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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.

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A Good Time Was Had By All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh: and me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is exactly what we did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then,

Cheers!

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!

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