Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tasting at Lailey Vineyard Wines

Tasting with Derek again!

I made what I expect to be my last visit to Lailey for a long, long time. It's been over a year since I was last here, which is criminal. These tastings with Derek are always a highlight of my Niagara trips. I feel like I know Derek's style, the Lailey style - but everytime, there's always a surprise. This time was no different. What more can I say about these wines? They remain a paradigm of elegance, soul, class, and above all, harmony. 

2012 Sauvignon Blanc: A bit grassy, lean and fresh. Really extracted here, wonderful texture. Great ripeness. A blend of 3 vineyards - Lailey, Legends, and Wismer fruit, 60% barrel ferment, 40% in tank. 

2012 Unoaked Chardonnay: Good fruit, fresh and tingly acidity, some lemon citrus.

2011 Brickyard Vineyard Chardonnay: Ripe and rich nose but in control, fresh and waxy. Great elegance, a bit of spice, well extracted.

2011 Pinot Noir: Earthy tar, mushroom, rose and cranberry. Classic here, with some weight. Sour cherry on the palate, great tight tannins. Always one of my favourite wines, a true hallmark of what Niagara pinot noir can be.

2011 3.7 Pinot Noir: A one-off. 2011 didn't produce fruit in either quantity or quality to be bottled as single vineyards, so Derek blended the 3 vineyards (read the label above), compromising a total of 7 barrels. More subtle minerality, good cherry fruit, elegant and lean.

2012 Gewurztraminer: 7 days ferment at 46°F for 3 months on skin contact. The second vintage of this varietal for Derek. Floral and aromatic here, but as Derek says, palate is falling off and slightly under-developed. Would be interesting to see this again in 2-3 years. Low alcohol (for the varietal), giving a distinct and very different character than expected.

2011 Merlot: On the aroma, graphite minerality and dark fruit. Good depth and some sweetness on the palate, tight here. 100% estate fruit, bottled recently.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: Slight jamminess here, dark fruit, lean but surprisingly round on the palate. Great tightness on the finish. 100% estate fruit.

2011 Syrah: Slight pepper on the nose, jammy with some sweet fruit and oak. Elegant, soft tannins, showing a more rounded, friendlier style of syrah. A character of the vintage.

2011 Petit Verdot: Yet another surprise varietal. Jammy here, ripe and raisin-y. Almost reminds you of port. Picked at 22.7 brix, nearly 15.5% potential alcohol. Big tannins.

2012 Malbec (from cask): Dark and big at the moment, with good sweet fruit. 120 cases total, with 6 barrels used for blending.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tasting at Pearl Morissette Estate Winery

Last year, I attended an event hosted by ApéroChic to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau. And yes, today's Nouveau is actually drinkable. Seems so long ago, but time does fly don't it. The event was held at Toronto's Spoke Club, where I met its sommelier, Ludo. Ludo insisted that I needed to visit Pearl Morissette and have a taste. "They are very interesting wines," he said.

After tasting with Wes Lowrey, I made an unannounced stop at Flat Rock Cellars to take a quick look at their latest releases - the wines remain fresh, vibrant, and fun. But the main event was my appointment at Pearl Morissette, to taste with Francois. The history, the beginnings, all that about Pearl Morissette can be found with a Google search, but what you really need to know is that Francois has pretty much free reign to do things his way. And whatever industry you're in, that's an incredibly enviable position to be in. Master of his domain, a fearless leader in full command.

And he's quite a character too. Strong personality, which sensibly enough, also explains his wines - after all, wine is as much a reflection of its maker as the land and climate it was born in. I had no idea what to expect. Ludo of the Spoke Club first brought my attention to these wines - he described them as natural wines but not quite. Having a hard time understanding what that meant, I went into the meeting still thinking that these were biodynamic wines made in that fresh, vibrant style typical of most other producers in the area who make those same claims.

I was so fucking wrong.

The wines are unlike anything I've ever tasted. Yes, they're biodynamic. Yes they follow the principles of natural wine. But at the same time, they're neither - they defy all categorizations, all sorts of tidy groupings of what I thought wines were. They were at once pure and focused, elegant and full of finess; yet suddenly turning wild and untamed, a formidable caged beast. I had a tough time wrapping my head around them. Still not sure exactly how to even describe what I tasted. Francois took me around the property. They also raise cattle and chicken here, although the focus is clearly on pigs - look at those beauties. A litter born just weeks earlier, fed entirely on vegetables and grape pomace, zero animal protein. These are a hearty breed, able to withstand the harsh winter with nothing more than a n open wooden shed for shelter. They live a happy, healthy life.

Also at the tasting was the chef of Toronto's Splendido restaurant, and one of his former cooks. A windy day, we were led inside the geothermic-powered cellar, where we saw a few legs of ham hanging (an experiment at 1 years of age), including some of the equipment brought in. A new cement egg, as well as a 60+ year old oak foudre from Alsace. Once bottled, the wines remain unlabelled, resting in the perfect environment until they have a buyer (the labels are customized for each order). Francois' assistant, Ryan, then began pulling samples for us to taste.

They work with four varietals here: riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet franc. As we tasted each, across multiple vintages, Francois kept a running commentary going as we tasted, and I furiously tried to scribble down every word - as is the case when you're in the presence of an eminently quotable person, the wit and wisdom come at you like machine gun fire. I managed to catch a few - managed to get in a bit of tasting too. Some of the gems Francois dropped included:

Non-doctored wines allow for a level of mobility in the mouthfeel. 

Extended lees aging brings salinity, which with the acid makes it very food friendly.

Since we add no adjuncts, the only thing we can control is temperature.

We are enzymatic beings. If you slept a certain way, if you fucked your girlfriend today, your body will react a different way to the wine.

You never say THE or THE ONLY WAY for anything - there is no #1. There are several #1's!

Your preference is undiscussable.

Francois was adamant that he wasn't trying to be the top wine of Niagara, or the world - he dismisses the very thought of a 'best wine' as folly, since there is no such thing. Wines can only be different from one other, and that difference is what makes wine beautiful. The same goes for personal preferences. We don't need to justify what we find pleasurable, or distinctive. It is simply the wine that shows the best or most noticeable to us that day, in that moment. It may change the next time we taste the wine, because WE change. As Francois says, my mother and my daughter are both alive, but they're clearly very different.

So, the wines.

2012 Riesling: From cask, those Alsatian foudres. Really bright here, lean, slightly leesy. Pinpoint acidity, focus and elegance. Cheesy aroma, great extract. 20% of production kept back to see if they can age.

2011 Riesling (tank ferment): So much citrus fruit, extract like all hell breaking loose on your palate. My goodness, so much focused energy. Ripe lime aromas like you wouldn't believe, stony minerals, tight and linear. This was MY most outstanding of the tasting, and I asked to retaste it at the end. Mind-blowing in texture, energy, tension, and character. Riesling as I've never tasted.

2011 Riesling (barrel ferment): More subtle, some minerality, fresh but slightly closed. Palate is creamy, great acid, good fruit with the citrus coming up big on the finish.

2010 Riesling: Leesy here, bit richer, but acidity and minerality very present. Stainless steel ferment, went through full malolactic fermentation. Really high acid on finish, formidably extracted.

2012 Chardonnay: From cask. Bit closed, creamy but lean; good energy. Citrus and some of that oily citrus peel coming through on the dry extract.

2011 Chardonnay: Bottled 2 months ago. A more classic varietal nose here, creamy and round, lots of citrus. Lean and extracted.

2010 Chardonnay: More subtle, but oaky. Sweet with high acid, slightly less weight on the palate.

2009 Chardonnay: Not released. Elegant and fragrant, very subtle chardonnay, really extracted. As Francois says, a more 'vertical' wine as opposed to the horizontality of the 2010.

2011 Pinot Noir: So sweet and candied in aroma, but paradoxically, fruit is pure and fresh on the palate. Clean, fresh cranberry and rose petal character, finely structured and very tight.

2012 Cabernet Franc: Francois calls this 'a crawling toddler'. Bright fruit, ripe but very balanced. Pepper in the mouth, good fruit and very tight.

2011 Cabernet Franc: Francois calls this 'the best pinot we ever made in Niagara'. Ripe jammy fruit here, sweet and very round, extracted and tight, but fruit is quite open.

2010 Cabernet Franc: Fuller, riper, rounder and with more depth. Great concentration, ripe fruit, very dry and extracted.

So, as you can see from my notes, the hallmarks of the wines are great purity and focus in aroma, extract and structure on the palate. The older vintages have an incredible depth and expressiveness. Some of the wines have noticeable volatile acidity notes. The wines are, in Francois' words, made in a hands-off, non-interventionist way. I think that's actually the best way to describe them. Other than temperature and aging container, they do surprisingly little to the wines. They've built their own library of indigenous yeast cultures, and really let the wines go off on their own - in fact, there's a few barrels of 2012 chardonnay that's still not through with its primary fermentation (after 12 months!!).

Like the man, rule-breakers all around, but the wines have depth, they have soul, they have the spirit and strong will of the man behind them. It's simple to spout your ideals - it's far, far, far more difficult to actually bring them to life. Francois and Ryan make it happen. My mind is blown, my learning expanded - as always, gaining inspiration in Niagara.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tasting at Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards

Earlier this month, I went to visit Wes Lowrey of Five Rows Craft Wine, a beautiful little spot in Niagara. A multi-generational wine-growing family, they produce tiny amounts of wine under the Five Rows label. We met in the morning in their charmingly rustic barn along with noted wine writer Rick VanSickle, to taste their lineup of 3 whites and 3 reds. Their website gives a bit more information about their history. Wes is carrying on his family's heritage of grape growing in St. David's Bench, with the family deciding to produce small amounts of their own wine in 2001. The Lowrey's sell their fruit to some fantastic wineries, with Fielding Estate the one I know best.

Wes is doing some very interesting things. They label all their bottles by hand, assigning each a serial number. You can register this number on their website, and provide comments including tasting notes, how long you put it away for, what you drank it with ... truth to the notion that to truly understand how people drink wine, you have to go out and connect with them yourself. Because market research and retail sales figures can only tell you so much. Wes also doesn't like to brand the corks. At the moment, all the wines are bottled under cork, and Wes reports a very low level of TCA-taint. He feels that branding the cork with the Five Rows logo is unnecessary as the logo is already present on the label, and he wants to avoid another level of cork handling.

So, the tasting. I didn't know what to expect at all, but as usual, you try to look for certain things - varietal character, vintage character, regional specificities, overall balance and harmony, and structure. And all the wines showed brilliantly. I was so surprised to see wines that had so much depth and soul ... real complexity here. Very exciting stuff indeed. Wes is a big believer of single varietals over blends - to showcase true each varietals true personality. And while many winemakers give the same speaking points, what a rarity to come across one who's wines actually represent that ideal. Bravo!

2012 Sauvignon Blanc: 156 cases produced, 60% fermented and aged in 5-8 year old French oak barrels, 40% in stainless steel. Wes wants to plan more white varietals. He gets freshness from the stainless steel, tropical notes from the neutral oak. There's a blast of green aromas here, good juicy fruit, ripe citrus. Great acid on the palate, extracted and really dry, and an almost lemony finish clinging to the palate.

2012 Pinot Gris: 70-75% in oak for 6 months. Wes is looking for more weight on the palate to take the edge of the acidity. Lots of lees stirring, with some skin contact before pressing. A bit more tropical fruit here, some creaminess, very round - good fruit. Acid and tension, on an extracted finish. Wes adjusts his proportions of oak and tank depending on how each vintage acts.

2012 Riesling: This is Clone 49 (Alsatian clone), planted on the recommendation of other growers the Lowrey's consulted. Vines with 5-6 years of age. Wes doesn't worry about sugar levels in the whites - he says the challenge is always about managing the acidity. Waxy nose, slight creaminess, but very ripe. Slightly sweet palate, again that really well-extracted finish. 12% abv.

2010 Pinot Noir: Quite rich here, cherry, crushed roses, and almost mushroomy. Lean palate, cranberries, and noticeably hard(er) tannins, high acid on the finish. Two blocks of pinot noir planted - new block produces riper fruit, while old block has more of those "funky pinot notes". Old vine pinot noir goes to Leaning Post Wines.

2010 Shiraz: So the name. Shiraz or syrah? It says shiraz on the label because both clones planted (Clone 100 on sandy/loam soil over clay, Clone 7 on mostly clay soil) are Australian. But the style is clearly anything but, hence the impromptu label rewrite. All reds here get 24 months in French oak. Wes gets 4 new barrels every year, with 2 for pinot noir, and 1 each for cabernet and syrah. End production is about 1/4-1/3 in new oak. Good peppery notes, white pepper in particular, with slightly jammy fruit. Thick and concentrated, but fine tannins - very tight at the moment.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: Young block planted is Clone 169, with another block planted across the ravine a mix of 4 clones. Old block gives mid-palate texture and structure. Wes' annual struggle is "Can I get it ripe? We have to really thin it to give people an idea of what cab sauv does on its own in our terroir." Immediately darker, with graphite minerality aromas. Intense, tight and really structured, with almost ashy tannins.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Eugene says try harder son!

Fuck. Yesterday was a shitstorm. After such a high on Tuesday night, when I was invited to Bombay Sapphire's 1920's Cocktail Hour (photos and video from the event, soon). So a huge item on my to-do list is to apply for a Spanish student visa. And it's a huge pain in the ass already. And I've barely begun the whole awful process! Obscure instructions, check. Unhelpful Spanish lady on the phone, check. Questionable work ethic and sense of urgency, check.

Need to try harder son. It's like I have this mental block that's not allowing me to focus. The boozing certainly isn't helping. I've been told in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that I drink far, far, far too much. Well how else do I cope? You want to do this shit for me? Am I not allowed to have one, solitary vice? What, you think I want to live forever?! They say you shouldn't talk about death. But I think about death and dying all the time. A constant companion, Eugene is.

I'm wrapping up here ... Toronto, I mean. I need a change of scenery so fucking bad. From everything. Spain might turn out not to be the land of milk and honey I envision - shit, it might be the worst fucking mistake of my life. There's no turning back now. Not after I've submitted my form for a Police Clearance Letter that (should) reassure the Spaniards that no, I'm not an international criminal mastermind. Yet.

O, death
O, death
Won't you spare me over til another year
Well what is this that I can't see
With ice cold hands takin' hold of me

-Ralph Stanley, O Death


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

it all starts with the ice

We are a product of the values and principles that were taught, instilled, or otherwise beaten into us by our parents. I was taught at a very young age that commitments, once made, can never be broken. Say what you mean, mean what you say. And so I'd like to think that I'm above all a responsible person. Sometimes I wish I could just stop caring. I say it all the time - I don't give a shit no more, zero fucks given, I'm going to go get mine. But why can't I do it? I don't even believe myself when I say it anymore, so you know what - the only motherfucker I care about is me, these obligations I've created in my head are meaningless, I'm done with trying to be responsible. 

Staying true to oneself.

Right or wrong, you follow what your heart tells you and try to do your best. And my heart tells me that once I'm in Europe, once school starts, it'll all start making sense. The sacrifices I've had to make, the hardships I've put myself through for the last 18 months ... the pieces of the puzzle will all start coming together. 

Blocks to chip.

From Cocktail Kingdom, silicone ice molds that make 2 inch by 2 inch blocks of ice. A bit big to fit into the glass elegantly - besides, I'd rather not have ice cubes in my daiquiris or gimlets. So I chip them (using a sharp pair of scissors as a pick) into my shaker. Just be careful of skewering the hand that's holding the ice. If you like a single big ice cube for your on the rocks drinks, larger glassware helps. But I don't have large (enough) glasses and I sure as shit am not going to go buy anymore, so a bit more effort is needed than simply dropping the ice in. I remove two of them from the mold, and they go into my Yarai mixing glass. Fill with water and stir quickly. What you're doing is melting off the outer layer which 1) cleans the ice, 2) reduces its size, and 3) improves its clarity. Then into the glass with a pair of tongs, awaiting to be anointed with the libation of your choice.

Chill your heart, numb it with ice - and go on and do what needs to be done.


Monday, June 24, 2013

keeping myself occupied

It's been a busy few days at work and otherwise. But you know, keep yourself occupied, in body and mind. My Yarai mixing glass broke, the bottom just simply coming off. Heartbroken again - that's twice in a month. Can't hardly take it anymore, but did get in touch with Cocktail Kingdom, and they graciously sent me a replacement. A new seamless Yarai. What a class and quality establishment ... I am now a CK customer for life.
It's been warming up in Toronto. Reached a milestone.
Including our first time grilling this year! Lobster on sale, halved (after a proper Christian death) and seared quickly on the shell, with all the smoky, savoury flavours I've been dreaming about. Discount rib steak though, not nearly as pleasurable. Mojitos and the odd Jura chardonnay alongside.
Nearly blew out my blender, but did manage to figure out how to do crushed ice to make Mint Juleps for the first time! Maker's Mark Bourbon rising to the occasion - fresh yet with depth, great for after a meal.
What an exciting run of NBA playoffs games this year. The Finals were, in my opinion, one of the best series of basketball I've ever watched. The Spurs couldn't get it done, but they had multiple opportunities to win. It's what happens sometimes right? You can prepare all you want, you can have all the experience, everything going for you - but if it's not meant to be, well, you simply have to keep trying. There is no such thing as inevitability. There is, however, the joy of drinking 32 ounce schooners of Coor's at Boston Pizza and cheering at every made play so hard you lose your voice at halftime.
I haven't had proper beef in a long time. So I went all Paleolithic and got a 5.5 pound rib roast. Three portions of aged beef goodness. Many thanks, Pusateri's, who was even kind enough to vacuum wrap it for me. In the freezer for next week.
 A quiet night at home, hiding. From what? You tell me. What better way, at 2am, to break in my new seamless Yarai than with an Old-Fashioned. Demerara sugar cube, saturated with Angostura Bitters, Orange Bitters, and a dash of water. Muddle, and add your ice. Two ounces of Maker's Mark Bourbon, stirring until ice cold. Pour over fresh ice, finishing with an orange and lemon twist.
That time of year again for my buddy's annual birthday barbecue. What a year it's been ... time really flies. So we keep going as best as we can. Happy birthday Stallion!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

comfortable in your arms

2005 August Kesseler Riesling Spätlese | QmP Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg | Rheingau
2011 Studert-Prüm Riesling Kabinett | QmP Graacher Himmelreich | Mosel

It feels so good to be in your arms - your warm embrace, your soft, feminine touch, the fragrance emanating out of every pore of your being. You're comforting, nurturing, seductive. I can't get you out of my mind. You rock my world yet remain an enigma, defying labels and generalizations. Just when I think I start understanding, getting it, you throw something new at me and I start all over again. But I love it like that. Keeps me on my toes.

From the Rheingau to the Mosel, two wines that challenge what you think you know about German riesling. The August Kesseler, a wine that blends sensuality and steeliness, a femme fatale. Ripe tropical notes, mango and papaya, with a most peculiar and unique floral scent, all underlined with a beautiful layer of dry extract. And the Studert-Prüm, always one of my favourite Mosel wines. Racy and pure, this 2011 Graacher Himmelreich is quite ripe for a kabinett. But again, that underlying acidity and minerality making the wine. Happiness.

So we come to the same question as before - can we enjoy a wine on both a sensual as well as intellectual level? In this case, a resounding yes. These wines give so much pleasure, yet offer such a profound vinous experience ... a perfect wine? Or as close to it in the glass as it gets. It's a wine that the most rudimentary of tasters enjoy - it's also a wine that stimulates and excites the most experienced of us. And yes, riesling works like a charm when you're trying to impress your lady friends. When we drink, we drink first for pleasure. But we also drink because wine elevates us, turns us into travelers, philosophers, poets, and horndogs. Whatever works for you.


Monday, June 17, 2013

revelling in mediocrity

2010 Michele Chiarlo Le Orme | DOCG Barbera d'Asti Superiore
2001 Balbas Reserva | DO Ribera Del Duero

We all think we're special, that everything we touch is gold ... that our shit don't stink. But really, we're not. As one of our family friends say, we're all mostly ordinary - and happy being in our ordinary-ness. How many of us know someone who's truly a world-class talent, a true visionary? I don't know any, despite what motherfuckers want to post on Facebook. Then again, I didn't go to private school. Am I capable of something extraordinary? Chances are no. But we do the best with what gifts we're given, and make a good life for ourselves the best we can.

The wines are mediocre. And I'm a bit drunk right now, so fuck tasting notes. There is no character reminiscent of Barbera, of Ribera. They're both red wines ... if you get what I mean. And so we move on. Money down the drain, I suppose, but you never know until you commit to it, innit.

There's nothing wrong with mediocrity, with being happy with what you have. But for those of use with natural ambition to go out and really push and take risks ... we're never happy, or try not to be happy. Never settling, never taking a break, never this is what my life is going to be for the next 40 years. Fuck that. And fuck me if I ever start thinking like that. I was raised better - I'd like to think that I'm a better breed than that. It's funny, when you look at these people in possession of these old, pedigree-filled regions that instead resort to just doing well enough. You can do better, if not only for the sake of being


Sunday, June 16, 2013

fulfilling obligations

Still playing catch-up. A few weeks ago, we had family friends over for dinner. We take turns, and it was our obligation turn to host. Out to the market in the morning, picking up the most amazing live B.C. spotted prawns, among other things.
We shared my (school) news with everyone. No one cared. Not a single fuck given. But it's cool, I wouldn't have cared either. We can smile and act all nice, but at the end of it all, we all need to be selfish to survive here. My first chance to drink some rosé this year, and one of my favourites - the Mas des Bressades Cuvée Tradition from the Costières de Nîmes. Fresh, vibrant, and finely structured.
I got into a fight that night. Actually, not a fight. A spirited argument over parking improperly in our condo's very limited visitor parking lot. I was drunk and aggravated. Who cares if it ended up in a real fight - one would end up in the hospital, the other in jail. I was so drunk, my opponent so cunt-ish, that really, I didn't care. The running theme of the night I suppose. So now that this dinner is all done and over with, maybe it's time to finally consider my own. Two more months to go. Hope everyone's having a great weekend!


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Belon from Maine

Sometimes other people dictate what you eat. Not on purpose, mind you ... not in that EAT THIS OR ELSE kind of way. But you want to share your love of certain foods with the people that mean the most to you, and it's a bit of a cramp when they just don't get it. I love seafood. I love shellfish. And I try to corner any chance I've got to eat oysters. Belon oysters from Maine.
A quick snip of the rubber band, a quick turn of the oyster knife ...
... and you reveal the most creamy, saline, textural oyster. And what to drink alongside? A Martini of course. Dash of orange bitters, splash of vermouth, and gin. Stirred until ice cold, finished off with a lemon twist.


Friday, June 14, 2013

out with the old, in with the new

You have to make room for new things in your life. 'Twas true when I first met her; it still holds true now, except in reverse. A fact of life. So when I broke my Courvoisier (branded) Boston shaker, I was sad, if only for a moment. But that sadness quickly turned to excitement, when I realized I could finally add the finishing piece I needed (for now) to my bar kit.
A 3-piece shaker, as preferred by the Japanese style of cocktail-making. So I can learn how to hard shake and all that. Is it wrong/strange/totally out of character that I've been so much more inspired by cocktails than wine recently? I thought my last tasting trip to Niagara would set my mind straight a bit, but if anything, it's muddled even further. So many different opinions - strong opinions - about how to make wine, how to approach wine, what wine is. More questions than answers, which I suppose is the whole point in wine - to continue to ask questions, to continue to expand your understanding of the subject. But sometimes it can just be so tiring. In contrast, there's nothing ambiguous about a well made cocktail. No, its entire purpose is to give pleasure, to instantly reward the effort expended to make it just so. Out with the old and in with the new.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

running around Toronto

A few weeks ago, I went out to interview with a certain French business school. The interviews were very involved - not only did I have to interview twice, with two different people, I had to prepare a 10 minute presentation for each, topic of my choice. The first one, in the lobby of the Royal York Hotel. Dark with big, soft armchairs everywhere ... smells like money. #OMCMB baby.
After my first interrogation interview, I had about 3 hours to kill, so I wandered over to St. Lawrence Market. I remembered that a shop in the basement sold Fee Brothers bitters. And I found it! Lively Life Fine Foods, carrying the most amazing selection. $11 for a bottle of orange bitters.
Probably shouldn't admit to this, but I did go for a pint at C'est What. Appropriate before an interview or not, this was my second one of the day, it was hot and humid outside, and let's be real, this is David Fang in a fucking nutshell - they want you to be real for these interviews right? Just keeping it real. And yes, a local IPA-style brew, delicious and all kinds of satisfying.
Exhausted, but made it out to the Broadview Rooster Coffee House for my second interview. So many hipsters here my head hurts. Looked totally out of place in a white shirt and suit. Gave my little presentation again - much smoother second time around - and had a great conversation. Ended late, and didn't get home until very late. So beat, but I think I did a good job mixing business and a bit of fun into one day. Side note: I got my acceptance from the school a few days ago.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

cheering me up

2007 Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay | VQA Twenty Mile Bench | Niagara
2007 Malivoire Chardonnay | VQA Niagara Escarpment | Niagara

My friends are true to my heart - a simple dinner and get-together, but it meant so much more to me. When you come off a break-up, no matter the circumstances, you just want to be cocooned in love and be surrounded by your friends. I can't say enough about what my buddies have meant to me. I bitch and moan like a fucking 15 year old girl, but you guys know where my heart's at.

We gathered for dinner, a huge 2-bone rib roast waiting for us. You slice it into two steaks, and remove the bone to cook separately. A dream, tender and beef-y, with all the fat marbling you could hope for in Canadian beef. And what do we drink with it? No red wine. Fuck that. I wanted to drink my chardonnays. I had pulled a pair of 2007's from my cellar, wines I've been holding onto for nearly 5 years. Both from Niagara, so all bets are off - no idea what to expect. And besides, I had a shitload of gin and rum at the ready, in case things went south.

The Flat Rock, good varietal wine, lean and not much in terms of depth, but a good, dependable wine. The Malivoire was the surprise. I recall the last bottle I had of this wine ... borderline undrinkable, and I never find alcohol undrinkable. Age has definitely given it a harmony and a maturity that was completely unexpected. The oak is an integrated part of the wine instead of a fucking sideshow, and there's even a mineral element underlining everything. Palate all shows as proper. Good.

You never know, do you. You try to picture how things work out in your head, and then reality pries your ass open and does the dirty. You do the best you can with what you have. That's my philosophy, my guiding light. I try to keep my head up, eyes open - but I do have bad eyesight. 


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

out looking at bistro tables

A month ago, I saw a display in a mall window of a patio table and chair. It turned out to be a Fermob. Beautiful, no? You just know when you see something that fits you, fits what you are. No compromising, no rationalizing - sometimes we just have to run with our hearts.
That is, unless finances come into play. A patio set from IKEA, at 1/5 the price of the Fermob. A downgrade? Perhaps. But we can't always get what we want, can we. 
Gelato and good coffee is always a nice consolation. Back to work after a week off. My last stretch. Looking to hang out with my friends a bit more now that this will be my last summer in Toronto for a long time. But I still miss her. You run on your feelings, your emotions, and hope that you're making the right call. But why is it so fucking hard? The sound of her voice, the smell of her hair, the way her mouth curls when she smiles. Someone tell me why despite my best intentions, I always end up face down hugging the blanket. Gelato and coffee. And alcohol ... lots and lots and lots of alcohol.


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Decision 2013

Umm, in this fall ... man, this is very tough.

In this fall, I'm going to take my talents to Barcelona and join the University of Navarra's IESE Business School as an MBA candidate.

That was the conclusion I woke up with after months of agonizing about where I'm going to spend the next two years of my life. Like I said before, I feel like IESE is going to give me the best opportunity to change my life now, and change the next 30, 40, 50 years of my life. I mean, I'm looking forward to it. To say it was always in my plans ... I can't say it was always in my plans because I never thought it was possible. But after the application process with IESE, and all the things the organization has done since, it was hard to turn them down. Those are some great people I met, and, you know, you add me, we're going to be a really good team.

All silliness aside, this has been a really tough decision, and something I've worked for the past 17 months towards. It wasn't a decision that I took lightly - in fact, this was possibly the most anxiety-inducing decision I've ever had to make. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility, as my decision would have consequences that would determine my career, my life, and many other people as well. While at several points of this process I was deeply concerned about the effect this decision would have on others, at the end of it, I had to put my goals first. I'm at a pivotal moment in my life, at the age of 27 - I'm young, but not young. The time to get things going is now. 

I want to thank my friends and my family, loved ones, for all the support. I started this process in January 2012 with no real end game planned - just an understanding that studying for, and earning a high GMAT score was the first step. That came and went, and then the applications started. Seven in total - seven schools, each with their own requirements, their own essays, their own ordeals. Months of work, of edits, of hair-pulling, not to mention all the application fees paid ... and then the only thing left to do was to wait. And I fucking hate waiting. That feeling of helplessness, of someone else deciding your fate - nah son, I don't do well with that. But after being invited to interviews, and the Assessment Day in New York, here we are. 

And now the real work begins. This decision has already exacted a heavy price, personally. I don't know what the future has for me, what I'll find in Barcelona. But I just have to be brave, to go after that adventure and dream.


Friday, June 7, 2013

the two pinot noirs

2008 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir | VQA Twenty Mile Bench | Niagara
2008 Hunter's (Jane Hunter) Pinot Noir | Marlborough | New Zealand

These two pinot noirs are a great example of that New World style that's all love, simply unconditional love. Clean varietal aromas and flavour, very pure, very middle of the road. Maybe that's a bad thing, to be too clean. But sometimes all you want is a wine to be a pleasant dinner companion. 

If this past month has taught me anything, it's that I'm a deeply, deeply emotional person. I always knew that, but my life's kind of boring - nothing's really brought out my inner diva. But yes, the end of a relationship brings out all the histrionics, all the emotive actions of an emotionally fragile, introverted, incredibly flawed individual. I apologize to my long-suffering friends who've had to deal with me these past few weeks, because I've been fucking insufferable. And that's when I'm sober. One of my buddies told me that initially, he always thought of LCF as being just wine talk. But lately it's been reading like the diary of a 15 year old girl. I protested, but deep down, I knew he was right. It's like the morning after a heavy night of drinking. You just have to let it all out to feel better.

What were we talking about. Right. New World pinot noir. It's so, so, so wrong to generalize about these wines, but at least these two bottles adhere to that non-offensive style of red wine. Clean, slightly stemmy fruit, not much in way of depth or texture, but otherwise a decent wine on the table. The Flat Rock 2008, a wine I've had many, many times, and actually really enjoyed. But read what I wrote. I cringe in embarrassment ... maybe, just maybe, I was a little too enthusiastic about it. Just a step in my wine education, and proof that the palate changes with experience. The wine has settled down, developing a more subtle, even-toned aroma. Red fruit still there - still some energy here. That tell-tale light red colour, pale almost. Texture is a bit more elegant, although I would never describe this wine as elegant. Simply a more calmer wine, compared to a few years ago. The Jane Hunter, a bit jammier, more overt ripe fruit aromas. Bigger, but only relatively - this is still a lean example of pinot noir. Good, juicy palate, some sweetness.

I want to get over this, to feel normal again. To go to Europe and to school this fall with a sense of optimism and excitement, to find that adventure I've been craving. Is that so bad? Is that so selfish?


Thursday, June 6, 2013

wrapped in its warm embrace

2007 Dr. Hermann Riesling Spätlese | QmP Urziger Würzgarten | Mosel
2005 August Kesseler Riesling Spätlese | QmP Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg | Rheingau

My head is spinning a bit. Tired, feeling lazy, raining outside. Spent a day in Niagara yesterday, meeting a lot of new people, tasting a lot of new wines. A great day, and felt very inspired again, but today comes the hangover. I guess I do better with routine, as much as I think of myself as a wild, hedonistic badass. All about balance right? Exhausted after tasting at 4 stops, and hours on the road, but did manage to make it back to Toronto in good time. Went out to an izakaya for a beer and some snacks for a bite, before finishing the last 1/3 of a bottle of vintage port I had in the fridge. It's all about moderation ... besides, I was spitting all day (that's what she said).

When I'm feeling down, when I feel like shit's stacked against me, a glass of a wine that hugs instead of growls at you is the first thing that comes to mind. Actually, no, alcohol isn't top of mind when I'm confronted with problems, but it does help. For my interview with a certain business school in Paris (got my acceptance letter today btw), I was asked to deliver an original presentation. So naturally, I presented my philosophy on wine appreciation; that is, our capacity to enjoy and appreciate wine on both a personal and intellectual level. We experience wine on a very cerebral level, and so of course our mood dictates what and how we drink. And when I'm in a foul temper, I want a wine that embraces and wraps me up in a cocoon of love.

German riesling. 'Nuff said? The Dr. Hermann, showing so open and expressive already for such a tight, structured vintage - all the charm of the Urziger Würzgarten vineyard. The August Kesseler, with ripe, petrol aromas emerging, with a most particular tropical fruit character on the palate (papaya?). Still a baby though, with a long life ahead.

Last day of my week off tomorrow. A lot of housekeeping to be done, and not altogether looking forward to it, but time to get to work. Can't be crying over her forever, right?


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

falling short of expectations

2007 Pier Vila Riserva | DOCG Barbaresco 

It's important to have expectations. They're different than prejudices - expectations in wine are objective because they're based on experience, both your own and of established wine authorities. So it's absolutely fair when you buy a wine to expect certain things consistent with the label, vintage, varietal, region, price ...

And Barbaresco certainly carries certain expectations. I suppose I could go on and bash it, take a deuce on its head. But I know the feeling, and it isn't pleasant. So I'll just say that the Pier Vila tastes like red wine ... no more, no less.

I have the entire week off, and so far, it's been eventful. Much better than my last week off from work last month. Monday night, watching game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with the group. Learned what a 'schooner' of beer is: mini pitchers, holding just under 2 pints each. After downing nearly 3 of them, well, you can imagine the carnage Tuesday morning. Stumbled downtown to go to Tap Phong Trading Company again in Chinatown, to pick up a paring knife. Lunch at a dirty pho joint (aren't all the good ones?), before we got out and walked to Yorkville. I needed a suit - I literally can't button the pants on my d'Urban suit anymore. I really loved it too. Bought in 2008 in Tokyo, at a made to measure sale. Even has D. Fang sewn in the left interior jacket pocket. But I found a suit today that fits beautifully, and was on sale. Double win.

Niagara today! Meeting with Wes Lowrey of Five Rows Craft Wine and Francois Morissette of Pearl Morissette for the first time - very excited to learn and see what they're doing. And of course, ending the day at Lailey Vineyards with Derek Barnett. If anything can clear my head and drag my ass out of this slump, it's a day in wine country, amidst the dirt and vines, acid and tannin ...


Monday, June 3, 2013

Thirty Bench Winemakers - a table full of riesling

Top: 2007 Thirty Bench Riesling
Bottom: 2008 Thirty Bench Riesling

So a bit over a month ago, before all this bullshit mindfuck went down, a small of group friends gathered at my place for dinner. I was turning 27, and wanted to celebrate what looked to be my last birthday in Toronto for a few years at least. And it was a fantastic night. We cooked some of my favourite dishes, Shanghai classics. And on the table, a lineup of Thirty Bench rieslings I pulled from my cellar. These bottles have been sitting there for nearly 5 years now, and I was looking forward to seeing how they'd do with some age. The wines are lean in their youth, with an intriguing petrol/lanolin cream minerality showing quite prominently on the nose. Interesting, well-extracted wines. There are 4 distinct rieslings produced here - a blended riesling (from all the vineyards), and 3 single-vineyard bottlings. The point of this exercise was to see if each vineyard's specific characters would emerge in a clearer way with bottle age.

Starting with the pair of entry-level blends - the 2007 coming from that well-documented hot Niagara vintage, producing wines of great concentration and ripeness. The 2008 vintage, almost the complete opposite. I've drank a lot of both these wines, and always came away happy. But this was a very surprising start to the tasting. The '07 riesling showing little development - still with that lean citrus, lanolin minerality. Palate is nice, good fruit and a touch of sweetness. The '08 riesling showing good fruit, creaminess, and elegance - intensity and good amounts of extract.
Top: 2008 Thirty Bench Wood Post Vineyard Riesling
Bottom: 2007 Thirty Bench Wood Post Vineyard Riesling

Moving onto the single vineyard wines, we start with the Wood Post Vineyard rieslings. I always think of these as a bit more overtly fruity in their youth; tropical fruits, softer acidity. The '08 Wood Post had a bit of reduction which blows off. A creaminess, round, but so little fruit. Finishing bitter, a bit cloying, falling apart - not much here. The '07 Wood Post was open and soft, balanced with a touch of sweetness remaining. Lemon fruit, lots of lanolin minerality, good extract.
Left: 2008 Thirty Bench Steel Post Vineyard Riesling
Right: 2007 Thirty Bench Steel Post Vineyard Riesling

Look at those production numbers listed - 256 cases of the 2008, 264 cases of the 2007. The cynic in me says that these single vineyard bottlings are more the product of marketing decisions rather than terroir expression, but the Steel Post has always been my favourite riesling. Yes, they charge you a premium for the privilege, but these rieslings always seem more linear, more angular, more mineral ... steelier, for lack of a better word. The '08 Steel Post is a bit reticient, with some underlying fruit. Textural finish, some good depth and intensity, yet lots of finesse. Best palate so far. The '07 Steel Post is vigorous, well extracted, but a bit coarse. Some sweetness, but palate ends slightly bitter.
Left: 2005 Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard Riesling
Right top: 2008 Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard Riesling
Right bottom: 2007 Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard Riesling

This is sort of the flagship wine. Triangle Vineyard seems to be the biggest riesling they produce, although 'bigger' is a relative term. We're talking extreme subtleties between all the wines here - one of my buddies flat out said I can't taste a single difference between all of these. And maybe he's right. The '08 Triangle is the most complex so far - smokey, savoury notes, brooding with good depth. Good fruit, not bright but elegant, fresh and ripe. Almost tropical here - papaya? Open and balanced, good sweetness, delicious. The '07 Triangle, rustic and almost all oily, lanolin aromas. Some sweetness and extract on the palate, not much fruit. Disappointing. And finishing with my oldest bottle, the '05 Triangle. And it just tastes old, that weird kind of Niagara old that's just ... weird. Petrol overriding here, almost no fruit, lean with some mineral interplay on the palate. No life here. If wine had an expiration date, this bottle reached it 3 years ago.

So what did this tasting teach us? That the wines aren't as age-worthy as I originally thought? And even in the instances where the wines were holding up, the overriding feeling is what's the point? Very little in way of development, of the wines gaining in nuance or depth or character. The 2007's, from that much hyped vintage, were a disappointment all around. Fruit fading fast, sugar and acid not really coming together, alcohol starting to stick out in a lot of them. The 2008's definitely a bit better. Fruit staying fresher, more elegant on the palate. 

Over-generalizations are always a bad idea, but maybe the point of these wines (New-World whites) isn't to be age-worthy. We put wines away to allow them to achieve greater harmony, complexity, texture, and depth. But it seems these wines are meant to be consumed within a few months of bottling, when they obviously show as more energetic and fuller in the sense of flavour and body. So maybe I'm approaching these wines from the completely wrong angle. In any case, an interesting look at one of the best riesling producers of Niagara.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

the things that can happen in a month

So, no secret that I've had a rough month. Busy at work, and finalizing things for school - yet another interview with a business school in Paris (guess which). But that wasn't the anvil dropping on my head. No, I can handle work, can handle all of that - it's what's going on personally that I'm struggling with. It's been a shitstorm man, and I feel so swept up in its gale-force winds that I don't know which way is up. Yes, it's not exactly becoming to air my shit out like this, but I always did have a tendency to over-share here. Fuck it. Not like I have much of a reputation to uphold anyways.

I try my best to be a careful, responsible person, and to always do things the right way, to do the right thing. Does it always make what I say or do good and ideal? Clearly, it doesn't. Intentions can be pure, but the consequences of my words and actions sometimes go on divergent paths. And I don't know what to do, because as several friends have said, you can rationalize all you want, but feelings are feelings; you can't help them. So I carry on as best as I can, and try to act responsibly with everyone's best interests in mind. Was it right for me to step away from my relationship given the circumstances? I don't know. But we go on from the situation and try to make the best of things moving forward.

A month. That's all it took, for so many things to happen. May started on such a high note - I was just coming off a great birthday with my friends, and had the week off from work. Relaxing, eating out, and managed to squeeze in a short tasting trip to Niagara as well. And then, poof ... there is no manual for this kind of thing, is there. Everyone has their piece of advice to give, their words of wisdom, but for better or worse, I just need to deal with this on my own terms. 

So enough of the fucking emoting. Let's get to work, because there's a shitload of important decisions that have to be made soon, and lots of items on the checklist. I have next week off, and will make my decision, officially, about which business school I will be attending. Making another tasting trip to Niagara as well - most likely, this will be my last one for a long, long time. And most of all, to spend time with my family and friends - my loved ones - because come the fall, who knows when I'll get the chance to do so again. I remain a fool, but I also remain hopeful.