20070622

Revealed: my other blog, pastry chefs & birthday sprinkles, and Nat decants my Hillebrand

My six-week vacation is not over yet but I might be coming back soon. Meanwhile I'd like to say that I am not sick of wine. And I am not sick of blogging.

But first, since Facebook has already announced it, I might as well say it here: Today is my birthday. I'm 32.

WHY I'M NOT SICK OF WINE

I'm not sick of wine because tonight I'll be trying out Vieilles Vignes du Domaine Château-Langlois Saumur (rouge) from the bounteous 2002 vintage. I'll also be drinking Quinta de Cabriz Dão 2003, a new favourite discovered over Easter earlier this year.

Basically, in terms of red wine, I've been craving Portuguese and cool-climate French reds. The are great dinner wines. They go so well with food, and I've noted in the past that this is especially so in the summer months. I also think the regions produce wines that complement each other. They tend to follow one another nicely and these two in particular should deliver a bell pepper nose and an earthy, herbal palate. Why wouldn't I want these served at my birthday dinner?

WHY I'M NOT SICK OF BLOGGING

Not anymore anyway. Timing has a lot to do with it. Here's what I mean: My job promotion in April brought with it a new challenge: start a blog on Information Technology. After a couple of months, it finally was launched yesterday, perhaps my most essential birthday present this year.

le fromentier bakery on laurier 7.30 am on my birthday june 22 danishes les agrumiersUsing Word Press to create the blog was a great experience. It is certainly a much more powerful tool than Blogger. At the moment, my employer doesn't entirely endorse blog technology, or at least many typical aspects of it, and certainly not as an official communication medium. So we had to heavily customize the templates and settings that the WP software provided. The end result may look nothing like a true blog. But to me, it still felt like I was in blog overdrive, especially with WBW happening simultaneously here on the wineblog. In the end, this month has amounted to burnout. But I can say now that July looks different. (Joe and Art's encouraging comments also helped me realize this.)

***

Right, so it's my birthday and it's a Summer Friday off for me. What do I do? I go to le Fromentier for my favourite pastry in all of Montreal, the Agrumier (shown at the centre of the image at right). After a humid spell, le Fromentier's pastries are back at the top of their game, and these orange and licorice danishes, which are only made on weekends, rock my world.

These danishes are not too sweet. Almost savoury. This is a up-and-coming trend in pastry-making, as reported in the New York Times, and corroborated by my sister, who recently landed an apprentice position at Olson Foods + Bakery, one of the projects of pastry chef Anna Olson.

So I trek out to the bakery. I take my camera too because I'm feeling festive, and most of all, because I love how le Fromentier writes the date on their chalkboard. It's one of the first things you see when you walk into their sprawling bakery, and I could already envision "22 juin" in lovely penmanship (chalkmenship?) welcoming me to the store. A Kodak moment.

chalkboard ardoise date jui 21 juneFantasy met reality when I stumbled in, wet from a birthday sprinkle (not even the kind you might get on a birthday cake) and stupefied to find that the date on the board was still 21 juin. The shop had been open for an hour, so if the date wasn't changed by now, you had to figure that the date wasn't going to change until tomorrow. My birthday was not happening at le Fromentier.

I let a few people who were behind me in line go ahead of me but then it finally struck me that prolonging my queuing was not going to do anything. I took a second to snap some pictures of all the fresh pastries (might as well, since I brought my camera) and walked up to the man behind the counter to order.

"Tourist or spy?" he asked, in French.

Not being too fluent in French, all I could understand was that this conversation was starting out on a topic totally unrelated to danishes.

"J'ai pas compris," I stammered. Another baker was now in attendance, as all the other customers had exited the store.

He went on to say that he was talking about my picture-taking. Ha ha, I got it.

And then without missing beat, I launched into my best French in years. I detailed how I got gentle reassurance, joy and the general feeling that all was right in the world from seeing the date scrawled on the chalkboard each morning I entered the shop. In no uncertain terms, I explained that my hopes and dreams were crushed by the errant date, and that today, of all days, they had made a terrible terrible mistake, because it was June 22, which was my birthday, and now in a cruel twist of fate I was facing no record of it ever occurring. And I continued: Suddenly, I said, today was just any old day to me, but wetter.

Indeed, I was soaked, and sorry for myself too, but I figured if they didn't really want to know why I came in with a camera, they wouldn't have brought it up. And besides, I thought, maybe now we'll see some action with that derelict chalkboard. My eyes darted to the brush dangling from the chalkboard and then back to them.

composing the correct response on the chalkboardAfter a pause, they tried excusing themselves.

I nodded along but only I knew it was in sarcasm. I thought to myself: Yes, of course you've been much too busy to see to updating yesterday's date. Yes, of course there are other things that need to be taken care of first. (Sure enough, they were all lies. The other baker finally admitted to writing 21 juin because he thought it actually was 21 juin, not 22 juin, which is my birthday, though I had to assure him of this twice more).

And finally the chalk was out the box. I pointed to the Agrumiers I wanted but then they pointed to another, a Basque. It was a chocolate one that looked like a personal-sized birthday cake, kind of like a cupcake only flatter. It was their birthday gift to me.

But then there was more. An aborted attempt to sing Happy Birthday with the butcher at the counter behind me; a tempting suggestion to sit in the corner by the door and receive the kisses of the customers that passed; and a fancy redesign of the corrected date on the chalkboard customized to include my name.

the world's nicest kindest most friendly bakerI love le Fromentier.

***

In a strange celebration of my birthday, the most recent Vintages report this week from Natalie MacLean of Nat Decants encapsulates my explicit praise of Hillebrand's Showcase Cab Franc 2000 -- one of my most beloved Canadian wines. I can't believe Nat didn't bother to invite me to help her finish the bottle. Or even tell me. I found out about it later when I stumbled across her dregs.

Compare the reviews folks, and then tell me where you heard it from first. Hers and mine.

And let me be the first to tell you: there are only 35 bottles of this stuff left, 'cause I'm getting two for my birthday.

20070612

I'd like to take a six-week Vernaccia: San Quirico 2005

san quirico vernaccia di san gimignano
I can't tell you how sick I've been of wine lately. But I don't need to tell you, dear reader, when you can just take a look at the last five posts.

Last month, I went totally bezerk hosting WBW 33 for May: Languedoc-Roussillon value wines. Then I OD'ed at an all-you-can-drink Pinot Noir tasting. And look at me now. Since then I've been blogging about dumpster diving for wine and crack cocaine hits.

It's a frightful picture of excess. Excess and wine do not mix (if you have to keep a 9-5 day job like I do).

So enough! What it's been adding up to is that I don't ever want to see a Syrah -- what I thought was my "desert island" red -- and any other Midi red for that matter, or at least just not till Labour Day. Even lighter-bodied wines like Pinots are off my list.

Wineblogging in general has amounted to a chore as a result of this, with any development around here slow and less than prolific. I actually was contemplating throwing in the towel entirely.

But then last night a San Gimignano came along, picked me up and put Weingolb back on its feet.

What's this? Vernaccia, of the central Italian region surrounding Chianti zones, which is not to be confused with the age-worthy Verdicchio that is big across the hills in Umbria or the more coastal Vermentino of Mediterranean fame. Vernaccia takes its name from the Italian for vernacular, meaning indigenous, so a Vernaccia di San Gimignano is unrelated to any other Vernaccia you may come across. This Vernaccia is my new favourite drink, just in time for balcony season.

NO INTERNATIONAL CHARDONNAY PARADE IN REGIONAL ITALY

There's heap of great history to delve into too. Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the definitive and long-honoured white grape of Tuscany. Gee, why would a guy like me wait such a long time to get an introduction?

san quirico vernaccia di san gimignanoHello San Quirico Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2005. You are but one expression of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, but to me you are more than just an example. You are my first acquaintance to and blossoming endorsement of an entire grape variety and wine style -- a whole Medieval viticultural phenomenon, in fact. No pressure!

If you are interested in this phenom, see the ancient oenological legacy on this fantastically authentic Italian site. Great animations! It's like waking up to watch community programming early on Sunday mornings.

But enough about the Wine -- what about this wine. I would call it spicy lemon with supreme balance, rasping acidity and puckering finish that Jancis Robinson best calls "attractively bitter". Dry, beautiful wine at its summery best. Mmmm... Spicy lemon. Racy, citrusy but with a strong minerality too.

I had it with a garlicky grilled tuna fillets, the kind packed by Pastene and readily available at your grocery store, which I quickly and unceremoniously dump onto a balsamic mixed-bean salad with diced cucumber and orange and yellow peppers. The fish was a delicious match though a dressed salad, as always, is a bit of hitch when serving almost any wine.

San Quirico to the eye is a deep and golden yellow colour (like the photographs of the label suggest) and wonderfully aromatic. This Vernaccia seemed to pack some heft, and while quenching and refreshing might be "job one", it possesses a slightly beeswaxy note that wasn't at all displeasing at the time. It added some depth. With lovely mineral tones and a squeaky clean wet stone quality, it kind of reminded me of some great Rieslings but without the petrol.

I would've taken photos and more exact notes of the glasses I drank but it was hot and I was enjoying sipping it at exactly the perfect temperature.

When I had digested my meal I pressed on to more urgent matters. Like why there are no bottles of this at the LCBO, where I found it in April, and why the SAQ would stock three versions of (rather boring) Tuscan Vermentino, eight respectable bottles Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, but only one Vernaccia di San Gimignano (which by the way is not exactly plentiful in Montreal).

san quirico vernaccia di san gimignano corkThey're mine!

In the meantime, I hope they stop planting Chardonnay in Italy. The regional white grapes that are already there (and in danger of being phased out) are so characterful and so especially aromatic that international Chardonnay is the furthest thing from a suitable update for them.

The only Chard I'm having this summer is some Swiss Chard, tossed with prosciutto and olives, or maybe more of that tuna and bean salad, accompanied by glorious, golden Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

San Quirico, San Gimignano, Italia. 12.5%. Made with certified organic grapes.

[I've never considered an importer important information before but in this case the summer is long and supply isn't so dial up Brunello Imports Inc. of Toronto, the exclusive agent in Ontario for San Quirico at 416-630-WINE (9463). Enjoy!]

20070606

Whitney Houston crack photos and my PageRank, together again!

Once again, googling leads to giggling... Click this image and take a long lingering look at the search engine suggestions.

photographic evidence: how whitney houston finds her crack lately

Doh! Apart from some sponsored links, Google says Doktor Weingolb is your first stop on the Internet when you need to get your Whitney Houston crack photo fix. And proudly so!

Or no. Not really at all. What's Google thinking? It's not the first time I've asked. Time to get answers.

If you sometimes ponder the appropriateness of Google search results, then read this Sunday Business article called Google Keeps Tweaking Its Search Engine which recently appeared in the New York Times. It's interesting, if only for the idea that Google is the search engine leader of pack because it knows how to translate too brief, too vague or mistyped queries into exactly the online information that its users want.

For example, a search term like "apple" is not the same as "Apple", according to the sociolinguists at Google. Cracking good work but maybe it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

Someone looking for crack photos featuring Whitney Houston is offered my wine photos from NoHo where I chose to crack open a bottle of wine. :(

I figure I can sell a good Viognier to anyone anyday yet I think this amounts to one blog visitor who's very displeased with my referral.

Further reading: Google PageRank: What Do We Know About It?, Smashing Magazine

20070604

A fun final office assignment: Monchiero Carbone Srü 2003

I used to work with a guy named Dan. Dan had what you would call natural talent. He could always surprise you with a great bottle of wine when you'd least expect it. Usually they would be Italian wines, red and dry, and they would often come from the most unlikely of places.

Once, he picked up a nice Amarone that he found curbside on garbage day.

More recently, on the behalf of all my co-workers generously celebrating my final day in the office, he handed me a Roero wine in lovely wooden caddy (I don't think he found either of these in the garbage).

Finding a wine from Roero, an Italian wine region I had never ever heard of, seemed even more bizarre to me than finding a bottle discarded in the street. Finding one named Srü -- a name from a unique Northern Italian dialect -- just blew my mind even more. I promised him that I would report back on this Srü as soon as I uncorked it.

Monchiero Carbone Srü Roero 2003 (click on the bottle's back label below for product details) is made from Nebbiolo grapes harvested in the Piemonte region. Its selling feature is that it doesn't require extended cellaring like a lot of Nebbiolos do. So I didn't waste time in finding the right occasion to open it. When former co-worker Susan invited me to a dinner of delicious braised beef and polenta, I knew that the moment belonged to the Srü. I proudly slapped it on the table.

sru roero Monchiero Carbone front label with daffidil
sru roero Monchiero Carbone back label with daffidil
It went perfectly with Susan's menu. Fruity and with lively acid, it refreshed us with each sip during our meal. Besides Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo is the perfect grape variety for simmered beef dishes.

It was elegant and definitely ready to drink. This red was much more approachable than I was expecting, a real pleasure to drink. And drink we did, using Susan's nearly Barolo-shaped wine glasses. How appropriate!

sru roero Monchiero Carbone pairs with Italian peasant food daffidil
You might want to decant this wine. I got some bottle schmeg in my glass.

wine sediments can appear is many different forms in many different bottles
Thanks to everyone who contributed to such a wonderful discovery of a gift! (And Susan, next time it's my turn.)

the sru
Find out more on this interesting wine region called Roero.

Canale, Italia. 14%.