Thursday, November 6, 2008

On the Categories of Wine

When I purchase wine, I think in terms of three categories:

Category Three
This is the quintessential "everyday wine." It's well made, delicious, and brings delight to food. It is straightforward and cheerful, requiring no decanting or excessive contemplation. This is the wine that brings simple pleasure.

Typical cost: $10-$20. Examples: Rivetti Nebbiolo d'Alba, Fontanafredda Barbera d'Alba, Wynn's Coonawarra Shiraz

Category Two
This is a wine that is serious and worth getting excited over. It is for an exceptional dinner, and almost always drank with friends. It has a beautiful label and a beautiful story. It may very well be a single cru. It is complex, profound, and improves with age. In the glasses it evolves and has the capacity to carry several courses. Its last glass is the most savored.

Typical cost: $30-$60. Examples: Vietti Barolo Castiglione, single cru Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco, Sella & Mosca Marchese Villamarina.

Category One
This is not so much a wine as an idea. This is a wine that has become an icon—with as much fame for its splendor as infamy for its scarcity. This is wine that has created its own identity, beyond varietal or origin. The mere thought of this wine brings pleasure, as does the process of procurement, transport, storage, and observation. The ownership of this wine brings pride and joy. The opening brings trepidation and exhilaration.

Only the most extravagant meal and discriminating friends are fit company for this wine. The first pour will form the climax of the evening; the room will fall silent as the liquid trickle into the glass. The expression of those who taste it will linger in the minds of all for years to come.

The wine itself renders language bankrupt of expression—no nouns or adjectives, similes or metaphors suffice to express its sheer magnitude. The typical parallels to food substances and worldly matter seem absurd and childish. The wine refuses to be understood, showing only a fraction of itself at any moment; as a whole it dwarfs our comprehension. In one word, it is, in the original Burkean sense—sublime.

Typical cost: $80 and upwards. Examples: Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva "Monfortino," Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico 2004

$11, Aug 2008
375ml, all consumed

Finally a real Chianti! No oak, no obfuscation, no candy liquor, just honest sangiovese in botte.

A beautiful, clean, focused nose of intense, but well measured fruit. Slightest hint of funkiness and a dash of sweetness.

In the mouth it is just as true to Chianti, with well rounded fruit and a lively but civilized acidity. Its texture has quite a bit of pull but never overwhelms the palate.

This wine is at once simple and noble. Definitely a keeper.

Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse Paulliac 2004

$33, August 2008
750ml, drank over two days.

Deep concentrated color.

Upon opening the nose is of pronounced Cabernet. In a few minutes, however, it faded and was replaced by a more restrained scent with soft, sweet components.

In the mouth it is round, with a thick texture. Fruit, acid, and tannin are in good proportion. But definitely not as acidic as Italian wines. And the tannins are puny compared to Barolo. It is overall rounder, smoother, thicker than what I wanted to drink. The finish has a dense cocoa component.

After an hour or so in the glass sweet vanilla appeared in the nose and dominated thereafter. This was a surprise as most Barolo made with barrique tend to exhibit vanilla early on.

On the second day, the acid picked up a tad (nitrogen gassed). But it was still well structured and completely enjoyable. The acid ceases to be apparent after a while in the glass.

Throughout my experience with this wine (over two days, over steak, tagliatelle alla bolognese, piave, solo drinking) I've confused it with Barolo and Burgundy, which shows its charm. Overall I'm quite happy with it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

This is a thoroughly modern film about a timeless subject – England in the time of Henry VIII. No doubt countless books have been written about the subject, and none satisfies all historians. To compress this tumultuous period in two short hours is no easy task.

I enjoyed the film from the moment the hazy titles of Focus Featurs graced the screen. The two lead actresses are icons of our times—the graceful and ever at ease Scarlet Johansson and the striking and intense Natalie Portman. Together with the gothic typeface, they set the mood for a modern interpretation of this timeless saga.

Watching this film, I remarked to myself: how unhappy these people are. The father weak in spirit and frail in nerves, hopelessly goes about the dangerous task of assigning his daughters to the king. His wife, devoid of emotion and rendered pale and colorless, senses all the dangers but fails to act. The wretched uncle enjoys not a moment of his screentime, his whole life is devoured to the politics of the court. And the two daughters, first seen basking in warm sunshine, is reduced to heartbreak, torment and death. Even Henry, first presented with such poise and presence is eventually shrivelled in isolation.

I had my doubts about Natalie Portman’s casting. Looking at the poster, I did not feel that she could adequately fill her role. She was clearly being depicted sexually, which, despite her striking beauty, is not her strength. In the film she behaved as I imagined—capably executing Anne’s mood swings, but never transcending role-play.

Scarlet was much more comfortable in her role. She was never strained, and her unassuming looks melded with her character. So gentle and satisfying was the scene when she woke in the arm of Henry that for a moment I believed this would last.

It is curious how Henry could like two women of such contrast. If he truly fell for Mary’s simplicity and warmness, how could he be attracted to the dark and manipulative nature of Anne?

This film will go down as another Focus Features classic. This is truly one of my favourite studios, turning out a distinct style of films that are stylish, intelligent and approachable.

Historians will find plenty of reasons to scoff at this film. I enjoyed it.


Friday, February 1, 2008

In Praise of Piave

Everyone knows Parmigiano Reggiano. Pecorino Romano is a staple for grating and eating. Provolone lands on pizza and baked pasta. But how many people knows about Piave?

Not much. Piave is a little known miracle. In the words of a co-worker and friend, it's like "sex on the tongue." And that is something Reggiano can never claim.

In contrast to the sharp, salty and granular texture of reggiano is Piave's smooth, fruity and silky texture. It's produced further the north, in Veneto, and uses pasteurized instead of raw milk. The end result is so much more pleasant than reggiano, so much smoother, that it becomes unfaultable.

Tonight, I had piave with a youthful sangiovese (Casamatta 2004, Toscana). The fragrant berries melted into the cheese, together they mingled on the tongue, one clinging, and the other, with its bright acid, uplifting and carrying it away. Beautiful.

Find yourself some old Piave. After the first encounter, you will never be far from it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Val Di Suga Brunello di Montalcino 2001

$40 for a brunello -- who could say no?

This wine didn't come through for me. It wasn't particularly smooth, or acidic, or fruity, or anything. It didn't scream brunello.

With food, this wine is considerably better. On the second night, it paired nicely with a nice USDA prime sirloin, and on the third, it went down very smoothly with some simple pork. Food balances out the edginess and helps the smooth tannins shrine through.

Overall though, it didn't hit the spot for me.

Rating: 3/5
Price: $40
Bought from: BevMo, Stevens Creek Blvd.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Vitae Sangiovese Puglia 2005

This is a real surprise. Sangioveses under $20 have typically been very unkind to me. Lose, acidic, not a lot of finesse. Those disappointments led me to the $20 and above super tuscans, and for a while, that's where I stayed.

This Sangiovese is different. It is not 'distinctively sangiovese' -- instead of big, bold, earthy berries it has a measured acid and a very smooth follow through to finish. Alcohol content is low, so it was easy to drink too.

On the second day the acid does pick up more, but it still downs a Spaghetti alla Puttanesca very well. And the rest of the bottle was perfect with the well aged Piave I just bought.

Rating: Excellent, 4/5
Price: $10
Bought from: Vintage Wine Merchants, Santana Row