Saturday, May 31, 2014

IESE Wine & Spirits - 4Gins

I'm a little prone to sentimentality on occasion - amplified with the effects of that good booze. So please indulge me. For IWS' final event of first year, we showed love to the other half of our name. We would be tasting gin. For gin, for friends, 4Gins.

A little word, first. I cannot begin expressing (eloquently at least) how grateful and thankful I am for the support of my classmates, my friends. When we started, I had just a glimmer, a shimmering in the distance, that I wanted a wine club. A place where we could gather, have fun, and share a few glasses together of that sweet, sweet nectar. And so we started, not with the clearest idea of how to do things, but rather with a clear purpose - that everything IWS did would follow those three greatest principles wine teaches us. Honesty, authenticity, conviction - the holy trinity. 

There's a group in Barcelona, drinks professionals, called Slow Drink Movement. Their mandate is simple - to host tastings to educate and promote various spirits in a fun, relaxed way. I had met one of them at his day (or rather, night) job at a bar in Eixample, and right away, I knew I had found my guy. Young, energetic, creative, and skilled behind the bar. So we started talking, and although it's taken a few months to put together, we were finally able to do 4Gins. Four gins, all English, showing a variety of styles. The boys took us through a tasting first, explaining the differences in distillation process and their effect on the final product, before using the same gins to make four cocktails. A powerful impression, combining the best of both worlds - we were able to see the nuances in each gin in their original states, before seeing how different they could be once applied in cocktails. My favourite one of the night? Man, that Oxley was a discovery. Powerful, linear, incredibly dry. But I have to say I've a newfound appreciation for Plymouth. Complex, dry, but with great elegance. Finesse in a gin, served straight? It's possible. Many thanks boys. 

So ends IWS' first year. It's been incredible, and the great support and reception we've received gives us encouragement to continue working hard to bring you cool things to taste, to experience. Next up? Vineyard visits ... wine/spirit importers/retailers ... artisanal beers ... we've only just started.

The culture of drink endures because it offers so many 
rewards - confidence for the shy, clarity for the uncertain, 
solace to the wounded and lonely, and above all, 
the elusive promises of friendship and love.

-Pete Hamill

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

cheek and snarl

Yet another win for Spanish label designers #DFdrinksUntitled
Tierra de Frontera Porter Piconera | Alcalá la Real
Cerveza Artesanal Tyris Paqui Brown | Riba-Roja del Turia

Spanish label designers win really hard. Wine, beer, cider ... all winners. But does the inside live up to the good first impression? 

Beer, like some of us, shouldn't be subtle. Complexity is overrated here ... you want to hit the palate hard, and stay there. No 'changing in the glass', no 'opening up'. You want it to smack you around a bit, be a bit dominating ... particularly these dark ales. Amongst other things, I really miss the craft beer back home. Sometimes you want that hit of hoppiness, the bitterness that makes your toes curl. It's hard to find those brews here. Brews that don't really allow you to have any food alongside - brews that obliterate everything in their path. These ones are a bit softer. But nevertheless, pleasant.

Monday night was amazing. We went to a seminar given by Dr. Enrique Rojas, discussing some of the frameworks outlined in his new book Vive tu Vida. Very inspiring. And most of all, a reminder that I need to work much, much harder on my Spanish. Followed up last night by IESE Wine & Spirits' last event for first year, a gin tasting with Slow Drink Movement. If the 4 gins and subsequent 4 cocktails didn't get us tipsy enough, we followed the boys to their favourite Italian joint for some pasta, pizza, and wine. Eventually did make it home, but man, was today's morning class a struggle. Full tasting notes to follow. Soon. A brief respite today, and then a team dinner tomorrow night, followed by the last class bash of the year, a boat party (aka a booze cruise). Tylenol and ibuprofen ready. We hard at work. Another day another dollar.


Monday, May 26, 2014

there will be no white flag above my door ...

2011 Venus Dido 'La Universal' | DO Montsant

I witnessed a great kindness from a stranger this morning. The sky was grey, all was cloudy - a storm in Barcelona. There wasn't rain, so I made the call to leave the ridiculous golf umbrella at home. But sunshine isn't sunshine without a bit of rain, no? So not 15 minutes later, I stepped out of the metro into a downpour. Like a wet dog, I waited for the bus ... when I felt the rain stop. A girl was holding her umbrella over me. With a smile, she kept a stranger dry until the bus came. Angel.

We sometimes ask for too much from wine. We want it to be intense, to be rich ... to be value-priced, yet taste 'expensive', whatever the hell that means. I can't even begin to emphasize how hard I disagree with that perspective. My blood boils, my insides tighten. Do we no longer have the capacity for imagination, to allow ourselves to be surprised? Are we so cynical that we assume we know everything about a wine before tasting it, and anything surprising about it is a flaw?

I want to share a wine I had a few months ago, but am still processing. The Venus Dido - and you have to check out their story. From Montsant, a region of Catalunya that I'm discovering, and that I'm becoming head over heels crazy about. On first taste, the wine is what it is - unapologetically Spanish, that rich voluptuousness of vines grown in hot, dry climates. But like all good things, all good people, a true measure of character and quality comes with time. With an open mind, over a few days - the wine, initially throwing off stiff alcohol fumes, becomes more integrated, more in harmony. The acidity becomes a bit more focused, contributing as well to that balance. There's complexity, a minerality and chalkiness on the finish.

The 'La Universal' is a blend of 75% garnacha, 15% syrah, 5% merlot, and 5% cabernet sauvignon. Grown in an organic way, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete tanks, while 60% is aged in oaks of different origins and sizes (300-4000 litres) for 16 months, with a small amount in clay amphorae. Looking forward to seeing the direction owners Sara Perez and Rene Barbier take this wine. An honest interpretation of garnacha, full of vigor and character.

Man, that Champions League Final was a nail-biter, wasn't it. And this from a guy who really couldn't care less about soccer. A full range of emotions on display, especially from the Real Madrid fans. Confidence, excitement, fear, despair ... until finally elation, first cautious, then a full eruption of joy. That winning goal was what they paid €100 million for, I suppose. I'm quickly realizing that although the spirit is willing, I've reached my physical limits with partying here. So although no white flags will be raised (just yet), I do need a full 12 hours of sleep the night before a partying night. This week will be heavy - 5 days straight of events planned. Not that I'm complaining. Of course not. Of course not ...


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

mystery in the glass

2012 Ferré i Catasús Somiatruites | DO Penedès

Dreams bottled, waiting patiently for its time, for the right person, for the right moment. And all it asks for ... all wine ever asks for ... is unselfishness, humility, and generosity. Too often we drink wine to impress people, to be peacocks, to somehow use wine to present ourselves as more than what we are. Tragic, really. The vines weep. We open bottles and share them with our loved ones, because wine brings us together in a spirit of joy and conviviality - the vines give us all she has and she asks for so little in return but for a moment of honesty and truth.

We had this wine way back, way back, during the first wine event I hosted here at IESE, before IESE Wine & Spirits existed. Exciting times. When we bought this wine, the shop owner couldn't even tell me what it was. A white wine from Penedès, a blend of who knows what grapes. Well, now I know. Chenin blanc, muscat à petits grains, sauvignon blanc, xarel-lo and chardonnay. Delightfully French, with a Catalan twist. Oooo, and it tastes French too. A waxiness on the palate, a definite richness, reminding me of those big Rhone whites. Freshness on the palate though, and some great dry extract that carries it through to a stately, dry finish. And what a beautiful label.

There's a feeling of impending doom here, that first year is drawing to a close and with it, a little bit of innocence, a little bit of carefree-ness. Well, maybe at least for me. My summer is far from figured out, but it's all a process isn't it. We stumble, we bumble, but in the end, we figure out the right blend. A bottle of dreams, mystery in the glass ... 


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Eye of the Hare

2010 Casa Mariol Ull de Llebre Criança 12 Mesos | DO Terra Alta

I've been in this country, this amazing city now for 9 months. And what have I learned so far, here in Barcelona? Silly question. It's far too late, and I'm far too sober to answer that properly. Bueno. But we've drunk some great things, no? I'm still getting my head around Catalan wines, but this is a delicious one. 

So ull de llebre is simply Catalan for tempranillo, and is literally eye of the hare. It's from Terra Alta, which, from the DO website, is in:

... the south of Catalonia, between the River Ebro and the borders of Aragon and includes the 12 municipalities of the county of Terra Alta. The landscape has all the features of an interior region near the Mediterranean Sea: Pre-coastal limestone mountain range (Ports d’Horta, Pàndols and Cavalls mountains), small rivers (l’Algars i el Canaletes), rocky conglomerate mountains, holm oak and white pines woods and, above all, the agricultural soil coloured by typical mediterraean farming: vineyards and almond and olive groves. Here we must add the three agricultural landscapes that are clearly defined: the plains, plateaus and valleys.

The cultivated soil is generally of medium texture. Its common denominator is its limestone richness and its lack of organic material. In the DOTA’s catalogue there are 17 soil profiles, the most prominent is el Panal (the type of soil peculiar to the Terra Alta).

Another feature of the character of the mediterranean interior is the climate. Abundant sunshine and little rainfall which make two distinguishing characteristics: a unique balance between two prodominating winds, el cerç (NW) i les garbinades (seawinds from the south) and a cold winter that is typically continential.

Very cool. Casa Mariol also has a wine bar here in Barcelona, which I really, really should go visit. I hear they pour their vermut too. This wine is aged 12 months in Hungarian oak. Bright orange label, because really, we buy wines on price and label. Intense, powerful wine, and although not altogether complex, an authentic hot climate wine, full of that richness and density that tempranillo can bring. Soft texture, some heat from the alcohol on the way down. A Spanish wine, if I dare be a little political.

Man. Nine months. This Friday was graduation day for the second years. Time flies, and although I haven't been really drinking tonight (yet), it's a trip. Need to get my act together a little, in all those things - academic, professional, personal. Otherwise I'm going to leave here having had the time of my life with nothing to show for it. Had this conversation last week ... have we really changed? Do we just do these programs and take for granted that we develop, we somehow just become better? Nonsense. It's a process that we have to invest in, that we have to commit to, and it takes much more than just lip service to achieve betterment ... much more. So we keep going, we keep pushing ourselves to be uncomfortable, to be a bit anxious, to be hungry. Eye of the hare baby.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

apples and fizz

M. Busto Sidra Natural Selección | La Rasa, Villaviciosa, Asturias

Authenticity. Truth. La verdad. That's all we want, isn't it, in all things. Cider included. I've been drinking a lot of it here. A lot of great examples, with special emphasis on those made organically. And while many have been cleaned up and made more palatable, they all show that same character - the sharp acidity, the balance, the notes of pickled veg that make sidra so incredible with richer foods. Delicious. Unapologetically authentic.

This, a cider of sweet, acid, and bitter apples, fermented in chestnut casks - this is one of those drinks that takes you on a ride. An unfamiliar one, yes, but an exciting one. I like these drinks, much as I like foods that initially seem simple, but reveal complexity after complexity with every bite. The layers and layers underneath. That's excitement. That's mystery. That's imagination.

My summer plans are still far from being finalized. In other words, no clue. I might be in Barcelona, I might just be back home. Who knows. But that's a little exciting too.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From Niagara to Barcelona, a taste of home

13th Street Cuvée 13 Sparkling Brut Rosé Méthode Traditionelle | VQA Niagara Peninsula

A taste of home. My mother came to visit and I could have asked her to bring a number of things. Fresh underwear. Medicine. Even Q-tips. But I'm me and well, I know what I'm about. When I say I 'miss home' I should be more specific - it's not so much missing my townhouse as it is missing the wine, the beef, the weekend trips to Diana's Seafood. Happiness. And while La Boqueria has been a dream, paying €15/kilo for berberechos is stomach-churning.

Of the 22 kilos permissible on economy flights, roughly ½ kilo of my mother's baggage was taken up by this. One of my favourite Ontario wines, the non-vintage sparkling rosé from 13th Street Winery, a blend of 55% pinot noir and 45% chardonnay, mainly from the 2010 vintage. Aged 18 months on its lees, before a dosage of 6 grams of sugar and their reserve pinot noir was added. The wine was aged for another 3 months, to let all the elements integrate. No oak, no malolactic fermentation. Only 2500 6-packs made. Always a joy to drink and share with friends. This whole méthode traditionelle moniker is so abused by New World producers but 13th Street makes it happen. So what exactly does this term mean? Or rather, what should it mean? In this wino's opinion, wines that make this claim are simply saying We want to be a French wine. Which isn't a bad thing. Aim high right? Aim high. Specifically though, this emulation suggests that these wines are made from the same grapes, using the same processes as the French model, Champagne in this case. And we see that. The two most heralded Champenois varieties (pinot noir and chardonnay), using the same riddling and bottle-aging process as in Champagne. You see where this can go horribly wrong right? The whole point of it though, is that no matter the winemaking you apply, the wine still has to have a distinctive identity. I could slap on a beret, pick up a few hand gestures, learn to love stinky cheese, but at heart, I'm still what I am (ie. not French). And that's why I love this wine. It's still a Niagara wine, a Canadian. It has this brightness and purity, along with the leanness that I always associate Niagara with. Finishes dry and linear, with very fine bubbles. What this particular winemaking contributes is an elegance in texture, a delicacy. The wine is at once fine and regal, expressive and complex - it truly has become better and better with every bottle I've had. Bravo!

In the end though, people still unfortunately make comparisons. And yes, people will want to claim that this wine is 'better' than Champagne. Whatever. My Infiniti G could run circles around a 3 Series, but hey, a BMW is still a BMW. They are simply different experiences. And if you can't take it at that, you're not getting the point right? We have to have the capacity to appreciate wines for what they are - some more than others - and an inability to have an imagination, to dream is simply unfathomable to a true wino. I opened this wine with a friend. We talked, we enjoyed sitting in the sun ... we had a great time. And any wine that can encourage that is a beautiful thing. We have to try to stop being impressive and simply be what we are.

Here's to 13th Street - muchas gracias for giving me a taste of home.


Monday, May 12, 2014

IESE Wine & Spirits - The Grand Wines of Spain

2013 Marques De Caceres. Ecológico Bio | Rioja
2012 Legaris Roble | DO Ribera del Duero
2011 Arzuaga Crianza | DOC Ribera del Duero
2009 Marqués de Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva | DOCa Rioja

As in life, wine is about time and place. Time and place. A few hundred metres in one direction, a few hundred in the other ... a few months early, a few months late ... it's all to give a sense of identity, a sense of purpose to the wine, isn't it. And just like in life, the best wines represent those three immutable qualities: authenticity, honesty, and character.

I was excited for this. IWS hosted a tasting of the two most famous wine regions of Spain: Rioja and Ribera del Duero. A pair of wines from each, of varying ages. What we wanted to achieve was to give our members a sense of how differently the same grape varietal - tempranillo - can react depending on where it's grown, and the winemaking applied. So we started with the Marques de Caceres, an organic wine. Young and fresh, a bit nondescript, but a good, simple wine for the table. The Legaris was a clear step up in quality. A wine I've tasted before, and what I felt was a good representation of the modern Ribera. Fruit forward, but remaining balanced, a plushy, well-textured wine. The Arzuaga was a major discovery for me. Grown just downwind from the vineyards of Vega Sicilia and Pingus, this was a throwback Ribera del Duero. Structured and tight, but with the most beautiful red fruit character and integrated oak. Creamy vanilla and bright fruit, finishing focused and tensile. Square-shouldered yet remaining elegant. And finally, the Marqués de Murrieta, the grand old man of Rioja. Superbly delicate and fine, all silk and cashmere on the palate. The ballerina to the blockbusters of Ribera. A slight orange hue on the rim, but youthful and linear. Sheer elegance, class in a glass.

Time and place. We look for these inimitable influences in wines of quality and distinction. Is there really a framework for tasting? I don't think so. Sure, experience teaches us to look for certain things, for certain attributes that tell us about a wine. But is that the only point? Put in another way, should we be tasting or drinking? Perhaps a discussion for another time, another bottle. Let's think a bit on it, the next time we reach for a glass. The tasting brought up a lot of interesting discussion - about tasting, about the influence of winemaking, about the language of wine. Let's keep those conversations going.

Many thanks to my officers for making this tasting happen, as well as to our members who continue to show love and support for IWS.

The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards ... above all the elusive promise of friendship and love

Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life: A Memoir

Friday, May 9, 2014

of seafood and rice

 I been holding off on paella. I want the authentic thing. In Valencia. But my mother wanted to try it, so I found a decent place in Barcelona. La Llosa, where the paella is actually delicious. The most intensely perfumed rice, mounted with a rich seafood broth, perfect shellfish, a deceptively difficult thing to do since they all cook differently ...
... their steak is good too, a big brick of meat. Bloody. Beef and arugula with parmesan, the holy trinity.
At another joint (too touristy to mention), we had the arroz negro, rice cooked with squid ink. Richer, but the shellfish again gives it a vibrancy that was very, very nice.
Switching gears. We just finished midterms, and yeah, I've been lazing around. We had a heavy night partying last night, and although I stumbled home quite early, around 2, the drinking (starting on campus 15 minutes after I turned in my exam) had clearly gotten to me. Today was a total write-off - a run to sweat off the hangover, then groceries and back to bed. I took my multivitamin with a Ginbraltar gin tonic. No shame in my game. My teammate from Peru has been excitedly sharing his country's cuisine with me. One of the places we've been to most often is Mochica, run by Peruvians from the north. I like this place. Simple, unpretentious, authentic home-cooking. Starting with the ceviche, spicy and powerful, but staying balanced ...
... and the tacu tacu de lomo saltado, rice and beans, stir-fried with pork ...
... to a fried stuffed potato dish ...
... and even a duck leg. So what's Peruvian food? It's all a fusion, no? A bit of Chinese, a bit of Japanese, a bit from the mountains ... but done in a way that's very unique, very unique. Delicious. And them pisco sours sure go down real easy ...


Monday, May 5, 2014

surf and turf in the capital

Man, Madrid has some good food. Zamburiñas a la plancha at the Mercado de San Antón ...
... followed by the best tapa we had the whole week, langostinos alistados a la plancha, with a few glasses of albariño that ended up cheaper than drinking water. Love this country.
It took a bit of searching, but we did end up finding Sin Reservas in the end, just off the north east side of Parque del Retiro. Starting with a plate of jamón ibérico, of course ...
... and then onto the meats. A sirloin seared pink ...
... and a delicious braised beef cheek, served with an exquisitely simple pasta.
The details are what make this place. The beef was accompanied by 3 kinds of salt - the standard sea salt, along with a pink and black Himalayan rock salt.
And with the preceding dishes making such an impression, we had to have the tiramisu made in-house. Rich, balanced, going down like silk.
One sits on top, the other supports. And with tonight's meat-heavy dishes, the only wine that would do was a simple, dry, fresh Lambrusco. A fabulous few days eating in Madrid.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Semana Santa in Madrid

photo 4IMG_3381IMG_3384IMG_3385IMG_3387IMG_3389
Now's the time to focus. And get back into the routine of things, get back to working, get back to hustling. The past few weeks have been a little too comfortable, too soft. And we all know what softness does to a person. Come on, we the young bloods. Now's not the time for 2 hour lunches and a siesta.

Easter is a week-long event here in Spain. Semana Santa. Holy week. And we just happened to be in Madrid. Caught the procession on Friday evening in Sol - seeing the purple hoods was a bit jarring, but hey, this is culture. A fantastic few days in the capital, a good break away from Barcelona. Lots more pictures to share, food and wines to reminisce about.

It's been a strange day. My Raptors got eliminated, a 1-point heartbreaker. And we had to submit an essay for our self management course with topic write your own obituary. And so we get a little creative. An obituary, by definition, requires a death. And now it is upon me to take my eternal rest. Just odd, and very uncomfortable actually writing about an as yet un-lived life. I have no problem with death - shit, I think about dying all the time. But to have to put down in writing acknowledgements, and milestones you want to be remembered for ... that's not right. That's not right at all.