Monday, July 27, 2009

Galicia, Spain

I have to travel a lot in this job, and I just returned from a recent trip to Spain's Galicia region, in the Northwest of the Iberian peninsula. One thing I love about these voyages, aside from the good food, nice wine, and passionate people, is the exposure to local culture that I receive. I love learning about that, always have, always will. And there are always surprises to be had...


So it was quite a shock to discover that this part of Spain has a strong Celtic tradition. There are dolmens, folks wear kilts sometimes, Celtic runes on the walls of pubs, heck, there are PUBS, and, more weirdly, they play bagpipes (!). It's quite something to see someone speaking fluent Spanish to you while wearing a kilt and playing a bagpipe, or to see someone with the facial features of a Dublin resident speaking Galician. A bit disconcerting but also reassuring that this world is much larger and more full of surprises than you expected.


The geography is quite intensely wild, with forest and vineyard-lined fjords called Rias carved by receding glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age all along the coast. When one thinks of Spain, one thinks dry and hot, but this was cool and wet. Quite like Ireland, actually. Or rather, the reverse, as the original settlers of Ireland were tribespeople from this land. Who knew?

Our trip took us all over this sparsely-populated land, visiting wineries who make Mencia, Godello, Treixadura and Albarino. For the most part, it's almost all white wines, except for Mencia, which tastes a lot like Cabernet Franc.


Starting in the small city of Vigo, with its industrial port overseen by an ancient fortress and small homes, we made our way inland to Leiro. The maritime influence is still evident even here, with its food and culture and weather deeply affected by the Atlantic Ocean.

Paella, Leiro-style

The Celtic background is evident here too, with monasteries looking like they'd been plopped right from England or at least the set of the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".





We were also close enough to take a quick stroll across the River Mino into Portugal, though we weren't there to taste Portuguese wines so our guides quickly rushed us back across the border before we could do any harm.


Despite all these influences, there was still the over-riding aspect of Spanish culture, such as Jamon Iberico at the local Feira del Vino in O Rosal, near the border.


The shared culture of fishing and respect for the bounty of the waters was there as well, in decorations on the walls and in the way the food was presented. Everything was appreciated, nothing taken for granted.


And, amidst all this, there was the dance festival in La Guarda, literally on the border with Portugal. There, women in fancy costumes whirled to the sound of Flamenco, their castagnettes clacking away madly, making a lovely counterpoint to their movements.

God, I love travelling.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Back to Basics: Blind Chardonnay Tasting


This blog is ostensably about wine, and my passion is wine, but let's face it, I've been a bit neglectful in talking about it lately. So let's get back to basics: a blind Chardonnay tasting.

When this was first proposed, I was excited. First, I love good Chardonnay, espcially from Burgundy (duh). Second, it's always fun, and humbling, to attend a blind tasting. All pre-suppositions about labels, place, year, quality or price go out the window. You are judging the wine based on its merits alone. Granted, the organizer must ensure that all the wines coming are equally ready to drink, or are placed in similar flights. Otherwise you might end up with some bottles that are completely closed for business while others shout out for attention, drowning out all the others. This drinking business can get complicated, no?

So a small group of winelovers descended on Apiary in the East Village, Chef Scott Bryan's new project. First, let me just say the food and service were fantastic and I heartily recommend it (no affilition, yadda yadda yadda...).


More importantly, the tasting was quite interesting and eye-opening. It would be interesting to see if we could pick out the New World from the Old World styles, something I heartily anticipated doing.

Creamy lemon, perfumy oak on the nose, but more citrus than wood. The body is fat, with some spicy oakiness to it that's balanced and even lifted by some striking acidity. Everyone said Burgundy, I decided to be contrarian and say a 10-year old CA Chard. I was almost right! Woohoo!
1997 Calera Mt Harlan Chardonnay

Lemony butterscotch, some caramel, mushroomy with sweet oxydative notes on the nose. Ugh, sour lemony popcorn aspects on the palate, this was shot. Too bad, this could have been amazing. We all said mid-/late-1990s white Burg. Duh.
1996 Niellon Chassagne Montrachet Clos de la Truffiere

Ripe lemony popcorn wrapped in a layer of vanilla oak, the palate was sweet and somewhat fat with a spicy, buttery note to it that ended with a slightly bitter finish. Everyone voted CA.
2000 Pahlmeyere Jason

Ugh, caramelized apples and not much more anywhere, neither on the nose or palate. I wrote "Undrinkable", and we all guessed another mid-1990s white Burg.
1995 Ramonet Batard-Montrachet Argh!

Right off the bat, this reminded me of those CostCo apple pies you see warming in the Bakery section. Not a bad thing, as it offers some nice apple compote and cinnamon aspects, with some hints of oxydation and orange marmalade notes. The palate was slightly fat, with nutty and lemony honey tastes, ending in a surprisingly sour finish. We were all over the map on this one, especially as the bottle shape made us think New World (most said CA, I decided to be a prick and say Australia). We were all wrong.
1991 Gravner Chardonnay

At first, this had some weird, but not unlikable minty/vegetal notes, which made me think Ramonet and white Burgundy. But the green started to dissipate, replaced by an almost petrolly smell, wrapping itself around a quartz and lemon core. In the mouth, this was medium-bodied and certainly tasted better than it smelled, with honeyed lemon, striking minerality and a nice, medium, well-balanced finish. We all said white Burg.
1992 Lafon Meursault Genevriere

Orange zest, petrol, nuts and hints of oxydation on the nose, with a spicy, medium-weight frame offering hints of tea, lemon, nuts and ending in a long finish. Another vote for white Burg.
2000 Maltroye Batard Montrachet

Right off the bat, we could see this was a lighter-bodied wine, as it didn't pour as viscously as the others in the flight. It also smelled lighter, with fresh pineapple, steely lemon cream and light nuts (almonds?). The palate followed through with a similar (relatively) lighter feel, ending in a medium-length finish. Nice, but not in the same league as the others. Votes were all over the place, I said Chassagne Montrachet. Close but no go.
2002 Louis Latour Puligny Montrachet

Oooh, this smells nice, with minty lemons, almonds, hints of minerals like quartz on the nose. Its feel is nice too, with a medium, balanced body offering more minerals, lemony almonds, and a long, spicy finish. This HAS to be white Burgundy, and I voted as such. Whoops. Surprise of the night!
2005 Dierberg Santa Maria

The nose is full of fat, ripe lemony almonds, Granny Smith apples, and a certain, lovely musky note. On the palate, this is lovely, even if a bit fat, with lemon and spices and almonds all balanced out by a beautiful, fresh acidity. Another vote for white Burgundy. Again, whoops.
2002 Aubert Richie

2001 Lafon Meursault Charmes

2007 Seven Springs la Source (a Lafon project in Oregon I believe)

Whoa, this has GOT to be CA: dry almonds, minerals, perfumy oak, ripe lemons on the nose, with similar aspects carried through on the fat, ripe structure, but ending in a surprisingly short finish. Somewhat unbalanced, not to my liking, though I can see why others would enjoy it.
2001 Kistler Cathleen

Oxydated, nothing but burnt nuts and caramelized apples. Ugh.
2001 Peter Michael Pointe Rouge

Oooooh, this smells nice, what is it? Lovely herbal mint notes wrapped around a core of minerally lemons, carried through on a steely, elegant frame. The mouthfeel is just as lovely as the nose, with a laser-like precision that lifts flavors of spicy almonds, more fresh mint, and minerally lemons (think those crystallized lemons), with an understated power and elegance that is almost shockingly refreshing. The finish goes on and on and on and on. Quite nice, and we all said white Burgundy.
2001 Ramonet Chevalier Montrachet

Ripe, honeyed lemons and almonds wrapped themselves around some nice minerals on the nose of this one. In the mouth, it was medium-weighted, with some spicy notes to it and a relatively short finish. I think we all voted CA.
2003 Marcassin Estate

Very similar aspects to the previous wine, with similarly ripe and honeyed lemons and spices, though the palate was a tad fresher and had better lift from some more acidity and more minerality. I voted white Burg.
2003 Coche Dury Meursault Caillerets

-#18 (not blind) 1979 Chateau Latour
Yep, a red, and a Bordeaux at that, generously offered by a friend of Bob's. Popped and poured, this really should have been decanted a bit, but it was rather nice and reminded me why I used to like Bordeaux so much. Notes of band-aid, funk, dark plums/cherries and soft wood aspects held your attention. The palate was light, with some sweet red fruit still fighting for survival (storage might have been an issue, we weren't sure), herbs, and a nice, balanced finish. Not bad, and a welcome reprieve from all the whites.

Because 17 bottles of white and 1 bottle of red weren't enough, a few friends joined me for a stumble through the East Village to one of my favorite haunts, Pata Negra. Since we apparently hadn't eaten enough, either, we ordered a plate of the legendary Pata Negra ham, and while that melted on our tongues, we drank a Rose Txakoli.


-2008 Rose Txakoli (name forgotten in the mists of hangover)
Gorgeous color, with flower red berry notes, and just a hint of spritz to tickle your nose. Very light-bodied, this perked up the palate with lively acidity and fresh berries and flowers on the tongue. A great way to end the night, I might add, as the fruit was just ever-so-slightly sweet.

Conclusions: We thought it would be easier to pick out the New World from the Old World, but it turned out to be harder than anticipated. I might add, however, that while we did have most of the best of the best of CA, we didn't really have the best of the best of Burgundy. No Montrachet, only one Chevalier, and the Batards were undrinkably oxydized. WOTN for most was the Aubert, followed closely by the Ramonet Chevy.

Still, it was a fun evening, and a big thanks to all who made it and donated so generously from their cellars.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Market Watch: Barcelona's Boqueria


After France, I returned to Barcelona for a few days of exploration and rest. Travelling non-stop almost every day does get tiresome sometimes. Actually, most of the time. Yeah, I'm going to vineyards in the South of Europe, but still, it does wear one down. So staying put for more than 3 days was a real treat. And, I got to visit some beautiful sites in a city I didn't know well at all, including the world-famous Boqueria Market. So, without further annoying interference from moi, here are a few pics for your perusal.

WARNING: Might cause a sudden sense of vertigo, induce drool, and cause your knees to weaken.