Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Feliz año nuevo!

DF Profile - BW
I'm in Madrid, celebrating my first new years away from home, away from family. And it feels fantastic. It's freezing out, but I'm with classmates and friends, and we're about to head out to Puerta del Sol to wait for the countdown. Got a huge cluster of grapes ready, with a quick bite and beers to drink as we wait in the cold. Going to be a fun night.

I feel in two places, but at home in each. Wishing all the best for the new year to my friends, old and new, in Canada and Spain. Optimism and hope, only the best things in 2014.


As 2013 comes to a close

Reflection time. What a year it's been. Really, what a year. I knew, even in December of last year, that 2013 was going to be a big one, an important one. I had just finished sending off 4 applications to US business schools, with not even a thought about Europe as a possible destination. I was on a high, really, having spent about 6 months preparing my resume, all those essays, my references, even a few 'tell-me-about-yourself' videos. I was optimistic, and at the time, really hoping to go to New York.

The new year started on a bad note. Personal things, you see. Let's just say that I've learned, once and now always, to trust my friends without reservation. Without doubt. It was a long winter, snowy, and through February, I felt rudderless. I was angry that America wasn't working out, and I knew that I had to figure out something - working for another year wasn't an option. Yet where? I wasn't going to entertain the thought of applying to a second-tier school. Never once, for a second, did I consider that. And then, the World MBA Tour came to Toronto in early February. It seems so long ago, I don't even remember if that was when I started looking at Europe. I suppose this place has always been in the back of my head - that I would look to the best schools here if NYU wasn't going to come knocking. I met with IE, HEC Paris, Insead, Esade, among others ... and slowly a new action plan began coming together.

I didn't meet IESE before applying. Truth be told, I didn't even hear about the school. But having a one-on-one discussion with IE's North American admissions gave me a great feel for studying in Spain, and the quality of schools here. I think it was past midnight one of those nights, when I looked up the other Spanish business schools, and somehow, even just looking at the website, something about IESE seemed right. So I applied. Another 3 applications sent out, and amazingly, all 3 asked for an interview. So, a trip to New York to attend IESE's Assessment Day, and it's still true now as it was then - something about the school just felt right. Decision through intuition, and my intuition has never been more spot on.

I got my admissions offer from IESE in mid April. What an amazing feeling. It was early morning, just as I had finished breakfast and was about to go to work. My mom was on the phone with my aunt, and I was doing a routine email check before heading out when the email came in. All I saw was 'congratulations', and I pretty much exploded in screams and fist pumps. My mother didn't get why I was so excited - she didn't really understand the significance of that moment. Reading through 2012, what do I write about the most? Besides bitching about GMAT studying and applications, it's about this dream I had, this goal I was working towards. It was about changing my life. And that acceptance letter was my one legitimate chance to change my life. Of course, being me, I calmed myself and drove to work. I finally said goodbye to Dalbar on July 5, ending nearly 5 years of service with the firm. Lots of projects accomplished, lots of memories there, and lots of important things learned.

So, with acceptance letter in hand (most importantly from IESE but also from the other 2 European schools), I had a great 27th birthday. After my last day at work, I had a great summer wandering around Toronto. Lots of drinks, lots of dinners with friends - spending time with people who mean the most to me, who've been incredibly supportive since before I began the GMAT. So, summer came and went, and I was packing for the first truly big move of my life. I was beginning a life in Barcelona, and I couldn't find a place for my wine stems nor my cocktail gear. Tragic, but I knew that with all the great things Europe was going to offer me, the focus was always going to be on academics and career. And what an incredible 4 months it's been. I've met so many new people, made so many friends - I've seen so many new things, tasted amazing new food and drink. It's been a dream come true.

And what about wine and LCF? Of course, UGC Bordeaux in January, pouring the 2010's. Wines of great breed and elegance. And then a California tasting, giving me the opportunity to meet some of the grand icons of Cali including Gary Eberle and Josh Jensen. What happened that night after the tasting was pretty epic too. My last two trips to Niagara were great, getting to know some new producers, and touching base with old friends. I really miss those tasting trips the most. We tasted some interesting wines during the year. Emptied out some stuff from the cellar, some things I've had since undergrad. Always a great joy to open wines that are still alive, that are fully mature, and that have true character, especially with friends. And here in Barcelona, the journey continues, with a particular focus on Spanish wines. And the cocktails ... my goodness the cocktails. The gin tonics are everything a cocktail should be. Elegant, balanced, complex, and fresh. LCF also did a lot of events in Toronto before I left. Some cocktail events, a restaurant opening, a few tastings ... all those things that inspire me to continue working harder to find those stories, find those new angles to write about. 

Which finally brings me to IESE Wine & Spirits. I've never been very involved in school clubs. I've never found one that really excited me. Well, now I do, and what's even better, I get an opportunity to create a club in my own image. I get to create the mandate, I get to decide how it's run ... it's all my responsibility now. We've already done one (informal) tasting event, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Lots of love from my classmates, which is both confidence-building and incredibly humbling. So it's time to work and get IWS officially on its feet, so we can begin working to bring the wine (and spirits) industry to IESE.

What a year. What a year. Some of my favourite moments, in pictures and words ...

1. The Decision 2013

Not much else needs to be said here. Announcing The Decision 2013 was one of the best moments of my life. It was the culmination of more than a year of hard work and dedication, with the deep satisfaction of knowing that I was about to go on an adventure.

2. A year of personal development

A year of ups and downs - mostly ups. I've learned to be more disciplined, more organized, and also more caring and engaging. That's a good word ... engaging. To be more engaging with other people, and to be more engaged in what I'm doing. I've also learned how much Toronto means to me, how great it is that I had the upbringing that I had. And that yes, there's plenty of people here with more technical ability, more problem-solving and analytical skills - in short, more brilliant people than me. But there's something to be said about living with imagination and romance. Being a dreamer. Do I have those things? Maybe I'm still learning, but compared with 12 months ago, the change in the way I think and do things has been night and day.

3. IESE Wine & Spirits

This is the story that's just beginning. I knew I wanted to be a big part of a wine club here - what I didn't expect coming in was that I'd be the one creating the club. We've already a fantastic first tasting. And now that the club registration process has begun, exciting things are coming in the future.

4. Learning the cocktail

I drank a lot of cocktails this year. Made a lot of cocktails too. I mean, instead of asking a family friend to bring over practical items from Toronto like winter clothing or food, I asked them to bring over my cocktail gear. Priorities, son. Priorities. 2013 was a year of deciding I wanted to learn the way of Japanese bartending, assembling gear like the Yarai, and focusing on the classics.

5. Last dinners in Toronto

We don't go clubbing, but we do a lot of eating and drinking. I suppose we all have our quirks. I do like to keep these things small, because big groups devolve into bad cooking, cheap ingredients, and equally cheap wine. That's not how we roll. So, for my last Christmas in Toronto in a while, we opened a lot of old Rioja, we had a lot of home cooking. As my summer drew to a close in Toronto, we bid farewell to a few bottles I've had since undergrad - a bit sad, but we'll remember those meals with great fondness - wine doing as it should. With my best buddies, a last dinner before I left, a table full of LCJ and sushi. And finally, the night before Barcelona, a quiet thank you to my parents, with old Champagne and Barolo expressing what I never could with words.

6. Memorable wines

A year of simple wines, but a few stand out. A pinot grigio, reminding me to never, ever discount anything because of unjust prejudices. Izumi Ontario sake, always an absolute joy to drink. Pulling a few more of the 2006 LCJ's out to drink, and what beauties. A trio of old Niagara cabernets, full of memories of past dinners and crushes. A humble Bordeaux, but with depth and personality. And how could I forget, the bottle of Bandol that started all of this. 

But the most memorable - maybe not even just of this year, but of my entire wine drinking life - was a pair of wines from the Jura. One red, one white ... wines that excited, that amazed, that completely left me speechless. Confirming, through sheer force of spirit, why I love wine so much. 

7. California Legends and the last Niagara tasting trip

Tastings teach you two things - they sharpen your palate, of course, but they also give you greater insight into the people behind the wines, the human element. The California Legends tasting gave me that, in abundance. What an absolute pleasure and honour to meet so many grand personalities, people who've created the Californian wine industry. Truly legends. My last trip to Niagara allowed me a chance to visit Pearl Morissette for the first time, and meet Francois. What a man. What a man. Integrity and conviction, and a powerful character. This was also a great summer for #TeamLCF. Lots of events, lots of interesting new people met - much appreciation for the love.

8. London

I knew a big part of coming to Europe was going to be the opportunity to travel. What I wasn't counting on was my first destination being London. It was great, to be in one of the great capitals of the world. Lots of interesting things to see, quite nice to be back in an English-speaking country, and great food.

9. Barcelona gin tonics

This I knew about though, about Spanish gin tonics. Again, what was surprising was how good it would be. They truly are masters of gin, but more importantly, Barcelona has an extraordinary cocktail culture. There actually is no such thing as a bad gin tonic here. Yeah, you can roll your eyes about how simple of a cocktail it is, but taste one and tell me you're not amazed at how the gin tonic is elevated to something on an entirely different level here - fresh and bright, yet complex and savoury. Beyond using good spirits and tonic, it's all about the garnishes - matching them to the flavour profiles of the gin, and accentuating those dominant notes. 

10. New York in the spring

I've always loved New York. But now it has even greater significance for me. I was invited to IESE's NY Campus in the spring for the Assessment Day, and it went great. Had a chance to go out to a few of my favourite spots to eat and drink, and also spent some time with an old friend in an amazing, one-off Korean joint. A great, great few days in New York.

11. Eating through Barcelona

Whether it's the wines, the cocktails, the food, or the markets, Barcelona has been an eye-opening few months for this wino. Shellfish like I've never had before, fabulous gin tonics, and while not exactly friendly (or responsible) for a cash-strapped student, I'm plunging into it all headfirst.

12. First day of classes

To end it all off, the first day of classes was the most significant day of the year. Period. It was the official start of this whole adventure, the whole reason why I'm here. I was nervous, I was anxious ... but also incredibly excited. I felt a sense of control and optimism that I was sorely missing in my life. I'm here, in the right place, doing the right things, with the right people. Next year is only going to get better.


monuments, of all kinds

A grand capital of Europe, respledent in the trappings and symbols of Empire and authority, both divine and otherwise.
But there are other kinds of monuments too ...
... where one is as comfortable taking a coffee (or in our case, a 5pm breakfast) ...
... or emptying a plate of zamburiñas a la Gallega.


Monday, December 30, 2013

a first day in Madrid

Our first day in Madrid was great. Very cold, very windy, seemingly a world away from Barcelona ...
... but the culture here is undeniable. Started off with lunch then an afternoon spent at the Museo Nacional del Prado ...
... where we saw masterpieces ...
... we saw forms ...
.. to the point of total exhaustion, on 2 hours of sleep.
The Christmas spirit is strong here, in the lights ...
... in the streets ...
... and in the squares. Preparing for tonight, and as I said - we took it easy in the afternoon, so we can go hard tonight.


new discoveries, new thrills

It's been exciting so far in Madrid. So many new things to see, a new city to explore. It feels much different than Barcelona ... surprisingly different, and that's not to mention the freezing weather. A local friend took us here last night. La Venencia, the most amazing sherry bar. It's been the same since it opened, very pre-WWI in atmosphere with the dusty walls, faded posters, grumpy bartenders with big hands and handkerchiefs around their necks. And the wine ... my goodness the wine. I'll have to write about them later because I intend on going back sometime before we return to Barcelona. 

Excited to see what tonight will bring. Here's to keeping an open mind, and to drinking with reckless abandon!


Sunday, December 29, 2013

headed for an adventure

I've been in Barcelona for just over 4 months now. What an adventure so far. Following my first Christmas without my family, spending New Year's in Madrid. We fly this morning, and will stay there for 4 days. Lots to see and do - but more importantly - eat and drink. Let's go.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

going up Montserrat

We climb mountains to gain perspective, and in part, to see what we're made of.


the flaws in us all

2001 R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva | DOC Rioja

There is a lot of wine being made in this world. But what are the treasures? Who are the standard-bearers of history and tradition, of heritage and truth? This is one of them. Not much more needs to be said about this producer. But even with all the literature, even with all the column space devoted to it, how come this wine still has a sense of mystery, of excitement, of wisdom? There's still something in there that we can't quite describe, can't quite wrap our minds around. A deeper meaning than what we can understand at the moment.

Maybe what it is is what it isn't. This isn't a technically perfect wine. It's always a bit oxidized, there's always a slight bit of volatile acidity, in some vintages the brett shows a bit more ... but that's so utterly human, isn't it. The flaws in all of us are what makes us unique and worth getting to know. There will always be those who proclaim perfection, and there will always be us against it. There is no 'better' or 'worse' in wine, just like in people. There's only different. And if we can understand that and accept it - well, that's when true understanding of wine (and people) begin.

I'll never say a bad word against Lopez de Heredia. Elegant, ethereal wines, still with grip and tension, but fully mature. Strawberries and cream, that vibrant red fruit with the oak oxidation. At once fragile and sinewy. A real beauty. You know, one of the biggest things I've changed about myself coming here to IESE is to never judge people on first impressions. So many times, I've met people and thought damn, I have no intention of ever talking to that person again. But if I really talk to them - I mean really talk to them - you suddenly realize that these are amazing people, that I have quite a lot in common with, and who I quite enjoy spending time with. If only we can apply the same to wine.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Hay dos manchas ...

I've had some good drinks these past 2 weeks ...
... meeting some really cool guys ...
... and learning about some pretty cool new dishes (boquerones, pictured here) ...
... even finding a hot pot place here.
But what's satisfying ... what's been truly satisfying ...
... has been that home cooked surf and turf - the red meat, the sea snails, that beautiful carapace of crab back fat. All love, all love, all love. It's been a most extraordinary Christmas holidays thus far in Barcelona - the next 2 weeks are about to get a lot more interesting.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

the Spanish drink trough

Top: Lagar Cortina Sidra Natural | Amandi, Villaviciosa, Asturias
Bottom: Maeloc Sidra Dulce | Chantada, Lugo, Galicia

I am truly living the student life. I've gotten used to drinking a certain way, and although it was never by any means extravagant (I live in the sweet $15-18 spot), I was used to drinking wines across countries, always something to fit my mood. Living in Barcelona, well, you figure out quite fast that it's not so, because if you don't like Spanish wines, then you're out of luck. Although to be fair, the glory of European wine is in its diversity, but the funny thing is, as diverse and unique as the beverages from all these Spanish regions are, I still think there's a 'Spanish' style. And it's a lot more than its wine.

Wine is expensive here, despite what North Americans are lead to believe about Europe. Good wines, that is. Sure, sub 3€ wines can be incredibly drinkable, but if you're looking for something more - something with a bit more character - you're going to have to pay for the privilege. So as a poor student, we have to look elsewhere. Cider is a good option. One dry, one sweet, both with a distinct sense of place. Those pickled notes, those tart, bittersweet apple aromas, fantastic texture on the palate. Chilled down, absolutely delicious - so delicious I finished both bottles in one go.

One by one, I'm going to visit these places, see the vineyards, see the cellars, see the people and families behind these amazing drinks. I'm working on my application for a summer internship in one of the largest beer companies in the world, as well as finalizing my proposal for IESE Wine & Spirits Club. In both, it always comes down to my personal mandate of why I want to do this. It's far reaching (and probably day-dreaming), but my motivation to be in the business isn't so much the potential business opportunities as it is the responsibility of protecting the legacies and histories of these old wine regions and regional drinks. Globalization is fantastic, but it will be a very sad day indeed when we begin losing some of these utterly unique drinks because they don't fit the 'global palate'. Coming to Barcelona is the first step in realizing this dream. I think I'm up for the challenge.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Feliz Navidad!

Amigos, Feliz Navidad! Nursing the mother of all hangovers, but it just means that we had a good Christmas Eve. Funny, how things are done just a bit differently here in Spain. Maybe it's because I'm not with family, not doing those familiar Christmas things ... maybe it's just adjusting to life without case preparation. The fact that the internet is down in Toronto isn't helping either. There's Christmas spirit here, with the lights and all, but it takes more than lights to give you those warm fuzzies inside. But no complaints. Helped a friend cook Christmas Eve dinner, and we had a small party to celebrate, toasting to our new lives here, and to our new IESE family.

So, I've written up a proposal for a new wine club at IESE. I'm confident with it, that we'll do big things. The thing I've been thinking about most is our mandate. What exactly do I want IESE Wine & Spirits to achieve? Sure, we want our members to learn something, to increase their understanding of wines, spirits, cocktails, and beers. But we also want them to have fun, to be genuinely excited about exploring the world of alcoholic beverages. And of course, we also want to increase IESE's brand in the industry, and to bring in professionals to the school. How do we achieve that? Our mandate will evolve, and continue to be refined as we go along, but here's our beginning:

The mandate of IESE Wine & Spirits is to deepen the understanding and appreciation of wine, spirits, cocktails, and beers, from both a hedonistic and business perspective.

Lots of work to be done these holidays. Let's get to it.


Monday, December 23, 2013

climbing mountains

I went to Montserrat today. It was nice - we were warned that it would be cold up in the mountains, but it was perfect. Bright, cloud-obscured sun, no wind, temperature hovering around 10˚C. The basilica was grand, but what was most spectacular was the view after we spent about 45 minutes climbing up. Steep stairs, loose rocks, all sorts of fun, but that view from up top was worth it. Pictures to follow.

We operate under two extremes here, both equally intense. We're either buried under work, or completely and utterly free. This is what my holidays have been so far ... been doing so much lazing that Barcelona is getting a bit dull. Looking to get out, get around in the next few days. Some of that mountain air was good today. My favourite course this first term was Analysis of Business Problems. For our last case, our professor used the 1996 Mount Everest disaster as a means of closing the course, and providing a metaphor (of sorts) for our MBA 'climb'. You know, I thought being here and doing the program would give me a lot more clarity than I'm feeling right now. Like Montserrat's fresh mountain air, being in Barcelona was supposed to answer a lot of questions about my future. Yet I find myself second-guessing a lot of things, deciding to go a different way daily - I just can't seem to make up my mind on a lot of things.

But this is a privileged problem to have. The opportunity is there. Just like the monks who built this monastery, accomplishment is the result of steadfastness, determination, and commitment. I still have plenty of time to make up my mind, but if/once I do, will I have that determination to see it through?


Sunday, December 22, 2013

A first tasting - IESE Wine & Spirits

Some photos from that first wine tasting we held for IESE Wine & Spirits. A lineup of 5 wines, all white, all Spanish. Two from Catalunya, two from Penedès, one from Rueda. Our tasters were asked to taste through all 5 wines in groups, and then vote for two wines - their favourite of the 5, and which one they thought was most expensive. Right. Four wines were bought from the supermarket, and were under 5€. One was from a good wine shop, and considerably more expensive. The results were interesting. Most people preferred the second cheapest bottle, and only a handful identified the expensive one correctly. It took some experience, but the most expensive bottle, a Penedès, showed an elegance and restraint that the other wines clearly didn't have. Was it my favourite? No - the cheap Rueda really blew me away. Cheerful and incredibly drinkable, simply delicious.

Which goes to show that price sometimes really doesn't have bearing on our enjoyment of wine, if we remove it from our tasting equation. Can you tell expensive wine from supermarket wine? I believe so. I remember a tasting I did a few years ago with a company that made kit wine, a tasting that clearly proved that cheap (under $10) wines were very distinguishable from those over $15. 

I could talk more about each individual wine, but I'm a bit distracted at the moment. Toronto's been hit by a wicked ice storm, and a huge number of people, my parents and many friends included, are without electricity. There are reports of another major storm heading its way over soon, and people are being told that it will take 72 hours to restore power. There's not much I can do but sit here and wait for updates, but you know me ... I hate sitting on my hands and being useless. Take care of each other, my friends.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

lights, flashing

It's Christmas in Barcelona! Christmas markets and shoppers everywhere, but what's the most fun to look at are all the lights. As a classmate said, you start recognizing each street by the lights they have up. Each major street has a unique light display - quite impressive really (insert joke about Spanish economy/work ethic/siestas). But what am I saying. I've been a lazy pig this entire week. The holy trinity - eating, sleeping, drinking. 

I just finished drafting a proposal for my wine club. I sat for a while to try to think of a good name. Bodega IESE? IESE Vino? I figured that it'd be best if we had a name that was instantly recognizable, even if it was a bit lame. I hate being boring, but for now, tentatively, we're going with IESE Wine & Spirits. It was actually quite difficult, distilling what the mission statement and purpose of the club was. I have such high hopes for what we can achieve with this thing - but will other people feel as strongly? Is it realistic? Well, we're being trained in leadership, aren't we? My title as club president is self-appointed and all, but I'm confident we can do some big things in the next 2 years.

So, how does Christmas compare, being in Barcelona versus Toronto? It feels good to be here. I know I was a huge grump at the beginning, maybe even appearing aloof or standoffish, but 4 months in, I feel like I'm truly here with friends. Real friends. And that's in no way a slight to my old friends back home, my fam. Sure, we've been all been put together here in Spain by circumstance, but then again, it's the most amazing feeling to meet people that are actually from across the world from you (not just fake Chinamen like me), yet have so much in common. Had the best evening with a friend the other night. It's been so long since I've had a good, civilized conversation about art, life, wine, identity, culture ... incredible to think that she's from a totally different part of the world, who grew up in a totally different environment, from a totally different background. Yet here we are. We can talk and talk and talk and come away feeling energized, inspired, and fully at peace, because for some amazing reason, we connect. A family friend sent me an article recently about how Harvard and Stanford turns away even seemingly 99th percentile applicants. I'm not saying I belong there - after the results of first term exams, I clearly don't (academically). But I'm so at peace here, the happiest I've ever been. I'm in the right place, with the right people. And now that I'm all settled in, time to get to work.

Time to get my life in wine started ...