.


Monday, April 8, 2013

what with dinner

It's been a shitstorm these past few weeks. But no complaints. Never any complaints. 

I'm headed to New York later this week, to interview with some schools. Very excited for it - as someone told me, it's not about omfg, what are they gonna ask me? but rather, I'm so fking excited to show them what I'm about! Right on. Ready to get at it.

Yesterday, I ran outdoors in the ravine across my house for the first time this year. Spring is really here! Huffed and puffed, but made the run in decent shape. Wore (running) tights for the first time too - legit. It's been a busy weekend. Went with the boys to Niagara on Friday, staying overnight to party and participate in all kinds of debauchery. Not really. We're all good Chinese boys ... what kind of trouble could we possibly get into?! Stopped by Fielding Estate Winery on Saturday morning, on our way back to Toronto. Quite an extensive tasting, which I'll write about later, in detail. Lots of good stuff tasted.

Serving what's supposed to be the right food/wine pairing seems to be what a lot of people are obsessing about these days. It's that whole look how tasteful I am, pats self on back attitude that's so pervasive now - the people who refer to cabernet sauvignon as 'cab' and throw the term 'foodie' around freely. Not the people I want to be spending time with. I'm a throwback, but I can't be the only one who feels that appreciation of cuisine and wine culture involves respecting it.

A Chinese meal is full of surprises - a tableful of dishes that can have dozens of different flavours and textures, ping-ponging between sweet to savoury to spicy. So to decide to fit each dish with his or her own wine is absolute folly. No, what we're going for is versatility, and most importantly when we have guests over, variety. Beer, some kind of simple lager or pilsner, remains the beverage that you can always rely on to go well with everything. The Japanese are still learning how to cook - raw fish isn't exactly cooking - but they've got the right idea about Sapporo/Asahi/Suntory/Kirin/Orion. When looked at critically, all those beers are shit. But on the table, with great food, they serve their purpose beautifully. Because they understand that either of the one - the food or the beer - one always has to serve the other. They cannot be of equal prominence, because you don't want a fucking battle happening on the table. You want a hot, passionate, pleasurable, tangled, mind-blowing union. Shit, we still talking about dinner? You want an orgy on the table, between what you're eating and drinking. Keep the domination/bondage kink out of it. 

So the question is, which (or who) goes on top? The food, or the drink? As much as I'm a wine/cocktail/alcohol guy - it's always about the food. When people rhapsodize about cars, they say You can't drive your house, but you can live in your car. Well, fuck that logic. Because show me a person that can survive off booze. 

One top of the other. As was meant to be. As we all were meant to be.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The 'California Legends' Tasting

A few weeks ago, we went to a tasting of Californian wines held at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. It was billed as a tasting of the icons of the industry - some of the pioneers, the old-timers who built the reputation of California. I was so pumped to attend - I needed a break from writing applications, and our regular tasting group was in full attendance - not to mention, Calera, Dunn, and Ridge was pouring.

The wines were stunning. I started as always with the chardonnay. I expected a certain style - not necessarily that big, buttery, obnoxious chard stereotype, but a certain sunshine-y style nonetheless -  but the wines delivered (pleasant) surprise after surprise. They were definitely new world chardonnays. Ripe and viscous, with good amounts of caramel and sweetness from the oak. But they're fresh - great acidity with balanced alcohols. Wines that I would easily be comfortable putting away for 10 years. Fabulous. And then came the pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons. The pinot noir was, as expected, more variable in style. Some super big and overripe, the worst kind of wines - flabby and lifeless. But the best, from Calera, some of the most exciting new world pinot noirs I've ever come across. By that point, I was pretty lubed up, and we had yet to taste the cabernets. The majestic cabernet sauvignons, both varietal and blended wines. My goodness. The quality was just mind-blowing. And the one thing I kept thinking about during the tasting was something I never expected to be the main takeaway: balance. BALANCE, in California. Complex, interesting, balanced wines that showed so much character. Completely changed the way I see these wines, and although expensive, worth every penny. Incredible. I've never come out of a tasting so excited about what I had just tasted, and although my memory of what happened afterwards is a bit hazy, our photos show some of the carnage. Tasting notes from the evening below.

Beringer | Napa Valley
2000 Chabot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:  so French, graphite mineralis, lean berry fruit, good structure, fresh and lively; a vibrant wine

Bonaccorsi | Santa Rita Hills
2009 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir: burnt wood, way overripe, physically painful to smell, completely dull and one-dimensional
DF and the great Josh Jensen, Proprietor/Winemaker of Calera

Calera | Central Coast
2011 Chardonnay: so ripe, fragrant of orange and citrus oils, sweet fruit, caramel oak, good acid on a crunchy finish
2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan: more depth, fuller and heavier, good tannin structure, a beautiful wine
2007 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan: slightly more vegetal, but showing good tannin, juicy and fresh
2009 De Villiers Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan: big, slightly dried fruit, jammy raisins, with an intense sweet palate

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: subtle, integrated oak and fruit, very good oak profile
2010 Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands: ripe fruit, slightly jammy here, candied, that big style of red wine that has little varietal character

Chateau Montelena | Napa Valley
2010 Chardonnay: completely subtle, slightly oaky palate, but elegant and harmonious; needs time
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon: subtle fruit, fragrant, on a sweet, elegant and finely structured palate; great potential here

Dominus | Napa Valley
2009 Dominus: the grand vin, tight and a bit closed, lean fruit, very compact at the moment; like a St. Julien with the raciness
2009 Othello: the entry wine, slightly overripe, deep fruit, more of the sunny Californian style here, some savoury, soy elements on the palate, slightly saline
2009 Napanook: from declassified Dominus fruit, this was a revelation; fresh, vibrant nose, beautifully fragrant and minerally; palate is gorgous, sweet and linear, fresh yet fine, dark and underlined with graphite minerality; beautiful!

Duckhorn | Napa Valley
2010 Merlot: soft, round fruit, ripe and sweet, good structure, primary but some potential here
DF and Randy Dunn, Winemaker/Proprietor of Dunn

Dunn | Napa Valley
2002 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: saline and mineral, lean fruit, wonderfully savoury on the palate, like seaweed and kelp; so elegant, fabulous length, a stunner!
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain: fine and lean fruit, so French here, dark and mineral; ripe on the palate, so integrated and fresh, a truly vibrant wine
DF and the legend, Gary Eberle, Owner/Founder/Winemaker of Eberle

Eberle | Paso Robles
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah: 50/50 of each, fresh, ripe fruit, very juicy here, great balance
2008 Côtes-du-Rôbles: syrah, mourvèdre, and viognier; classic, ripe nose, sweet fruit with an elegance; juicy and surprisingly fine

Frog's Leap | Napa Valley
2012 Sauvignon Blanc: my goodness, booming grassy notes, pungently oily, almost pickled; unsubtle sauvignon aromas to say the least, but good acid, fresh fruit on the palate, almost a bit bi-polar in that aroma and palate have almost no correspondence
2011 Chardonnay: round oak, great acid on the palate, vibrant

Joseph Phelps | Sonoma Coast
2010 Freestone Vineyards Chardonnay: spicy oak, somewhat muted, round palate; good extract, elegant, with great acidity

Kistler | Sonoma Coast
2010 Trenton Roadhouse Chardonnay: spicy oak, nutty and round, good extracted acidity on the finish
2009 Vine Hill Vineyard Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: good focus, lean and minerally; round oak on the palate, some spice
DF and Stephan Asseo, Owner/Winemaker of L'Aventure

L'Aventure | Paso Robles
2010 Côte-a-Côte: fresh, linear fruit, good sweetness, very good stuff here
2010 Optimus: graphite minerality, intense, rich and filling; elegant palate, wonderful extract and precision on the palate; wonderful and so damn French!
2010 Estate Cuvée: freshness, combined with good ripe fruit; lean but intense

Pahlmeyer | Napa Valley
2010 Chardonnay: subtle, round nose, some minerals, a bit closed at the moment

Paul Hobbs | Sonoma County
2010 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: good colour, very oak, spicy and rich, integrated oak on the palate, finishing slightly bitter

2010 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley: fresh, vibrant, and minerally, like spring water; good tannin, elegant in structure, and very subtle
2009 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cabernet/Merlot: wow, so earthy, so dense, wonderfully rustic; even slightly stinky, but so good, and so French

Sea Smoke | Santa Rita Hills
2010 Southing Pinot Noir: big name, with equally big prices, but what a disappointment; incredibly jammy and dried out, what's the point
2010 Ten Pinot Noir: at $109, I just don't get it; completely nuked fruit, slightly saline, so overdone and coca-cola-ish as to be undrinkable

Stag's Leap Winery | Napa Valley
2010 Chardonnay: round, integrated fruit, great oak, fresh and structured


Thursday, April 4, 2013

harbouring no preconceptions

2011 Casali Borgo Del Boiardo Reggiano | DOC Lambrusco Rosato Secco

Can I share something with you? When a wine is said to be out of fashion ... 9 times out of 10, that's the wine you should be drinking. Lambrusco is one those things that people need to pay more attention to. I mean quality Lambrusco, not that sweet junk. This one, a fabulous sparkling rosé, with delicious berry aromas on a dry palate that finishes with a beautiful lift. Surprisingly firm and structured, staying drinkable and fresh.

That feeling of dryness can be so hard to find. The term dry wine can mean many things - and since it's not really regulated, it can often mean that the wine retains a bit of residual sugar, to help with the texture. So really, we're talking about the perception of dryness. But in the best instances, such as this bottle, a true dryness gives the wine structure, poise, and focus ... all elements of food-friendly, ageable wine. It's fascinating, because this dryness doesn't necessarily mean a mouthful of tannin. In this case, where we're dealing with a rosé sparkling wine (which won't have much tannin to begin with), we see how you can have a wine that is dry, but isn't tannic. A very fine balancing act, but when it all comes together, the result is wonderful, especially with food.

Not following trends, not following the mainstream - what am I, a hipster now? Am not. But if we consciously temper our preconceptions, maybe that's when we get really excited about wines. And maybe the night when we drank this, I was the only one around the table whose eyes lit up. But I'm working on it, this whole thing of encouraging (forcing) the people I eat/drink with to see as I see, taste as I taste.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

ritual and gratification

It's been a long few weeks.

Finally, all my business school applications have been sent out. It's been a long, long process. Draining. My brain feels fried. On to the next, because of course there's no break ... waiting for the admissions committee to now review, and give their verdict.

I've been drinking more cocktails lately. Just like that, wine has become a bit of an afterthought – can you believe I just said that?! Haven’t really been in the mood for wine, to tell you the truth. Maybe it’s the stress, maybe it’s because of one late night after another … maybe I’m just finally living up to my (self-proclaimed) wino tag. But cocktails have been doing the job, to the point of obsession. And you know what happens when I get obsessed about something.

There’s been a bit of controversy lately over some comments printed about the decline of wine drinking culture in France. Why don’t I just reprint them, verbatim. From Denis Saverot, editor of La Revue des Vins de France magazine:

It is our bourgeois, technocratic elite with their campaigns against drink-driving and alcoholism, lumping wine in with every other type of alcohol, even though it should be regarded as totally different.

Recently I heard one senior health official saying that wine causes cancer from the very first glass. That coming from a Frenchman. I was flabbergasted. In hock with the health lobby and the politically correct, our elites prefer to keep the country on chemical anti-depressants and wean us off wine.

Just look at the figures. In the 1960s, we were drinking 160 litres each a year and weren't taking any pills. Today we consume 80 million packets of anti-depressants, and wine sales are collapsing.

Wine is the subtlest, most civilized, most noble of anti-depressants. But look at our villages. The village bar has gone, replaced by a pharmacy.

And from Oxford-based French writer Theodore Zeldin:

Companionship has been replaced by networking. Business means busy-ness, and in that way we are becoming like everywhere else.

The old French art de vivre is still there. It's an ideal. It's a bit like the ideal of an English gentleman. You don't often find an English gentleman, but the ideal is there and it informs society as a whole. It is the same with our art de vivre. Of course times have changed, but it still survives. It is that feeling you get in France that in human relations we need to do more than just conduct business. We have a duty to entertain, to converse. And in France - thanks to our education system - we still have that ability to converse in a general, universalist way that has been lost elsewhere.

That is the art de vivre. It is about taking your time. And wine is part of it, because with wine you have to take your time. After all, that is one of the great things about wine. You can't swig it.

Does the France of romantic ideals, the image of the romantics in berets, lounging in a café along the Seine with a cigarette and glass of wine even exist? Does that whole idea that wine remains a common drink of the people, when workers on a lunch break would pop in for un verre de vin rouge, remain relevant? Clearly, not anymore. Modern society simply doesn’t allow for it – no one can afford to slow down and take it easy anymore. This isn’t to say that the old ways were better. Drunk driving is no joke. Nor is clinical depression. But there has to be a balance that can be struck, to actually enjoy ourselves instead of this non-stop hustle of can I meet this deadline, need to send the kids out to their lessons, what did I forget to put in the calendar??? Someone remind me what the point of all this is, why some of my friends are so eager to get married and have kids??!!

So I’ve been drinking more. No real surprise, but I’ve been settling on the classics, the sort of pure expressions of simple, classic cocktails. Martini, Old-fashioned, Manhattan … Gimlet, Tom Collins to deal with the citrus fruit after I finish with the peels. Lots of gin, lots of whiskey, lots of bourbon consumed. And you know what … I think I get it. I think I’m starting to understand why I’ve had this overnight, sub-conscious change in preference, from wine to cocktails. It’s instant satisfaction, isn’t it. It’s the ritual of preparing a cocktail, of carefully assembling not only ingredients but the process. You get exactly what you put in – unlike wine, which requires time, oxygen, whatever, to come around. A cocktail is an instant validation of whether the process has been correctly applied or not. Right. And the booze helps too. All this talk to try to intellectualize and justify why we like wine and cocktails, but all it really comes down to – the absolute truth of it all – is simply that we enjoy drinking. We like the euphoric feelings it gives us, how it makes us seem wittier, funnier, and generally more pleasant. And we like the late nights, when the mysteries of the universe seem to clarify and make sense … after the 5th round of course.

Wine is the subtlest, most civilized, most noble of anti-depressants. But cocktails aren’t that far behind.