20070730

Big Apple, big worm

stat counter hits from the New York Times
All you have to do to get 50 visitors on your site at once is comment on a New York Times blog -- leave something written in vaguely threatening language and then in the next clause offer important details on personal safety with some subtly prostelyzing text that doubles as a hyperlink, hiding behind it, of course, the URL to your web address.

Let's review.

Foreboding words > promise of salvation > clickable URL . . . hits from NYT!
Of course I am still talking about wine, oftentimes a topic not far from egomania.

internet traffic nytimes.com referrals record number of visitorsRecently, this blog managed to see a record-setting 113 visitors in a single hour because I left a small caveat on Eric Asimov's blog The Pour. He posted how serving wine at cold temperatures can be far from ideal, even in summer, even in a place as searingly hot as New York City. (Just this weekend, New York's inimitable heat was reiterated in the Times in no uncertain terms -- "The average Manhattan midsummer day is hot, rank and long" -- so you get the sense how radical Eric's post is.)

CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE

Me, I wanted to add that when it's rank and hot, sparkling wines are not only quite enjoyable served very cold -- colder than other wines -- but also that uncorking them requires that they be chilled to an icy cold temperature. This is key to avoid a potentially volatile opening with bubbly spurting everywhere. Warmer bottles have a tendency to do this when opened, as I helpfully explained in my comment with a link to this post, blog fodder that taught me a real lesson in how to chill wines appropriately.

I didn't mean to be alarmist. I've left many comments on Eric's blog that refer back to mine and none generated the amount of referrals of a carefully worded caution about how not to have Champagne blow up in your face.

And that either means people read the New York Times because they're savvy drinkers always looking to stay savvy or because they're a real frightful, impressionable bunch that startle easy and always fear the worst.

I need a better stat counter to figure that one out.

20070725

Italian white grape adventures roll on: Castello di Porcia Classico 2005

obscure white italian grape varieties tocai tokay tokaji varietal
My primary objective continues to be fragrant and refreshing white wines from Italy and as the summer heats up I'm happy to report on this interesting bottle, which I found peering up at me from the SAQ's bottom shelf. It is a new product in store and one of only two readily available Tocais that I'm aware of in the province. As a result, I had no trouble deciding to take the plunge on this inexpensive and unique bottle.

It's a varietal wine labelled Tocai Italiano. The name of the Italian/Slovenian Tocai grape has a vast and sordid history (see details here). The most important thing is the grape itself -- names be damned.

Tocai fruiliano chateau di Porcia italia Classico 2005It is that grape which is the predominant variety in a perennial favourite of mine, the Maculan "Pino & Toi". Here, in the Tocai Italico Castello di Porcia Lison-Pramaggiore Classico 2005, no blending grapes are used, meaning that the wine can take on the Lison-Pramaggiore appellation.

(I find it kind of funny and somewhat unfortunate that the SAQ website lists this item with an ill-advised space that renders the producer's name as Castello di Porc -- Pig Castle... the difference between a Porc and a Porcia certainly could not be greater. Oh well.)

Of this appellation, The Oxford Companion to Wine says that it lies mainly in the Veneto region of north east Italy and was created in 1986 by the fusion of two previous DOCs (Italian regions carrying the Denominazione di Origine Controllata seal), the Cabernet di Pramaggiore and Tocai di Lison.

While it's not too close to San Gimignano and its Vernaccia, which live quite a bit further down the boot in Tuscany, it is a perfect substitute with a similar attack and slaking refreshment.

If Vernaccia is known for a slight bitter finish, this Tocai has more of a sour dimension and suggests a Sauvignon Blanc's tartness. The grape's alternate names include Sauvignonasse and Vert -- each one lending the notion of a pithy weediness.

I've had some cheap Tocai that end up tasting resinated and half-way to Retsina, which can be a problem though Retsina does have its own time and place for enjoyment.

Overall, this is an affordable summertime food wine with good acidity and emphasis on minerality.

"Light in colour and body, floral in aroma, and has pronounced almond notes on the palate and on the nose. It is designed to be drunk young."

20070720

Auxerrois from the other side of the world: Etchart Rio de Plata 2004/2005

auxerrois cot malbec grape variety wine comparison over two vintages south american production
Etchart has been producing wine since 1850 but I've only been keeping track for a couple of years! Here are the two most recent vintages of their Rio de Plata Malbec, both of which you may find stocked on shelves and on sale in Quebec at the moment. (With discount this Malbec is $9.85 including taxes -- click on the bottle image for details.) Also note that Etchart's reliable Torrontes 2006 from its Cafayate range is also discounted until Sunday.

The Rio de Plata range is a self-professed line of wines called "easy-drinking" and by that you should interpret the wines to mean their immediate opening and enjoyment. These are very fresh cuvées, which belies their made-for-export pedigree. Zippy, balanced and quite suave, the Etchart Malbec masks the often sweetish, indelicate and over-oaked attributes of many industrially produced wines. I'm not sure what the total output of Rio de Plata is, but I don't doubt the designed-for-export nature of this range of Malbecs and Merlots. (Their Merlot varietal is also a wonder and fine example of crafting high-quality, pleasing wines within an international market.)

There's a real deft touch Etchart has developed in recent years, a by-product of the modernization of their centuries-old wine production and one that I would consider a definite plus.

Here are notes I took when I opened these wines on two separate occasions.

Etchart Rio de Plata Malbec 2004 is a simple and effective expression of the Malbec grape. Here, the grape comes from a place far away from where it was originally grown and traditionally known as Auxerrois. It kills me this $10 South American version of Cahors can so nonchalantly please, even if it's not exactly long nor profound on the finish.

Etchart Rio de Plata Malbec 2005 also conveys winemaking craft at its height, again equally pleasing in this succeeding second vintage. It features the perfect blend of ripe freshness and oaky vanilla with typical licorice tones. Ideal dinner wine in a pinch. Who needs arty when this comes in at only $9.85? Not showy. A workmanlike wine with fine balance and acidity.

Bodegas Etchart, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5%.

20070719

Vidéotron stages mass intervention with huge interruption of Internet service

76%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

After a lengthy vacation from blogging, and more recently, yesterday's persistent Internet service outage from giant Quebec provider Vidéotron, my numbers are finally coming down to safer, saner levels. I am now only 76% addicted to blogging.

Between my own free will and my service provider forcing me to limit my blogging, I feel like a new man.

Others on the internets are not so thankful of this interventionist tough love. This French blogger writes that for at least two hours there were so many complaints phoned in to Vidéotron technical support that contacting anyone who could tell you anything at all was entirely hopeless.

This IT blog for a Quebec broadcaster indicates that even getting that far -- finding so much as a dial tone -- was out of the question for the unfortunate folks who use Vidéotron's IP telephone services in addition to its high-speed cable Internet. Bummer.

I know this first-hand because for dinner last night I was visiting friends who faced exactly that situation. Communication to the outside world was out of the question, until, by some good luck and little know-how, we were able to update a Facebook status using a cell phone. The send-success tone that the cell phone emitted came with a little rush of dopamine felt by all.

Later on when I got home difficulties continued to affect the network so I'd say the problems must've lasted at least five hours.

So while I never got to post yesterday, I see that Brooklynguy's latest post covers many of the topics of my own offline dinner, wherein a local feast from the nearby Farnham farm of André Samson showed off the freshness and delicacy of the season. Check out Brooklynguy's Wine and Food Blog for the joys of farmers' markets and fresh produce.

20070716

Preserved in alcohol? News that the French paradox ends when you die

UPDATED!

I came across this interesting item when looking for a good online currency converter.

(Sometimes I wonder about my ability to use search terms effectively.)

$4725.00The Cadaver Calculator - Find out how much your body is worth


According to the Cadaver Calculator (it's hard to resist giving it a spin so go ahead a give it a try) my body is worth $4725 and that's about $500 less than it could be if I didn't drink. Had I selected zero as my usual daily alcohol intake I would been over the $5000 mark, and that kind of money would've gone a long way in establishing my cave, especially the Bordeaux section of it which is currently quite empty.

This is shocking but maybe I am missing something. Isn't a healthy cadaver a valuable one? Are all of us winos congratulating ourselves for a healthy lifestyle modeled on the French paradox diet really just convincing ourselves?

When in doubt about how things really work, I turn to the Internet. Woah, wine = health! It seems I could be a monkey at a typewriter and still return Google results that list all the ways a drink with dinner is health benefit, especially when it's wine consumed at a one-drink-per-day rate. Is there a day that goes by that a scientist doesn't announce some benefit of moderate wine consumption?

Could the Cadaver Calculator please use formulas that are compatible with the French Diet? Somebody please fix the quiz so that this plus is not a minus to my personal worth.

[Okay, here's an intriguing update that fell into my lap just after I posted this. Apparently, the New York Times just published a news story with the title "Alcohol Goes on a Health Kick," immediately implying that alcohol never is on such a kick for your body. This is horrible. But wait -- if you go on to read half way through the article, you will get to the part that says "alcohol causes cell damage". So breathe a sigh of relief. This "cell" business is clearly what the morticians who wrote this quiz are on about. So there are some damaged cells in my body as the result of the alcohol in wine. It doesn't mean that my drinking is not healthy, just that I got some issues as a cadaver. And, come to think of it, why would I care about that anyway -- I'd be dead already!]

20070711

WBW #35 Spanish Wine Values: Castillo de Liria 2006

chateau de liria spanish pink wine rosé review
This fantastically appealing WBW theme (I bet there will be more participants than ever even though blogging efforts tend to wane in the summer) seems to pick up where mine left off. Like WBW #33 Languedoc-Roussillon value wine, this event is based a huge wine-producing area and an effort to seek out strong values.

I definitely found an outstanding value. It's so cheap I can't remember ever paying so little for bottle. And the beauty of it all is that a lot of plonk is more expensive than this $8 wonder.

It's called Castillo de Liria Valencia Rosé 2006 and it rings in at only $8.15 in Canadian funds. If you were to convert that to the US dollar it would be $7.70 -- well under $10 limit suggested in the WBW 35 theme. (In fact if you factor in the relatively high taxes levied on all wine bought in Quebec, this is basically a Spanish wine that retails for $6.65 US.)

Opening a bottle this affordable is what I call a no-risk endeavour. Nevertheless, I have the usual consumer-guide notes to provide.

This rosé is a transparent but bright fuschia in colour. On the nose there are strong scents of strawberry shortcake -- both sweet and fruity and bready and yeasty.

On the palate this wine is all juicy cherries but with some minerality for structure. A stunning crisp and clean finish that's quite tight is what convinces me that this a fine value. It's not at all cloying or syrupy. This rosé had none of the sugary aftertaste that I was expecting.

roses and pizza pairingIt went down great with pizza garnished with green peppers, tomatoes and ham. Overall, Castillo de Liria makes a unidimensional wine but renders it into such a nice and versatile quaffer, I'd gladly recommend it, especially for scarfing down simple dinners or for having a drink in the sun. It is 100% Bobal grape, which was introduced to me only recently at a wine shop tasting in the form of an interesting Languedoc-Roussillon sparkling rosé.

I've had some of the line of products made by Gandia Wines in the past and nothing from Vicente Gandia ever grabbed me. I'm happy to see that one of his most rock-bottom-priced wines is convincing.

Thanks to Michelle at My Wine Education for getting me back into the wine-blogging-Wednesday game after a month off to recuperate from my WBW hosting duties. Michelle, I hope you enjoy all the reviews you're getting sent your way and I'm looking forward to the round-up in a few days!

Chiva, Valencia, España. 12%.

20070709

Poolside wines: What balance

Will Jancis topple over without my support? Is drinking four glasses of wine before lunch on Tuesdays part of a well-balanced lifestyle? Do cheap-o rosés have any poise, elegance or integrity to them at all?

jancis robinson in white bikini sipping wines by the pool in summer rosésVin de piscine or "poolside wines" -- the theme of the final lunchhour wine tasting at the Cour Mont-Royal SAQ -- is the focus of this entry. While that may be focus, the focal point is Jancis Robinson's superimposed face on a summer babe body because the photos I took at this event (which was staged in a mock backyard setting rather showily constructed in the tasting corner of this "gants blancs" store) were entirely deleted in less than a second. They were deleted by me. I was buzzed.

The wine that inspires you will only defy you, especially if it's before noon, which is when these lunchtime midi conseils typically get under way. More proof that cheap wines, thanks to inelegant use of sugar, will get you blitzed quicker? Or, beneath it all, it is really that I secretly miss Jancis so much (in a rather disturbed and unhealthy way!) since my membership to her subscription site expired last month? Perhaps I need a new way to get her attention now that that gated online forum of hers is off limits to me.

CAN I BE TRUSTED?

rose #1 cours mont-royal sag tasting vins de piscine 2007So now that I've admitted to incompetence, here are my mini reviews of the four cheap-o rosés the SAQ opened for guzzling (so cheap in fact that they did not charge the usual five dollars to participate in the weekly tasting):

First up was Mousseux Rosé J.P. Chenet, a wine entirely made of Bobal grapes, typically a Spanish variety. This isn't at all a bad Languedoc-Roussillon wine, but it is not promoted as a Vin de Pays d'Oc, nor does it indicate a vintage, as is the wont of many reputable sparkling wines. The distributed notes say that the J.P. Chenet brand sells a bottle and a half every second of every day. Total global export domination! It's actually not too shabby what all these people are buying for $12, if a bit gregarious with added sugar and no shortage of yeasty toastiness.

rose #2 cours mont-royal sag tasting vins de piscine 2007The second position was not a good one to be in after the heaps of sweetness of the Chenet. Bounding around the room was Cerasuolo Colle Cavalieri Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006. It's funny how much of this stuff you seem to get poured into your glass (when the tasting is poolside rosé rather than Pouilly-Fuissé or something else more treasured you really get treated like a king). Anyway this $10 bottle is standard Italian pink to me: hard candy notes with a lightly bitter finish. In comparison to the sparkling before it, it's bone bone dry. Suffered from a bad transition in a tasting room with no palate cleansers.

rose #3 cours mont-royal sag tasting vins de piscine 2007From Chile, the PKNT Rosé 2006 with a big hot pepper picture on its label was up next. Was I too easily suggestible, too drunk, or totally correct in thinking this wine tastes exactly like hot peppers? Buzzing grapefruit notes reigned in by thoroughly green tannins from the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes gives this wine a startling flavour profile similar to a bag of jalapeño-flavoured potato chips. Oddity. $12.75. I bet the PKNT Carmenère with its green pepper tasting note is equally as bizarre.

rose #4 cours mont-royal sag tasting vins de piscine 2007It was at this point I recall snapping a picture of the woman next to me who had pulled out an SAQ plastic water bottle. That's right! SAQ H20. It looked like one of those Tim Hortons bottled waters but with Société des Alcools du Québec written on it in trademark colours and typeface. I thought it was hilarious to make an effort to stay hydrated at a lunchhour tasting. Or maybe she knew about the hot pepper wine and came prepared. Ay, caramba!

While I realize rosés are cheap, this tasting definitely was bottom-of-the-barrel, even for pink wine, until the final bottle. Was everyone wasted by the time it flowed? The Domaine du Vieil Aven Tavel 2006 was $20 and better than the others yet I would counter to suggest you get a better deal on this blended style of pink wine with Michel Gassier's $14 Château de Nages from Costières de Nîmes. Sure, it's no Tavel, but it's not far off from the exclusively pink A.O.C. zone known as Tavel. This rosé is said to be age-worthy for five years. Maybe that what's the extra $5 are for?

So there it is -- just in time for this week's approaching heatwave. (Also please refer to these always-dependable rosé wines and this article on heatwave wining and dining.) And this also all comes just in time for the return of Joe of Joe's Wine. He's back in Montreal after some time in France and the wealth of posts he's accumulated and brought back with him is impressive. This post is for Joe, who always reported all the other SAQ noon tastings that I sadly could not attend.

Until next time, enjoy the heat folks!