Friday, February 28, 2014

a kilo of what?

A little dried, a little funky, a little chewy. All kinds of good. All kinds of happiness. All kinds of love. This isn't a kilo of well-marbled, dry-aged ribeye. No son, this is cecina de vaca, proving that when it comes to cured meats, the Spanish are one of a kind. Cured beef, tight and dry, with all the savoury, intensely beefy aromas and flavours that drive us carnivores wild. Mad I tell you, mad. I bought this chunk from El Corte Ingles as it was because on principle, I refuse to pay extra to have it sliced for me. A sharp knife, a steady hand, and carefully tucked in fingers are all you really need. Trim off the moldy skin, and away you go. A few slices of manchego cheese, some olives, some pepinos, a bit of bread, and of course, a few drops of wine ... that's the perfect lunch, no? Followed by a 2 hour siesta, Dios mío, what a wonderful country.


never too old for toys ...

... and never too old to be learning. Even if the learning seems a little frivolous. I might not ever be a (professional) bartender, and I think Bieber is the worst human alive, but hey man, never say never. All this talk about vino and shit, I think deep inside all I am is a frustrated cocktail slinger.

I am the last barman poet
I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make
Americans getting stinky on something I stir or shake
The sex on the beach, the schnapps made from peach
The velvet hammer, the Alabama slammer ... 
I make things with juice and froth
The pink squirrel, the three-toed sloth.
I make drinks so sweet and snazzy
The iced tea, the kamakazi 
The orgasm, tthe death spasm
The Singapore sling, the dingaling.
America you've just been devoted to every flavor I got
But if you want to got loaded, why don't you just order a shot?

- Brian Flanagan, Cocktail (1988)

Spain still makes my (big) head spin. And sometimes not in a good way. Or maybe it's just the Catalans, but man, it's hilarious the way they just assume the worst about you. It's never, let me find out why you're bank account is locked, let me help you figure out why your metro card malfunctioned. No. Them folks here ... it's an interrogation of you didn't make sure that I didn't validate shit properly even though technically that's entirely my responsibility and hey cabrone, I'm not replacing your metro card, you could have stolen it. Visca el Barça i visca Catalunya, right? But credit where credit is due. The cocktail culture here is off the charts. The Spaniards have a unique, incredibly distinct approach to cocktail making, and they really have a way with gin. Enough to cover their other blemishes? That may be a matter of opinion, but for this wino, it does make them a bit more bearable.

Garnish tongs. You see, they don't actually touch the garnishes with their hands, as is the custom in the  (what I consider to be) other 2 great cocktail cultures of the world, America and Japan. Everything is done with tongs, including expressing those beautiful oils from whatever citrus zest the cocktail calls for. And it's 10 times harder than Cristina (Slow Barcelona) made it look. But we keep practicing and playing.

Relax. I'm joking about a career in bartending ... for now. 


on that treadmill

Perspective is important, no? That sense of purpose, the bigger picture. It's so easy to lose it here, amid all the hustle, all the (at times) nonsense going on, in class and otherwise. The schedule is packed, every moment micro-managed, and although we try to get out and diversify our experiences, try to cram it all in, at some point, the wick burns through and a moment is needed.

IESE hosted the Doing Good Doing Well Conference last weekend. Lots of interesting speakers, insightful panels, ending with John Bird, high on his perch. Excellent. Followed with our second team building event this week, spending a day in the woods doing fun-tivities. Including, well, partaking in that most dignified of traditions, the game of drink. A little drop on my collar, but no matter. My ass feels chapped lately. A little under the weather, a little burned out, a little in need of a moment. I think it's time to hibernate this weekend. 


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

a little bit of age

2004 Irache Reserva | DO Navara

We get comfortable sometimes, we get complacent. We get stinky in our own scent, like a pig in shit, and we love it. So, as higher beings, we have to consciously recognize when we start experiencing those symptoms, to break out of it, to keep moving forward. Today was one of those days.

IESE organized a team building event today. A day in the woods, doing trust exercises with the team. And it was fantastic. A love fest. But it solidified that I'm so lucky to have these 7 teammates in my life ... my 7 life-long friends. Lucky. 

Old, familiar things give us comfort. And although I'm far from being Spanish (as Barcelona constantly reminds me), I've had a bit of experience with tempranillo blends. A simple wine, the Irache shows some good character with some age. Gritty, textural, full. A good, firm hug. I'm a simple person - I don't deal well with complications. As an emotional person, I just don't know what to do with myself sometimes. But some days, some wines ... they just feel right.


Monday, February 24, 2014

IESE Wine & Spirits at L'Anima del Vi

2012 Xavier Benier 'Pur Jus' | AC Beaujolais-Villages
2012 Simon Busser 'Sauvages' | AC Cahors
2012 Cueva by Mariano Vino Natural | DO Utiel-Requena | Valencia
Take courage when the road is long
Don't ever forget you're never alone

I want you to live forever
Underneath the sky so blue

I want you to live forever
Underneath the sky so blue

- Live Forever, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors

I'm so proud to announce the official kicking off of the IESE Wine & Spirits Club, at an event that was at once both a realization of a personal dream as well as a statement about Europe as a continuing source of inspiration in wine. Firstly, much gratitude and credit to my other club officers for helping me set up IWS, as well as this first tasting.

And what a tasting it was.

This (as yet) adolescent wine adventure has been a roller-coaster, so to speak. Barcelona's been fantastic for cheap and cheerful bottles, but we should never be settling, no ... never accepting. Give me a decent bottle, or I'll break your fingers. Nicely. Gently. Because without a challenge, without constant change, we get lazy, we get complacent, we start to think we know it all. And if I want to accomplish anything with IWS, it's to challenge our members' perception of what wine is, what taste is ... in short, everything they thought they knew about wine. If I can get just one person to say, You know what, eff this, I'm drinking this the way I want to drink it, I think we've done our job. Hack at the feet, pull that noose tight around its neck ... let's pull down those statues the old standby worshipped, and be free to have our own personal relationship with wine.

Right. Back to the tasting, before I took a sharp right. There's a tiny wine bar in Barcelona, in one of my favourite neighbourhoods. El Born is such a cool place, with all these little alleys hidden away in dark corners. And in one of them stands L'Anima del Vi, run by a man absolutely committed to natural wines. Benoit brings in interesting things, across France and Spain ... and the latter was the big learning for me. I've been to L'Anima del Vi many, many times, always finding something new to taste, something inspiring. I never knew that there was such a large group of Spanish natural winemakers, but there are - and they're doing a great job. Wines of great depth and purity, with all the sunshine-y brightness you expect from Spain. As I said to my members, this first tasting was organized partly for selfish reasons, and partly because I wanted to set the tone for what IWS will stand for. Selfish, because I'm a bit obsessed with natural wines at the moment ... but more importantly, IWS will be about real wines, true wines, and wines that sing of honesty, authenticity, and character.

After all that build up, how did the wines show? Benoit chose some good ones. Beginning with a Beaujolais-Villages (100% gamay), sharp and expressive, like a rapier. Deadly acidity, screeching in the natural style. The Sauvage Cahors was next. Simon Busser, a disciple of Olivier Cousin in the Loire, who returned to the Cahors to make wines of great finesse and depth. Dark, with an animale personality that roars on the bouquet, yet coos on the palate. A bit of love from the fact that Simon farms these 100% malbec wines with horses? Or simply because he's able to stick to the principles (zero sulphur) yet create these magical wines that change a hundred times in the glass. We ended with a Spanish wine from Valencia made from a varietal that no one's even heard of, much less tasted. Bobal, a native grape, and for all intents and purposes, a minor blending varietal. And as luck would have it (or the other way around), the winemaker was at the next table. Immediately recognizable as a lush, full-blooded Spaniard (the wine, but also the man). Sunshine and spice, like all things nice. Soft and round, that glorious ripe, raisin-tinged fruit.

Good. A good start. The Chairman is pleased. Many thanks and much appreciation for those who attended, and all those who supported IWS. Many, many, many big things coming up for us!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

half the gin tonic ...

... is the tonic water, no? You want a complement to the gin that's elegant, that has balance, that will not obscure in any way the character of the spirit. A completely new concept to me, that tonic water could be so ... good. Man, they know gin cocktails here. Fever-Tree, a premium tonic water, expensive but worth every penny. At once floral and perfumed, dancing on your palate with tiny bubbles. A beautiful complement to citrusy, fruit-dominant gins.

Two days of attending the IESE Doing Good Doing Well Conference on sustainability. You know, I actually referenced this thing in my application essays. Some interesting speakers, especially today. John Bird with the quote of the conference: I'm a young 68. Younger than you lot. You're just superficially young. I wake up every morning and say, how can I change the world? Do you?


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

that little thing that says Catalunya

2011 Orto Vins Blanc d'Or Flor | DO Montsant

Battle lines, once drawn, are hard to withdraw. Once you've made up a first impression, an idea about something, about someone, it's hard to shake. Generalizations are terrible, but you get the idea. Yesterday marked exactly 6 months that I've lived here in Barcelona. Catalunya is at once a beautiful, imaginative place, but at times, I can't help but feel its narrow-minded tendencies. And let's not even begin talking about politics. Even after 300 years, it feels like its fragile marriage with Madrid has yet to be consummated. 

The wines feel the same way.

I didn't know a thing about Catalan wines before coming here. Maybe I had the odd Priorat, but if I can't remember exactly when, it's probably because I was either too drunk to care or the wine was too shit to be remembered. No matter. I've had the misfortune of trying more than a few bottles of Catalunya DO wine here, and they're the rare example of an actually undrinkable wine. But we keep our heads up and blindly plunge on, among the filth and waste, hoping for better times ahead.

Montsant is a good place to start. This whole Catalan identity thing is pretty fascinating. Catalans are Spanish, right? Let's get that clear. But I imagine that if they had the choice, they'd prefer a little more distance between them. The wines feel like that. The better Catalan wines - this one - just seem to try to be something else, something different from the Spanish, if only for the sake of being different. Maybe that's not a bad thing, but is it its true identity? I don't know. The wines are good though. This one, a 100% garnacha blanca, is textural, it's vibrant, it's pretty damn exciting. It's aged on its lees for 7 months in stainless steel, giving it a certain amount of structure, of creaminess. But is it French or Spanish? Or something else entirely?

We talk about identity in wine just as we discuss identity in people. Is who we are determined by our upbringing, or is it something more innate? Genetics? Can we consciously create who we are? Questions that are not for a sober mind.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

rethinking sherry

Top: Duque Manzanilla | Sanlúcar de Barrameda
Bottom: La Guita Manzanilla | Sanlúcar de Barrameda

You people, with your green drinks and your parties and your subterfuges! You’re all playing at love. One minute her, the next minute someone else, flit, flit, flit! Well I’m not playing. 

Love is not a game.

- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Love, it doesn't have a face. Or rather, it shouldn't. It shouldn't be decided by any factor other than feeling. That deep, personal, indefinable feeling that you have about someone, about something, that links your spirits together, attaches you and makes you feel like things greater than what you know are at play. That's love for me. It's much easier to say I love you than to genuinely feel it. And just like we have to be careful of our feelings, we have to be even more careful with our words, actions. I'm far, far too emotional for my own good - too unstable at times, too impractical, too volatile. But I feel what I feel, and well, all I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don't break them for no one.

I've learned to love sherry. Manzanilla, that beautiful maiden and you meet, and she asks what's for breakfast. It's taken a while; years of slowly understanding her, experiencing more of her, immersing myself in her charms. And she's a prickly one. At times unloveable. But when she's on ... dios mío, she'll make your head (the both of them) spin. Two Manzanillas here. The Duque, more simple, the La Guita, picture perfect - salinity and elegance, dreamy with shellfish.

Love is not a game. There are no winners, no losers. But it's a battlefield nonetheless. You trudge through, cautious and weary, hoping that your ideals, your values, your feelings are taking you on the right path. It's an act of faith, isn't it? A hope that with time, things will sort themselves out ... that like the Manzanillas of Jerez, those on love's battlefield will reveal their true characters. 

What is it that makes my head
Go 'round and 'round
While my heart just stands still so much?

- If I Didn't Care, The Ink Spots


Saturday, February 15, 2014

fun things

2012 Lolo Albariño | DO Rias Baixas

Quality of the wine notwithstanding, Spanish wine labels have the most fun. As a North American, we're far, far too concerned with inane details, these minuscule bits of information that we demand, yet have no idea what to do with. We want to see all manner of things on a wine label - region, grape, vinification ... what type of oak was used, how long it was aged in barrel, what temperature to serve it at, with what to serve it ... and now (North American) winemakers want to print an 'ingredients' lists as well? It's been repeated infinite times, but chicos, less is more. 

This is a fun wine. Simple, charming, fresh and vibrant albariño. Bone-dry, great acidity, but with enough fruit to keep it all in balance. Fantastic. But more than that, it's a wine that picks you up, cheers you up. And friends, that there is what wine is about.

Finished midterms! Tough all around, but if I'm speaking honestly, I've divorced my learning from my grades. A good policy, no. So Thursday night, out to Astoria Club for a few drinks. Fantastic times, all love in the club. A big, warm IESE family hug. The weather in Barcelona has been, in a word, perfect. Not going out on the big ski trip this weekend, but enjoying the city, the sun, and getting some culture. Big things coming up in the next two weeks - now that midterms are over with, time to focus on career planning. Let's go get it. 


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the unfussy gin tonic

I'm a fairly simple guy. I like simple things, the small things. Like an unfussy, well-made, simple gin tonic ... truly a great pleasure of life.

It's been a rough 2 weeks. Second term courses have been very, very difficult, every which way you look at it - material-wise, workload-wise, stress-wise. But it's all good. It's what we signed up for, no? I'm currently in the depths of midterms, having finished 2 today, with 2 more to go tomorrow. It's good, to be learning all this great new stuff, and we have to keep reminding ourselves that grades are not necessarily in line with actual learning. Cool. So we've got that settled.

One of the most honest cocktails, the gin tonic. No, I haven't been drinking. But one can dream. One more day to go.

The 'unfussy' gin tonic

Tanqueray Rangpur Gin
Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water
Orange and lemon slice

Chill your glass down with big chunks of ice

Slight squeeze of orange and lemon juice

3-4 ounces of gin, whatever your pleasure

A quick stir, and slowly add the tonic water

Drop in an orange and lemon slice, and gently stir once to combine it all together.