20080710

Out of shape at 33


Out of shape at 33 is one of those targeted ads you see on Facebook. They are insidious, but ultimately they are an acceptable trade-off for many Facebookers (you reveal your birth date so your friends can get birthday reminders in order to buy you a drink; you suffer thereafter a torrent of tanned, toned abdominal muscles that call you out by your age, peppering you with reproach about your wanning fitness the day after your birthday).

But they are only annoying as they are effective. Internet incantations of laziness prompted me to post this, after all.

Finally, after six weeks of inactivity and silence, I am posting. Finally, after a marked increase in bottles of calorie-rich wine (that just so happened to match my sudden hike in vacation time, which always carries with it wanning physical activity)!

And, sure enough, this post comes after a time away in which I celebrated my 33rd birthday. So that's me who's out of shape. There's no contest: I really am out of shape at 33. At the very least, this blog space is a testament to it.

SEXY, STREAMLINED AND SAVVY IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE

I bring up Facebook mostly because I'm on it and I'm on it a lot. (Oh, don't act surprised. You're on there too. So is Steve De Long of De Long's Wine Moment. So is David McDuff of McDuff's Food and Wine Trail.)

Need more proof of how much I'm on there (other than the sad abs-in-my-face story)? Here:
MY NEW WINE BLOG ON FACEBOOK

Yes, I've been somewhat busy with a new foray for Weingolb set in an exciting collaborative environment: it's called the Facebook page.

Here's what a Facebook page brings:

  • public access to everyone on the Internet (notice that I didn't say it was a Facebook profile!) so it's not restricted to registered Facebook members (though Facebookers do get the added benefits of an improved social networking experience, which is something that has entirely changed the raison d'être of wineblogging for me -- thanks especially to BrooklynGuy, Bill "the Caveman" Zacharkiw and Joe from Joe's Wine

  • a multi-purpose wall for writing comments, wine reviews or comments on wine reviews (or...?)

  • a discussion board for enhanced development of forum topics

  • the easiest photo and video upload tool on the planet -- accessible to all, whether you are a reader, administrator, weindoktor or plonkpupil

  • built-in RSS and news feed features for reliably keeping track of updates

  • event creation -- though it's a bit stiff and I admit could be better -- and the usual web 2.0 bells and whistles

  • automatic web tracking and metrics (bye-bye slow-loading Site Meter)

  • But most of all, the biggest thing it brings is:
  • convenience and ease of access... since I'm already always on Facebook!

Ooops. I've forgotten a bit about wineblogging. It has been a long, long time since I last wine blogged. I meant to say... Here's what my Facebook page brings:And those were just wines suitable for the celebration of my 33rd birthday. Plenty of other everyday wines are documented too.I'm about to post reviews on Château Candastre, another French southwest wine from Gaillac, this time red, and a Limoux sparkling wine from Laurens.

Drink up!

Thanks to all the clever bloggers I have continued to read during my slow-down and switch. They have kept me inspired. I may never publish notes once a day as I did when I started this site. But I am hopeful that this move could ultimately be better than the blogging of my early days anyway.

So I hope you will visit me over here on my re-launched page.

20080602

"De la terre"







De la terre means from the earth.

De la terre is also the name of the bakery café that my sister works at in Fonthill, Ontario. Its focus is on local and organic, with local taking precedence over certified organic, but often you get both. So one way or the other "de la terre" is a well suited name for this place.

See their website for words from the horse's mouth. It's at De la terre Café and Bakery.

Or read on below for what I was able to pick up about this ambitious and pleasing spot.

Though my sister has only been working as pastry chef apprentice since November 1, 2007, De la terre is already approaching its second anniversary. Jan Campbell-Luxton is the proprietor and chef of the café. He serves up a mean breakfast (shown in the photographs here) and lunch (I sampled an amazing braised beef sourdough sandwich with the best Ontario mustard I've ever tasted, as well as an fascinating celery root and apple soup).

Though it's open for breakfast and lunch but not dinner, De la terre possesses an omnipotent influence on the neighbourhood that surrounds it. In addition to a commitment to local food crops, Jan also has a barter system set up so that anyone can bring in their fresh chemical-free greens or other local produce and strike up a deal with the kitchen.

I imagine that they've given out more than a few loaves of their bread this way. Their bread is also distributed at the Grimsby market on Thursdays and at a various other establishments, including the Saint Catharines restaurant called Pan Café.

SETTING OTHER ANNIVERSARIES

As a pastry chef, my sister may not be affected by local harvests as much as head chefs who manage an entire kitchen. Regardless, she does use many regional ingredients in her creations.

You can see some of her recent baking, which she has been doing entirely on a volunteer basis. See the spelt wedding cake and dessert trays she customized for a wedding in Ball's Falls last weekend by clicking here.

That wedding -- my brother's, in fact -- carried a local theme similar to so many restaurants, recipes and cuisines have been the trend at the moment in the cultural zeitgeist. At the wedding reception, all the cupcakes, spelt brownies and other dessert nibblies were baked in a conventional domestic oven, in my sister's simple kitchen, located about only 15 minutes away from the reception.

Also keeping with the local theme, the wedding favours given out to guests of my brother and his bride once the fabulous desserts ended were large clay pots of young herbs -- mint, sage and rosemary sprigs. These were starter kits for a summer of home harvesting.

Local may be trendy these days, but it is more than that in the bigger picture. And it's more than sentiment at a wedding. It's delicious, for one thing.

When you're one of the neighbours of De la terre Café and Bakery, it's a huge benefit too and valuable addition to the community.

20080526

I left my iPod in San Francisco


I got tagged with a musical meme by my buddy Joe at a perfect time.

I've been reminiscing about the traveling I did in California during the first half of April. And I've been reminiscing about the West Coast(-inspired) music that often served as ambition for my trip.

Neither one is with me anymore. Both the scenery and songs are now gone. All I have are memories, and luckily, some mp3 copies on my hard drive.

So here then, thanks to Joe of Joe's Wine Journal, is what I have been listening to lately -- sounds that have definitely shaped my spring (these are not mp3s but rather video links so just click on them to listen to the tracks).

MGMT - "Of Moons, Birds & Monsters"

Shea at Just Grapes responded to Joe's tag with "Kids," this band's most alluring pop song in my opinion. But MGMT are a very talented act with some serious chops in so many genres: glam, psychedelica, classic rock, indie dance, even disco. My great hope for modern music in 08, though I must say that their live show doesn't suggest the how incredible their debut full-length recording is. Buy Oracular Spectacular before your friends do.

Sonic Youth - "Disappearer"

The best band in the universe once wrote an album called "Goo" that chronicled the effect of show business to those new to the biz. It's a modern-day Gypsy but with a noisier score than "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and it's more about Hollywoodland than anything I else I could grab when I was packing my bags for my first trip to Cali.

Saint Etienne - "Postman"

Though a British band with a French pop element, Saint Etienne sing many songs that evoke or pay homage to postwar California. Much of their 1998 album named Good Humor (with its characteristic US spelling), evokes California living and chasing the American dream, usually with a catharsis or two along the way.

No Age - "Neck Escaper"

The band shown at the end of the video linked above is not No Age, but another Los Angeles band named AAnchors AAweigh, who I enjoyed at Spaceland in Silver Lake on April 11. No Age, meanwhile, is primed for big success with their new album Nouns following the critical acclaim of their last release Weirdo Rippers, from which this infectious track is taken.

Imperial Teen - "Room With A View"

The rushed, do-it-all, fit-it-all-in-better-than-you feeling of this song captured my week in San Francisco in retrospect. It's about grabbing what you can, while you can, even though you know it's not gonna last. The band is not on my regular rotation list but I admire them more than I listen to them, which is okay too.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "10 x 10"

I'm always aurally turned on by the sounds of this Brooklyn band, now spending much of its time in LA. No clue about what this song is actually about lyrically. I just love their feisty throw-downs, their great guitar sounds and their sense of self.

Pavement - "Fillmore Jive"

This could be the best song of all time. After seeing the musical depth of this Bay Area band's ten-year oeuvre when jazz masters James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Reginald Veal and Ali Jackson pored over songs from the Pavement catalog, there's no doubt that cuts like "Fillmore Jive" can live forever. It's nice to be particularly into this track at the moment once again.

20080514

Chloe, Helena and me: California split wins big at Café Chloe when I order the dinner special and pour Château Montelena 2005

video(MUSIC CREDIT: DJ SHADOW)

This is the first video upload I've ever done on my blog. A fantastic meal matched by an astounding wine were the factors that led me to create it. But it's not a video on the wine or the restaurant per se. Rather, it's a video inspired by them -- these are the scenes that unfolded around me while drinking California's best wine at what must be Southern California's best sidewalk cafe. It's less a gastronomic documentary than it is an interpretation of feeling; less food and wine than twilight mystery developing into the rich, delicious night. It's the Ch Petrogasm of wine video podcasting, if you will.

(By the way, the evocative soundtrack is by California's DJ Shadow, who hails from Davis -- especially suitable since it is the centre of California wine knowledge.)

This comes at a momentous point in time: After I (a) dined at the same restaurant for three consecutive days and (b) finally tasted an American wine that actually made me think seriously about the meaning of the Judgment of Paris.

I can safely say that neither of these things has happened to me before. Until now, I was more of an accidental tourist, never planning to repeatedly return to the same venue while on vacation abroad -- never finding a restaurant with such savvy, yet retaining a keen sense of self (Café Chloe, in San Diego's Gaslamp District, was originally tapped by the inordinately useful Brooklynguy). And also until now, I thought I was the judge on whether I bought New World or Old World wine. Tasting this Napa Valley wine made me think that maybe California was holding all the cards.

So can California cash in on me and make me a repeat player at their table? For a bottle of what I tasted, it's $44.50 in Quebec, and $44.95 in Ontario. In its home state, you'd pay a sommelier some 30-something dollars for a half bottle, which would roughly make the retail price up to $10 cheaper south of the border.

At either pricepoint, this wine is worth it. the wine I am talking about is the Château Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley 2005. It doesn't just try to be Chablis, it does one better with its own beguiling expressiveness.

But the smart sommelier service I received and the great, truly French approach that Café Chloe demonstrates played their part too, making this a dinner of synergy and total amusement.

Château Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley 2005

Eyes: As my video suggests, I was taking notes on the Café Chloe sidewalk terrace after dark. The gleaming lights of the San Diego Padres at Petco Park were a feeble twinkle behind Farkas Store Fixtures. No notes on the visuals, sorry.

Nose: Toasty nose. Yeast and brioche with green-tinted fruit.

Mouth: Best of both Worlds? This has a buttery finish on a seriously minerally and citrus-exposed version of Chardonnay. So buttery it seems creamy and sort of oxidized at first (malolactic fermentation?) but it is terrific and worth paying attention to. Strict lines frame a wine with deep, ponderous expression but it's quixotically sharply bracing, with great slaking refreshment. Like the California sea air. Refreshing, but more contemplative than a typical Chablis. And the nice layer of wood or that slight malo hint I get. Dry, lingering, with a balance that makes the the dismount as wonderful as the attack.

Stomach: Café Chloe served me a great dinner plate with loads of local produce, tastefully done and beautifully presented. With the fresh Pacific salmon I had (my first), I was enchanted. Though if I have to honestly say whether tasted more terroir in the fish than in my Chardonnay, I'd single out the drink. While the fish was prepared to perfection, I was let down by (perhaps) overblown promises of Pacific Coast catches, especially the salmon, in this case.

I'd say that salmon's not the ideal match for a clean-lined Chard -- herbed roasted chicken might be the best pairing -- but it didn't matter in the least. The basic building blocks I was given were there. West Coast brilliance!

And my last post said I had to force things in California?

Calistoga, Napa Valley, California, U.S.A. 13.5%.

20080505

On vacation in California, forcing the American wine out of me



The trouble with Californian wine may be California -- the Freeway State.

Half the time I was trying to have fun and kick back; the other half I was desperately trying to burn up the alcohol I ingested so I could get back in the car and up the next on-ramp.

Here I am suffering through a dubious do-it-yourself Breathalyzer test in Griffith Park. I don't even think the test worked, but more on that later.

To tell it to you straight, my palate is no more a lover of the fat reds of California than my liver is. And I've been vocal in my disapproval of American wines, even when my liver for the most part would stay intact. Arising transportation issues made my outlook on exploring the local wine scene dimmer -- even in sunny SoCal.

So the idea of navigating my rental car from wine stop to wine stop in Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Temecula was dead in the water before it ever began. I drove to Mar Vista, and took a tour of some chateaux which were are simple, flat-roofed and hugging the ground instead. I took snapshots, not shots of wine, while I was there.

I wasn't even going to try to try California wine after coming all this way. It was my own stubbornness and fear of DUI, plus a wee bit of being a bad wineblogger (or else I wouldn't have created my first-ever video documentary on YouTube on the rather dry and sobering topic of postwar California tract housing and subsequently post it online to my other non-wine blog... Clearly a good wineblogger would've produced from this trip some insightful, if scathing, wine podcasts instead of researching residential history for a Mar Vista montage that nobody will want to watch).

A LIGHT AT THE END OF MY TUNNEL VISION

francis ford coppola 2006 Bianco pinot grigio california rosso &bianco seriesI may have been so busy forsaking Californian wine along with its higher than normal alcohol content that I didn't recognize this bottle of value wine that we picked up in Los Feliz. It came with a cute Retsina glass cellophaned over the top and was only $11.99 -- a no brainer for a spur-of-the-moment picnic wine. And that was before we tasted it. It wasn't bad!

In retrospect, I think my fellow wine drinker and I could've finished the bottle and I could've had the usual "full share" of my portion and not left the remaining wine you see here. It was a nice "light" Cali alternative.

It got the same thumb's up that my co-pilot gave me for putting the keys in the ignition. While DYI Breathalyzer tests can be tricky to administer and interpret, ultimately friends don't let friends drive drunk.

Which is great.

But as I said, me = bad wineblogger. I don't have any more details to give you on our experience with the wine than what is written and pictured here.

But I have more than that for my next post: I did myself and others a big favour by tasting and writing a note for a Chateau Montelena.

20080421

SNAKSHOT: Greens is Golden

fort mason san francisco bay marina district
Kuentz-Bas Blanc Alsace 2005 Domaine Catherine La Goeuil Cuvée Léa Flesch Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne
acme bakery ferry building embarcadero
The tag for this post should be "Foodbloggers' Guide to the Globe" because anyblogger who's been to San Francisco's Greens would nominate it a top taste of the city.

Never mind that everyone's meal also comes with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. And without being overly scientific above it, Greens' wine list was the most welcoming experience of my two weeks in California. It presents a host of food-friendly wines from all over served by the glass and with reasonable prices on bottles, and half-bottles too -- which is what a solo diner like me went with, after a glass of Kuentz-Bas Blanc Alsace 2005, which being a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling, was a beautiful way to support the blood orange salad starter.

Everything was delicious, perfect, heavenly. Including my server, Cher, who helped when I balked at finishing the last portions remaining of the Domaine Catherine La Goeuil Cuvée Léa Flesch Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne 2005. It was made for the Mesquite Grilled Brochettes -- skewers of mushrooms, peppers, garnet yams, fennel, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and marinated tofu with charmoula, served on cherry-pistachio couscous.

And that the golden crusty bread they serve is always from The Acme Bread Company, which is far and away the best bakery in the city.

The place is without fault. You can approach the menu blindfolded -- it's all that good.

Just don't ask for meat 'cause they don't have any.

20080420

Notes on Alain Lorieux Expression 2005, Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux 2004... and the best drink made in California comes from a Clover


It's me again, back from California, mopping up the remains of WBW 44 by finding those tasting notes I omitted from my last post.

Since that post I've been down to San Diego, up to LA, and back to San Francisco, eating amazing food all the way, and probably gaining some extra weight after these two full weeks of eating out (that's okay -- that's what airplane bugs are for).

FOOD SLOW AND FANTASTIC, WINE EXPENSIVE AND LESS FINE

When visiting California, the wine is, in every case except at the carbon-footprint-reducing Getty Center Restaurant in Los Angeles, international in scope. The Getty takes a stand by offering only local wine. So it was at the Getty that I launched into a half bottle of Qupé Syrah from the Central Coast. It made me think more of Australia than Rhône -- whose grape varieties this winery has claimed to dedicate itself to. It was no Château Montelena (an exceptional wine that deserves a separate post here), but the 2006 was not devoid of charm either. In the end, it was like too many Californians I drink: too expensive and not my style. Or, for short: $$$, NMS

(I must've started sounding like a broken record saying this because while in San Francisco someone handed me a glass of Sanford Pinot Noir Vin Gris from Santa Barbara (the first winery shown in the movie Sideways) and it was an extreme counterpoint to Qupés everywhere, yet it that did little to improve my notion of the charm in West Coast wine.)

Oh well. There are bigger and brighter things for someone like me to gravitate to when in California. Like the image above taken from the Bay Area's Blue Bottle Cafe, a place that epitomizes the movement I might call next-wave drip coffee. This movement extends from coffees made from French presses (Bodums) to Eva Solo brewers (individually filtered cups), to vacuum siphons, Chemex coffeemakers and the crazy Rube Goldberg thing pictured above that uses gravity, no heat and a little time to brew ice coffee. And finally there's the ultimate: the Clover. And California's got more retail Clovers than any state in the union.

THE CLOVERS ARE COMING

One coffee from a Clover coffee brewer had me thinking that my favourite espresso from a Synesso machine was all wet. Perhaps not better, but so different.

If a caffè macchiato is like a Tannat-walloping Madiran, a Clover drip coffee is an elegant Irouléguy -- delivering the same goods ultimately but in an aromatic and charming way with a huge front and mid palate and a gently bitter finish. Irouléguy wines are what I want to drink at dinner this summer; Clover coffees are how I want my summer mornings to start.

Unfortunately, the closest Clover I know of is at the Dalhousie Bridgehead in Ottawa. I'm sure they are lurking in the streets of our towns, ready to spring up soon. Or else I'll be springing up in Ottawa. Watch for them/me.

So wine analogies aren't a theme on this blog, wine is. Without further ado:

NOTES ON MY WBW 44 CHINONS



Please click on an image for links to additional product information.

Alain Lorieux Expression Chinon 2005

Eyes: Colour is deep purple.

Nose: Licorice and stewed fruit.

Mouth: Creamy and very aromatic; pithy but juicy too with a nice bitter note. Very tannic. Characteristic "green pepper" but it's more leafy, musky and minerally than the stereotype might suggest. A lean angular structure -- not too overwhelming on the palate, with med body but dryiing tannins leave a strong impression.

Stomach: With food, it's a spicy and alluring dinner wine. Tuna and fresh tomato and herb pasta with lots of olive oil is perfect with it. This echoes the vegetal elements of the wine. A lively acidity support this Chinon at the table.

Alain & Pascal Lorieux, Cravant-les-Coteaux, Chinon, France. 13.5%.



Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux Chinon 2004

Eyes: Colour is bright fuschia, lighter around the rim and vibrant purple at the centre.

Nose: Dried herbs, alcohol and fruit compote -- a very sharp and astringent perfume.

Mouth: Much fruit, black cherry with its pits covered in cream and with a bright acidity. Mineral and tannic -- a typical combination that conveys the earthy spice of the Loire terroir. Smoothness on the finish, average length, light to medium body overall.

Stomach: A juicy cut of beef and mushrooms with thyme and orange and yellow peppers. A more alcoholic impression than most (even though it is a quite low 13) and as an outcome of that, seems to demand heartier fare.

Coteau de Sonnay, Cravant-les-Coteaux, Chinon, France. 13%.

20080402

Gary Vaynerchuk slays WBW 44. He slays it!

domaine de beausejour david et gerard chauveau chinon
The first wine I tasted in California was a Chinon.

You don't hear that too often. But maybe TV Wine Library will help make it sound a little less out of the ordinary.

I am now spending my third day in California and I still have yet to taste a Californian wine. This is odd. Forces are working against me holding out much longer. Like last night at San Francisco's Nopa. I ordered a Gigondas and I get word back that there are none left -- I should have the Zinfandel instead. It's comparable in price, my server indicated.

But there's no price I am willing to pay for American wine.

Around $20 for a half bottle of Chinon at Restaurant Clementine (Inner Richmond) on Wine Blogging Wednesday? You bet.

Luckily, the one-country wine list at Delfina, which is on 18th at Guerrero, is not all American, it's Italian and southern Italian at that, which is utterly marvelous.



CHINON? MAIS OUI!

The two Chinons I tasted in preparation for WBW 44 are better than any wine I've tasted this week. Could it be because of the terroir? Could it just be something in the grapes? In the winemaking culture there? Like Gary claims, I think Chinon and its use of the Cabernet Franc grape got a good thing going on. I try not to over-analyze it.

I especially will not over-analyze it today, in the middle of my vacation (I just happen to have found a San José-bound bus issuing tickets that come with free WiFi (don't you love tech alley?) I have lots of notes to publish for WBW 44 but they will have to wait till later.

Until then, take a look at the labels on three very lovely Chinon reds. And here's a hint. The one shown in the middle of this post is the cheapest one and the best one. Here's another hint: You don't need a tasting note to run out and buy what you see pictured above "CHINON? MAIS OUI" -- or Would you like a Chinon? ... Of course you would! -- so just go out and get some.

20080401

150th wine review (100 reds and 50 whites): Domaine de l'Écu Expression de Granite 2006

I drink red wine about twice as often as I drink white wine. It turns out that I review red and white wine at a rate exactly proportional to this.



When I was about to hit my 100th red wine review, I noticed that I was also about to my 50th white wine review too. Today post is a benchmark: 150th review, marking exactly 100 red writeups and 50 white wine writeups. (Sometimes one review will actually feature more than one bottle -- so I imagine that I have actually published tasting notes for about 200 bottles by this point.)

Worthy wine review #150 is my preferred white wine from last year, a very special Muscadet, now out with its 2006 vintage. Would it be as great as the 2005? When I saw the extra care in the wine shop display, I figured this was going to be good and I wasn't alone in welcoming it with outstretched arms (and artistic box cutter).

Domaine de l'Écu Expression de Granite Muscadet Sevre et Maine 2006

So this 2006 came in a tall slender Alsacian-type bottle rather than the standard one like last year's bottle, with its characteristic linear angles at the neck. I didn't like it as much. And the outside package hinted accurately at what was on the inside. You can judge a book by its cover?

Eyes: Pale straw colour, green tinted hue.

Nose: Mineral, creamy but spritely and vinous.

Mouth: Lacks zippy citrus accents of the 05 and generally comes off dilute in comparison, even if only comparing it to its $20 pricepoint. Has expected mineral notes, and a subtle yeasty toasted flavour. Very light bodied. Mildly refreshing. Tonic.

Stomach: Bread brings out the best in this Muscadet. Add flavourful garnishes at your peril.

The 2006 is echelons below the landmark 2005. It is not even value for the money as plenty of Muscadets are about as good at less than $15.

Guy Bossard, La Bretonnière, Le Landreau, France. 12%. Certified organic wine.

20080320

More news on WBW, plus a failed theme of my own called "When chard turns to sherry": Laroche Les Pierres 2002 and Alvear Carlos VII Montilla Moriles


Lenn Thompson's Wine Blogging Wednesday legacy continues to inspire. This month in particular, I've found that I've been posting multiple WBW entries, even though WBW comes but once a month.

With the latest WBW news, I'm certainly not stopping the flow of WBW posts now -- so March continues to be a month full of interesting WBW developments and I'm on a roll posting about them.

Lenn, who runs LennDevours, should be very proud of an announcement made yesterday that Gary Vaynerchuk is the next host of WBW 44 on April 2 (AKA the 33rd of March).

The theme set by Gary for WBW 44 is French Cabernet Franc, which in itself is fantastic, but it's so much more than that. Gary's Wine Library TV makes WBW 44 the first edition to be hosted by a video blog (or so I believe). Plus Gary is a force, on a totally different level than any other blogger (a testament to this is how many non-wino, non-blogging friends of mine have tried to point me to Gary's site over the years). Gary has obviously had crossover success. He's penetrated the genre of online wine criticism, branded his own unique take on wine talk, and reached out and touched the great unwashed, for lack of a better term. And, by the way, it's worth noting the influence he has. WBW 44 participants are supposed to link their blog's entry by using the comments attached to Gary's announcement, which was officially made in Episode 426 -- well, in less than one day, Episode 426 has already received 315 comments and the blogging event is still weeks away. Now that's some reach!

ENTER MY MISBEGOTTEN WINE THEME

Last Wednesday, I found myself reaching. Except unlike Gary, when I'm reaching, I'm usually over-reaching. Anyway, there I was, sitting around mid-month and bored. No sign of the next WBW, and WBW 43 was already over and successfully wrapped up.

I was desperate for some theme action.

So I walked into a wine shop and instantly created a theme for my purchase: Discounted wine. Yes, discounted wine. See the receipt pictured at right -- I not only saved $2.50 or 10% off a $25 bottle, I also saved 5 cents more as I brought my own reusable bag for my purchase. $2.55 in my pocket! Yay, discount wine theme!

Gentle reader, you do note the irony here.

Discounted wine is a dangerous topic and even more dangerous as a theme for a blogging event. How many of you have bought marked down bottles only to uncork them and find that there was good reason for their being priced to clear?

I was entirely optimistic at the time though.

Les Pierres means "the rocks" in French, plus since 2002 was such a great year for cold-climate French wine, I figured I was on solid ground with this find.

So I went ahead and rescued that last 2002 Chablis languishing on the shelf from among a bunch of 2004s. The 2002 had a stained label (see photo at left for its good side, photo below for its bad side).

More than that the 2002 sported a different cuvée name than the 04s (they were also marked down but christened "Saint-Martin," not "Les Pierres" as the 2002 was -- yet they all shared the same product code and that same alluring discounted price.)

In fact, I bought this wine before. I recall enjoying the 2002 Chablis from Domaine Laroche a couple of years ago. I even noted it here. It was not called "Les Pierres" at that time either, which now leads me to think that this discounted bottle was a mix-up. Perhaps a remainder from an old shipment destined for some other market where Laroche wanted a less saintly, more rock-solid image. Who knows whose hands touched it. Or didn't touch it as the case may be, leaving it to oxidize and taint in warm rooms hit by direct sunlight.

But to the consumer who sees the 10% promise attached around the neck of this bottle, only that stained label is apparent. And so the smart consumer buys it, thinking that it's what's inside that counts.

Well, here's what's inside...

Domaine Laroche "Les Pierres" Chablis 2002

Eyes: An intense amber colour.

Nose: Very oxidized, tragically so -- acrid, rotting vegetables.

Mouth: Piercing on the palate, beyond vinegary. This is fermented.

Stomach: Puke-inducing.

Michel Laroche, Chablis, France. 12.5%.

But all was not lost. The theme of my impromptu event was changing before my very eyes. Friends had a bottle of sherry to open, which was a serendipitous turn. It was a non-vintage Amontillado from the Montilla Moriles appellation from Andalusia region of Spain.

So we opened it to see whether our volatile Chablis was actually on its way to sherry glory. And maybe in that sense cut it some slack.

First, I should say that this Amontillado produced by Alvear is more on the Fino sherry side than Oloroso. Typically, Amontillados are in between the two -- darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso -- but I thought this bottle was quite reminiscent of some Finos I've had. Dry and deftly penetrating. An aperitif-type drink to enjoy before the food arrives.

Here now are the comparative notes...

Alvear Carlos VII Amontillado Montilla Moriles

Eyes: Slightly less opulent in colour but more viscous.

Nose: Oxidation but with great complexity -- nut purees, apricot confits, allspice and other stunning spicy notes.

Mouth: Wet bandages and almond shells, alcoholic but stylish and drying.

Stomach: Aperitif, ideal with dry-roasted nutmeats.

Córdoba, Andalucía, Espagne. 19%.

Conclusions! Old Chablis does not a sherry make; Caveat emptor, especially on older wines that are discounted.

20080317

Serial title abusers beware: Is there a doctor in the house wine recommendation?


Well it's a good thing that I didn't jet off to Germany over the weekend because I totally missed the news from Friday.

Drs. Vino and Debs, and the Winedoctor too, you all might want to read this carefully.

. . . researchers in Germany have faced criminal probes in recent months for using the title "Dr." on their business cards, Web sites and resumes . . .

Under a little-known Nazi-era law, only people who earn PhDs or medical degrees in Germany are allowed to use "Dr." as a courtesy title.

. . .

Violators can face a year behind bars. (!!)


And then it gets worse, after it seems to get better.

Last week, state education ministers met in Berlin and recommended that the law be modified so anyone holding a doctorate or medical degree from America could be addressed as "Dr." without running afoul of the police.

Anyone with a PhD from Canada, Japan or the rest of the non-European world would still be excluded.

Okay, so maybe all the doctors I mentioned above might not need to worry much longer, but I may need to seriously think about mothballing this site before I ever visit Cologne.

Read the whole story in last week's Washington Post.

20080314

Another WBW update: Attems Cicinis Bianco 2005


You've heard about the impossibility of a month of Sundays, but how about a month of WBWs? It's not impossible!

March is shaping up to be a month of Wine Blogging Wednesdays around here. WBW 43 wraps up with a rundown on comfort wines (click to Wine Life Today to figure out what that means -- Joel Vincent did a thorough write-up). Meanwhile, I'm finally publishing notes I wrote up with the idea of posting them to WBW 41, which was on the theme of Friuli-Venezia Giulia white wines.

Please bare with me and my misgivings on the blogging event front. I'm not participating as much as I would like to. And then when I do, I go and code 42 into the URL for WBW 43 or decide to contribute two months too late. Whoops!

Blogging like wine tasting is a fallible undertaking. Remember that.

In any case, here's some information you can take at face value: Friuli-Venezia Giulia is an expansive region in northern Italy, and way back in January, Jack and Joanne hosted a vast array of helpful resources for both the beginner and the devotee. Check it out at Fork & Bottle.

Attems Cicinis Collio Bianco 2005

The name of the winery is Attems, the name of the cuvée is Cicinis, and the name of the appellation is Collio. Bianco, of course, means white.

Attems is run under the ownership of the giant wine producer Marchesi de Frescobaldi società agricola, based in Tuscany. For the estate of Conti Attems, the producers stray far from the typical terroir and output of Chianti. The Cicinis cuvée is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Tocai Friuliano, and Pinot Bianco. But its manufacture with heavy wood and an oxidative note may end up frustrating amateurs looking for a real sense of what Collio -- an official Italian D.O.C. designation -- is all about. It was priced immodestly at over $25 when I bought it.

Here's what I recorded for it.

Eyes: Deeply pigmented from a white wine.

Nose: Wet bandages and vanilla combining in a silky smooth way. Also notes of honeycomb.

Mouth: Caramelized on the palate. There are flowers but a strong oxidized note makes this wine very distinct. It seems a bit distilled.

Stomach: I think chocolate is your safest bet for this kind of wine because it resembles the booze in some desserts like icewine truffles or fruitcake. Otherwise pair it with a very rich and mouthfilling dinner and accept my best wishes for good luck.

Conti Attems, Lucinico, Gorizia, Italia. 13%.

20080306

WBW #43 Comfort Wines: Grenache blends like the Château de la Gardine 2004


My first post of March is March's Wine Blogging Wednesday event -- WBW comes early in March! This one clearly snuck up on me, but I was not unprepared.

Thanks to Joel at Wine Life Today for getting me motivated to finally get some of my wine tasting notes up.

Joel's timing for March's event -- called "comfort wines" -- seems perfect. This week I've been popping corks on some very soul-sustaining, get-me-through-the-winter wines. March is usually severe and wintry during this year of La Nina. Comfort wines are exactly what I've been calling for lately, and likely will until some signs of spring arrive.

The definition of a comfort wine may be highly personal. Joel offers guidance as host, but in the most general definition I have in my mind, I would expect that people thinking of their favourite comfort wines would think of red wines that are somewhat rich and substantive -- a bottle that puts meat on your bones so you can settle in for a long winter's nap. When your hibernation's over you'll awake with fond memories of that nourishing and generous wine!

So to recap, my idea of a comfort wine is one this a) red, b) ripe and c) with potentially high extraction. Above all, it is d) not a wine that you would serve with a green salad. It should feature a strong flavour profile and admirable texture, though not necessarily supplied by heavy tannin. It should be lusty, savoury and long in the mouth.

In other words, it should be a classy cuvée that involves some Grenache grapes.

GRENACHE/GRANACHA IS COZY/COSY

Grenache, or Granacha in Spanish, is the go-to grape for Spain's D.O. Montsant red wines and France's A.O.C. Faugères red blends. I mention them because I sampled one of each this week.

Both the Mas Collet Montsant 2004 and the Les Premières Faugères 2005 satisfy a definition of "comfort wine" I subscribe to.

The Mas Collet brings in an attractive level of oak and Cabernet Sauvignon to the comforting affect this wine has. Overall though this is an exemplary Grenache blend after so-so recent vintages: the 2004 is far from flabby and it possesses a nice, if light structure, for all of $15. See this recent review from a Quebec wine critic and blogger Rémy Charest and click its bottle image above for its descriptive file and local availability.

Jean-Michel Alquier's Faugères, out of the Languedoc region of the Midi, is so beautifully balanced and long in mouth, it's simply remarkable this is an under $25 wine (it's only a shade above $20 not including the tax). It has such a lengthy finish that this is a wine that fully does taste $10 more than the Spaniard. I enjoyed it immensely, to the detriment of my better note-taking. Here instead are notes from a glowing 1855.com review (written in French), complete with a top score from the 1855 people, so much so that I bet they are effectively forgetting the Bordeaux touchstone of their namesake. Click on its bottle image above for more details.

As my grandmother used to say, it's nice to be able to live life comfortably. After grandpa got that job as a foreman steelworker, her idea of comfort was all about being able to spend the extra dollars to occasionally pamper yourself. Like with a $30+ bottle of wine. That's living comfortably!

LUXURIOUS COMFORT

And for some this comfort wine. It's got that Grenache goodness too.

With that in mind my first and foremost comfort wine is the Château de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001. This is the wine I celebrated my promotion with last year. We're talking crazy candied orange peels in a classically-styled and hearty wine that approaches the depth and savoriness of vintage port wine. Or at least that is what I recall. (When drinking the best comfort wines, it's best not to talk notes.)

So I only have notes on the current vintage, the Château de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2004, which is less exciting (less comforting too). Still nice though. The 2005 version is already replacing previous stock; it is getting more favourable reviews. (In any case, I tasted the 2004 recently after seeing it discounted to under $30 and I think it was worth it at that kind of price.)

Eyes: Light fuschia with dull red brick tone to it.

Nose: Alcohol aroma overlying meaty and juicy notes. The meat is more charred than fatty. Mineral component too -- could be ash -- but as a non-smoker this is all a strangely alluring bouquet for me.

Mouth: Bright and rasping with creamy notes. Sports a sunniness to it -- there's enough acid to make it a good Grenache in my books. Baked berries with pits. Typical Midi really with its developing fruit. But it's also zesty in both texture and flavour, kind of like a root beer with influences of star anise and sweet spice supported by the savoury edge on the acid and a medium body. Long finish and nice tannins.

Stomach: This style of wine seems to become even more luscious at the dinner table because it's otherwise a young and upfront wine that can use a little time mellowing. Right now, this wine can be great with couscous and garlicky merguez sausage. It's like the best cherry cola you've ever had with dinner.

20080227

Some seriously smoking South African stuff: Boschendal "The Pavillion" Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2005


This is for Alex, whom I am a fan of. Alex works at ArtJava downtown, my regular coffee stop.

Alex, last name St-Laurent, was trained by Anthony Benda, who is currently the third-ranked barista in the country (he placed as a runner-up in a strong debut performance at the Canadian Barista Championships last fall).

These are big shoes for Alex to fill no doubt, but with his keen aptitude no one doubts he could do it. One day at ArtJava, Alex surprised me with his interest in wine. He approached me for advice on how he could find and drink more of the red wines that he most enjoys. He already knew most of what he needed to know -- that he likes a style of red wine with a smoky flavour profile -- and he even knew that Syrah would be the varietal that would most likely offer him this.

All that was left for me to do was consult my back pages to see what's a good deal on wines like these and not be too far from a roughly $20 to $30 price range he set for himself.

It's practically do-it-yourself blogging. But Alex is a smart guy, so what do you expect?

Links to original reviews feature clickable images that navigate directly to the SAQ online catalog, where you can check the supply of the wine and which stores near you stock it.



And last but definitely not least, Boschendal "The Pavillion" Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Coastal Region 2005:

  • The paradigm of Syrah smoke from South Africa, done up with notes of petrol and wood that give it a blue cheese tone typical of many New World wines; but here it is exceptional for its smart balance, extraction of fruit and stunning texture: Boschendal "The Pavillion" Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Coastal Region 2005 (The bargain of the bunch at $16 -- but I have not yet tasted the 2006 vintage that is rapidly replacing the 2005s.)


Pniel Road, Groot Drakenstein, South Africa. 14%.

Update: I pointed to a picture of the Pavillion bottle (at top) which I found on the web after SAQ.com, who stocks it within the province, ran no image of it in their catalog. It's laziness of me for not taking a photo of the bottle myself. But it's sheer stupidity I didn't better explore the site that the picture came from.

That site is EWine.co.za -- not to be confused with EWineCentral.com -- and it is apparently more than a your typical online wine vendor. They house a lot of good content on the South African wineries and winemakers, including audio media, like the sound file of an interview with Boschendal vintner JC Bekker, all placed nicely on a a profile page devoted to Boschendal. Louis Ferreira, who runs the Ewine.co.za site, provides important insight and authority -- especially for anyone like me who really has little exposure to the breadth of today South African wines.

20080222

Out of the blue, two whites sitting in the red: Argyros 2005 and Rocca Delle Macie 2006




Buried under two months' worth of unopened bills I find some old scribbled notes on the two white wines shown above. (Don't you hate it when that happens!) In any case, neither one should actually put your bookkeeping in the red -- they're both fine values on some exotic, nay, ancient wines from deep down in parts of the Old World that you are not likely exposed to everyday.

The Greek bottle (Argyros) outshone the Italian (Rocca Delle Macie) in virtually every way. But the two bottles were more similar they I had expected they'd be. And personally I found them both to be quite pleasant wines that you could sip with practically any summer dinner you might have in mind.

Argyros Estate Santorini 2005

Eyes: This is a pale straw colour, faintly hued yet more pigmented than the Tuscan Vernaccia.

Nose: A lovely mix of minerality and lightly perfumed flowers emanate from this wine. A twist of banana is thrown in there too but it's slight as I am sensitive to too much of it, if anyone is.

Mouth: Nice acid and quite dry. Fruit mostly limited to citrus tones. I am surprised because before this was poured I thought it would be similar to a fat Southern Rhône. Like on the nose, on the palate this wine proves to be a more aromatic grape blend, with cleaner lines than say Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. In fact, these Greek grapes -- Asyrtiko, Aidáni Aspro and Athíri -- combine to make a delightfully deft and refreshing aperitif type wine. Some wood noted, pleasing.

Stomach: A hit with Joe's cheese pretzel bites.

J. M. Argyros, Episkopi, Santorini, Ellas (Greece). 13%.



Rocca Delle Macie Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2006

Eyes: Very light, almost white and totally transparent.

Nose: Musky notes. Sweetish aromas. Not complex.

Mouth: A bitter acidity punctuates this wine. It is rasping and offers just the kind of sincerity I look for in an aperitif wine. Yet it is not as successful as the previous bottle. It is too simple to present any real interest you could linger over. A fuller nutty character on the finish and little more complexity would put it on par with other better Vernaccias I have tried recently.

Stomach: This is not the best Vernaccia I have tasted but try it with mixed nuts to lure out the nutty flavours that are bit too suppressed in this vintage.

Castellina in Chianti, Italia. 12.5%.

Yes indeed, this white wine head-to-head was conducted at Joe's place of Joe's Wine fame, way back in January. It was just the opening bout of an evening card that featured the heavyweights you see at his post titled: Bordeaux-Inspired Wines.

Joe and his family were great hosts that night and served up an amazing raclette dinner for the tasting of reds. A raclette machine is like a personal Hibachi in front of your place setting but better! I was so into the proceedings that I let my pen and paper sit inactively beside me while I seared steak, melted cheese and crisped ham with the raclette, all while sipping a selection of three substantial wines. Thankfully, Joe was more mindful of the task at hand and has already written up his notes on them. They were reds that sported Bordelais grapes without the accompanying Bordeaux appellation.

They were from Tuscany, Friuli, and British Columbia: The 2000 Ghiaie Della Furba, the 2001 Dorigo Montsclapade, and the 2002 Osoyoos Larose. Check them out at the link above and thanks to Joe for hosting!

20080213

WBW #42 Just Seven Words: Marchesi Alfieri La Tota 2005


"Better than 2004's -- now I taste oak!"

San Martino, Alfieri, Italia. 13.5% <-- half a percent less alcohol than the 2004.

(Thanks to Andrew at Spittoon for this great great idea. I haven't participated in the last few events for WBW and hadn't really planned on contributing -- until I realized this could be my shortest post of all time and a little brevity always has its place . . . except in War and Peace.)

20080212

Don't get hit with cupid's arrow at Perfect Pairs Valentine's Day sale across Quebec

Because in Montreal this week, he's aiming for your pocket, not your wine-loving heart

Thinking about uncorking a Roederer Anderson Valley Brut mousseux this week? Think about this: The sale of American wines in Quebec are at prices that have silently snuck back up to earlier almost prohibitive amounts. And this is barely six months after all the hoopla about sticker prices being lowered to reflect the strong Canadian dollar.

Once upon a time, this $20 bottle of California sparkling wine was sold at $27.10 in Quebec. Then in 2007, the SAQ, Quebec's state-run agency controlling the sale of wine and spirits, moderated the price at $25.95, and by late spring 2007, many media organizations trumpeted the new advantageously set prices coming into affect in June and July. So by Fall 2007, when the Roederer site started indicating that the Anderson Valley Brut NV would sale for $22 US, it was down to $24.70 CDN in Quebec. Combine that with a general sales tax reduction that the Canadian Conservative government announced to ring in 2008, and presto! the SAQ was selling this bottle for an all time low of $24.45.

And to think it was three bucks more only a year earlier. But wait. Earlier this month, the prices were silently raised on this product. It's all the way back up to $25.95. Almost all price decreases have been erased. What happened?

Mum's the word, apparently. I asked an otherwise-informative agent at an SAQ shop why prices are going back up. She did not know, but she was aware that they had been raised a few days ago. She couldn't say why the prices went back up when the Canadian loonie has regained parity with the American dollar and when it took so bloody long to lower prices in the first place.

The bigger question is what happened to the tax cut since Quebec buyers, one month into their GST reduction are already losing their 25 cents.

Shoppers need to beware because the price hikes are coinciding with a large Valentine's Day sale (how crafty!). You'll see signage on SAQ shelves announcing "$1.50 off!" but they are mostly false. Those signs were printed before the prices went up. In many cases, this means you are buying a sale item that is in all actuality marked down by only pennies once you get to the cash.

BAD SALE STICKERS FOR VALENTINES' DAY AT THE SAQ

Since SAQ.com does not reveal price fluctuations over time, only those in the know will tell you what's what. To track the price hikes, I thought Doktor Weingolb should let you in on a few via this cheat sheet.


  • Finca Flichman Malbec $7.90 > $8.20

  • Herdade das Albernoas Alentejano $9.30 > $9.75

  • Duque de Viseu Dao $14.95 ($12.65 in at the LCBO in Ontario) > $14.80

  • Sauvignon Blanc Domaine Guy Allion Touraine $13 > $14.35

  • Furmint Tokaji Château Pajzos $12.80 > $13.05

  • Cabernet-sauvignon Kenwood Yulupa Sonoma $16.40 > $17.15

  • Château Calabre Montravel $13.05 > $13.80

  • St-Jean-de-Gineste Corbières $14.95 > $15.80

  • Domaine de Cantarelles Costières de Nîmes $10.35 > $10.90

20080206

Not my favourite, but perhaps the perfect wine for you: Domaine de Ribonnet Clément Ader 2001

No substituting a Gamay for a Malbec in today's post -- although I will say I'm going to pretty much offer a bonafide endorsement as this bottle was darned close to making it into my fave top five last year.

I thought I was the owner of all remaining bottles in Montreal back in November. And I think I was until the SAQ went and restocked the warehouse with more. Now there's enough for everyone who reads this website. Which is a good thing. Plus, not only is it back on shelves, it's still appearing as the great 2001 vintage (click on the label image for vendor product info). And because it's a typical Bordeaux blend, this wine is just starting to show off its stuff.

HATING BORDEAUX

But you know, I guess I put all these things it had going for it aside. Because in the end -- after all the bottle hunting, schlepping them home and the copious note-taking -- I didn't think this was among my personal favourite wines. I'm down to two bottles of it and I'm not even planning on getting more of the new stock that's been released. Why? Maybe Eric Asimov's current discussion at The Pour on why people increasingly "hate" Bordeaux (or Cabernet-based wines that approximate Bordeaux) has something to do with it.

(For the record, to "hate" Bordeaux is to value taste over judgment, which, for so many reasons, is fine in wine criticism as long as you know you're doing it... Lyle Fass seems to be aware of this and I think Eric Asimov is too.)

Without further ado, here's what to hate:

This is a classically styled wine blending the big Bordeaux grapes -- 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc -- so no dangerous change-up from blackened Cahors to light-bodied Beaujolais on tap here.

It's actually classic Bordeaux grapes in the form of a vin de pays or French country wine. The vdp region is Comté Tolosan, which lays outside the doorstep of the Gironde, nestled in the Pyrenees that approach the Midi of the South of France. The location means it can only ask for a fraction of what you'd expect to pay: $18.75, or a total of exactly $225 for a case.

So this, folks, is where your bargain wine is at.

Domaine de Ribonnet Clément Ader Vin de pays du Comté Tolosan 2001 (Note: Clément Ader is not a winemaker, but rather a French aviator to whom this cuvée is dedicated.)

Eyes: Deep purple with dulled edges.

Nose: Rich red fruits, grenadine and lots of berries, stewing, with hints of licorice and leather and maybe animal, and over time, a crystal clear impression of muddled strawberries with white pepper. Yummy.

Mouth: Decanted for about two hours to open it up, the Ribonnet Clément Ader possesses dusty tannins and a gauzy minerality. It works against the fruit at first pour but after three hours in a carafe, the earthiness begins to balance fruitiness. After longer than that black fruit and licorice start to dominate the flavour profile. A solid wine that combines both the austerity of a fine Bordeaux and the sunniness of a Midi wine.

Stomach: Wraps itself around food quite well at this point. It leans on it and perhaps needs it when first opened, a half-dozen years into its life (with at least another half dozen to go).

Christian Gerber, Beaumont, Lèze, France. 13%. Certified organic wine.

20080204

When good advice goes bad

Or, why do some recommendations make a great wine go sour? Plus other wine criticism that leaves a bad taste in your mouth . . .

In January, a lean month with only three posts and no tasting notes at all, I received one piece of fanmail. With fanmail like this you don't need hatemail.

"After trying the two Cahors that you recommended on your blog, I thought that perhaps my enjoyment of wine had left me."

Cahors, which I wrote about last December, is sometimes known as the black wine. I didn't mention that at the time. Black mark!

Futhermore, when I had correspondence with the writer above, I realized that he happens to be really fond of Beaujolais and Canadian Gamays, but is adventurous enough to try out new wine regions. Again here I should have better prepared him for the dramatic change my advice carried. My bad.

Could I have really turned someone off wine entirely by making the suggestion I did? Could I actually be encouraging the disenjoyment of wine?

I guess I should've known not to go recommending Cahors to just anyone, though I think a lot of these South American bargain wine aficionados could make the switch easily if they adhere to a simple commitment to drink less vanilla-ed oak. But still I have learned an important lesson about foisting new wines on people.

I haven't given up on wine myself -- far from it. Of course, I'm still into exploring it, noting it and sharing great bottles with like-minded friends. But I think I might take step back from making recommendations on it. At least for a while. I have a bunch of notes from the last couple of months; I expect I'll eventually get to them sometime. But I might be putting them out differently or on a different schedule.

In the meantime, everything about this blog is soaking up most of my time.

20080123

Brightness Falls From the Air



John Drew Munro's latest exhibition of works has its vernissage tonight at the Gésu, at 1200 rue de Bleury (514-861-4378) in Montreal.

If you ever admired the images of circles and dots you see as you scroll down the entries on my blog, you have been quietly paying tribute to the work of John Drew Munro. Over two years ago, I asked John if on these web pages I could upload and display his art (which in my mind is somehow so suggestive of the analysis of wine) and then redirect visitors to more information about him and his work by hyperlinking to it. He said yes. As a result, clicking on any of his images you see here will eventually lead you to details about his last exhibition, which was in Westmount in 2005.

But now, I am more than happy to point to his recent works. The image above is from his new series of encaustic paintings entitled Brightness Falls From the Air. It seems to maintain his emphasis on pattern-based abstraction and the fascinating reductive techniques he uses to practically carve reliefs from his canvasses.

But other people can probably describe better it than me -- I just want to make sure I check it out in person, sometime before April 16, when the exhibits are taken down. (But why risk missing it by waiting that long when you could meet the artist by attending the unveiling tonight?)

The works in this exhibition are the culmination of 18 months of productive labour, concerned with the manipulation of a few elements… dots, circles and lines. It is not the elements in their singularity that piqued my interest; but rather the systematic repetition and the production of constellations and their association with both science and nature. I would hope that my paintings are an intimate dialogue concerned with the transference of visual sensations. The manipulation of the elements can be used in myriad ways. It is my intent to deploy a range and distribute each motif according to my response to each particular work in progress…

I paint with encaustic (a mixture of beeswax, pigment and resin): it dries very quickly, and therefore must be worked in an expeditious manner. It is quite difficult but holds rewards inherent in its qualities such as luminosity and transparency. Depth can be achieved through layering. The paint is not brushed on; instead it is poured over the surface and the markings are incised with small tools and later filled and scraped back. The layers and markings can be numerous or few… this is dependent on the needs of the individual work… colours are minimal in order to empower the work through limitation.

The title was appropriated from James Joyce's novel "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." It is his descriptive power that so enticed me… and stimulated the development of this work.

- John Drew Munro

20080115

Two Buck Chuck has nothing to worry about: Reports not fit for wine blogosphere

You heard it here first. But it may already be too late.

Be warned the press releases that come from yet another scientific study involving wine on humans. Here's how AP phrased it when they first filed the news brief on this recent American study now making the rounds: "Apparently, raising the price really does make the wine taste better."

Actually the point of this study is that it really DOESN'T, but that there are reasons why it would appear to happen.

More importantly: "Raising the price does make the wine taste better." Taste better? To whom?

I'll tell you who. Volunteers who didn't pay for the wine, that's who. Surely this is not a real-world scenario. Had the money required to pay for these wines come out of their own pockets, I think the folks tasting would've reacted differently. Perhaps a little more skeptical and contemplative when the chips are down. That's just my theory.

Science being science, this kind of study demands random "volunteers" so winos with wallets were not invited. Now, I ask you, what about the world of enjoying fine wine is based on volunteering? Nothing. That's because most people work for their wine. And that's why this experiment and any like it are limited in how they depict the truths in wine consumption -- Two Buck Chuck has nothing to worry about.

Statements circulating in the press like "while many studies have looked at how marketing affects behavior, this is the first to show that it has a direct effect on the brain" mischaracterizes what's going on. There's no buying behaviour in this experiment, so how can marketing actually be involved?

Shouldn't the statement have been (which I might add merits some credit to the scientists, who are Antonio Rangel and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology): "While many studies have looked at how marketing affects PERCEPTION OF PLEASURE, this is the first to show that it has a direct effect on the brain."

My point is that perception of pleasure and behaviour are obviously not the same thing. In fact, the disconnect between perception of pleasure and behaviour is a big deal for me, and, I think, anyone else who wants to live in a civilized society.

But wait. It gets even worse than that. The copy used in reports of the study suggests that volunteers selected their preferences based on results shown by the MRI scanner hooked up to their brain.

We've left the real world of wine blogging entirely. Since when is looking at brain scans useful in relaying information about wine? Maybe once or twice on Chateau Petrogasm but that's a site whose usefulness I question on a daily basis.

What I say: Of course the anticipation of drinking expensive wine is going to affect my body in different way than the anticipation of drinking plonk-priced wine. Is that the scoop we are being fed by the press -- as if it is some wine marketing revelation?

I think the press should stop selling this study to winos and wine marketers. It's merely a test on brain functions. This seems obvious to me now, but it didn't at first when the story came out. So since you're here, I'll explain what I have made sense of.

The study sets up a bogus taste test by placing wines of different prices in front of tasters. But some wine samples are identical and marked with a different price tags (there were three separate wines: a $90 Cabernet correctly listed and then listed at $10; a $45 Cab correctly listed and listed at $5; and a $35 Cab correctly listed). MRI "pleasure" activity and participant wine selections are consistent, which is I guess why the study is being called a clear success. But the hoo-ha in the news is being generated by the fact that the big pricetag wines are the ones being favoured.

Everyone comes back two weeks later to repeat the experiment using the same wines but without the prices marked. It's unclear in the press reports what happened here (Were there five or three samples? Were they hooked up to MRIs again?) but what incredible results emerge this time!

"They liked the wines originally marked $5 and $45 best," says one report. But the $5 and $45 samples were actually taken from a single solitary wine -- a five-dollar bottle. (Now that's something interesting to wine marketers!) So if and when participants' brain activity is allowed to be filtered into real-life actions and words (instead of being prematurely stopped in the lab), are pricetags really affecting their ability to identify good wine? In other words, is this experiment proving that humans evaluate quality based on cost? I say no.

Not even. What I might say however, is that this experiment demonstrates that pricetags affect one's ability to identify equality, i.e. identify that the wines marked with different pricetags were actually the same wine. Which is a whole different ballgame, and I think one which has already been played. (I play it all the time, sampling a little bit of wine from my usual glass and a little bit from one those Eisch breathable glasses, which claim to make the wine taste different... but I can't tell.)

The real intrigue here lie in the brain scans, which I'll leave to BlogMD, despite the name of this blog.

20080109

New sensations for '08: Dinner wine marketed as a doppelganger to dinner music

miranda lambert wine gunpowder and lead Greyhound Bound for Nowhere Famous in a Small Town desperationI noticed this news story announcing a new line of American wine because I was posting on the Top Ten tracks of 2007, not because of my Annual Best Of wine list. But I guess that's exactly the syngergy that the marketer wanted for these Merlots and Cabernets named after country singer Miranda Lambert's hit songs: Rockers, for the first time, start hunting down that particular must-have cuvée, and the winebloggers turn to give Ms. Lambert a listen for insight into what makes a wine a wine.

Read the press release, with the great hook "How about a sip of Kerosene?"

It doesn't seem like anything new and the Miranda Lambert website features the typical marketing writing that bridges winemaking and songwriting.

A good deal of time went into developing this private wine label for Miranda Lambert. The reason is simple: We believe in families working hard together and celebrating success together when it finally comes. Just like wine, in the music industry, there are no overnight sensations. Many years of hard work go into the product that the public ultimately experiences. For that reason we have partnered with the family of the LouViney Vineyards to bottle a wine worthy to put Miranda’s name on. This family owned vineyard exemplifies the very values that we honor. With each of the six wines we offer on Miranda’s private label, we trust you will taste and experience the time, effort and love that goes into every bottle. It is also our hope that you will experience the great pride that comes from working hard and celebrating success together in your own family. Thank you for enjoying a bit of ours with us.

Miranda Lambert Texas Table Wine "Red 55" Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

Wineries have found Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends are star performers, and perhaps that’s why our friends and family selected this wine as the front-runner in our inaugural tasting. Named after Miranda’s prized first pickup, a candy apple red 1955 Chevy step-side, this beautiful cherry-colored wine is smooth and medium bodied with a mellow berry aroma. This slightly juicy blend dodges over-oaking. Just like Miranda’s vintage ‘55, our Red 55 is sure to be a classic. Pair this best-all-around wine with almost any kind of food, from fancy fare dinners to picnics and BBQs.
And if after all that you're wondering what my "top tracks" of 2007, I've posted them to my other, mostly defunct blog. Unlike the wines on Weingolb, I posted these tracks not having finished my notes for a proper review of them, but should modern rock and music criticism be your bag, stay un-tuned, as they say.