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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Spotted Labels, Corks, and Other Hilarity

There is a good lesson to be learned in judging things by their outsides and not by their insides. We learn this from a very early age. In school, we are told not to judge a book by its cover. In life, we are told not to judge people by the colour of their skin. In supermarkets, we are taught not to judge a wine by its pretty, pretty label, calling us to break our palettes on the shores of its beauty.

Like a Siren’s song, Megan and I are constantly sucked in by packaging. Or markeging, as I call it. This week was certainly no exception. While Megan fell for a bottle that should have, by all rights, contained a sports drink, or Açai berries, or something, I fell for a name brand, letting its pedigree lure me into its cellar with the promises of popsicles, or candy, or puppies, or rainbow cookie puppies who poop candied popsicles.

It isn’t really our fault – we are children of a packaged era. I blame Mattel and Hasbro. I blame G.I. Joe, Transformers, and He-Man: Master of the Universe. I blame My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, and Get In Shape Girl.

I blame society.

On to the wines.

Wine: Sebeka, Cabernet Pinotage, Western Cape, South Africa, 2009, $120 MXN
Rating: (A GENEROUS) One Bottle

A big ole Meh. The label was the best part about this wine. That and the cork. The cork has leopard spots on it! What? Wonderbaarlik! The only reason why this wine got even one bottle was because we decanted it. If we had rated it on first sip, pre-decant, we would have given it negative bottles. That’s right, it would have sucked bottles away from previous ratings. There really wasn’t any point in finishing this bottle, which we mostly didn’t. It was used in the cooking, however.

On the menu: Lasagne, Tiramisu.

Okay. Okay. Just to begin … okay. Tiramisu is a stupid dessert. Baking is stupid. It’s for stupid people who don’t know how to cook.

Yes … I was responsible for the dessert. I tried to do everything, as we do every week, from scratch. So, I began with the sponge cookies. But I forgot to add the whole egg to the egg yolks when I added it to the egg white mixture before I added it to the flour and sugar mixture, which I sifted three bloody times. Instead of dough, I had batter. And I did such a good job on the egg whites! It was supposed to be something beautiful. It was supposed to be marvellous. It was was supposed to have people crying and laughing at the same time, wishing there was more of my amazing tiramisu, only to be bitterly disappointed to find that there was none more to be had. Why? They would ask, shaking their fists at the sky. Why, God?

But stay with me.

The pancakes done (damn it) we ate the main course and I prepared the tiramisu. I did everything right. Having learned my lesson with the dough-cum-batter, I focussed a fair amount of energy on making sure that the tastiest part of a tiramisu came out perfectly. Not having any marsala, I substituted Disaronno, imagining the hazelnutty goodness of my baking efforts being appreciated by all who were to savour them.

But stay with me.

When adding alcohol to a milk-based anything, it must be done slowly, so that the dairy doesn’t break up in the process. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows that.

But no. What did I do? Sploosh!

So, instead of tiramisu, we had something that looked like goat brains, mixed with chunky water, in a parfait glass, with pancakes sticking out the sides. Bon appetit!

Megan’s lasagne turned out fantastic, so at least the entire night wasn’t a waste. Plus, my daughter got to hear me swear really loudly at food, which should be good for some issues down the road.

Tip from the kitchen: don’t drink and bake. It makes you look like and idiot.

I blame the Spanish.

Wine: Fontal Roble, Tempranillo, Spain, 2009, $170 MXN
Rating: Two bottles.

This was the wine that we drank prior to dinner and the one that, to me, looked like a power drink, or smart drink, or something. Not bad, actually. Black currant & black cherry. This bottle is a cheerful and easy-to-drink red. Good value for the money. The perfect wine for an afternoon when you’re just not in a white wine mood.

It also makes for a great wine to boost your confidence, thinking you can tackle some stupid dessert that should be stupid easy if the stupid cookbook had written the stupid directions the way they stupid should, and not like a stupid Stupid.

Ahem.

We liked this wine; it was fun. Kind of forgettable, but what more do you need on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

We were saving the best for last but, sadly, like a certain tiramisu that we know, all for naught.

Wine: J. Lohr, Hilltop Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California, USA, 2005, $544 MXN
Rating: Two bottles.

A high price does not a good wine make. Was it bad? No, it was not. Was it great? It was not great. It was decent, which is saying something, since it cost more than the previous two bottles put together. And while we’re on the subject of cost versus value, we don’t want our readers thinking that if a bottle is expensive, we simply won’t like it. But, if my wallet is meant to stretch its typical output, shouldn’t the product that it’s purchasing also redeem itself in kind?

We think so.

Mossy and chocolatey, this wine is very nice, and went well with lasagne, though I imagine a steak would have preferred its company. We enjoyed this wine, but certainly not as much as others we’ve tried in the past. And considering the choices out there for Cabernets, paying the extra money for this one just didn’t seem worth it.

Well, that about wraps it up. You’ll notice that there are no photos of the food this week. The sauce that you see is the prep for the lasagne. We forgot to take pictures of the finished product.

I blame the Spanish.

The tiramisu can burn in hell, for all I care.

Until next time.

Cheers!


As Above, So Below (As Up Highly, So Down Under)

Disclaimer: A funny thing happened on our way to our blog…

Two weeks ago, we sat down to a very lovely meal, prepared mostly by M as we had decided on a Thai fare, it feeling so very much like summer down here already. I had a little tickle in my throat, which made me feel thirsty all the time. (For water. Relax.)

So, we ate, we drank, and the next day I woke up feeling as though someone had poured a not insignificant amount of cement into my lungs. Don’t know what happened, but somehow I had stumbled onto an upper-respiratory-infection in my travels. I was bed-ridden for about a week, and felt like poop-on-toast for the entire following week.

That being said, it stands to reason that our little posting shenanigans had been put on hiatus while I convalesced. So, this week’s post will contain no less than two week’s worth of drinkery for you all to enjoy.

(Actually, we only made it through two bottles that week, me not feeling up to opening the third. Also, we forgot to write anything down about the wines that we had consumed that week. So, we re-purchased and included it in this week’s meal.)

And so, without further ado, we bring this week’s post, unedited and uncut. Open a bottle, charge your glass, sit back, relax, and enjoy.

This week’s selections are a story in happenstance and second-chancery (see disclaimer). Being somewhat dismayed by the lacklustre performance of the Altos Las Hormigas a few weeks back, and having read some glowing reviews about them online, (and having watched a wine show down here about the vineyard,) we decided that maybe we just didn’t buy a good enough bottle from the little winery in Argentina. So we decided to give them a second chance.

And glad we are that we did.

But first, the food.

On the menu First Week: Chicken Satay, Peanut Sauce, Pad Thai, White Rice

M took control of the kitchen for this one. I don’t have a lot of experience cooking Thai, and I didn’t want anyone to hate me. Plus M rocks in the kitchen, so we were all happy to stand back and watch the awesomeness. It was amazing. Peanut sauce from scratch to go with the Chicken Satays and Rice. Had I not already been feeling a little peaked, I would have enjoyed it much more.

On the Menu Third Week: Rib-Eye Steak, Grilled Zucchini & Asparagus, Potato Salad

This was a coordinated effort. I took care of the grilling; M handled the cold prep. The result was nothing short of delicious. Though, I have to say, we could have got a better quality meat. It’s hard to find down here, though. We found a grill wok, which is basically a thicker wok with holes in it. Totally love this addition to our kitchen arsenal. The vegetables end up grilled, but with no casualties falling through and into the inferno.

Anyway, on to the wines.

Wine: Altos Las Hormigas, Vineyard Selection Reserva, Malbec, 2007, Mendoza, Argentina, $406.00 MXN

Rating: Two Bottles

We really liked this wine. I found the label to be less … I don’t know … seventies-inspired than the previous bottle we enjoyed from the folks down in Argentine. So there’s a plus. What was inside the bottle wasn’t too bad either. A little acidic up front for my palate, but it quickly settled down nicely and we found it very drinkable. And while we still found this Malbec from the good people at Highly The Ants to be a little bitey, we still really enjoyed drinking it. It has a lot of character: plum and black currant. Peppery, too, for those of you keeping score.

For anyone who enjoys a decent Malbec, we would definitely recommend this one.

(Incidentally, something interesting that we have found in the few short weeks since we started pushing ourselves not to buy cheap wine: good wines spoil you! Go for a couple of weeks of buying really good wine – or at least pretty good wine – and then go back to the wine you used to drink, and thought highly passable! You will puke! You will puke your brains out! Not literally, of course, but metaphorically, and from the soul. And a soul puking its brains out is almost as bad as a prom date puking her brains out, with the slight difference that your soul probably doesn’t wear a rented tux, nor springs for a limo, only to watch its date throw up behind the gym while its friends drink wine coolers and smoke pot. Laughing.)

The drawback to this wine, sadly, is its price. At $406 pesos (about $35 USD, $33 CAD), it isn’t exactly a steal. I guess we were kind of on the fence about our second dance with the Ants. It was quite nice, and the price didn’t really factor into the enjoyment of it. I guess it’s just that if I were to spend the same amount of money on a bottle of wine again, I would expect it to be just a little better.

(NB: The irony of the whole thing is that we bought and tried this wine two weeks ago, but forgot to write anything down about it and couldn’t remember a blessed thing about this grape juice. So, we had to suck up our Canadianity and buy the damn thing again! Zut alors!)

Keeping a theme-intended ball rolling, I picked up another bottle with the word “Altos” in its title.

Wine: Altos de Tamaron, Reserva, 2003, Ribero de Duero, Spain, $301.50 MXN

Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottles

We really liked this little Spanish number, with its hot legs and nose-in-the-air quality about it. And you know what happens when you put a Spaniard and an Argentinian in the same room together … They start to speak Spanish with each other and … they … talk about … things … and, stuff … soccer, mostly.

This is a very smooth wine. After a glass-and-a-half I remarked to M that you could drink this wine every day and never have an issue with it. Hints of aniseed and something we couldn’t put our finger on (all suggestions welcome – I was thinking chocolate, only mustier) made us drink the last drop of this hot-blooded foreigner quicker than I normally drink Guinness. Which is fast. (Seriously, I don’t even call it drinking. Put a Guinness in front of me and I swallow the stuff down faster than water. Which is quick, since water is much less viscous than Guinness, if you think about it.)

In short, we loved this wine. We were going to give it three bottles until my life partner spoke up and said that she found it forgettable. M and I looked at each other, smacked our lips, and agreed. It was forgettable. There was an amazing quality about this wine that made you almost forget that you drank it, seconds after you drank it! Now, maybe that’s what makes a good wine great, but for us, it didn’t quite cut the muster. We wanted a little more out of this wine, and despite its already lauded legs, we had to cut it off at two-and-a-half.

I mean, if we are going to give out our first Three Bottle ranking, it has better damn well deserve it!

And then we travelled south.

Deep south.

How south, you may ask?

Down Under, to be exact.

Wine: Yarrunga Field, Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, Bin N° 280, Special Reserve, 2005, New South Wales, Australia, $166.46 MXN

Rating: Three Bottles!

What can we say but: “Yay for wine,” “Hooray,” and “Huzzah.”

Well, we finally found it. After a long, arduous month of searching (I know it doesn’t seem like much, but we’re children of the television generation – we expect things to wrap up in half-hour segments), we finally found our Three Bottle wine. When we opened this bottle, we had a feeling it was going to be great, but before I get to the description, first, a story …

We were doing our weekly shop at Chedraui (think SuperStore only better – seriously, this store rocks) when I spotted a label, so classy and elegant, that I simply had to have it.

Now, since you cannot buy alcohol in the stores after 2pm in Playa del Carmen on Sundays, it suffices to say that at 1:47pm, when I saw this wine sitting on the shelf, I knew what I had to do. Which was: buy it. So I did. I know – hell of a story. I will definitely save that one for a dinner party, wait for a lull in the conversation, and then BAM! Drop that little jewel into everybody’s laps and watch their heads explode. Why? Because they can’t handle it, man! The suspense; the levels; the character and plot development. “So, you saw a bottle of wine, knew you only had thirteen minutes to walk across the store and buy it, and you did?” “I know, right?” “Amazing!” Then … Kuh-BOOM: head shrapnel everywhere. I won’t even clean it up. They couldn’t handle my heat – their problem. I didn’t even tell them that I had been searching for a good Australian red all week, only to find it at the eleventh hour, so to speak. Imagine if I had? Nuclear, my friend.

The description. Right.

This wine sits on your tongue like a golden weight; its heft coating your taste buds like velvet, like silk. Taking a sip for the first time, we actually giggled, knowing that this was going to be a fun wine to drink. This is a wine that, if you didn’t like wine, would have as good a chance as any at changing your mind. Why? Because it’s what you thought wine was going to taste like when you saw people drinking it in the movies, back when you were a kid, and all you wanted to do was be a grownup.

Plum with peppery mustiness; chocolaty, fruity, and full. I love this wine so much that I want to bathe in it. I want to have my wedding inside this wine.

Drinking this wine reminds you why so many people, the world over, love Australian reds.

All we can say is: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie; Oye, Oye, Oye.

Until next time,

Cheers!

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