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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Our Latin Lovers

Sláinte!

So, what did this week teach us? White wine can be fun, too. Even if you’re not a middle-aged housewife with a valium addiction. Who knew?

We switched it up this week (sort of) because we don’t want to be seen as provincial or single-minded. Heaven forfend that after two postings our readers would pigeon-hole us.

I was milling about the local Europea (think liquor store meets wine cellar meets deli meets liquor store) and I happened upon an employee who asked if I was looking for anything in particular. In Spanish. I asked him for a full-bodied red. In English. We enlisted the help of the owner, who understood (sort of) what I meant. They helped me find a good wine, with a big body, and lots of strong. That sorted, they asked if there was anything else that I was looking for. I asked them for a pinot noir, of which they didn’t have a fantastic selection, most of it being Californian, and all of it being either a) really, really cheap, or; b) really, really expensive.

A conundrum. Truly. A pickle.

Something inside me went click! and I thought, “Why not try White?” Also, I had run out of ways to describe light-bodied in Spanish, other than to say that I wanted a wine that was small, and easy, and tiny. Also small. Um … small? No? Um … Tiny?

Wine?

They recommended an Albariño from Spain, it being the chief country that produces the grape. Reasonably priced. Kind of a boring label, but hey: it’s white, so who cares? However, when I got to the till, three people in front of me told me how great it was, so I thought, maybe I’m on to something. (The owner and the employee will get no further credit for the purchase. It was my idea. Mine!)

K.

I got my wines and left, but not before buying a secret weapon, to be revealed later.

On the menu: Slow-roasted chicken with thyme, garlic, and new potatoes, sweet potato mash, ginger baby carrots, green beans with fried onions and almond slivers.

The chicken.

This one’s a snap, even for the culinarily challenged. Preheat the oven to 160° Celsius. (320° Fahrenheit, for you Yanks, but seriously: don’t you think it’s time? Come on. Really now. Convert already. We put up with your movies. Can’t you be reasonable?)

In a large bowl, toss in some chicken thighs. However many you want to eat, but let’s start with eight.

Grab a handful of thyme, pull off the leaves (tree, bush, or naked lady?), and add them to the chicken.

Pour in some olive oil; about four tablespoons. Let sit.

Take a head of garlic and separate it into cloves. Don’t peel them.  Since you’re going to slow-roast them with the chicken, leaving the skins on makes them yummier. Trust me. Toss them in with the chicken.

Take your new potatoes (the little ones; the ones that look like baby potatoes) and toss them in as well.

Pour 150 ml of red wine over the whole mess.

With your hands, mix all of the ingredients together making sure to coat everything generously. If you don’t, it won’t cook the evenly and all of your friends will laugh at you.

Take the chicken thighs out and place them into two roasting pans. Spread them out evenly, skin up. Strew the potatoes and garlic around, allowing for some space between all of the ingredients.

Sprinkle black pepper over the whole lot and pop the pans into the oven for 30 to 45 minutes.

Be sure to check on it every now. Whenever possible, remark how amazing it smells to everybody. Walk around in amazement, say, in your neighbourhood, bragging about your culinary prowess. Interrupt conversations to let people know that your chicken smells awesome.

I called my life partner (girlfriend is too flimsy, we’ve decided, and life partner leaves so much more to the imagination) on the phone to tell her to come over and smell my chicken. In so doing, I woke the baby, who hadn’t slept in days apparently, from the reaction I got on the phone, and I was promptly hung up on.

Note to readers: not everybody appreciates just how hard it is to cook for four drunk adults. Steel yourselves.

This much fun required wine. As it was still a little early, we decided to start with the white. Might as well get it over with, we thought.

But we were wrong.

Wine: Lagar de Cervera, Albariño, 2009, Spain, $177.01 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Readying myself for what I was sure was going to be a tart ride to nowhere, I was pleasantly surprised when I took a sip and found that a ballet had ensued on my tongue. Tiny citric pixies danced on tiptoes upon my taste buds. Trippingly they danced; yea, and lightly.

This is a very drinkable wine with a slightly citrus aftertaste. (Could there be apple in there? Could there be? Maybe. We all tasted it. It must be so. Peaches? Apricots?) It doesn’t linger on the palate, as so many white wines do. Instead, it finished clean and crisp. Each sip as pleasant as the one that preceded it.

As I said, this was an unusual and uncharacteristic departure from red for us, but well worth it. We finished this bottle amidst conversations of vacations and impending ordinations. My life partner and M’s husband’s uncle is being ordained this summer and we were trying to figure out if we could make it. How often does a person get ordained, after all?

Myself: thrice, but that’s besides the point.

On the wine, we were all in agreement: this is a definite re-buy.

But why only two bottles, you may ask?

Well, because it’s white, that’s why.

At this point, we should introduce the star of this week’s show.

Product: Decantus Elite Wine Aerator, $592.00 MXN
Rating: Amazing.

I’d like to thank Mike R for the suggestion. I was a little skeptical, but after trying this thing out, we all agreed, it rocks.

We tried a taste of the Lagar first, without aerating. Then, with. Huge difference. And before any wine connoisseurs out there write to inform us that white wines don’t need to be aerated, let me say this:

Back off; get your own sandwich.

What an amazing purchase. It takes out the tannin-y too muchness without compromising the taste. Best purchase of the year, so far. We couldn’t wait to try it out on the red.

So, without further ado …

Wine: Monte Xanic, Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008, Mexico, $389.00 MXN.
Rating: Two bottles.

Alas, only two bottles. Even after a good aerating (and who doesn’t need one of those, now and again?) it only made it to a two. What held it back? The label, you ask? No. The label was good. The label was sound. Signed by Hans Backhoff, the oenologist, no less. Did Hans lie? Would he do that?

No. Hans didn’t lie. It’s probably that we saw the price tag and thought: more money means more better. Just like the pretty label test, the price tag test didn’t hold up, either.

Two bottles isn’t bad. It’s a definite re-buy. The wine, actually, is very nice. It finishes well. When you smell it, at first, it is reminiscent of a friend’s basement; of the family home in Belsgrove, Scotland. Peppery, yet forceful. It hits you up front in the mouth, but relents quickly, like a repentant lover. “I’m sorry, lass,” it tells you. “I love ye so much,” it says. “I just go crazy sometimes, pinin’ for me haggis … ACH! Woman: you know how I am!”

But it’s that tender finish at the end that redeems this wine. Inasmuch as it’s rough up front, it’s tender in the end. (And who doesn’t need one of those, now and again?)

In short, we liked this wine. We liked both of these wines. No three bottles, this week, I’m afraid. Only two, both; and, only two bottles. Perhaps next week we’ll find our three bottler. We shall see.

We can, however, say this: we’re having a lot of fun!

Cheers!

C&M

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To the Southern-Most Reaches of the Continent

Sunday, March 6, 2011

This week we travelled through Argentina. Well, the affordable parts of it, anyway. We stayed in the red grape district, and ventured not far from the medium bodied bottles of the night. Two malbecs on one syrah comprised our evening. Yes, it was a three-bottle affair by the end of it, leaving us feeling exhausted and dizzy, but not necessarily in a good way.

It wasn’t going to start out that way – M had come up with the menu: Indian; I had chosen a wine earlier in the week: the syrah. We started out our Sunday much in the way we always do, by going to the various stores that sell the ingredients we will need to bring the entire evening together. But this week, things went off the rails quicker than usual, I’m afraid.

My girlfriend (though she hates to be called that, since we have a daughter together, the english language does not have a word that means “we’ve been together for going on six years, have lived together that entire time, and we have a baby together, making her the mother of my children,” girlfriend, it is) called to ask me when I was going to be home. I took umbrage, she took umbrage, we umbraged it out on the phone for awhile …

Skip ahead, skip ahead, skip ahead …

So now I’m angry and pouty and M talks me down and we’re on our way home when M’s husband calls. His truck died and he needs someone to bring him some tools and truck parts and it’s raining and hurry.

M is the only one of the two of us with experience cooking Indian, so I elect to go. However, our daughter is sick and need some medicine, we can’t find the tools M’s hubby needs, and it’s raining. A lot. In the way only the Caribbean knows how to dish out.

Skip ahead, skip ahead, skip ahead …

Back in the kitchen, clothes changed, M’s husband has been given a beer, my girlfriend is at the condo with the baby, we’re back in business.

This is when we open the first bottle.

Wine: Altos Las Hormigas, Malbec, 2009, Mendoza, Argentina

Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Decant, decant, decant, I say. Since we started letting the air get at our wines, we’ve noticed they take on a mellower, smoother taste. Without knowing the science behind it we started doing it simply because people who know more about wines than us suggested it. And to our great delight it works.

Usually.

Altos Las Hormigas, Malbec, 2009 could have used a little more decanting. Say, another few years. In the bottle. Corked. It’s not that it was that terrible – far from it. It’s just that it had a very young sort of finish. We found it to have a fruity, slightly acidy start. If you find this wine, and are taken in by the label (guilty), let it sit open for a while, is our suggestion. Lots of citrus, is how we describe it. Fresh, also came to mind. A definite re-buy? Ehnnnn … Maybe if we knew more food and wine pairing, we’d have known what this wine would have gone with, saving it from our mediocre opinion of it. We must to the libary!

This brings us up to the food prep. It must be said that if you are planing on cooking Indian and you have little experience with it, plan ahead. There is a lot of stewing, boiling, and reducing that goes into an Indian meal. If you leave it too late, you will be eating late. If you are drinking wine while you are making it and you leave it too late (guilty), then you will be dizzy and light-headed by the end of your night. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes your efficiency in the kitchen drop some.

It should be said that M is a terribly efficient cook, and were it not for the interruptions throughout the day, we’d have been ready. Also, we overdid it with the vinegar in the vindaloo, which took its tole on our clock. Also, we drank three bottles of wine.

On the menu: Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, Beef Vindaloo, Aloo Gobi, Raita.

Incredible. A triumph of culinary execution. Why do people go out for dinner when you can make tasty food at home? It is a mystery. Bravo to M for her talent and presentation.

Right around the time that the butter chicken was ready and the beef vindaloo had started to behave itself (naughty vindaloo, the name of my next alt-rock band), we opened the night’s second selection.

Wine: Catena, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2008

Rating: Two Bottles

Smokey oaky. Very nice. Totally purchased for the label, and we stick to that method. Pretty label must mean tasty juice. Otherwise, why did I drink motor oil from the can when I was a kid?

This we drank with our meal, and very glad we did, too. A very smooth finish, the Catena, Malbec. Slight pepper and black currant. A nice, medium-bodied, wine, that we thought went superbly well with Indian food. Well, then Indian food that we ate, anyway. Throw a chutney or two in there, and who knows what would happen. Craziness, no doubt.

At this point in the evening, my girlfriend and M’s husband were ready for bed. (Note to readers: we will, in the future, endeavour to begin our evenings earlier. This always livens up the conversation and allows for more hilarity. If we don’t eat until seven, seven-thirty, the two siblings need their beds, and M and I are left to wallow in our gluttony, alone.) So, as they toddled off, my girlfriend and my daughter to the condo, M’s husband to his bed, M and I settled in to our third bottle of the evening.

Wine: Lagarde Reserva, Syrah, Mendoza, Argentina, 2008

Rating: One Bottle

What can I say? This was my purchase, after hours spent in the local wine shoppe, I asked the pros, I made mental notes. Also, in my opinion, the best label of the night. Very classy, simple, and elegant. The contents of the bottle it wrapped? That’s another story.

The only way to describe this wine is to call it dry. As in: “It is sucking all of the moisture from my tongue,” (M). Given the choice between this and Concha y Toro, Cabernet Sauvignon, at the grocery store, I’d buy C&T. It’s not that it was bad, per se, it’s just that it wasn’t very good. If you’d been served it at your friends’ house, you wouldn’t have complained. Instead, you might have offered to run to the store and pick up some more wine, since they were going to run out, anyway, since it’s going to be a long night, and hey! It’s a party! Let’s eat, drink, and be merry! The more the merrier, that’s what I always say, so I’ll just nip out and buy some more wine! You guys finish this, and I’ll be back in a jiff. Drink up! I want to see some rosy cheeks (and empty bottles) when I get back. With more … different … wine.

Disappointing, would be the word. Just … disappointing.

And with that, M and I have decided to impose a new guideline for our Sunday Night Bottles. From now on, at least one of the bottles must be over two-hundred pesos. (That’s roughly sixteen dollars for you Americans, and eighteen dollars for you Canadians.) We want to be wowed. We want to gush and rave. We want, in short, to give people something to read about. We’d like to have a few three bottle nights, you see, and not the sort we had this week. We’d be content with drinking one really good bottle, as opposed to three mediocre ones. When you get excited about what you’re eating and you pair that with the excitement of really good wine, your night takes on a whole different meaning. Everything feels different. Better. You feel more in charge of your life, like the problems just melt away, and you are left with a manageable feast, instead of an unholy mess. When you eat good food and drink good wine, order comes through the chaos. And that’s what we want next week.

So, we finish this week, charged and at the ready, seeking the best bouquet, the nicest legs, and above all, the prettiest labels, in the hopes of finding a worthy draught for our humble grails.

Cheers!

C & M.

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