Nostalgia de España

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Awesome graphic from creativeyatra.com

I seem to be on a bit of a Spanish kick lately. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it is my nostalgic associations with the country. Back in the day, I did an oh-so-cliché third year abroad in Salamanca, a small Spanish town halfway between Madrid and the Spanish border with Portugal. I lived in an apartment inhabited by 6 other international students, who after 5 months of cohabitation became my friends for life. Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the infamous Don Quixote, is rumoured to have studied at the Universidad de Salamanca (it was so long ago, no one knows for sure), where I took Spanish literature courses in classrooms three times older than Canada itself. In a country where businesses close for a siesta for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours in the afternoon, where tapas are a way of life, and where most families don’t even start thinking about dinner before 9 p.m., I spent way too much time stressing out about classes and coursework. If only someone had told me that the marks on year-abroad courses were pass/fail! Continue reading

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The Wine Shower: the wine lover’s alternative to a wedding shower

I have another confession to make: I really do not enjoy showers. Be it the wedding or baby variety, there is nothing I would like to do less than sit around for an afternoon surrounded by squealing women playing ridiculous games like Guess the Mess in the Diaper or The Toilet Paper Bride. And God help you if it is a dry event. I don’t care if the guest of honour is pregnant, the rest of us should still be able to indulge so the poor girl can drink vicariously through us.

All this to say, when I was in the horrible throes of planning my own wedding, I made it clear that there were to be NO SHOWERS. However, knowing my penchant for wine, one sneaky friend managed to convince me by suggesting a novel concept: the wine shower.

How It Works

Each guest is invited to bring two bottles of wine:

  • one for immediate consumption at the shower
  • one for the couple to cellar as a souvenir of their year of marriage

You can see why I was so easily convinced. It’s a FANTASTIC idea for any wine-loving couple. First of all, you get to taste lots of different wines at the actual event, then you get to keep as many bottles as guests for your collection!

As a nice touch, my friend brought a lovely little “guestbook” where each guest wrote the name of the wine they brought and drank, and the one that they left for us.

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Our friends are the best

It has now been three years since our wine shower, and we still have a few bottles left. Last weekend we decided to open one, and we were not disappointed!

Domaine St-Pierre Vacqueyras 2009

Vacqueyras is an appellation in the Côtes du Rhône region. Located in the south of France, it is just north of the city of Avignon (famous for being the papal seat starting in the 14th century) and west of Orange. It is a region where you can still feel the influence of the ancient Romans, and it has lots of beautiful (and in some cases still used) ruins to show for it. It is an amazing area, with some of my favourite wines.

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The amphitheatre in Orange dates back to the 1st century and is still used as an outdoor music venue in the summer

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A brilliant Rhône Valley map c/o WineFolly (http://winefolly.com/review/cotes-du-rhone-wine-with-maps/)

This Vacqueyras was a blend of grenache (one of my favourite grapes) and syrah. The colour was a deep, rich ruby red that was practically opaque. On the nose, a fruit explosion. We pulled out the large Riedel glasses for this one, and the fruit aromas just filled the bowl. It was heavenly: dark fruit, plum, cherry, fig, sweet spices, cassis and mint/cedar/eucalyptus. When I finally got over sniffing my wine and tasted it, the flavour was just a continuation of all the lovely aromas, with the addition of more dried fruit like raisin and prune (a result of aging), plus some leather, sweet spice and smoke, due to the 6-12 months this wine spent aging in oak barrels. It was still a medium-full bodied  wine, with medium acidity, and after 7 years in the bottle, the tannins had softened right out. This wine was incredibly drinkable and I’m glad we didn’t leave it in the cellar any longer! If you still have a bottle of this lingering in your cellar, now is the time to drink it.

 

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The first thing I did after drinking a glass of this wine was email Erica to thank her!

So the wine shower…great idea, right? Who’s with me?

Happy wining, friends!

Cheers!

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“Cheers!”

In my mind, this expression should be reserved solely for toasting. When used in different contexts, it has always bothered me for some reason.

Obviously, in the UK, it is commonly used as a way of saying “Thanks”, or even “Goodbye”. But in North America, there are very few situations where “Cheers” seems natural. Unless you are British and/or you have just served me a drink and are using it synonymously with “Enjoy”, it just seems contrived and pretentious somehow.

I am clearly not alone in this sentiment. One blogger on the interwebs went on a bit of a tirade on the matter in 2007. I didn’t even make it through all the comments – half the commenters whole-heartedly agreed, while the other half accused him of being too pedantic or xenophobic.

From what I gather, this expression started gaining popularity on this side of the Atlantic in the early 2000s. All of a sudden, everyone was saying “Cheers” the British way. In bars, servers would say Cheers as a way of saying “Here you go – enjoy!” In those days I attributed this sudden appearance of the expression to the fact that I just hadn’t been frequenting bars much before that point, but now I see that its use outside of drinking establishments was also quickly spreading across the continent. Instead of saying “thanks” or even in some cases “you’re welcome,” people were using the dreaded term. Why don’t you just call me a wanker before hopping into a lorry!? What’s even worse is that these days, you see more and more people signing emails with “Cheers” as a valediction (i.e. closing or farewell) – even in business emails, which I find particularly inappropriate. Even this British blogger agrees: “Americans could use it in English pubs, but should avoid the other situations as it sounds wrong with an American accent. Sorry!”

Not surprisingly, this practice is rampant in the wine business. There are so many wine bloggers who conclude their posts with the telltale sign-off that even in that context (i.e. its original context) it feels like it’s beginning to lose meaning. I’m finding it all very problematic, since I’m often tempted to use it in this blog, but again, it seems pretentious and now so unoriginal.

All this to say, I will say “Cheers” when raising a glass with friends, but I think the English language already has plenty of excellent expressions for giving thanks, wishing enjoyment, or saying goodbye without having to resort to slang from across the pond.

But enough whining, on to wining!

This week’s discovery was the Tessellae Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (or “GSM” in the wine world). Prominently featured in the most recent Food & Drink magazine (page 33, if you have a copy at home), this $17 bottle is being advertised as an excellent value wine. And I have to agree! GSMs are one of my favourites. While this popular blend generally hails from the Côtes du Rhône region in the southeast of France, this particular bottle is from the Côtes de Roussillon appellation, which is further west.

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Side note: I took the liberty of highlighting the town where I was born!

GSMs tend to be medium bodied with fruity characteristics (i.e. dark cherry, raspberry) and a bit of spice from the syrah (aka shiraz) grape. The most famous (and expensive) example of this type of wine is probably Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The GSM blend is an excellent, often food-friendly wine that most people will enjoy. As a result, it’s one of my go-to’s as a hostess gift when going to dinner parties where I don’t know what will be served.

The Tessellae definitely fits the bill. It is indeed medium bodied, though the aromas are less in-your-face than your typical GSM. This wine is more delicate, with the aromas needing a bit of coaxing out of the bottle. As a result, open this bottle ahead of time so it has a chance to breathe. You still get the lovely fruity characteristics, such as cherry, raspberry and blueberry, but also some licorice and something slightly floral.

In terms of food pairing, this is not a heavy wine, so not something to serve with a juicy steak. It would be a good match for burgers or pizza. Remember, you never want your food to overpower your wine, or vice versa.

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Photo credit: The Husband

And on that note, instead of signing off with the dreaded word, I will simply say happy wining!

Pig Roast Pairings

Fellow wine lovers!

It has been a busy few weeks! Is it just me, or do busy work weeks lead to increased wine consumption? No? Just me? Oh well, at least it means I have a whole slew of wine insights for you.

Last weekend we headed down to southern Ontario to attend the husband’s cousin’s annual pig roast, in the thriving metropolis of Embro, ON. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and when David told me to pack my jean skirt and cowboy hat, I got nervous. I began to expect the worst.

Besides the pig on a spit, it was a potluck. I used to love potlucks. In my student days, if there was free food, I was all over it. But now that my own cooking skills have improved and I am less desperate for food that I don’t have to cook or pay for, I am less interested in dishes of varying degrees of quality.

Even more importantly, if you don’t know what you’re going to be eating, how the heck do you pick out a wine to go with your meal??

As usual, this will have as much to do with your personal tastes as your budget. The first question is, red, white or maybe rosé? Since I knew the staple of the meal was going to be pork, I decided to eliminate red from the options. So that’s good, that only leaves 46% of LCBO wines to choose from!

If you’ve ever been to the LCBO with me, you’ll know that it’s not something I take lightly. Very rarely do I spend any less than 15 minutes in this fine establishment. I’m like a kid in a candy store, and I like to see what’s new, and what’s on sale, and what will go with my meal, and what will I feel like next Wednesday, and what would go with a sunny Saturday afternoon in the backyard, and are there any occasions coming up I need to buy wine for…etc. Needless to say, I could spend hours in there. Have I also mentioned that my decision-making skills are crap? This means that I tend to walk away from LCBO excursions with no less than 2 bottles each time. Which is great because the two-bottle paper bags they give you are fantastic as compost bin liners. You’re welcome.

So when we got to the LCBO Saturday evening, my husband, who knows me and my exasperating LCBO tendencies well, gave me a 5-minute time limit. My desicion-making abilities put to the test, I had to think quickly: something that pairs well with pork, that will go with most other foods that could potentially end up on the hillbilly potluck table and something that won’t take me half an hour to pick out.

That last bit made me park myself in front of a rosé promo section at the end of an aisle. There I found a bunch of rosés all in one place and I didn’t have to roam up and down all the country-based aisles in search of one I liked. Excellent time management, I thought! Especially since rosés account for less than 5% of the table wines in the LCBO general list. And as we already know, I love drinking rosés in the summer, since they go well with food and are easy to drink on their own as well.

I didn’t want anything too sweet, so that meant I was looking for a dry or even extra dry wine. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the LCBO’s sweetness codes found on the bin tags, here they are:

Source: LCBO

Source: LCBO

This sweetness criteria seemed to eliminate many of the rosés in the display. With time running out (I still had to get through the cash), I quickly selected a Spanish rosé made of one of my favourite grapes: garnacha. This dry wine was nice and light, yet had enough fruity flavour to stand up to most foods. For $12 a bottle, it was the perfect wine for a pig roast where most of the revelers were drinking Coors Light. Plus it was an excellent exercise in quick decision-making and self-restraint. I managed to limit my LCBO visit to less than five minutes AND left with only one bottle in my possession!

Gran Feudo rosé, perfect for any BYOC (bring your own chair and cooler) gathering.

Gran Feudo rosé, perfect for any BYOC (bring your own chair/cup/cooler) gathering.

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The pig-roasting contraption. I was very sorry to have missed the spit in action. Note my father-in-law in the background, caught red-handed at the dessert table.

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The food table

The dessert table, with beer backdrop.

The dessert table, with beer backdrop.

A Steal from Vintages

Friends!

Do I have a great bottle for you today! It’s from a recent Vintages release.  What is this “Vintages release” you may ask? At the LCBO, there are two sections: there is the general listing, which is the stock that is always available and takes up the biggest section of the store. Then there is the Vintages section, which offers more specialty wines. With the exception of Vintages Essentials, which tend to be the popular favourites of the Vintages section and are always available, the selection in Vintages is constantly changing. Every two weeks, it introduces 125 new fine wines from around the world. This is known as the “Vintages release,” and it is a pretty exciting time for wine geeks in Ontario. The LCBO even prints out a magazine to announce the upcoming release. It always has great pictures and interesting articles, followed by a list of the newly released wines.  You can pick up a copy about a week before the release at the LCBO, or read the digital copy online.

Now that we have that definition out of the way, let’s get on with the good stuff!

Yesterday we had a barbecue to go to, so we needed wine (obviously). A lot of people tell me that they drink only white in the summer and red in the winter, which I think is crazy talk. Why limit yourself to only half of the available wines based on the weather? Ok, I understand that with this insane heat lately, you maybe don’t want to be drinking a super heavy red. It just doesn’t have that refreshing quality one might crave when it is so hot and humid you start sweating as soon as you step out the door. What I have here is a wine I promise you will want to drink all year round.

May I present Langa Tradicion Centaria Garnacha.

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Back to the BBQ. We were having steak, and I just can’t drink white wine with grilled steak. That is one food that really demands a red in my books, no matter what it’s doing outside. So I went to the Vintages section and looked for something under $20. There are actually lots of bottles available in that price range, particularly in the new releases (check out this page from the Vintages magazine or peruse the whole list).

I ended up picking this Langa Garnacha, from the Catalayud region in northeastern Spain. Garnacha is the main grape grown in this region, but it is also grown in France (code name: grenache), where it is a main component of Côtes-du-Rhône wines. This grape may be thin-skinned, but packs a whole lot of flavour. It is typically heavy on the fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, cherry, but also black pepper and licorice) and tends to yield a high alcohol content. The Langa is pretty true to this benchmark. I jotted down the following tasting note at the BBQ:

– sweet spice, tobacco, blueberry, blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, pepper, licorice, smoke

– medium-full bodied, low tannin, high alcohol

The typical pairing for garnacha wines is grilled lamb, but it was fantastic with our deliciously fatty grilled steak. The smokiness of the wine went so well with the grilled meat, and the dark fruit flavours made it really difficult to put down. I am salivating just thinking about it. Plus, it was great without food as well. I am seriously considering running out and getting a case right now. If you are planning on doing the same, do it quickly! This wine was released over a month ago, so stocks are running low, and because it’s in Vintages, once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

Let me know if you end up trying it and tell me what you think in the Comments! Also, if you want to get an email every time there is a new post on Wining with Mel, just click on the +Follow button at the bottom-right of your screen.

Enjoy!