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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Happy Birthday, Baby

We delayed Sunday by one day this week to accommodate Cara’s birthday.  Hence, why we’re a day late posting.  Or two.  No, just one.

AND … my family is visiting from Canada, so it was quite a thing.  Joseph, Cara’s dad, made dinner, which was amazing.  It being such a long weekend, however, (Rene’s birthday was Friday, which we were still recuperating from on Sunday, which led right into Monday, and well into the night) we didn’t really get into the wine that much.  Also, there were babies everywhere, which made it difficult to actually sit and enjoy anything in a wine glass.

Why is it that babies wait for fun events to have total meltdowns?  Must be an evolutionary trick.

Anyway, with ten adults and two babies, it was a full house, which, after all, is the meaning of Christmas.

Er …

On the Menu: Spinach Salad, Potato Salad, Beef Roulade, Pork Roulade, Apple Crumble Pie Crisp Cake, Lemon Meringue Pie

Joseph used to own and operate his own fine dining restaurant in Kelowna, British Columbia, so when he offers to cook, we feign resistance and then quickly get out of his way.  In case you are unfamiliar with a roulade, it is typically a cut of meat rolled around some kind of filling, like vegetables, cheese, other meats … awesomeness …

It was one of those dinners that people just sort of ate leisurely, without thinking too much about it, and just enjoyed it.  (I spent most of the dinner with Caia upstairs, since she was exhausted and kept having small-scale nuclear events with the crying and the screaming and the rending of clothes.)

The Apple Pie Crispy Crumble Cake Dish is this deep dish apple pie thing that Joseph made that makes you think of all things good and home.

Basically, the perfect birthday dinner.

While many of us drank various libations that night, we did try to remember that we had bought some wine and it was to be tried.

Wine: Diavolo, Reserva de la Vina, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, 2009, $44 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

That’s right: forty-four pesos.  That’s $3.34 USD.  For a bottle of wine.  You can’t buy a glass of wine for that!  So I know you are wondering how such an abomination got a two-bottle rating from us.  I’ll tell you … it wasn’t easy.  It wrested it from us like so many firearms from so many cold, dead fingers.

Okay, it’s a very light wine.  Very simple.  There really isn’t anything to it.  Some light berry flavours.  Slight mustiness and earthiness.  But really, not much of a powerhouse.

But incredibly drinkable!  If you were to try this wine, without knowing that it costs forty-four pesos, you would think this was a marginally forgettable, but not at all unpleasant wine.  Compared with some of the bags of ox urine that we’ve paid much, much more for in the past, this is a wine that you could easily buy, drink, and not worry about.

And believe me – the snob in me wanted to trash this wine.  I was laughing about it the entire weekend after I bought it.  “This is going to be so terrible,” I thought.  “But I simply must try a forty-four peso bottle of wine.  Who do they think they are?”  The snob in me wanted to give this, at most, one bottle.  The drunkard in me, however, wanted to give it three bottles, since it isn’t every day that you find a bottle of alcohol that can hurt your liver without hurting your wallet.

In the end, we settled on two.

Wine: Hahn Winery, Pinot Noir, Monterrey, California, USA, 2010, $18.95 CAD
Rating: Two Bottle

This wine came all the way from Canada.  Well, California, but my parents brought it down with them from Canada.  It was on a plane, is my point.  My friend, Vanessa, a fellow wine-lover, suggested it as an import we probably wouldn’t be able to find down here.  Which is true.

This was a very interesting pinto noir, I thought.  Peppery on the nose, it also had subtle hints of cherries, strawberry jam, and watermelon.  Allowing it to breathe really brought these aromas and flavours out.

My only issue with this wine was the feeling that if I had left it alone for a couple of years, it would have been truly remarkable.  Alas, it is a problem living in the tropics, as keeping wines from going off due to heat and humidity is basically a nightmare.  So you’ll all have to do it for me.  If I could, I’d buy a case of this stuff and just wait.  Try one each year.

Oh well.

As it was, it was a very enjoyable wine.

Part of my family leaves tomorrow, and that is sad.  It’s been great having them around, and watching Caia get to know her little cousin, Edie.  Turns out, they both like Play-Doh.  Who knew?

We’ll re-wish Rene and Cara very happy birthdays.

Next week will be a smaller affair.  Only eight adults and one baby.

Until then,

Cheers!

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A Good Time Was Had By All

This week, we decided to switch things up a bit.  Instead of our usual evening of fine wine and a family dinner, we thought it would be fun to invite some friends over, drink some wine and eat some snacks, and try a wider swath of wines all at once.

We were not wrong; a good time was had by all.

Six wines, lots of cheese, some prosciutto, and mini-hangovers the next day.

We invited four of our dearest friends to join our family for a fun little set-to.  We would decant each wine, one by one, so that people were unable to prejudge the wines they were drinking based on either the vineyard or the varietal.  My thought was this: if I tell you that you are enjoying a merlot, you immediately dig into your memory vault of merlots you’ve tried in the past, but also into your emotional vault of how you generally feel about merlot.  In general.  If you are unaware of what wine you are sampling, you have to try the wine and really taste it.  Your only preconception is that it’s red.

Each guest brought a bottle.  With Megan and I, that made six wines, and a loose price range of $300 to $500 pesos per bottle.  (Roughly, $20 – $40, FYI.)  We weren’t looking for snobbery, just a blanket, approximate, assurance of quality.

(I had actually toyed with the idea of buying a couple of really cheap bottles to see if anyone noticed the difference, but people had to drive, so …)

Our guests included Marcelo and Alejandra, good friends of ours (and of our family) for several years; Demian and Maria José, just back from their recent nuptials and honeymoon; Megan and Rene, of course; Cara and Caia (until bedtime); Marilyn and Joseph, the in-laws.

Oh: and me.

With snacks out, we decanted our first bottle of the afternoon.

Wine: Emevé, Tempranillo, 2009, Mexico, $350 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

This is a really fantastic wine.  For the price, very hard to beat.  If you want to impress the crap out of people at your next dinner party or whatever, this is the wine to bring.  Fruity and soft, the flavours expand gently, not overpowering your senses, but being ever-present.  The perfect wine to start with, since it’s complexities complimented the varied fare we had laid on our table.

Wine: Inédito, Crianza, Rioja, 2006, Spain, $540 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Starting out with a wine like Emevé kind of ruins the next wine you try.  That being said, Inédito is not a bad wine.  Being a Crianza, it must meet certain requirements for its appellation, and we noted them well.  Leathery, peppery … a distinct odour of feet.  Yep.  Feet.  Unfair, I know, since New World tempranillos don’t have the same restrictions that Old World vineyards have placed on them, but still: feet.

Here’s the thing with buying wine in Mexico, and I would imagine anywhere: cost does not dictate quality or enjoyability.  It merely denotes what the rough cost of importation was for the product that you are drinking.  (Don’t get me started on the LCBO … ahem.)

Really, this wine was fine.  It had some very nice qualities and an eye-catching bottle.  For the price, however, I wouldn’t say it would be a repeat.  If we had tried it first, instead of the Emevé we would have most assuredly enjoyed it more.  It’s just the foot smell, you know?

Wine: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Jacques Charlet, 2009, France, $490 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

Loved this wine.  Sharp and clean, a welcome addition to the afternoon.  Strong berry flavours.  A good companion to the garlic bread.  Another benefit was watching our friends try to figure out which wine they were drinking as it is not a commonly available (or served) wine here in Playa del Carmen.  One thing you notice this particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape is it’s strength.  Compared to many New World wines, this is a powerhouse – strong, present flavours, with tannins equal to the task but without being pushy.

On the Menu: Assorted Cheeses, Prosciutto, Olives, Assorted Jams, Tomato Garlic Bread, Dark Chocolate, Quiche Lorraine

Megan and I wanted to keep things simple.  She picked up a couple of cheeses and whatnots, as did I, and we put some basic amuse bouches out.  Joseph, our father-in-law, made his Quiche Lorraine, which was a treat for our Mexican friends who had not been indoctrinated into the world of egg tarts.

The nice thing about finger foods is that everyone gets to eat whenever and however they like and we don’t have to spend eternity in the kitchen.  It frees us up to host and serve and entertain.  Megan was able to freely take as many photos as she wanted, or not, and I was free to talk my face off.  (Yeah, on that one, there is no “or not.”  Seriously: I don’t stop.  It’s a problem.)

Wine: Fratelli Pasini, Nebbiolo, 2010, Mexico, $310 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

We’ve reviewed a Fratelli Pasini back in August.  We were impressed then; we are impressed now.  The wonderful berry flavours come screaming through this wine in such subtle, yet powerful, ways.  I will warn you, however: this is a very dangerous wine.  It would be easy to turn your back on this wine, thinking that it means no harm.  That would be folly.  This wine will wait for you to drop your guard and suckerpunch you with its awesome.  Fratelli Pasini makes dangerous wines because they are so smooth, so delicious, that without realising it, you have finished a bottle and opening another.

Which is exactly what we did.

Wine: Fratelli Pasini, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Mexico, $310 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

A young, fresh wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon had a sharpness to it that the Nebbiolo did not.  Unlike the fuller, rounder, blueberry and cherry flavours of the Nebbiolo, the Cabernet snuck in some cranberries and black currant through the back door.  Where the Nebiolo was sweet and playful, the Cabernet is a little more pronounced, a little greener.

This really is a vineyard that you should try to find anywhere you can.  We have never been disappointed with their wines and Demian sells a lot of it at Cava.

Wine: Casa Madero, 3V, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Tempranillo, 2009, Mexico, $250 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

In my opinion, however, we saved the best for last.  Casa Madero, another winery we have reviewed in the past, has blended three varietals together in such a way that what you have in your glass is a triumph.  What you may notice first is the bouquet, flowery and delicate, and very surprising.  Unlike many wines that give you that acrid, bitten nose feeling, the 3v greets your nose with lilacs and lavender.  Very soothing to breathe in.

Then, as if to trick you, your mouth picks up on black pepper, oak, and chocolate!  You feel duped, so you take a whiff … nope.  Nobody here but us lilacs.  Sip.  Pepper party!!

If this wine is a changeling – distracting your senses into believing one thing only to reveal its true nature to be another.

Having started the afternoon at three o’clock, we finished the evening at around eight.  Our guests happy (and tipsy), we made our farewells and promised to do it again soon.  And honestly, if we did this every Sunday, we wouldn’t mind at all.

Until then,

Cheers!

Lasagne, Spicy Tomato Soup, and Two Bottles of Wine Later …

Welcome back and Happy New Year!

We took a week off to recuperate from our New Year’s celebration.  It is amazing to me that having a kid can rob you of your ability to stay up past eleven.

Anyway, this being our first week back, I wanted to do something special.  I thought having a few courses would work nicely – start with soup, move onto salad, dig in to a main, and finish off with dessert.  Problem was, I was still grossly sleep-deprived from the week before.  Staying up until three-thirty threw my clock off, which gave me a case of the night owls, so I was up late all week.  By Sunday, I was a bag of dog crap.  I couldn’t focus on anything.  (Note to self: in future, read box of lasagne noodles carefully to see if they are pre-cooked or not … dumb ass.)

There is nothing scarier to me than standing in front of a counter covered in cutting boards, knives, vegetables, and utensils, and seeing nothing but a mess.  The chaos of a nearly-organised dinner is magical.  Conversely, the abstract shapes and disparate colours of a nonsensical blend of culinary insanity assaults my senses like an Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Moving on.

After Cara threatened me that we weren’t going to have dinners at our place if that was the way I was going to talk to people, I calmed down, refrained from having a glass of wine yet (Megan wasn’t there with the camera anyway), and set about making dinner.

On the Menu: Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup, Rustic Spinach Salad, Garlic Bread, Spinach Lasagne, Amaretto Syllabub

The soup is very easy.

  • Pre-heat oven to 180° C.
  • Chop into quarters a dozen ripe tomatoes.
  • Stand them on end in an oiled roasting tray.  Don’t worry about spacing, since they are going to be turned into soup anyway.  Just as long as there is some air between each quarter so the flavours can move in between them.
  • Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, dried dill, dried basil, garlic powder, and about two tablespoons of ground black pepper.  (I use ground pepper, since I covers everything more evenly, as opposed to cracked, and because it will slip through the sieve later, giving the soup its characteristic speckling.)
  • Pop into the oven, uncovered, for about an hour.  (You want the tomatoes to be completely roasted and falling apart, but not so roasted that they are dried out.)
  • Remove from oven and scoop everything into a food processor.
  • Puree the hell out of it.
  • Run through a sieve into a pot.  (Don’t throw away the husky stuff, since it makes a great spread for your garlic bread later. Wink!)
  • Add one cup of whole milk, one cup of condensed milk, and one cup of water.
  • Simmer until thickened.
  • Taste and make adjustments.

The salad is just rough chopped tomatoes and onions with a balsamic and olive oil dressing.  (For kicks, try adding some melted butter and garlic to the dressing.  Nobody will know why the dressing rocks, but they’ll drink it like gravy.)

With the soup and salad served, we finally got down to the wine.

Wine: Finca, La Linda, Torrontés, 2010, $153 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Fruity and vibrant, this is a really fun bottle of wine.  With a heartier meal like lasagne, it doesn’t really pair as nicely as say, a really spicy soup.  Thank goodness we had one on hand!

For a white, it was a little more complex than we were used to – citrus blending with peaches and bell peppers – but it was a very pleasant wine and complimented the soup and salad nicely.

This wine would also go very nicely with seafood like sushi or ceviche, as the fruitiness and citrus flavours would be complimented by the subtly of raw fish.

And then the wheels (almost) came off …

Lasagne is one of my favourites to make, but as I alluded to earlier, you really should check the box for what type of noodles you bought since parboiling precooked noodles turns them into pasta shrapnel.  (Don’t believe me?  Try it out.  You’ll be a laughing stock.)  I managed to salvage the better noodles for show and saved the lesser noodles for the places where people wouldn’t see.  That being said, this lasagne is awesome.

First layer, spinach, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.  Second layer, ground beef, ricotta, spinach, tomato sauce.  Third layer, spinach, tomato sauce, mozzarella.  Fourth layer, prosciutto, spinach, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.  Fifth layer, tomato sauce, béchamel sauce, mozzarella.  Bake until golden.  I let it stand for about ten or fifteen minutes so the lasagne has a chance to set a bit.

Wine: Trapiche, Broquel, Bonarda, 2009, $209 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

This wine went very well with the pasta – dry, but the tannins weren’t so harsh that they were all you could think about.  A mix of black currant and cherries with a hint of blackberries and blueberries.  Very enjoyable, this was a substantial wine.

For the price, very enjoyable, and we are thinking of buying a couple of bottles and putting them aside as the tasting notes on the label recommend waiting a few years.  If it was this good now, imagine what it will be like then.

The dessert was an amazing find of Megan’s from Nigella.  Really incredible and perfectly Italian – Amaretto Syllabub.  For the recipe, visit Nigella’s Food Network page.  Basically, it’s a dessert based saved for after the kids have gone to bed.  Mostly because then you don’t have to share it, but also because it’s filled with booze.  Megan pulled it off to perfection, as usual.

Next week, a special treat, but you’ll have to read it to find out what.

Till then,

Cheers!

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