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Category Archives: Tempranillo

Drat and Double-Drat

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Sometimes, you just can’t pick a winning bottle to save your face. (And we had such high expectations for this week.)  It was Susan’s last Sunday with us; our friend Roy’s, too.  Josephine and Michael, Rene and Cara’s oldest friends, joined us, as well.  We wanted the wines we shared to be special.  We wanted them to elevate our evening to the heavens.  Instead, they left us wallowing in the dirt.

Rene and Megan made dinner.  This Sunday was our Home Owners’ Association general assembly and it was as fun as it sounds.  Since Cara was working, I flew solo.  If you’ve never sat on folding chairs in a circle on a Sunday morning talking about rules and regulations of a shared condo complex, let me tell you … you are missing out!  As far as meetings to establish fair rules of comportment in public access areas go, this one was off the hook!

Oh!  And the crazy lady wanted to make a rule that only residents of the complex could use the pool, meaning that guests could not!  How fun is that??  Her point (and for the record, I was totally on her side) was that people buy nice homes in the Caribbean with the intention of not enjoying the amenities that come with them, i.e. pools, etc., and that common areas are meant for watchin’, and not for sharin’.  Also, she wanted it made a rule that, while people can throw parties inside their own homes, their guestsmay not be outside.  (Fun!)  Also, nobody should be allowed to own pets.  Also, that the maximum number of guests allowed per resident be zero.  (Yay!)  Also, THE HUMMINGBIRDS INSIDE MY HEAD TELL ME THAT CHILDREN ARE THE KEEPERS OF THE MAGIC PAN FLUTES AND IF I WANT TO GET TO CANDY TOWN I HAVE TO OPEN THEIR BELLIES AND TAKE BACK WHAT THEY STOLE FROM ME!!!

Three hours later, I was somehow elected to the board of directors of the condo association despite following up her suggestions with, “Can we vote that we should only buy indestructible pool furniture from now on, and also … how many days do we really need in the calendar?  Can’t we get rid of a few?  Three-hundred-and-sixty-five is an annoying number.”

(Wheeee!!!)

On the Menu: Spinach Salad with Avocado and Blueberries, Sweet Peas with Basil, Beef Bourguignon, Honey Cake with Almonds

What can I say about dinner – it was fantastic.  Bourguignon is Rene’s specialty and Honey Cake is Megan’s awesome.

The two went very well together, too, I must say.  The spicy, tangy bourguignon, followed by the soft, silky honey cake, topped with whipped cream.  (Megan also let me know that there is whiskey in the honey cake.  Oh, honey cake … why you gotta be so good to me?)

They make a pretty good team, for a married couple.

Caia loved the peas, and who can blame her?  Sweet and buttery, they were the colour of Ireland if they were a hue at all.

The wines … were the low-points of the evening.

Wine: Aragus, Red Blend, Spain, 2010, $76 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

Nothing particularly bad about this wine.  Smooth and a little fruity, Josephine remarked that, “It gives your tongue a little velvety hug,” which is adorable and accurate.

On the downside, not a lot of personality and not a little innocuous.  Strawberries and bell peppers come out to play, but when they see the grey skies above, they pack up their toys and go home.

Easy to drink, but overwhelmingly underwhelming.

Wine: Santo Tomás, Tempranillo Cabernet, Baja Clifornia, Mexico, 2010, $127 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

Dark red fruit.

The end.

“No espectacular,” commented Roy.  We agreed.  Not offensive; not exciting.  So-so.  Table wine.  Not loving the tannins.

All descriptions of a wine that no vintner would ever hope to hear.

If you asked me upon trying this wine what I thought, I’d look up for a second, perhaps squint, hold my breath ever-so-slightly, then exhale and shrug.

Then a trumpet would go “Wah, wah …” in the background.

So, not a fantastic finish to Susan’s stay.  Roy, having been with us for only two TSBs must think we enjoy buying mediocre wine.

We know the truth.

We are sad to see Susan go.  She has been a welcome addition to our dinners.  We wish her “safe journey,” and fondly wait for her return.

Until next week,

Cheers!

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Poutine, Alfredo, and Five Bottles of Wine

Here at TSB, we have a long-standing tradition, established this weekend, of introducing Mexico to Canadian cuisine whenever possible.

Demian and MJ came to dinner, and Megan’s mom, Susan, has a friend, Wendy, who is visiting from British Columbia.  If there ever was a better Sunday to make that true Canadian dish, poutine, I’d like to see it.

For the uninitiated, poutine consists of thin-cut French fries, cheese curds, gravy.  If you’ve never had it, it will sound … odd … at first.  But trust us – there is nothing that sates a hungry person like poutine.

Canadian Fun Fact:

A Quebecois dish, poutine was invented when drunk coureurs de bois  ran out of beaver meat, and were forced to supplement their diet with potatoes and beef gravy.  Few people know this, but in addition to beer and maple syrup flowing from the trees of our plentiful coniferous forests, beef gravy can also be sourced from birch trees, and cheese curds grow on the stems of the ubiquitous blue flag irises that grow across la belle province.

On the Menu: Poutine, Garden Salad with Goat Cheese, Berries and Starfruit, Chicken Alfredo with Asparagus, Candied Ginger Cookies

Our guests had some reservations about the poutine, but once you try poutine, you are powerless to resist her … powers.  The salad was a product of Megan’s imagination, and cleansed our palettes before embarking on another rich culinary adventure.

Alfredo is a dish best served guilt-free.  If you are counting calories, Alfredo is probably not for you.  Anything made with heavy cream, butter, and cheese is one of those things best left to professional eaters.

Since we had so many guests this week, we were also stuck with a glut of wine.  Which we drank.

Wine: Canepa, Novísimo, Syrah, 2010, Chile, $122 MXN (Chedraui)
Rating: One Bottle

Demian, MJ, Cara, and I drank this while we waited for the rest of our guests to join us.  Nice on the nose, but flat in the mouth, this wine was disappointing.  Not terrible in any way, but also unremarkable.  The promise of fruits and berries is replaced with a mouthfeel of “Meh” and a palette of “Well, that’s a shame …”

Acidic aftertaste – goes well with a glass of water.

Wine: Moëbius, Cabernet/Syrah/Merlot, 2009, Mexico, $450 MXN (Cava Veinte33)
Rating: Two Bottles

Robust and full, this is a great wine for people that love a big wine.  Oaky and leathery, Moëbius is a complex wine that hints at all-spice, cardamom, and dark chocolate.  On a muggy afternoon, this wine was a little overbearing.  It lacked a fireplace and a cloudless, cold night.

Pronounced “Mo-e-bee-us.”

Wine: Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery, Canoe North White Bluff, VQA, 2008, Langley, British Columbia, $12.99 CAD
Rating: Three Bottles

This is a superb white.  A blend of grapes (Pinot Blanc, Madeleine Angevine, Chardonnay and Madeleine Sylvaner) makes it soft and sweet, with flavours of peaches, lemongrass, and cotton candy.

Being Demian’s first try at a Canadian wine, we were very grateful for Wendy bringing it down with her, and so was he.  Yay, Wendy!  I love it when people try Canadian wine for the first time.  They always have a look on their faces that reminds me of when Cara saw me play sports for the first time.  Like, “You can run?”

Capitoso, Tempranillo, Rioja, 2009, Spain, $136 MXN (Chedraui)
Rating: One Bottle

Flat.  Meh.  Smuh.

I don’t know what’s going on with Chedraui.  They used to carry decent wines.  Maybe they just aren’t selling enough of the stuff to make it worth consistently bringing in good vino.  Whatever the reason, the last few bottles we’ve tried in the $100 – $200 pesos range have been fairly disappointing.

Next.

Fratelli Pasini, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Mexico, $400 (Cava Veinte33)
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottle

FP strikes again!  We love this winery.  And not only because it’s in Mexico, but because their wine is so fantastically consistent.  Their wines never disappoint, they are balanced, have all the right characteristics in all the right places, and are not ridiculously expensive.

The Cabernet is a very good, well-rounded wine.  Soft tannins make it a perfect wine for pasta. (And for the fifth bottle of the night.)  Being Wendy’s first taste of Mexican wine, we were very glad it was this one.

Needless to say, everyone was pretty much ready for bed by the time we were finished with our heavy food and copious cups.

I think I will need the rest of this week to rejuvenate.

Until then,

Cheers!

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!

Two Bottles, Both Alike In Drinkability …

Two bottles, both alike in drinkability. In Playa del Carmen, where we lay our scene …

This week was a special week since Michael returned from his adventures in Canada bearing gifts of wine. Also, this week was a special week since Rene decided to get into the kitchen and throw down. For me, this was an awesome week – I got to enjoy the company of friends and family without the pressures of prep-work, cooking, timing, and stressing out over outcome.  (Megan wasn’t so lucky, but someone needed to supervise.  Left to his own devices, who knows what Rene would get up to in there.)

And it must be said that Rene and Megan make a damn fine team. We were sitting down, ready to eat, at six on the dot, with no delays. Everything came together at the exact same time and at the exactly right time.  (While this was awesome, it afforded me few opportunities to make fun of or belittle anybody’s efforts.  It’s like they were TRYING to spoil my fun.  Lousy in-laws …)

On The Menu: Greek Salad, Spanakopita, Tzatziki, Chicken Kebabs, Pita Bread, Brandy Plum Pudding with Custard

The food was excellent. The chicken kebabs were done to perfection. The Greek salad was crisp and bitey. The spanakopita was freaking incredible. (And kudos to Rene for making Tzatziki from scratch!)  In short, we got spoiled. My eyes were too big for my stomach. I took two of everything and couldn’t finish anything.

Oh, and we drank some wine.

Wine: Moon Curser, Tempranillo, BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, 2009, $29 CAD
Rating: Three Bottles

This is a truly exceptional wine. Fruity – black currant, black cherry, (and other red fruits that taste good,) with soft, pleasant tannins, give this wine a drinkability that lets you feel like warm summer nights are the only things you have to worry about in the days to come. This wine makes you feel like your cares are all behind you, and you will soon be reunited with all of your dearest friends, and all you’ll be doing is laughing.
Yes, it’s that good. If you’ve not had the opportunity to try this wine, find it. Also, their website is awesome. Also, their label is awesome. In other words, this wine is pretty nifty.

There was a flavour that we hotly debated, also, which is nice. Not many wines generate conversation. After careful consideration, we determined that there was … something. We all agreed that it was … spicy.  Megan thought allspice.  I said star anise.  Michael said spicy.  Megan insisted that it was allspice.  Or nutmeg.  Or cinnamon.  Or CLOVES!  It was CLOVES!  I said star anise.  Then she went to the spice cupboard to get spices to smell, so I poisoned her glass when her back was turned.  (Come on … the night was virtually drama-free!  I had to do SOMETHING!)

Megan prepared the pudding while we opened the second bottle.

Wine: Pétales d’Osoyoos, Red Wine (Blend – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot), Osoyoos Larose, BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, 2008, $25 CAD
Rating: Two Bottles

Vanilla and chocolate dominate this wine.  With a lesser alcohol content than the Moon Curser, it came up a little on the lighter side for us.  Especially when paired with Brandy Plum Pudding which was too rich for this wine.

We did, however, find this to be an extremely drinkable wine.  Michael said that the employees of the store where he bought he these wines all recommended the Pétales. This does not surprise me, since it is so light as cannot be offensive.  All of us found it a little bit simple, but we also conceded that, at the end of the night, after red wine, Greek food, cigarettes, and liquor-laden sweets, our palettes may just have been a tad on the blown-out side.

All in all, we have missed the wines of our homeland.  British Columbia is such a remarkable place for producing wines of amazing quality.  In the Okanagan Valley, there is a devout and enthusiastic community of vintners, aficionados, and viticulture in general.  Driving through the mountains that hug Lake Okanagan, you see more vineyards than houses.

Next week is a little up in the air, as we have a hurricane bearing down on us, and I’m sorry about the pun.  We may just be doing our next post from somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.  But hey, what’s life without a little “Wizard of Oz”-like impending doom?

Until then,

Cheers!

Save The Planet

“When constitutions of granite can’t save the planet, what’s to become of us?”

Wow … when we decide to talk about stuff, we really go for it.

While I wish we had a transcript of the evening’s discussions (for review later by a group counsellor), there was too much to give you a play-by-play, so I’ll just sum up.

• Earthquakes suck, especially the ones in Japan
• Wearing jeans and using electricity, while nice, can make you feel really guilty, if you think about where they come from
• Pear vodka is delicious
• Babies are adorable
• It’s wrong that we exploit other countries for their natural resources
• My daughter is the smartest baby EVER
• We are a society hell-bent on success, but too afraid of failure to do anything about it
• Sin-Eaters … fact, or fiction?
• Who brought THIS guy along?
• Lovers’ quarrels cause some people to feel nervous and other people (me) to poke the bear
• Mothers don’t like it when you swear in front of them, no matter how old you are

See?

On the Menu: Baked Ziti, Nectarine and Raspberry Cobbler

Boil pasta.  Make cream sauce. Combine in a casserole dish.  Grate three kinds of cheese, finely chop one white onion, chop herbs, toss together.  Sprinkle on top of pasta.  Cover in foil.  Bake for … an hour? … –ish? … at 180 degrees Celsius.  Uncover.  Bake for longer.  Enjoy and be grateful you have food, you capitalist swine!

Sorry.

After recounting the lovely images that our friends had posted on their FB profiles this week, we took turns denouncing our decadent lifestyle and rebuking ourselves for not doing anything about it.  Rene got very touchy about Cara getting emotional over the tale of a native Brazilian weeping for the loss of his village when a dam flooded it.  Megan got very defensitive (sensitive and defensive at the same time) and yelled at Rene.  Rene decried the fall of Western society.  Rene’s mom took umbrage with his choice of expletives. Rene acquiesced that he may have come on a little strong.  I made shit-eating comments from the peanut gallery.

The baby was in bed and the monitor on, so we sat around the kitchen table discussing the world in which we lived.  On the one hand, it is a beautiful place to cuddle and romp.  On the other, many have to suffer for the enjoyment of the few.  While this was not a new realisation for any of us, it was one of those nights where you can’t help but ruminate on the truth and ugliness of such a reality.

All in all, a fun night.

Also?  Baked Ziti is cheese-tastic.

Wine: AlTozano, Finca Constancia, Tempranillo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain, 2009, $105 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

Spicy and fruity.  Peppery.  While not a bad bottle for engaging in discussions of “What’s To Become Of Us,” this wine was a little … meh.  In a pinch, this wine would do, but it just didn’t really … DO anything for any of us.  Just when we thought we’d like it, what we thought we liked about it would disappear and we’d be left wanting.

Kind of like the world in which we live.

Then Cara had a thought which I will I call from now on …

Cara’s Thought for the Week:

“We reward success but we punish failure so harshly that we have set up a society that is afraid of risk.  So: few people try to do anything beyond what they can easily accomplish.”

I think that’s true.  We DO reward success, but so little, and for so short a time, that we tend to dwell on the failures that surround us instead.  Look at our celebrity culture.  Sure, we love Brad and Angelina, but we love the Lohans and Spearseses more.  I think we’re even going further than just gawping at public disgrace now.  I think we’re actually setting up a culture that seeks it out.  Jersey Shore being but one example.  And the endless stream of competition-style television programming … do we really want to see who wins, or do we get off on seeing the losers parade themselves across our small screens every week?  Are we just a culture of Dignity Vampires, sucking self-esteem and dreams down like plasma from a virgin’s throat?

And why?  Why are we so titillated by failure?

Let’s face it: more good has come from our mistakes than has ever come from our achievements.  Were it not for our misses, we’d have no hits.  The most successful people in the world were often reeking failures for the better parts of their lives.  Imagine what a world it would be if we rewarded our children equally for trying, no matter the outcome.

In that spirit, I would like to say to all the below Two Bottles wines we’ve rated in the past: Keep it up!  You made … wine!!  Yay for you!

Wine: Lucky Duck, Tempranillo, Spain, 2009 (?), $60 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

Okay, so the girls wanted to try Lucky Duck again.  I don’t mind this wine if you don’t want to have to think about what you’re drinking, but I find it flat and sans personality.  It’s a fine wine for sitting around and arguing about the better parts of the human psyche, but for an aspiring wine enthusiast, I find it pretty blah.  That being said, for a four-dollar bottle, it doesn’t disappoint.  (And it’s a far cry better than some thirty-dollar bottles we’ve tried.)

In conclusion, love your neighbour, don’t be a jerk, donate to more charities, recycle, compost, use less electricity, use less fossil fuel, be less judgemental, remember that everybody is somebody’s kid, be a better citizen, and never trust anyone over forty.  Thirty is the new twenty.

Cheers!

New Pots!

So, I guess I’m psychic.  Last week, I sent out an email update with a subject line that read: “New Pots!”  I got some really helpful emails from some of our readers, too.  (I’m being sarcastic.  You all suck.)

This week, I was to make risotto.  I like risotto.  It’s delicious.  It’s like savoury rice pudding.  It makes me happy to eat it.  But there is a good lesson to be learned, and that is this: if you buy cheap pots, your risotto will burn and you will get mad at your garbage can and you will kick it.  (Which, incidentally, is the name of a sitcom I am working on.)

So, my starchy bonanza was a bust.  I did get dubbed “King of the Cream Sauce” (which, incidentally, is the name of a male oriented movie I’m … and so on, and so on …).

So, I threw out that damn pot, and yes, I did mutter “Out, damn’d pot! out, I say!” maniacally to myself.

On the Menu: Chicken Spaghetti in a Tomato and White Wine Cream Sauce, No Risotto with Dill and Tomato

Megan and Rene pulled twelve hour days again this week and Cara was hard at work at her new job, learning the ropes, hauling tours, and just being awesome in general.  This Sunday, though, Megan and I would have the whole day to leisurely cook, sip wine, and make fools of ourselves.  And we needed it.  It’s been a long couple of weeks and we were really looking forward to a grownup day.  I hired the nanny so Caia would be looked after.  It was all planned out.

Then she got a call from a friend that his mom had fallen at a resort here in Playa and had broken her arm, shattered her wrist, and dislocated her elbow.  She needed surgery.  She was travelling alone.  Could Megan go sit with her when in the Recovery Room.  Hurt lonely friend’s mom trumps boozy afternoon.

Awesome times a billion.

Megan requested risotto as she ran out the door.  I was going to kick that risotto’s ass.  Then I remembered that I was a stupid and bought the cheapest pot in the world with the thinnest bottom and the stupidest shade of blue.  Honestly: who wants a robin’s egg blue pot?  It sucks.  Every time I think about it, it sucks more and more.

The chicken spaghetti turned out well, though.  And for the first time, in what seems like forever, we got a pretty nice bottle of wine for the evening.

Wine: Vidal del Saz, Tempranillo, Spain, 2007, $139 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Soft tannins and wafts of roses make this wine very smooth to drink.  Very mellow and flavourful.  Hints of orange and all spice.  It reminded us of Christmas.  A definite re-buy.  It was just the wine we all needed after a long week.  Plus, it was raining.  Perfect.

Also, the vodka helped.

This week we are getting ready for the wine tasting at Cava Veinte 33.  If you still want to go there are a few spaces left.  Don’t wait too long, though — these things always go fast as the actual date approaches.

This Saturday, September 17, at 1:30pm.

Until then,

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.

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