Tuesday, July 22, 2014

a juicy, meaty touch of home

A dry crust of bread is better than nothing, but nothing is better than a big juicy steak. And therefore?...A dry crust of bread is better than a big juicy steak.

2 + Torture = 5, Land of the Blind (2006)

I'm not homesick. Not in the slightest. But I was missing, desperately, that good North American dry-aged beef. So when my mother came over in mid-April, I asked her to get me a huge, 28-day dry-aged steak from Pusateri's. A taste of home. It's funny, because the perception of Spain is of a country of endless gastronomic delights. Actually living in, and not touristing a place, gives a wildly different impression.

So late night, a quiet evening at home a few months ago - wine ready and chilled, stems polished and thirsty. Beef patted dry, seasoned with sea salt and olive oil - that's it - for 12 hours, and pan roasted with butter and the most amazing fresh thyme. Left to rest while I tossed some asparagus with oyster sauce, clams with black bean paste. A meal to remind me of home, remember? And with every bite, a visceral, sensual, incredibly emotional taste of where I come from, what I'm about, and really, all the things I most care about. Straight, deep in the heart, to the depths of the soul.

And that, chicos, is an experience I've yet to feel here in Spain.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

San Fermin 2014

One misstep led to another, and before I knew it, I'm on day 8 of a raging bender with no reasonable end in sight.

So last Saturday, following our 4th Friday night Shabbat, we were all a little hungover. Over lunch, decided with the roommate that yes, we were actually going to do it and head to Pamplona to take in San Fermin. Being so last minute, our original idea to rent a car fell through, so we went for the next best (or worst) thing. We went out (I headed straight for H&M) to find cheap white pants and shirts, and took the night bus leaving Barcelona at 10pm, and arriving in Pamplona at 4am on Sunday. We figured we'd head straight for the Plaza de Toros, watch the running of the bulls, take a lunch, then head back home on the 2pm train.

What a crazy 20 hours it turned out to be. Arriving in Pamplona was like what I imagine arriving in a refugee camp looks like. Garbage and shattered bottles everywhere - streams of urine flowing through the straights, people slumped in corners dry-heaving, puking, and just wasted. The day was fun though. The actual running of the bulls was over just like that, but the young calves they release into the ring were vicious. Killers, even with wrapped horns and all. A great atmosphere all around. By the time the sun was shining (14C at night here!!), all we wanted to do was find a park for a nap. Got home sweaty and dirty, but I got the stains out of my new white pants, and most importantly, no one came home gored, trashed, or otherwise injured. A great one-in-a-lifetime adventure.

We had our 5th Shabbat this past Friday, and my last one this summer. A little sad, to think that my time at the Calatrava flat is coming to an end, but hey, the bender is far from over. We go hard, until the bottles are empty, or to failure. Whatever comes first.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Oliver Conti - the case about a dream

I feel incredibly privileged this summer to be working on two projects. I said from the start that I wouldn't be doing an internship just because right ... well, sometimes patience and stubbornness pays off. It took me until damn near the end of the term, but I did find two projects that fit exactly what I was looking for, and that I could genuinely be excited about. The first one is writing a business case for IESE about a winery in the north of Catalunya, by the French border in a small village called Capmany. Oliver Conti has been in business for 20 years in the DO Empordà, crafting wines from French varietals and pushing for quality in a region that is virtually unknown, even in Spain. The second project will begin in a few weeks, and will be in Zaragoza. But let's talk about this one first.

The wine business is tough, and ever so apparent when you begin seeing it through the perspective of the winery. Margins are thin, negotiating power is tiny ... what is a small producer to do? More marketing/brand-building? But how do you afford it? Go international? But how do you attract distributors who've never heard of the Empordà? Tough. Real tough here.

I visited Oliver Conti last week. What a beautiful place. Right at the foot of the Pyrenees, all sun, wine, and wildness. There is a northernly wind that always blows - it was particularly vicious the day we were there. That's why all of OC's vineyards are planted with a northern exposition, to protect the vines from simply being blown over. A huge wildfire ripped through the region in 2012. You can still see the blackened trees, with entire tracts of pine forests wiped out. OC lost 25% of their vineyards. Nature gives and with the same hand, takes away. They have about 20 hectares of vineyards planted, with high density. For whites, they plant gewürztraminer, muscat, and sauvignon blanc. For reds, pinot noir, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and marselan (a cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache). Aged in French oak, the wines reflect the man behind the brand - elegant, sophisticated, and utterly, utterly sincere.

But how does the wine make me feel? Because really, that's all that matters. All that I really care about, and I wouldn't be up at nearly midnight writing this nonsense if I didn't care. This visit taught me so many new things, in wine and otherwise. First, the power of family. The only thing of importance and significance in this ridiculous world we live in. Second, the need in this industry for vision. The distributors have all the power with setting prices, the kinds of wines they want to carry in their portfolio ... consumers either are slaves to trends or have no goddamn clue what they want ... so what's a winery to do, if there is no vision? With a clear path, a clear idea of what your brand represents - that's the only way to make it. The man behind Oliver Conti, my mentor for writing this case - he taught me all those things. So onto the wines, with the exception of the Marta (a sweet gewürztraminer), tasted at the winery, and again at home over 2 days ...

2013 Treyu: a blend of gewürztraminer and macabeu, aromas of gewürz right away, that tropical, spicy fruit; subtle, very dry on the palate tensile and quite linear; long

2010 Blanc Etiqueta: same gewürz/macabeu blend, with 12 months in new French oak; oak apparent immediately, creamy and quite rich, with an elegant palate; high acid on the finish, bright and very intense

2012 Pinot Noir: Niagara here? Bright red fruits, spice, a brambly character that evokes what I know (and love) so well; not much in way of structure, but high acid and spice, great elegance

2011 Turo Negre: both cabernets in the blend with merlot and garnacha; dark here, earthy, with a bit of that road tar aroma from the cabernet; great freshness and structure, very good here for the price

2011 Ara: a blend of garnacha/cabernet sauvignon; more subdued on the nose, some oak, darker, quieter; very high acidity, fine tannins

2010 Carlota: 100% cabernet franc, very unusual for this region (and Spain); immediately my favourite of the lineup, full cabernet franc character on the nose - slightly green, juicy fruit, fresh and vibrant; pillowy texture while retaining excellent acidity and fine tannins; a gorgeous wine

2010 Negre Etiqueta: same blend as the Turo Negre; some alcohol here, elegant with some tarry, earthy aromas; juicy fruit on the palate, bigger, but remaining elegant; extracted, crunchy finish; an excellent wine

Wow. The character of the Empordà and Oliver Conti shines through the entire lineup. In their words, the seek to achieve two things: aroma and elegance. And boy, do they ever do it. Gorgeous fruit throughout, impeccably balanced, with great acidity and fine structure. French-style wines, perhaps, but retaining that wildness, that absolute beauty of the Costa Brava. I've always been a believer that to fully appreciate a winery is impossible without walking the vineyards, to breathe the same air as the vines. Inspired? Definitely. And motivated, now more than ever, to tell their story.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

a handlebar and a cane

2012 Vini Viti Vinci Les 4 Z'Amis | Vin de France

I'm in business school, but I'm still that same shit-disturber. I don't believe in subterfuge, that utter nonsense. I still believe in the purity of things - that success and glory comes from quality, from hard work, from the pureness of the craft. 

Let's talk wine. Great wine - and I mean the great, impressive wines of the world - seems to derive more as a function of clever marketing and branding than what's in the bottle. What's tangible. What touches the heart, more than the head. It's how I feel about basketball. We can talk that bullshit about Drake, about rumours of Vince Carter coming back, about the new uniforms ... but you know what has put the Toronto Raptors back on the map? The bold, genius moves of Raptors GM Masai Ujiri and the inspired play of our boys, Derozan, Johnson, and Lowry, led by our finest ever coach, Dwane Casey. The purity of things, where success and recognition comes from pure talent and merit, rather than any exterior elements. And I know we're supposed to be business-minded and think about other things. It's not all about the quality of the product. But imagine, if we can live in a world where the truly noteworthy and deserving get to show their qualities. I want to live in that world.

I'm obsessed with this one woman here. Who it is isn't important ... or rather, I don't feel like sharing. But we see relationships in the same way, no? We want to be with something who is with us for the pure fact that we belong together, that we share the same spirit. I have no job prospects, no 6-figure position waiting for me. I want to do something that is low-margin, that is dirty, that is sweaty. And so we suffer the slings and arrows, all those cliches, to find someone who will suffer along with us.

And what does this all have to do with this wine, a natural wine from Burgundy? What is a naked man wearing a checked napkin doing resting his dick on a stick?


Saturday, July 5, 2014

O Rosal

2012 Terras Gauda O Rosal | DO Rías Baixas

We went out last night for drinks. Many drinks. And towards the end, after all the cava, I wanted something different. Something French. And we found it, a stunning bottle of Arbois-Pupillin, although that's not what I'm going to write about. Rather, I want to moan a little (maybe a lot) about the ubiquity of that cheap style of wine here in Spain, that homogenous style of big, jammy wines that tastes the same, no matter where the grapes come from.

After nearly 11 months here, I have to admit, my opinion of the LCBO has changed quite a bit. Sure I still think they should still tear the whole system down, but they do offer the customer one thing that we don't quite appreciate ... variety. Here in Europe, forget about it, maybe outside of the most urban cities - London, Berlin, etc. Want to buy a French wine in Barcelona, from an AOC that's no more than an hour away? Forget it. You can't even get the industrialized crap here. Only overpriced Bordeaux, and maybe the odd Burgundy, village-level only.

So we're stuck with Spanish wine. And while I love, love, love Spanish wine (my early education in wine), there's also a lot of mediocrity. The ones that really sing, that really stand for something - well, you'll have to pay for the privilege. For everyday wines, let's say 6-10€, there's very little in way of typicity and character. It's all that big, super ripe, fruit-forward wines that are alcoholic and a little sweet, and give the middle finger to what grape varietal they're made out of, much less a sense of place. And that's a shame. Because this bottle taught me that when it's on, Spanish wine remains one of the most interesting, unique expressions of their terroir in the world.

I love albariño, my first experience with Spanish whites. The Terras Gauda, from Galicia, is a blend of 70% albariño, 18% loureiro, and 12% caiño blanco. As described by the bodega, 

... we selected the albariño grapes from the “As Eiras” plots. Due to the excellent ripening during summer, the harvest started 12 days before than usual, beginning of September, with the right autumn sun light and temperatures to produce top-quality must. These conditions remained constant and beneficial to the other varieties such as Caíño Blanco, which were harvested at the beginning of October and Loureiro, end of September. The grapes arrived at the winery with high sugar content in perfect harmony with the acids.

After a separate cold maceration of each variety, traditional fermentation took place at controlled temperatures in stainless-steel tanks. After adding natural yeasts from the vineyards, the wine was cold stabilized, filtered and finally bottled.

A beautiful wine, pouring deep golden, with an almost a slight oxidized look. Mineral, saline, tense ... all those adjectives to describe albariño at its finest, when it just sings of the Atlantic Ocean. Over seafood from La Boqueria, sublime. And here's the really great thing ... the wine was 12.60€. Ok, so still over 10, but a lot of value for that price. Someone tell me why it's sometimes such a struggle to get the same experience without having to play the select one to put in the shopping cart: wine or chicken leg game.