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Category Archives: Merlot

Anchors Away!

Last week, we went on a cruise.

I like the idea of a cruise.  The open ocean, several days at sea, a new port every morning.  What adventures lie ahead?

If you follow me on Twitter then you know a little bit about how our cruise started.  I won’t go into details here, as this is (ostensibly) a blog about wine and food.  I will say, however, that I do not like to see my fiancée cry, and she cried far too often on this trip for my liking.  Which is none.  I just mentioned that.  Why aren’t you listening?

I did sample some nice wines, however, so all was not lost.

Wine: Clos de los Siete by Michel Rolland, Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009, $19 USD
Rating: Two Bottles

We got this wine at a shop on Devonshire Street, in Boston.  It’s right next to the Elephant & Castle restaurant in the Club Quarters Hotel, if you are nearby and want to find it.  I suggest that you do.  They’re lovely folks.

Caramel and toffee overtones are met with soft tannins that give this wine a buttery impression.  Deep, black cherry colours backup the dark red fruit flavours that come singing through from the first sip.

Wine: Underwood Cellars, Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA, 2010, $17 USD
Rating: Two Bottles

We also grabbed a bottle from Oregon, since U.S. wines are hard to find in Mexico, unless they are from California, and then, usually only if they are from Napa.

Very fruity, mostly berries, especially gooseberries, apples.  Very light.  Perfect for a hot summer night or an afternoon at sea.  Hey!  Look at that!  That’s what we were doingwhile we were drinking it!

Wine: Murphy Goode, Merlot, California, 2010, $29 USD
Rating: One Bottle

Dry tannins gave a very dry finish.  Coppery.  A little flat.  Fruity bouquet and a deep ruby colour, but a bit disappointing.

I ordered this wine at our first evening dining on the ship.  We had an amazing waiter.  His name is Charlie.  He is from the Philippines.  He made Caia a mouse out of a cloth napkin.  This made her giggle to the delight of all within earshot.

Wine: Peter Lehman, Shiraz, Australia, 2008, $29 USD
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Charlie also joined some of the other waiters to dance for our pleasure.  Not just our pleasure.  Other people watched, too.  My mom got up and danced with him.

Soft and plump (the wine), russet colouring, really nice up-front, but a little sharp on the back-end.  One of those wines that you think is going to be great when you first sip it, but it never really fulfills it’s promise.

Wine: Sledgehammer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California, USA, 2008, $17 USD
Rating: Two Bottles

Another bottle from our friends at the wine store on Devonshire which we didn’t think to write down it’s name or snap a picture of the storefront.  Honestly, we had two cameras, and Caia was with my mom.  We could have at least grabbed a business card.  I’ll try Googling it.*

Bought mostly for the label (and because it’s called Sledgehammer), this wine was a great find.  Ripe figs and dates, fragrant bouquet, and very easy to drink, we were very happy with this purchase.

I have to say, there is something so freaking amazing about sitting on the balcony of your stateroom, watching the setting sun over the hills of Portland, Maine, with a glass of wine in your hand.

At one point, I may or may not have been standing on the balcony, watching the setting sun, with a glass of red wine in my hand, a cigarette in the other, and no clothes on.  That may or may not have happened.

Can’t be sure.

There is no proof.

Wine: Chianti, Bella Sera, Tuscany, Italy, 2010, $29 USD
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Light and delicate on the nose.  Pleasant, but a little weak for my liking.  One of those wines that you enjoy drinking, but cannot pick out of a line-up.  You know, one of those wine line-ups like they have on all the gritty cop shows.

Victim: “Number three.”

Detective: “Are you sure?”

Victim: “Not really, no.  It was a little flat and didn’t have a lot of mouthfeel, so I can’t really be sure.”

Detective: “Okay.  Can you think of anything else?”

Victim: “It was red?”

Wine: Louis Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, USA, 2009, $40 USD
Rating: Two Bottles

Charlie also made sure to get me any info I needed for each wine.  If it wasn’t listed on the menu, he would go and ask what year it was, that kind of thing, and this is during a full dinner rush.  He really was tops.

Round and fruity, the Louis Martini was one my favourites on the ship.  Soft tannins left a velvety mouthfeel.  I had Chateaubriand that night.  They were wonderful playmates.

Wine: Hess Select, Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California, USA, 2009, $35 USD
Rating: Two Bottles

And then I followed it up with another California red.  The Hess, unlike the Louis Martini, was dry.  Dry, but without being a dick about it.  Cherry flavours gave you the sweetness you enjoyed, while hints of dark chocolate and roasted coffee gave you the bitterness you desired for balance.

Wine: Côtes du Rhone, Michel Picard, Rhone, France, 2010, $33 USD
Rating: One Bottle

Our last night on the ship and it started off poorly.  Super dry and sharp.  Biting like grapefruit juice after you brush your teeth.  Not at all awesome, but if you like really dry reds, this might be the wine for you.

Wine: Mirassou, Pinot Noir, California, USA, 2010, $28 USD
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Soft berry flavours were a welcome relief from Bittertown as the realisation that the cruise was coming to an end was sinking in.  The last dance number the wait-staff performed was awesome, and Caia squealed with glee watching them dance on tables and seeing the lights flicker and flash in sync with the music.

That was nice.

The pinot was like an old friend, patting your hand as you wistfully wipe a tear from you eye, hoping that no one noticed.  Time with family is so precious, and as we get older, so fleeting.  We spend so much time planning for the memories we want to make someday, instead of getting around to making them.

As Paulo Coelho once wrote, ““Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”

In other words, follow your heart if you don’t want to be surrounded by trash.

Cheers!

*The store is called Boston Wine Exchange.  Check out their web site.  Don’t drop our name, though, since we didn’t tell them who we are and they might think that we were covert operatives buying reasonably priced wine to poison wino diplomats.

Daddy Tired.  Daddy Go Sleepy.

Gang, it’s been a long haul.  We are counting down the days until our next vacation.  One-and-a-half months.  Getting four days off at Easter kind of made things worse, since I decided (foolishly? wisely?) to skip the nanny.  Cara worked every day, which meant that Daddy was a playground for the entire four days he had off.

Which is great.  Don’t get Daddy wrong.  Daddy loves playing with Caia.

It’s just …

The exhaustion

This Sunday, we went for our customary walk along Fifth Avenue here in Playa del Carmen.  Caia loves this time because she gets to look at all the shops, the ubiquitous street cats, and break Daddy’s sunglasses (to the delight of passersby).  Daddy likes it because Caia loves riding on his shoulders which makes him feel like a real man, and the two kilometer walk makes Caia sleepy, ensuring nap-time is a ‘Go.’

I wanted to make something that would require minimal effort on my part, on account of the tired.  Megan was going to do the salad and dessert, as usual, and I needed to tackle the main.  Thinking inside the box, I came up with Cottage Pie.

On the Menu: Organic Green Garden Salad with Strawberries, Watermelon, Pomegranate and Mint, in a Raspberry & Olive Oil Dressing, Cottage Pie, Strawberry and Apricot Galettes with Wild Blueberry Preserve And Whipped Cream

What distinguishes a Sheppard’s Pie from a Cottage Pie is the meat you use.  Sheppard’s Pie is made with lamb.  Beef equals Cottage.

Either way, and not surprisingly, Megan did a better job than I.  My mistake was trying to please too many people.  I substituted green beans for peas, and included spinach in the layers.  While this sounds like a good idea, it is not.  The result was too earthy.  Too much like the earth.  It tasted like dirt.

One thing I did that I liked, however, was including a bottom layer of potatoes.  I lined the bottom of the pan with olive oil, smoothed out a layer of potatoes, and baked it for fifteen minutes.  This made something of a crust, which made something of an awesome texture when you ate it.

The salad was awesome but didn’t hold a candle to the dessert.

We have been talking about doing a cook book for some time, and this will be a definite inclusion.  Which is why I can’t give you the recipe here.  But let me tell you: it is heaven.  It is one of those desserts that can go with any season, which almost any drink, and in almost every situation.

Got a promotion?  Galettes!  Have to break up with someone?  Galettes.

We tried to drink two bottles this week, but neither were really that great, so we kind of limped through half of each.

Wine: Casa Pedro Demecq, Reserva Real, Vino Tinto (Barbera/Cabernet Sauvignon), Valle de Calafia, Baja California, Mexico, 2009, $165 MXN
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Higher alcohol content (14.1%) made this a heady, sharp wine.  Megan and Susan found it acidic, though it didn’t really bother me that much.  Good things going for it?  Smokey and oaky, with a hint of some kind of flower.  After much cursing, we figured it out – clover.  Peppery and spicy, this wine would fall under the “got-to-be-in-the-mood-for” category of wines.

Not overly easy to drink.

Wine: Santo Tomás, Vino Tinto (Barbera/Merlot), Valle de Santo Tomás, Baja California, Mexico, 2008, $220 MXN
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Cassis and cherries, leathery and full, the Santo Tomás was certainly more popular with Megan, Susan, and Roy (another Canadian friend of ours down for a visit).  While not my favourite of the two, as I found this one too sharp, I was roundly disagreed with.

One thing we all agreed on: neither of these wines would be bottles any of us would seek out again.  They just didn’t have that je ne sais quoi that one looks for in a wine.

Whatevs.  Probably the Barbera.  It can be a little bitey.

Next week, Megan and I are going to shift things around a little bit.  We’re going hunting for a new wine bar.

Yes, sadly, Cava Veinte33 closed its doors this week.  Demian and Maria José are expanding their horizons, and the restaurant life is a demanding one.  Too much time is required running a restaurant to allow a person to do … well, anything else, really.

On behalf of The Sunday Bottles, we’d like to wish them all the best in the future, and look forward to clinking glasses again with them soon.

This means, of course, that the search is on.  If you are familiar with the area, feel free to suggest places you think we might like.  Preferably, places that serve wine not from a bag or a box.

That would be a good start, I think.

Cheers!

Happy Wine-iversary!! It’s Been A Good Year

Greetings and welcome!  And Happy Wine-iversary to us!  A year ago, we began our journey of drinkery and we’ve relished every minute.  Except for the times that we hated.  Those sucked.

To help us celebrate, Rene and Cara teamed up, as siblings so often do (ppfffbbt!), and made a dinner to commemorate the occasion.  We were supremely grateful and well-fed by the end of it all.

One the Menu: Pan-Fried Green Beans, Asparagus in a Red Wine Reduction, Pan Fries, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Avocado Pie

That’s right: Avocado Pie, y’all.  It’s a recipe that Cara stumbled onto years ago, and we’ve begged her to make it ever since on a near monthly basis.  She breaks it out for special occasions.  This one made the cut.

Rene handled the dinner part.  The chicken was awesome.  I’m always impressed when someone can put together a layered anything, bread it, pop it in the oven, and it comes out looking and tasting perfect.  Mine never do that.  They usually look like a Dali painting when I’m done with them.  Sometimes they also taste like one.

Not having to do any of the cooking, this gave Megan and I plenty of time to reminisce about the past year and to plan for the next one.  We’re thinking “Cook Book.”  A book filled with recipes from the hits and misses of the year before.  You know, for posterity.  You know, a cook book. (Idiot …)

We also filled an entire notebook of tasting notes.  In total we made  57 posts, and we’ve been visited over 6,000 times.  We’ve had reservations made at restaurants we’ve mentioned by people going on vacation who’ve read our blog and thought they’d like to try what we wrote about.  We’ve been referenced by other sites, we’ve been re-posted on other blogs, and we won our first blog award.

In short, it’s been a good year.

(Get it?  A good year?  Like wine?  A good … never mind.)

This week, we thought about buying something really outstanding to review, but that just didn’t seem us.  Instead, we did what we always do: bought wines based on pretty labels and clever branding.

Wine: RE, Merlot, Curicó Valley, Chile, 2011, $76.55 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

Green would be the best way to describe this wine.  Fresh.  So fresh, so young … so bad.

Megan and Cara did not mind this wine.  In fact, they like it’s freshness.  All I could pick up on was the cough medicine aftertaste.

I will say that it improved with some time out of the bottle, but not by much.  Enough, however, to allow it to pass our rigorous approval method – did we finish the bottle?  Yes.

We moved on.  If this past year has taught us nothing else, it’s to roll with the punches … of shitty wine in our face.

I wanted to finish our year with a wine from our host country.  We’ve had some success with Monte Xanic in the past, so …

Wine: Monte Xanic, Calixa, Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, Mexico, 2009, $199 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Velvety bouquet with a pungent nose.  Hints of caramel and butter toffee.  Ripe fruits dominate the palate – plums, figs, dates, black cherries.  Very smooth and inky.  This wine, we liked much more.  Really, our kind of wine.  A slightly mature palette and more complex than the previous wine of the evening.

We like a wine that gives us something to talk about or evokes a feeling or a memory.  If a wine can actually be a bottle of nostalgia, that’s a keeper.  We like our wines like we like our people – we want them to be interesting.

Though it only got two bottles, this was a wine that kind of did it for us.  It wasn’t fantastic, but for the price, was very good.  Plus, with the misty, cool nights we’ve been having, it was just right.

So Happy Wine-iversary to us!  We’d like to thank our family for putting up with our grumpiness around dinner time.

We’d also like to thank everyone who has followed us this year.  Though we’ve never met many of you, you’re part of what we do, because, ultimately, it’s you we do this for.

Which is weird, if you think about it.

(Let’s not.)

Cheers!

 

Reflections and Judgements … and Chilli

I feel kind of bad when we buy wine that isn’t great.  I wonder if anyone reading this gets put off by the negativity.  But when we started this thing, it was meant to be a journal of wines that we’ve tried – wines that we liked, and wines that we didn’t like – so that we’d know what to buy again and what to avoid.  This was a concern we discussed this week with our guest, Karen.  (There: I’ve put you in the blog, Karen.  NOW GIVE ME BACK MY DOG!)

Wines we’ve hated:  Estampa Estate – not reviewed.  See?  A Zero Bottle wine that we didn’t bother slashing to bits.  Suffices to say, it sucked.  It was like drinking wine-flavoured cough syrup.  Blech.  Wolf Blass, Yellow Label, Chardonnay – not terribly good.  Described as a bottle of pee.  Very disappointing.  Blackstone Winemaker’s Select.  Have you ever noticed that whenever the words “Select,” “Quality,” or “Dignity” are used, they never describe the product they name?  Dignity … I love this word in conjunction with products of any kind – typically reserved for products sold to the elderly, and one that I appropriated for the leash that Cara tried to use when Caia was little.  I dubbed it: The Dignity Harness.  “Your toddler can’t escape, and strangers can’t help judging you for using it!”  Quality Inn: the only thing quality about a hotel that uses the word “quality” in their name is their knowledge of what words trick people into believing them.  Winemaker’s Select: I strongly DOUBT that any true winemaker would SELECT this wine for anything other than to put it on a sponge to give to a man on a cross.  Sacrilegious?  Yes.  False?  Hardly.

Wines we’ve loved: Yarrunga Field – Three Bottles.  Altos de Tamaron – Two-and-a-Half Bottles.  No° 99, Wayne Gretzky Estates – Two-and-a-Half Bottles.  We have loved.  We have lived.

Some wines we’ve enjoyed – others not so much.  Sometimes, you need to be critical.  Sometimes you need to be complimentary.  That’s life.

This week, we did not love the wines we chose.  We loved the food we made.  But not the wine.

On The Menu: Corn Bread Muffins, Chilli Con Carne, Strawberry Cake

The food was great and it was what we needed.  Comfort food for a rainy Sunday with family.  Food that sticks to your ribs, as my grandfather would say.  Food that keeps you sane.

And after the week we had, we needed it.  We suffered through a toddler’s cold, a plant fire at two in the morning, a week filled with ten plus hour work days, insomnia, and a paper-cut.  We made it through, but only barely.  The thought of making some elaborate dinner brought tears to Megan’s eyes and made me punch a hole through a canoe.  That never happened, but I could if wanted to.

I made the chilli; Megan made the corn bread and the cake.  Megan’s corn bread complimented the chilli very nicely.  Made with jalapenos and banana peppers, there was a soft, sweet heat to them that cut through the corn and made your mouth hum.

The chilli I made in one pot using ground and cubed beef with lots of fat, yellow and red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and love.  Lots of love.  And cumin.  Lots of cumin.

Wine: Alma Mora, Cabernet Sauvignon, San Juan, Argentina, 2008, $105 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

The problem with this wine was that it bored us.  There was no real flavour to it.  Kind of fruity, pretty salty, and with tannins that kind of sneak up on you.  And … that’s pretty much it.  For the money, I would rather drink something else.  Concha y Toro, say.

(Sorry, Jorge.)

Wine: Monte Xanic, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico, 2006, $360 MXN
Rating: One-and-a-Half Bottles

A heavier wine, but also more pleasant.  Softer tannins, but with a bitter finish.  Oaky, which Megan doesn’t like, but I don’t mind in a red.  Less fruity than the first.  Still … meh.

At this point, I have no idea what next week will bring us.  Hopefully not locusts, but who knows.  Send us positive vibes.

Until then,

Cheers!

TSB Wine Tasting Event at Cava Veinte33

Four Mexican Wines.  Known for blending varietals in somewhat unorthodox ways.  Thus spake Demian. (Zarathustra being unavailable and generally unwilling to conduct wine tastings.  He’s such a pill.)  There were ten of us in total at Cava Veinte33 this past Saturday at one-thirty.  So proud, were we, to convince eight friends to join us for wine in the early afternoon.

And this is what we tasted:

Wine: Domenica, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Viñas Pijoan, 2006, $350 MXN
Grenache, Petite Syrah, Merlot
Rating: Two Bottles

Named for the winemaker’s daughter (he names all of his wines after important people in his life – mostly women), the soft flavours carry this wine across your tongue.  This is a slightly gamey wine, which some people have a hard time enjoying, but which I like quite a lot.

This was a very easy wine to drink, but with a slightly sharp finish.  We all remarked that this wine had a sharp finish.  Someone else remarked that the wine was sharp.  It was agreed, then, that this was a sharp wine.  Someone (Andrew) said that we were referring to its (the wine’s) cleverness.  Some card (me) noted that this was a “Witty little number.”  (There was a LOT of eye-rolling, Saturday.)  Black currants and pomegranate were also noted.

A very good start.

We were offered water to rinse with.  There was in a pitcher on the table.  Andrew took a sip of it.  Demian said that it was actually to rinse our glasses.  In a spit take that would have made Groucho proud, Andrew immediately let the water fall back out of his mouth and into the glass.  It was a triumph.  Seriously, one of the funniest things I’d seen all month.  And September’s been HILARIOUS.

Wine: Los Nietos, Mezcla Bordelesa, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Émeve, 2009, $400 MXN
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottles

(Rye?  Was that RYE I tasted on that wine?)  Tart, but smooth.  Strawberries?  (Rye?)  Spicy, it was decided.  Cloves and nutmeg, someone said.  Demian chose this moment to let us in on a secret about wine: there is no right call on what you taste in a glass of wine.  If you taste strawberries, then you DO.  What one person may taste, another may not.  This wine was the favourite so far, by most.  (I still preferred the first bottle.  I found it more agreeable.  I liked its quirks.  I liked that it was both gamey and sharp.  It made me think of Englishmen out hunting foxes or something.  Then that made me sad for the foxes, but I liked the camaraderie, nonetheless.)

We sat around, discussing what a tannin was.  I thought it was something to do with protein.  Cara and Megan weren’t sure.  Andrew kind of agreed with me.  Demian told me I was wrong.  So far, we were off to a good start.

Wine: Casa Madero, Gran Reserva, Casa Grande, Valle de Parras, 2006, $440 MXN
Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
Rating: Two Bottles

“Syrupy,” said Cara.

“Something,” said I.

“Smokey,” said Michael.

“Oaky,” said Andrew.

“Heavy,” said I, not to be outdone.  “It tastes like port.”

“Thick,” chimed in Megan.

We all tried to be appreciative of the wine without sounding like the wine was getting to us.  At this point, it was getting a little difficult to taste one wine from the other, but Demian chose well.  “This is the oldest winery in the continent.  It’s been making wine since 1597, taking only a short break when wine-making was outlawed by Spain around 1620.”  Why they outlawed wine had something to do with imperialism, and I had long since given up taking comprehensive notes.  This was a fitting wine for us to drink this weekend, however, it being Mexican Independence Day, which commemorates the start of the Independence War by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in 1810.  (Take THAT, Spain.  We’ll drink whatever wine we damn well please!)

Where was I?  Oh yeah: Demian chose well.  Each wine a little more intense than the last so that we would be able to pick up on the differences.  If he had gone the other way, we would have started remarking how watery the wine tasted.  I call it the Wedding At Cana Method.  Go ahead.  Steal it.

We should take a moment to pause here, and comment on the food that we were served throughout the day.

On the Menu: Fried Calamari, Eggplant Parmesan, Pastrami Hamburger with Sauerkraut and Pepper Jack Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries, Chocolate Pudding with a Strawberry Compote

In true Cava style, the food came out at just the right time.  Namely, just as we were starting to feel a shade past tipsy.  Now, the purpose of this event was not to get drunk, but to try different wines and enjoy good company.  And, after three bottles, each of us had had just under three glasses.  Not quite three.  So, we were feeling SOME vapours, but not too many.  All the same, the food came as a pleasant foil for the wine.

The clear favourites were the Eggplant Parmesan and the Pastrami Burgers.  Subtle flavours for both, but I have to say, I am a sucker for hamburgers, especially when there is cheese involved.  But add a bed of pastrami and sauerkraut?  This was quickly becoming my favourite day ever.  (Well, next to the birth of my daughter and Obama being elected president, but a VERY CLOSE THIRD.)

Back to the wine …

Wine: Las Nubes, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, 2008, $560 MXN
Nebiolo
Rating: One Bottle

Maybe it was that we’d already blown most of our taste buds, but this wine did not agree with any of us.  A lot of minerals in the wine made it taste salty to most, and the higher level of tannins left a bitter, tart, dry mouth in all.  We didn’t have a lot to say about this wine.  One of the pricier bottles we tried, this was the least appreciated wine of the bunch by all of us.

This was to be our last bottle and we were trying our damndest to enjoy it.  Sensing this, and being the consummate host, Demian treated us with a fifth bottle.

(Phew!)

Wine: Los Nietos, Reserva, Villa de Guadalupe, Baja California, Émeve, 2008, $550 MXN
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottles

This wine was much softer and fruitier.  (What do you know: we all like fruity wine.)  Strawberries and blackberries and dark red fruit made for a magnificent final wine to the day.  Doing the math, each of us had about a bottle each, which is a lot.  Our tummies full of food and libation, we felt like royalty.

The thing we liked about Demian’s tasting was that he educated us on the wines themselves – where they were from, how they were made, the philosophy behind each winemaker’s process – but he never told us what we should be TASTING in each wine.  He allowed us to discover if we enjoyed them or not for ourselves.  Cara tried to trap him, at one point, asking him whether there is a RIGHT way to taste a wine.  Whether there actually IS a true palette for each bottle.  Like, if a person tastes strawberries, could they be WRONG.  But Demian wouldn’t take the bait.  Instead, he asked her to leave.  (Just kidding, but he totally could have.)

And so our great Wine Tasting Event at Cava Veinte 33 came to an end.  As we spilled out onto the street, some smoking cigarettes, others picking fights, Megan, Cara and I smiled in appreciation for this wonderful life.

Our thanks to Demian and the entire staff at Cava Veinte33 for their hospitality.  Many thanks to everyone who shared the experience with us.

Cheers!

Fifteen Questions With Demian Fuentes – Owner and Operator of Cava Veinte33

Fifteen Questions With Demian Fuentes – Owner and Operator of Cava Veinte33

I was introduced to Demian Fuentes, owner and operator of Cava Veinte33, or “La Cava,” for short, by a friend of mine a while back.  We shared a bottle of wine over lunch and he and I got to talking about wine, Mexico, and food.  The immediate impression I got from him was his passion for what he does.  He’s about my age, and to see someone passionate about something so ethereal is awesome.  It makes you feel lighter.  Anyone can get passionate about sports or cars, but to get passionate about something as esoteric as wine is really amazing.

As we’ve mentioned many times here, we know very little about wines.  Sitting with a person like Demian, I was tempted to hit my Professor button: to go on, at great length, about the qualities of this particular wine, where it must have come from, it’s characteristics … But, having just met him, I thought better of it.  (What is it about some people that use bullshit to impress even when face-to-face with a bona fide expert?  I don’t know, but I’m one of them.)

I got it into my head that I might like to interview Demian for TSB.  Not, mind you, that he would like to be interviewed.  I was gratefully surprised when he agreed.  (I think he thinks we’re a real website or something.)

We arranged a date, a time, and Megan and I show up, trying not to giggle like kids about to meet Santa.  We grab a seat – Demian is going to be a couple of minutes – and we order a glass of wine.  I mean, we are in a wine bar after all.  What are we supposed to drink?  Water?

Wine: Emeve, Chardonnay, 2010, Baja California, Mexico, (Retail) $175 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

All-Spice – like  apple pie cake with brown sugar and  cinnamon sprinkled on top!  This is a  really interesting wine.  We breathe it in for a long time.  It is so interesting … Cloves; Cinnamon; Brown Sugar; Apples … it’s all there.

Demian shows up and takes care of some business.  He has one table that has just been sat on the patio and he goes out to  greet them and to find out what they are looking for.  They agree to a suggestion he makes and  the waiter brings out the wine.  Watching from the safety of the air conditioned restaurant, we watch as Demian pours some into a glass for them.  We sneak outside and stand off to the side, listening.  He tips the glass on its side, letting the wine sparkle in the sunlight.  “You see the layer that sits on the top of the wine? Those are the oils in the wine.  It’s oil.”  The couple, from Michigan, smile apologetically, not sure what to make of being told their wine had oil in it.  They taste it, however, and immediately you can see their apprehension wash away when the taste greets them on the mouth like a worthy host.  “It’s nice,” the woman
says.  “M-hm,” agrees the husband.  I know how they feel.  In their heads they are saying “I’m not saying anything, lest my ignorance betray my poor upbringing.”  But their fears are unfounded.  Demian laughs, disarmingly.  “But it’s good, right?”  They laugh as well.  Yes.  It is.

We  go inside.

What follows is a series of questions I came up with for Demian while Megan takes photos of us and the surrounds.  This is intermittently broken up by Demian tending to his guests as they come and go, betraying his philosophy of service.

Where are you from?

Queretaro, Mexico – about 120km north of Mexico City.

How long have you had an affinity for wine and viticulture?

I’ve always had a thing for fruit, for food and beverage.  I have always loved cooking.  My grandfather is from Spain.  He loved wine … had a big wine cellar. He was the one who got me into it and taught me about the different wine regions.(At this point, I’m thinking A Good Year – Demian playing tennis with an Albert Finney type, throwing a tantrum because he lost; going inside and his grandfather – uncle, whatever – schooling him on wines and their properties.  This is funny because I just found out Monday, two days after the interview, that Demian is really good at
tennis in real life.)

In first year college, I really started learning about wines – the syllabus of wines, where wine originates, what it is made of, so on.  But it was my grandfather who introduced me to it.

What turned you on to wine?

After college, I started working in the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, a very nice hotel – very classical, architecture and food.  I started working in L’Escalier, the restaurant there.  Very nice, very authentic restaurant.  The sommeliers started teaching me about wines, while I was on break, when they were pairing during service, so on.  That was where I started my education.  After that I went to Australia.  I worked in the Four Seasons in Sydney and learned about Australian wines.  There, it was a much smaller team and I got a lot more hands-on experience.

Excuse me.

(Demian goes outside to greet some new guests, to correct a server’s presentation of the wine, to adjust a napkin around the neck of a bottle, sticking out from a bucket of ice.  He does this like an older brother more than an over-bearing boss.  He is careful to instruct the young server and not to chide him.  He patiently shows him how it ought to be done, then takes a moment to explain why.  All the while, the guests are looking on with as much fascination as the waiter.  He returns and orders us a bottle of Rose. 

Now, Megan and I, as I imagine most people, have a diminished opinion of what a Rose is all about.  You tell me “Rose” and I immediately think “White Zinfandel” or “Blush,” something sweet consumed at keg parties by girls who don’t like beer.  We were wrong.)

Wine: Fratelli Pasini, Nuda, Grenache-Tempranillo, Baja Cal, Mexico, 2009, (Retail) $200 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

(Demian rolls the wine around in his glass and holds it up to the light as Megan and I exchange shocked looks of WTF.)

This wine is fermented in steel kegs so that it has temperature control for more extraction of the fruit in the wine.

(Demian knows a lot about wine.  Don’t let his humble demeanour fool you. This wine has a freshness to it without any sweetness.  This is a very dry Rose.  Good acidity. Very interesting.  Neither Megan nor I have had a Rose that tasted like that. I have mentioned before, and I will mention it here again: we know very little about wine.  And it’s Mexican!  When most people think about Mexican drink, they tend to think about tequila and mescal.  Maybe cerveza.  We tend not to give credit for it’s rich wine heritage and the dedication Mexico has for making truly remarkable, affordable, wines.  This wine goes to the top of our list, since it is something we could definitely see buying just as a drinking
wine.  Something that could go with dinner, but wouldn’t need to.

Cranberries.  It looks like movie-wine – watch the scenes from Interview With A Vampire if you are unsure of what I mean.)

What’s Cava Veinte33 all about?

I decided a couple years ago that I wanted to do something with wine.  I wanted to bring some of that wine culture here.  I am still very passionate about wine.  There is always something to learn.  And, as people who drink and enjoy wine, it’s important for us to understand a bit more about where wine comes from; how much work goes into each bottle.  It’s like Art – it’s not only what goes into the painting, but what the artist was going through when he created the work itself.  A lot of people look at a painting and say “I don’t like that, or I do like that,” but they never go deeper. What was the motivation behind making this work of art?  Where did the ideas come from?  What was going on in the world around the
artist that made this painting look this way? And it’s the same with wine.  What is going on in the world around that wine that made it taste that way?

Who is La Cava and who are your Sommeliers?

La Cava was a project that began with a shared passion for wine.  From there I got investor interest.  We put everything together but I am the
owner.

Myself and Iran Cervantes are the Sommeliers, but I don’t like the term “Sommelier.”  Nowadays there are all the courses that teach you about the craft, etc.  But it’s like being called a Chef.  You can’t just be called a chef because you went to school. It has to be something that you earn; something you learn in the field.  You have to work in the industry to get that title. It’s not just about the characteristics of the wine.  It’s about who is going to like the wine.  It’s as much about pairing the people with the wine as it is about pairing the food with the wine.

The Sommelier has to be in charge of the selling the wine.  As much as about the knowledge of the wines.  It’s about being able to adapt the wine list to your clients’ tastes.

There is a certain ugly side to the sommelier business, since the Sommelier is in a position of power here in resort areas.  Resorts order a lot of wine and the Sommelier is in charge of those decisions.  What wines get chosen for the resorts and what wines don’t.  That position can be open to influence from the companies that sell the wine that is not always in the best interest of the customers.

What does La Cava do better than anybody else?

Service.  Our food is great.  We have beautiful food.  We are always changing our menu with the goal of giving the best to our clients.  If we can’t do something great, then we simply won’t do it.  If you are not going to blow people away, then why are you doing it?  We always try to make things the best we can, otherwise we don’t bother trying.  I grew up in the service industry.  I’ve worked all the positions there are in service.  I really worry about somebody having a good experience.

Here in Mexico, service is something that many people don’t take as a profession.  They see it as something that gets them by; just something to make money.  In other places in the world, a waiter is a noble profession.  People go to school to be the best.  Just as the Chef is to food, and the Sommelier is to wine, the Maitre d’ is to service.  In Mexico, however, the server profession is not well-respected.  People tend to treat the servers here very badly.  They whistle at them, call out to them, in rude ways to get their attention.  They order them, instead of ask them for things. And it’s a vicious circle: waiters are treated badly, so they give bad service.  Because people get bad service, they don’t respect the servers, and on and on …

At La Cava, Iran and I want to make sure that every aspect of our service is excellent.  People should have an amazing experience and have great value for that experience.  It has to be a compliment of things.

Tell us a little bit about your retail philosophy.

Well, what we do … when we first started, our vision was that we were going to see it as a restaurant-slash-wine store.  That means that if you are going to buy your wine and drink it here, you are going to have a corkage fee.  But it isn’t possible to have everyone happy all of the time.  Some people couldn’t understand that if you drink your wine here, you are using my glasses, my waiters are serving you, my guys are cleaning everything for you … that all costs money.  But, some people didn’t see it that way, and it isn’t a concept that is very known here, so right now we don’t charge any corkage anymore.  Our retail prices are the same as our restaurant prices.  But, in most restaurants, they charge a huge mark-up for the wines that they serve.  And that’s not fair.  Our philosophy is to give people the better wines for the more realistic prices. That way, people are more likely to drink better quality wine and more likely to try different wines.  And ultimately, that’s our goal.  We don’t want people coming back and buying the same wine because it is the most affordable one on the menu, but not the worst, like at most restaurants.

And we want to encourage that, because we want people to see the quality.  Because, at the end of the day, there really is a difference between a 200 peso bottle of wine and a 400 peso bottle of wine.  Because, that way, people may start to see that there is a benefit to drinking slightly better wines than they are used to drinking.

Tell us about your menu; where does the inspiration for your food come from?

When we first opened, things were very simple – some tapas, some cheeses, like that.  But what we found is that more people started wanting something bigger. So we went with that.  One of the items we have, for example, is the hamburger. And we decided to go with more comfortable – comfort food – things that are easier to understand.  So that is our focus now.  The same focus we give to our service, we want to give to our food.  Quality ingredients with a focus on organic.  Not everything is going to be healthy, necessarily.  Like, a burger isn’t necessarily good for you, but the quality of the beef is very high.  The ingredients are very high quality. Grass-fed, certified organic, beef; arugula; high-quality cheese … these
things make a difference.

It happens a lot that people think that wine is supposed to go with certain things and only those things.  A lot of times we get caught up in the idea that, if I like something a certain way, then everybody should also like those things that way.  But in a restaurant you cannot afford to be like that.   You have to be open to other people’s likes and dislikes.  You have to take a step back and see what other people are asking for as opposed to what you would like to serve them.

(Side note: we really like the idea of burgers with wine. See Megan’s TSB On The Road from London, England.  I mean, who made those rules?  You can only eat fish with white wine.  You can only have a full-bodied red with a 72oz porterhouse.  We really like Demian’s vision of a convention-free dining.  “I would like a Pinot Grigio with poutine, please.”  “Right away, sir!”  Damn straight.

Demian has to excuse himself again to tend to some clients.  I like his use of the word “clients.”  Like he doesn’t view the patrons of his restaurant as customers, but rather as guest who are paying him for a service who could go someplace else if they didn’t get what they wanted from him.  It puts the duty to care on him: to give his guests what they are looking for, what they are expecting, which is nothing less than a fantastic dining experience.  It is a view that I find myself respecting. And it’s sincere; it’s not an affectation.

Megan takes some photos of the wine cellar, which is upstairs (what?), and I look through the menu.  There are some really interesting things there.  They do specialize in burgers, but they are burgers like you’ve not often seen.  They also have a deli component to the restaurant.  A client could very well come in and order prosciutto and fine cheeses to go.

The restaurant itself has a very modern feel – clean design with a floor-to-ceiling glass frontage; a servers’ station outside that looks more like a neo-euro-style wine kiosk; the well-appointed restrooms upstairs that clients must pass through the wine cellar to get to; the over-sized magnums of wine sitting in partially open crates, on the ground, meant to look willy-nilly, but without being untidy or out of place.  All of this is meant to remind you of where you are and what you are here for.

Demian returns and we open our second bottle of the interview. My kind of interview.)

Wine: Bella Terra, Merlot, Baja California, Mexico, 2009, (Retail) $350 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

 (This is a wine that makes you  talk about the future.  You want to be a better person when you drink this wine.  Lots of red fruit a very satisfying wine.

Demian has some cheese and prosciutto brought to the table.  With it comes two marmalades that defied reason.  The dish is available on their
restaurant menu, and if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.  It is so choice.)

Why Playa?

I  lived here.  I worked for a resort here before and I wanted to open my own business here. I like Playa. When you are in a smaller town, you have more opportunity to grow and everything because, for example, in a city like Mexico City or Monterrey, you need a much larger investment. Here, you can have a greater impact and you can make that impact quicker.

What challenges face a restaurant like La Cava?

Like every restaurant, the challenge that faces you is the consistency.  From the food that your serve, to the service that you get – it has to be consistent. For instance, I can give you the best meal that you’ve ever had, but if the next time you come and it’s not very good, you are less likely to come back.  That is the biggest challenge that faces any restaurant: consistency.

It’s a tough business.  It’s like magicians.  Nobody sees the tricks that go into a great service.  Nobody sees what happens before the doors open, before the show starts that makes it a great night.  People seem to think that it’s easy; that it all comes together by itself.  But it doesn’t.  It’s not as glamorous as people think.  It’s a lot of work.  Wine, as a product is very complicated.

What changes do you see happening to the wine culture here in Mexico?

Well, for example, in Mexico, the consumption averages about 250ml, or about one-third of a bottle, per capita, per year. So, in this one bottle that we’ve shared, you’ve reached your quota for the year.  The wine consumption in Mexico is increasing, but we still don’t drink very much as compared to say, Europe, or France, who consumes, on average, 30 litres of wine per capita, per year.  But, what is happening in Europe, is that there is a decline in wine consumption in those countries and they are seeing a surplus.  So the prices are starting to come down a bit.  That makes it easier not only for good wines from other countries to come to Mexico, but for Mexican wines to begin to get appreciated. If you see a very good wine from France beside a very good wine from Mexico, it helps to give credibility to the Mexican wine.

What’s going to happen in Mexico, is that there is a growing culture of seeing wine as a business, so that wineries are starting to see that if they don’t take themselves seriously, the rest of the world won’t either.  This puts the onus on the wineries to produce better quality wines in order to compete with what’s coming into the country from abroad.  It’s not like tequila or spirits.  Or vodka!  You can make one bottle of vodka taste exactly like the other very easily and the cost of the production is all in the bottle.  You make the spirit, cut it with water, pour it into a bottle, and that’s it.  With wine, it’s not so easy.  And if you are trying to get recognized as a credible vintner, you cannot treat it as a hobby, because one bad pull and you risk losing your client base.

Mexico is starting to see that wine, as a culture, is worth working for, and the wineries here that are making it are dedicated to the craft.  And it shows.

What is your favourite bottle right now?  What is Demian’s pick of the month?  Or picks?

Bella Terra, Nebbiolo, Baja California, Mexico, 2009. Retails for about $375 MXN.  Very hearty grape and reaches a good maturity point. Has very bubbly tannins.  Dark fruit and chocolate and tobacco (smoky).

Emeve, Tempranillo, Baja California, Mexico, 2009. Retails $340 MXN.  Tempranillo usually has more of a leathery quality, smokiness, muskiness, but the Emeve is more Rioja; lots of red fruit to the finish.  I like it because it is unexpected.

What do you look for in a wine?

You have to consider certain things.  If it’s for me I try different wines; I am always experimenting.  Wines that I have heard are good, but I haven’t tried them.  But here for my guests, I take into consideration what are they looking for.  Price point, quality … what are you looking for?  Also, though, the qualities of what that wine should have, not just because it’s what the client wants.  The varietal, what characteristics it should have; if it exceeds it, if it meets it.  Also: value.  Some of the wines we get come from distributors, but sometimes you can find really good wines at Costco.  Especially for what you know the wine should cost versus what Costco is selling it for.  I mean, you sell what you want to sell, you push what you want to push.  And you have to take into consideration your menu. What do I need to have on hand to make a recommendation?  What is the client going to expect a wine bar to carry.  I can’t just serve wines that I think are great just because I like them if nobody has ever heard of them before.

In your opinion, what should an amateur wine lover, a non-connoisseur, look for in a wine?

I don’t like to impose my feelings about a wine onto other people.  But, regardless of your likes and dislikes, especially when you judge it from a professional side, the colour is very important.  The older it gets, the more orange, the browner it gets.  Whether you decide to drink it now or not, it’s a risk.  Not all wine is meant to be aged.  Most red wine that is produced is meant to be consumed between one or two years. Whites: six months to a year.

What happened with wine is … There is a notion that “the older the wine, the better the wine.”  But that is not necessarily true.  Back in the day, there wasn’t the same technology that we have today.  The wineries didn’t have the space to keep all of the wine as it aged to maturity so the wine you bought years ago was meant to sit on your shelf to be consumed in maybe five years.  You knew that the wine you bought today, you would drink five years from now – the wine you drink today, you bought five years ago.  They sold wine a little green on purpose.

But nowadays, the tannins can be pulled more appropriately, so that today, we do not need to wait so long to drink our wines.

The smell gives you a lot from the wine.  For example, when you open a wine, you have to look for the wine.  If it doesn’t give you a lot, you have to try harder to pull the flavours from the wine.  Most of us associate our sense of smell with our sense of sight.  We see red and we expect certain flavours.  We see white, and we expect others.  Wine is very chemical.  There is no chocolate in wine, but we can smell chocolate in some wines.  We can smell strawberries in some wines.  But we don’t put those things in wine so that it smells that way.  It’s not a fruit punch.  It has to do with the extraction of flavours.  When you smell certain things in a wine it is because similar chemicals from the things that you smell – the chocolate, the strawberries – are also present in the wine.  Not all of them; only a hint of them.  You must look for the wine when you smell it.  In reality, we don’t actually taste anything in the wine the way we think we do.  We don’t taste chocolate; we smelled it, and so we associate the bitter and the sweet with the chocolate we smelled before.

The flavour of the wine that you are looking for is not what it “tastes” like, but the types of flavours you are experiencing. For instance, salty, sweet, acidic, bitter.  That is why it is important to roll the wine around your entire mouth, so that all your taste buds get a chance to absorb all of flavours.  Then you can identify what characteristics the wine has and if they match what you were smelling.

Wines that don’t smell like much, we call that a closed wine.  You can let those wines breathe, let them sit for a while … But if they still don’t smell like anything, it may not be a very good wine.

If there was one thing that you could teach every person about wine, what would it be?

One of the things I love about wine is that every wine is different from all of the others.  Like, for instance, this Rose can be different from another.  This vintage can be very different from another. Because it comes from nature.  And that is what I love about wine.  It is different from other forms of alcohol.  It is always unique.  It is, I think … I would like people to know, the uniqueness of wine, because people have to understand how nature can create something like that.  At the end of the day, the product comes from the ground.  And only from certain parts of the world.  You can have one bad day, one frost, one day out of a beautiful year, and it can be done. So there is a little luck involved, too.  And it’s good for you!  And that is the beauty of it.

 

Cava Veinte33 can be found on 38thStreet, East of 5th Avenue, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
For reservations, call 52 (984)803 3918, or email Demian, demian@cavaveinte33.com.

Wayne Gretzky: Superstar Ninety-Nine!

Posted on

Happy Mother’s Day, all you mothers out there and greetings from Canada! Cara and I have travelled with our daughter to the land of outrageous gas prices to bring you a special On The Road edition of The Sunday Bottles. Put your drinking caps, and away we go …

So we’ve been on hiatus for a while. Things have been very busy down in Mexland – work, baby, business, getting engaged!!

That’s right: after five years and bearing my child, I finally decided that Cara and I should make it official and spare our traditionalist parents the shame of having a bastard grandchild. Next summer, Cara and I will be man and wife, and my daughter will finally be able to inherit the throne. I mean, I wasn’t raised Ontario royalty only to have my lineage squandered by illegitimacy. I was certainly raised better than that. As was Cara. And if Will and Kate have taught us nothing else …

So, from now on, Cara will be referred to no longer as my life-partner or as my girlfriend. No. From now on, she will be referred to as my fiancee; my soon-to-be-wife; my soul-mate. We shall regale you with stories of our adventures in granola manufacturing, the love affair we both share with cats, and the benefits of wheatgrass and a gluten-free lifestyle.

Also, we won’t be doing any of those things.

We will be a normal couple with a seventeen-month-old daughter who is cutting several molars, who doesn’t like to sit still on airplanes. We’ll also be international persons of interest, flitting from border to border, skirting authorities on our quest to show off the giant diamond I put on her finger, which hides a microfilm that contains information so scandalous, the Pope himself will try to stop us from spreading it! Then, we’ll be extradited to some Scandinavian country …

AAAaaaaannnd so on and so forth …

So, we’re back. Although, this time, we’re back in more ways than one! We’re back from our hiatus, but we’re also back in Canada, land of the brave, home of the free, even if you didn’t vote for Stephen Harper.
There are many, many weeks’ worth of wine that we need to catch up on, dear readers. We have sampled many sumptuous bottles, from all over the world. We’ve also tasted bottles, sadly, that would make your ancestors come back from the dead, only to haunt you in an attempt to make you go mad, by making crude love to each other in the middle of the night, in your bathroom, as you get up to make tinkle, surprising you with a Bacchanalian orgy – Aunt Mildred’s leg up on the vanity, tongue out to the side as she watches Uncle Herbert pleasure Great-Grandma Beryl, who is reclining on Cousin Franklin’s, fetid, naked lap.

Those wines, we shan’t discuss.

Instead we will stick only to the wines we liked. We will also have a guest appearance from Canadian celebrity, Sahara MacDonald, of Pop Stars/Sugar Jones fame, who has a surprising nose and discerning palette, and who will provide us with the best bullshit way to describe wine that will make you sound like you know what you are talking about, even if you don’t, we have ever heard!

But not this week. Not, this week is about the mothers.

God bless the mothers. God bless their strength, their sacrifice, and their patience. Also, God bless them for watching toothy seventeen-month-olds with a penchant for getting into the kitchen despite the dog gates up at your parents’ house while you are putting the finishing touches on the demi-glace for the evening’s Mother’s Day Roast.

On the Menu: Mother’s Day Pot Roast, Caramelized Asparagus, Steamed Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, and Wilted Spinach

Was it a triumph of culinary prowess? Was it a testament to hours of cooking show watchery? Was it a culmination of all of my pent up cookiness, unreleased in months due to pinches in my schedule and an upper respiratory tract infection that wouldn’t die, no matter how many Halls Cough Drops I threw at it, like some leviathan from a zombie movie?

You bet your sweet ass it was.

My brother, who is a harsh, harsh critic of food, said of my asparagus, and I quote: “This is the way that asparagus is supposed to be made.”

Boo to the Yeah, readers. Boo to the Yeah.

How do you do it, you ask? Well, read on!

Begin by browning the beef on all sides, using a little oil in the pan. Set aside.

Next, saute three or four yellow onions, sliced, in a pan. Once golden, add four or five cloves of chopped garlic, and toss. Remove immediately from heat.

In a jug, mix 750ml of red wine, fresh rosemary, thyme, a small can of tomato paste, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. If you are British, substitute ground pepper for milled pepper.

Let stand.

Roughly chop three stalks of celery and four or five carrots.

In a roasting tray, mix the chopped vegetables with a few sprigs of rosemary and the sauteed onions and garlic. Place the beef on top of vegetables. Pour the wine mixture over the beef. Put lid on roasting tray and put in the oven at 275 degrees Celsius for three hours, flipping the beef every half hour.

After three hours, remove lid and leave in over for an additional half hour.

After that, remove beef from tray and place in a shallow bowl (or deep plate, depending on what hemisphere you live in). Let stand ten minutes before carving. Leave the roasting tray in the oven for another thirty minutes to let the gravy thicken. (I know, I called it a demi-glace before, but it isn’t truly a demi-glace, since it was beef, and not veal, but who cares, right? It sounds better. Shut up.)

Remove roasting tray from oven. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables and place around the carved beef. Pour gravy over beef and serve to awaiting wolves, coyotes, and wombats.

To make the caramelized asparagus, put two tablespoons of white sugar on a high heat. Add a tablespoon of butter. Let caramelize. Add about two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Toss the asparagus in the mixture to coat it and crisp the asparagus. Place in a serving vessel and delight minions.

There is something so fun about a family dinner. Whether it is to celebrate something, like Mother’s Day, or just because it’s Sunday, they always seem to take on a familiar pattern and tone. And last night was no different. A collection of fun stories, amusing anecdotes, and mini-contests to see who knew more about meaningless trivia and the world at large, partly obscured with a paltry diplomatic veneer.

Since I was flying without my wingman this week, and since it was Mother’s Day, I took on all of the cooking duties solo. That did mean that I was not imbibing while preparing. With Megan at my side, we can check each other’s work and correct mistakes on the fly. This adds greatly to the opportunities to sneak a couple of glasses of vino in before dinner. Without her, I didn’t feel confident enough to attempt cookery and drinkery at the same time. That meant the wine had to wait until after dinner.

Wine: No° 99, Wayne Gretzky Estates, 2007, Merlot, $15.95 CAD
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottles

Now, I will admit that I jumped on the Sideways bandwagon and quite often think to myself when selecting wines, that I’m not going to drink any fucking merlot. I’m no historian of viticulture, but I would imagine that our hate affair with merlot stems from its popularity in the nineties. People made so much of it, that it was quite easy to find plonky merlot made by hacks. Hence, whenever I think of merlot, I think of overly fruity wine without balance. I think of terrible finishes, and vaguely off tastings. I recall bottles that were so sweet, they made my pancreas weep, edging ever closer to diabetes. When I saw Wayne Gretzky’s merlot sitting on the shelf, I thought that if a celebrity made a merlot, it was going to be a lot of nothing. “Here we go,” I said to myself, “get ready for a big bottle of crap.” But, being in Canada, and being Canadian, and it being the playoffs, and me being a superfan of Gretzky, I had to give in to temptation and buy it.

What can I say but: He shoots, he scores. So often, celebrity wines fall somewhere between “terrible to drink” and “ridiculously over-priced.” This wine was neither. It was really nice at first sip – tones of honey, cranberries, gooseberries, and lilacs. Very smooth and mild tannins make for a soft finish, allowing the fruitiness of this wine to come through, but without being so fruity, you think you’re drinking jam. It has a taste that lingers without being bossy. It dekes around your mouth, curling in behind the goalie that is your tongue, and pots one, backhand, on your palette.

Of course, what would you expect? He is the best hockey player who ever lived. If he was going to make a wine with his name on it, you’d think he would make sure it wasn’t bad. Wayne Gretzky chose the Niagara region for his vineyard, Niagara being one of my favourite wine regions in the world, and not just because I’m from Ontario. I really wish we could get Canadian wines in Mexico, but they seem impossible to find. Possibly the importation fees. Whatever the reason, it is a shame.

My only regret was that I hadn’t opened it at dinner and shared it with my family. Dinner ran a little late, as is my wont, so I forgot that I had bought it earlier in the week. It would have gone very well with all of the caramelized veggies and the roast.

Next week, we are continuing our tour of the Niagara region with a Cabernet Franc from Lighthouse. Same price range as The Great One’s and I’ve always been a fan of Cabernet Francs, so let’s hope it’s a hit!

Until next week,

Cheers!

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