Corsica has a reputation of "feeding its own" when it comes to its wine production. Translation: Corsican wine is not good enough to make it in today's competitive wine market. So it languishes in its homeland, poured from wicker bottle holders into the modest glasses of its countrymen and countrywomen. Or something like that. Cue soundtrack.
Though I've only had two types of A.O.C. Vin de Corse wines -- the two that the SAQ stock -- and a couple of lesser Corsican VDPS (vin de pays) wines, I really can't see what's holding these wines back. If you like a Chianti or a good French-style Syrah, you'll most likely like these.
It's almost always a combination of the Nielluccio grape variety -- a close relative of Sangiovese -- and Syrah that make up the blended red wines of Corsica. While that may be a general description of what you can expect from the French island off the coasts of France and Italy, the biggest hurdle to surmount is finding one.
Oh look, here's one! The Terra di Corsica Corse 2004 is an A.O.C. (Vin de) Corse example available at the SAQ (though the bottle may be plonk-shaped, don't let that fool you -- click on it for more). The Corse appellation requires the Nielluccio grape to be used heavily in the wines baring the A.O.C. designation. As I mentioned, expect a rounder type Sangiovese, the grape of Chianti fame. Then to the regional red grape, Syrah is added.
The resulting mix is great with food because it is light and quenching, juicy and savoury. Prune flavours offer depth and fruitiness. This wine drinks differently directly after the pour than it does just minutes later, which suggests a slight carbonation. I found it hard to distinguish this effervescence from the raspy acidity I was expecting.
Does it stand up to much scrutiny? Probably not. But the bottom line is that the stuff is a very pleasant wine to have around food.
It's a nice generic wine for everyday dinners. While most Corsican wines are traditionally enjoyed with local produce like guinea hens served in a sauce of myrtle, which is the predominant herb on the island, I had it with a stick-to-your-ribs endive salad overflowing with blue cheese and French-fried potatoes on the side from Au Pied de cochon.
Aléria, Corse, France. 12.5%.
Leftovers part 2: Lunch at my desk
Those leftovers from that soup begat leftovers themselves -- in the form of one of the nicest brought lunches I've put together for myself. I'm sure they are to go down in the annals my cubicle.
Today is the last lunch at my desk I'll be having for a while (actually forever). Tomorrow is Friday and marks my final day on the job. I'm vacating my current position and before my new assignment I'm taking a bit of a vacation from work entirely. (I may even be taking a little bit of a vacation from this blog too.)
Posted by Marcus | Thursday, March 29, 2007
Election days have never been good days here at Weingolb. Blog traffic reaches notoriously low levels when office workers are forced by employment regulations to take extra time out of office so they can vote.
This is an undeniable reality. Take a look at the web traffic for this site on Tuesday, November 7, 2006, the date of the last U.S. general election. Also see the tally from the Quebec provincial election yesterday, Monday, March 26, 2007.
The Tuesday election makes my weekly visits graph look like someone took a bite out of it; the Monday election flatlines the chart to start the week with the same number of visits as a typically slow Sunday (Monday is usually among the biggest traffic days, just compare it with the one from the previous week).
At this point, I guess I should try to say something perceptive about today's election results, since it's current and since the only method by which my wino friends and I can get wine is through the state.
Well, let me say this: Election days ain't that great for the candidates either. Take a look at new minority government leader Liberal Jean Charest and then take a look at his official National Assembly opposition Mario Dumont of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ). Ouch. Who voted for these two?
In clearer-minded days, Dumont had some sobering things to say about the state of the Société des alcools du Québec. The provincial liquor monopoly faced a scandal last year and I think the ADQ got more than a negligible amount of votes from it. Watch a segment from his interview (in French) broadcast on Tout le monde en parle.
Maybe if the election actually happened at this time last year, I'd be captivated. But I'm not. Instead I'm totally disinterested because I've discovered La Braccesca. Fattoria La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2001, to be exact. Take a look, folks: La Braccesca here at the SAQ and La Braccesca there at the LCBO. Believe it. Last Thursday, Vin Québec revealed that this $20 wine at SAQ is some $10 cheaper than at Ontario's LCBO.
They say a minority government hasn't happened in 150 years in this province. I'm here to tell you that kind of the SAQ bargain is more than a minor occurrence. It's without precedence. It's never happened!
Posted by Marcus | Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Leftovers part 1: The soup that eats like a meal
How often do you end up making a soup when you find leftovers in your midst? Extra chicken bits, unused gravy and remaining veggies make a logical progression into a hearty and flavourful soup. As I posted on Thursday, I get a hearty and tasty Carrot and Fennel Soup that recalls the best leftover soups because the flavours have built up over time and left to linger. But surprisingly, it's the dish you see above, not that soup from last week, that is the "leftover" meal.
That's right. When I get my hands on a fennel bulb, the first thing I do is start chopping it up for soup. Everything else comes second. When I bought a bulb that had spectacular frond action, I knew I had way too much for a soup garnish. So I kept the what I had leftover. Then when I came across some cute chicken cutlets the idea struck me. Create fennel-stuffed chicken breasts!
This worked really well for something that I made up as I went along. Because I had some small stalky parts mixed in with the fronds, the anise scent quickly permeated the scalloped chicken pieces while I pan-fried them, first on high heat for searing and then slow-cooked on low. I made a simple breading for the chicken and didn't do anything at all to my leftover fennel except chop it coarsely. Delicious!
Pretty impressive for leftovers.
Posted by Marcus | Monday, March 26, 2007
To all my Montreal readers (and maybe even some of you who live elsewhere but might think of visiting Montreal soon):
Here's a serious wine bar recommendation for you. Pullman.
I wrote a restaurant review for Pullman today. It appears on Midnight Poutine, a local blog on Montreal living.
My focus for the Midnight Poutine piece was more on the food and the ambiance of the place, but if you look at this place from a wino perspective, it's a bit of wet dream. (To give you an idea of how wine-crazy Pullman is just take a gander at the enormous chandelier that hangs over the bar -- it's made entirely of wine glasses in suspension.)
It definitely comes highly recommended if you're into exploring the world of fine wine, organic wines, fortified wines, tasting menus, wine flights, and Riedel glasses (every type and size of glass they've ever made by the looks of it). For any and all of these things it's a real treat, point final.
But if you're looking for a place to meet up and grab a bite, then check out my review before diving in.
Hmmm... Weingolb and Pullman. Sounds like a law office.
(Now I've got a better idea of what barrister means.)
Posted by Marcus | Friday, March 23, 2007
I wouldn't serve this soup with wine -- it practically is wine. Aged for a week in your fridge, the flavours have a chance to develop into a bouquet not unlike the ones on some of my favourite cuvées: with anise and sweet earthy tones.
This is an Amanda Hesser recipe and it's dead simple. Just make sure you exaggerate the step where Amanda says this soup is best the next day. It's actually best the next week. Freezing it is also an idea worth trying though I've never done it myself. Whatever you do, don't call it leftover soup; it's "coming-into-own" and a dish that requires some time.
Saute a chopped fennel bulb (reserve fronds for garnish) in a couple tablespoons butter until they start to soften. Add several carrots, peeled and chopped, to fennel and continue softening and stirring for another 5 minutes or so. Salt and pepper, and throw in some sliced garlic. Add about six cups of water and bring to a boil. After 20 minutes squeeze in some orange juice and a half-cup of sour cream. Optionally mash up the carrot chunks. Refrigerate or store in your wine cellar for several days before reheating and serving.
Posted by Marcus | Thursday, March 22, 2007
Here is a useful experiment performed by the Dining and Wine team at the New York Times. They've titled the piece It Boils Down to This: Cheap Wine Works Fine. Bravo!
If you're like me, you're a wino who's given some thought to the inherent loss that is cooking with wine. Sure, it's good for the recipe, but damn, is this what the winemaker really had in mind? Can anything in the world denature wine more than cooking it in pot filled with various and sundry flavours, even if heated only for a few seconds? If you place any value whatsoever on the bottle you've just opened, you've got to wonder if this way lies madness.
CHEAP WINE + COOKING = FINE DINING ?
Stop wondering. The answer is yes. Yes, basically it is madness. Cooking with wine over $20 is an unwarranted loss, a wrong-headed ego trip, against the laws of nature. I could go on. I exaggerate? Just read the article and you'll find out some of the science behind it. These tests employed clinical methods and you've got to appreciate the results, including conclusions like:
- the tough and astringent tannic component of wine is the last remaining attribute you can identify in wine that's been cooked of all its subtleties
- rather than wine's quality, wine's sweetness makes a more noticeable difference in food dishes
- cheaper wines tend to integrate into dishes better than expensive ones (according to the panel, $70 Barolo actually made risotto taste worse while adding Two-Buck Chuck made it taste better -- if that doesn't add insult to injury to the deranged chef who approaches dangerously close to your wine cellar, what would?)
And yet a certain New York chef (make that executive chef, pardon me) who was interviewed for this story actually went on record to say that his restaurant always uses its expensive Barolos in its kitchens but when he cooks at home for himself he finds that he appreciates a cheaper wine in his food . . .
When I make the dish at home, I use a dolcetto d’Alba — a simpler wine from the same region — and honestly I like it even better.Hmmm. No need to ponder long and hard about this. Now we all know why Mr. Executive Chef switches it up at home. The reasons are two-fold: because expensive wines are designed for the tasting glass, not the braising pan; and because he naturally prefers that his customers foot the huge wine bill rather than him! Bra-vo.
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, March 21, 2007
I had the luck to upgrade to this expensive bottle when my Hillebrand thirty-dollar-something was tainted. I took it back to the winery's shop and in exchange I received this gem. (Click image for product info.)
Okay, it's not cheap. But it's proof that Ontario can produce some very strong international wine. Credit the fantastic winemaker J. L. Groux, now making wines for Stratus, which is another Niagara Peninsula winery just down the street from the Hillebrand Estates Winery. Groux is getting a bigger and bigger reputation with each passing day and I consider myself lucky to have some of his best Glenlake years, which is where this bottle is coming from. I don't think it's outside the range of a good Saint-Émilion, either in terms of quality or in terms of price.
Both sides hate the comparison though, so here are my notes, straight-ahead.
The Hillebrand Estates Showcase Cabernet Franc Glenlake Vineyard 2000 has a light magenta colour. (At this point, I worried about whether this bottle was past its design life as several winos forecast 2008 as a definite best-before expiration. That's just my nerves though.)
On the nose there were beautiful musky and mellow tones. The bouquet is so alluring that I wanted to return to it even after my first sip. You could bask in it. With repeated sniffs I picked up confit of fig. Yummy.
This was reflected in my first taste. It's noticeably supple and rich in the mouth. You could sense the age on this wine. On the palate I found both a typically leafy and a more unique vegetal profile. Yes, it was partly characteristic green pepper but also a fantastic combination of pithy tomato and stewed vegetables. There was some vanilla too, and since the wine was peaking and potentially fading, it threatened to round off the wine's acidity as I drank. But it did not gradually take over as the night wore on. The edges stayed on and the wine was admirably cohesive.
This Glenlake Showcase was not all that long on the finish. Neverthelss, the wine was well served by food. I chose pungent but profiled flavours to embrace the wine rather than strong-arm it. I came up with a dish scented with fresh rosemary and delicious packed tuna in 100% olive oil all tossed together with three-colour pasta. Homemade toasted thyme pita with some melted cheese also played to the strengths of this wine.
Despite the successful match to light meal like this, the wine went with saucier red meat the following night and it also complemented the wine. But perhaps that's why I love a good Cabernet Franc. It's such a wonderful wine to have on the dinner table.
Click the images below for full details on the bottle label.
Posted by Marcus | Monday, March 19, 2007
Note: This is the red wine I enlisted as part of my experiment on tasting the colours of wine while blind.
I see I missed WBW #31 while away this week, halting my participation at 11 consecutive contributions. Check out all the action rounded up over at Box Wines. I actually bought the wine pictured above for WBW #29. The theme then was biodynamic wine. I ended up profiling a totally different wine at the last minute because it made for a more feasible entry.
THE MORE YOU KNOW, THE MORE YOU PAY
I held onto this one since it was a bit more expensive than the bottles I usually buy, especially those I buy on a whim (or a WBW). Winos that visit these pages can relate to this. There's a proportional relationship between wine and its sticker price. If you know little about a particular bottle you will only spring for it at a little price. I bit the bullet somewhat on this wine. It was a gamble urged on by WBW and once the transaction was made I immediately sensed the need to follow up with research and some careful discernment in selecting the appropriate moment to open it. It's a retentive approach (fair enough, some might even go so far as to say anal-retentive).
So I knew virtually nothing about this Domaine Les Béates Coteaux D'aix-en-Provence 2001, except that it was biodynamic and therefore suited to the entry requirements. (As of moments ago I learned more: opening the Oxford Companion to Wine it's heartening to see that the entry for D'aix-en-Provence includes a strong mention of this domaine which, incidentally, I've seen go by various versions of its name from Domaine de Béates in the OCW to Domaine des Béates on its own website to Domaine Les Béates on the actual bottle. A few words from the domaine name-drop was an explanation that arid Provence is big on organic techniques, which biodynamism must comprise by definition.) But apart from these tidbits, I also had the grain of an idea that the Coteaux D'aix-en-Provence AOC was one that I wanted to investigate further and that the 2001 vintage would be a fairly proper introduction. That's really the deciding factor in my purchase, not WBW. So with all that considered I decided to pack it up for later and submit to WBW a more straight-forward everyday white quaffer from a producer and region I was more familiar approaching.
And I have to say, after that exciting white from WBW #29, this red was a mild disappointment.
Perhaps that's because this cuvée was not entirely a dynamo in the glass. Perhaps I was simply expecting more of a punch. At the very least I was expecting to be as good as similarly-priced reds cultivated in the Midi in 2001. I don't think it was. So at the end of the day, it's hard for me to take away any generalization about how biodynamic wines perform in the everyday setting, i.e. my dinner table. That's not to say I am not encouraged at a basic level by the promise of organic farming. And perhaps biodynamism offers great benefits to the vigneron in the long-term. But in terms of the here and now of the bottles I'm sampling, it strikes me as hit or miss. Biodynamics has little directly to do with wine craftsmanship and the creation of an exceptional product, or so I understand it to be. Even if it did, that does not guarantee biodynamic wine exclusive rights to greatness. As a result, I cannot be reassured by the presence of the words biodynamic or biodynamique when opening up my wallet.
THE TASTING NOTES START HERE
Colour was a cranberry-brown shade, indicating its age. On the nose there was a slightly sour aroma. On the palate tannins were marked but flavours of licorice and garrigues also made a strong impression. It was a very spicy blend possessing medium to light body. Pervasive and tannic tartness made the finish medium-long.
It carries off its strengths better with food than without, but the final verdict hinges on the quality-to-price ratio and I fail to see how this cuvée earns its $20-plus price tag.
Lambesc, France. 14.5%.
Posted by Marcus | Saturday, March 17, 2007
For me the dilemma with bad reviews is not whether to publish them or not (it was Wannabe Wino who most recently tackled this issue). I say publish them, though sometimes it can be dicey business if you're not familiar enough with the product.
To me, the main issue with bad reviews is whether they come from notes that are thorough enough. Usually I like to assess a wine as it arcs over the course of dinner. Here's a case where I could barely take more than a sip or two. This is quite an unruly Portuguese regional red blend. I cringed going back to it. Even when left out open to the air. Maybe leaving a bad review out to aerate is an equally worthy idea.
For any other wine, I might hold back on the negativity. But I know this product well. And most importantly, I appreciate it and its unique style. I remember tasting it before on several occasions and especially liked the 2003 vintage. (The Casa de Santar was outstanding in 2003 too -- could the year be one of central Portugal's finest?) As for this 2004 version though?
The Vinha do Monte 2004 from Sogrape is far from fine: full of unrefined tannins and stewy, spicy fruit. It's a big mouthful yet without much structure -- a wine to avoid. What can I say? It's not like the winning 2003 vintage -- which I wrote about in such an odd way in a previous review, which was back during Portuguese Week 2006. (Unfortunately, I think Portuguese Week 2007 happened in my absence over the past seven days.)
I hope I am getting better at this wine tasting thing now a year has elapsed since I penned the notes on the 2003. It seems I wanted to say that the 2003 had barely perceptible tannins and that it instead had an acidic edge which came across like Ruby Red grapefruit. That's well and good but those tannins were perceptible or else I wouldn't have called it astringent. Nevertheless, I think the idea I was trying for was that the tannins were well-integrated with the fruit. Everything didn't end up tasting of pith.
With the 2004 that is the case exactly. A tannic monster run wild, giving Portugal its notorious reputation for harsh, unrefined reds.
I remember I got this wine with a promotional $1 off coupon hung around the bottle neck. Buyer beware! There's still lots of these on store shelves.
Gaia, Portugal. 14%.
I'm not sure when I took these tasting notes as I've been going through a personal-IT crisis. Since I see the same year remains fully stocked in SAQ stores I suspect it wasn't much more than a month ago, but to my memory (and to my computer's nearly totally wiped-out memory), I'm just drawing a blank. No matter though. What's past is past and my what's here is likely here to stay.
Which brings me to the multiple choice quiz from yesterday. (Click that link unless you want to peek at the answers right now.) All the answers correctly explain what I've been up to. I've been dealing with each of these things (except A. winning the lottery -- I made that up). And all these things loom on the horizon and will continue to do just as long or even longer than the discounted Vinha do Monte will hang around the wine shop.
Here's a more detailed rundown:
B. I am starting a much more demanding job in two weeks, and that doesn't even include C. -- the fact that I have just joined Midnight Poutine (were you reading up?) to regularly post my Tasty Morsels as a weekly restaurant reviewer.
I did in fact D. set off fire alarms with each attempt to select "Publish Post" but this as well as E. -- that I pulled the guts out of my iBook; then formatted my hard drive -- are firmly in the past. The repairing, reinstalling, backing-up, and reformatting of my laptop is done. Now only hunting down software remains.
F. I had a massive freakout session when Safari suddenly stopped uploading my files to Blogger. This is true but I downloaded and switched to a free version of Firefox before long.
G. I panicked when "statistics for visitors from the last 16629 minutes" were not yet available on my site meter is totally true. My level of anal-ness with it has prompted me to create an additional site meter with functioning stats, but then it broke too so I created a third now-useless site meter. None of them work properly.
Finally, H. I drank two entire bottles of dep wine that I picked up from a gas station and then decided to take a long LONG look in the mirror is only partly true I suppose. I had some help from the designated driver for the red, and for the white, some of it is still left over for cooking.
Posted by Marcus | Thursday, March 15, 2007
Today I received the two greatest comments to this blog ever. Or at least I'm very tempted to think they are the greatest. They came this afternoon about an hour apart from each other and glommed on to the post previous to this like a bear cub to mama Panda bear. One from a total stranger, one from a fellow blogger whom I've met only in cyberspace.
First off, it pains me to think that Weingolb could be going away.
That would mean no more comments like LindaS's. She provided an amazing wine tip and did so only because she stumbled upon this blog when researching her nifty little tip online. The thoughtful stranger who in her endeavours reveals kindness and a hidden kinship.
And no more words from Neil of Brooklynguyloveswine.blogspot.com who makes cyberspace seem a lot more human that it could possibly pretend to be. Neil, thanks for taking the time to write! It's always nice to be noticed. (And some folks like Neil seem to know that it's even nicer to reach out when you've NOT been noticed.)
So let me say that these two comments were so rewarding that, yes, here am I posting what feels like the first real post in much too long. So this is a bit of a thank-you, dear commenters. And an apology too. I should explain (and for some reason I need to turn this into a game).
The reason this blog has been quiet on the new entries is because I have been tremendously busy. What have I been up to?
- I won the lottery.
- I earned a major promotion.
- I accepted a regular column on another blog.
- I set off fire alarms with each attempt to select "Publish Post".
- I pulled the guts out of my iBook; then formatted my hard drive, just for fun.
- I had a massive freakout session when Safari suddenly stopped uploading my files to Blogger.
- I panicked when "statistics for visitors from the last 16629 minutes" were not yet available on my site meter.
- I drank two entire bottles of dep wine that I picked up from a gas station and then decided to take a long LONG look in the mirror.
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Thanks for the memory stick. Here's a quick little dinner gallery of thumbnails I threw together from images that have been occupying my flash drive. Usually I pick a single image from my digital photo album and run it; being especially low on IT resources these days I figured I'd maximize efforts and post everything I had stored on the tiny drive! Hope you like.
I discovered these shots by surprise, much like digging into the pocket of last season's jacket and discovering a $20 bill. They sure are handy, those memory sticks. Mine was torn off its keychain long ago, lost its protective cap, stepped on and taped up with hockey tape, dropped in water and left out to dry. Yet it still functions. Meanwhile Site Meter continues to flounder and my laptop is still in the shop recovering from essential repair involving a serious directory error.
The good news is that in a couple of hours, I'll have my iBook back in my hands. My site meter, still AWOL, should be back at about the same time, fingers crossed, making both events Saturday morning crises that were looked at Monday and solved by Thursday. Knock on wood.
Posted by Marcus | Thursday, March 08, 2007
Going from bad to worse... much much worse
The jury still out on how this blog will recover but the diagnosis is now known, at least for the most part.
The first blow happened in the early hours Saturday morning, after the folks at Site Meter had packed it up and left up for the weekend. One of their servers, namely "sm1" (i.e. the one that this and many other blogs use to view their web traffic) went completely haywire.
Being the Internet peek-a-boo geek that I am, it was only a few hours after the incident occurred that I developed a fairly good idea of how seriously bad things were. What I mean is basically this:
Awake, 7 am...Okay, I get the message that this ain't gonna work. My visitor logs will have to exist without my explicit awareness, causing me to go off and ponder whether the tree that falls in a forest when no one is around makes a sound . . . Fed up with that ruse I choose to restart my computer, just for kicks. It could work, couldn't it?
1. Click bookmark for Weingolb site meter, as part of usual morning routine
2. Wait approx. 30 seconds (odd, that)
3. Read an unfortunate message, obviously meant for administrators at Site Meter, that involves error 'ASP 0113' wherein a script apparentally times out
5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 in vain
And so I power down and watch the last signs of life flicker from my computer. Little do I know that these final flashes and whirs are indeed the last ones for a very long time, possibly forever. (Just for kicks -- more like getting kicked while you're down.)
It's my hard disk. It's now in the shop (along with the rest of my iBook) being tinkered with and I'm expecting the worst.
No site meter. No site. Or at least no site for me. I can tell my blog still exists though. I may not be able to visit it myself but I've gotten comments over the weekend. This means I know it exists. And, well, of course there's the fact that I've actually posted this entry to my blog by borrowing a friend's laptop. Yup, the Internet is still there. I'm just reaching out and touching it in a different way. During lunchhours at work. Other unnamed stolen moments, like this one ;)
But as many of you may know, I mainly post from notes recorded over the previous month. My drafts, tasting notes, photos and the like that I have been working on are suddenly gone. This combined with the fact that my friend has a Windows laptop makes me less than keen on posting interim entries. Not having a site meter in place pretty much seals the deal. What can I say?
So stay tuned for updates, folks! I do hope that they are coming soon. In the meantime, I suggest you direct your attention to Midnight Poutine, which is what I will be doing over the next couple of days.
Posted by Marcus | Monday, March 05, 2007
This is one of my standby meals when pork filets go on sale. It's from Jacques Pépin's Table, which I think was my first cookbook. Pépin does it all in this book, not only supplying heaps of great recipes but combining the individual dishes into menus to which he suits specific wines. If you can't find a copy in print, here's the webpage with the recipe for Filet of Pork Charcutière.
(In my experience, the flavours are so forward in this dish that chasing after some of the specific ingredients he lists is unnecessary. Use any onion, though red onion is a treat, and frankly, the white wine is not essential. Pickles, tomatoes and Tabasco are the integral components.)
I doubt Pépin makes even one suggestion for a Douro, a Dão or an Alentejo in the entire cookbook, but that's what I've got decanted in the pitcher above. After reading over his notes, a red from Portugal makes even more sense now than when I served it. The deli-style sauce is acidic so you need wine that won't turn to flab by comparison. I hate to say it, but no effing Merlot. A Barbera, or another rustic Italian red might work nicely but I think a lusty red from Portugal is ideal.
Posted by Marcus | Friday, March 02, 2007