My Father, Chianti and I

umberto cesari riserva sm
So I’ve been spending a lot of time since December in Winnipeg. Rather too much in one sense. It is exhausting. When I get home I fall into bed around 830 and sleep like a log for 12 hours. On the other hand, at times it is exhilarating, entertaining, and downright fun. At other times it is sad, tearful and heart-rending. On the whole it just is.

My mother was raised by tee-totalling Methodist parents. To her rum was the Demon Rum. My father was raised a good Ukrainian, which is to say drinker, but had no problem eschewing booze. Essentially he was cured of booze by the war: The last state you want to be in while endangered is intoxicated.

I of course was deeply curious about all things alcoholic and set out to explore. Somewhere along the way, I realized my ‘satiable curiousity ended up combining with my parental system of exploration and I ended up knowing rather more about booze than pretty much anyone I’ve ever met. (Having encountered folks like Jancis Robinson in the last ten years that statement needs to be tempered, but remember I didn’t meet her until well into my 50s. By then I had been explaining booze to people who didn’t believe me – how could this goof know more than they? – and to those curious for more than a decade.

Somewhere along the way I became a fan of Chianti, largely due to the influence of cheap Italian wine (Hello Donini, AKA Done In, Do-no-no etc.) and Petley, he of the bamboo fly rod and squashed Sammy fame. (If you’re kind to him and pay 100% up front he may agree to make you a rod.)

Also probably due to my father. For he – despite a couple of wounds, one or two concussions, a case of pneumonia, and a couple of weeks MIA, not to mention losing most of his tank crew to a shell – has always maintained affection for the country. And somehow all of that comes together in my junk heap of mind to make Chianti my comfort food of choice.

So here I sit and write. Lately I visit him three times a day and by 630 I`m done. Really done. I often go to bed at 9 PM. Mostly these days we chat; I listen to his complaints – he is humiliated, no longer master of all he can see, not that he can see damn all any more; when we run out of conversation I read to him. He can`t really concentrate enough to follow a modern novel or even many short stories. He quite enjoys poetry, which of course he always did. (With great thanks to Ken Mitchell). But he very much enjoys Kipling short stories. I am currently reading him The Just So stories which make him laugh.

And then I come home to comfort food. The bottle pictured is not Chianti, coming from the Romagna district south of Tuscany. It`s a little New World in style with more residual sugar than DOCG Riserva but for all that a lovely herbal drop. I had it tonight with pork chops, broccoli and spaghettini with my tomato sauce, another bit of comfort food, thanks to several years running a swinging bachelor pad with Ron of the bamboo rod fame.

I like Cesari wines. Give them a try.

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The Blender, Decanter and I

don camillo farneseI had an interesting wine this week. Three days ago I opened a Don Camillo Sangiovese (from Farnese). I had one glass and told Sairey,”I’m opening something better.” The wine wasn’t bad, as in corked, TCA taint et al., just had a sort of sickly sweet vanilla-caramel tongue coating to it. I left the wine on the counter as I was making a tomato sauce the next night and reckoned it would be good enough for that.

When I tasted it the following evening, the vanilla had cleared off and left a solid backbone of real sangiovese behind it. (And yes I do taste wine before using it when cooking. I have been known to not use $20 wine in my cooking if I think it has flaws.) I was impressed.

To double check I opened a second bottle last night and it too had that syrupy attack. However lacking a decanter I gave the remainder of the bottle a whirl in the blender a la Nathan Myhrvold. And this worked perfectly. Wine restored to drinkable state.

For decades people have used decanters, usually to allow wine to air or oxidize. This works really well with hard tannin wines. Apparently it works well also with over-built and slightly over-ripe wines. It won’t work if there is no spine behind the wine (most zinfandel). Myhrvold recommends a blender for all reds, claiming the oxidation increases the flavour profiles for good or ill.

A decanter is more civilized, but tossing a dinner guest’s cru burgundy into the osterizer is also good for a laugh.

Do I recommend the wine? yes with the decanting reservation. It’s an interesting blend of very ripe grapes and traditional wine making.

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The Cynical Critic Strikes – the Tech edition

DRY???? Wine

As the steam roller of “smooth” wine gathers more momentum and market clout, I’ve finally resorted to my own testing. I own an Omega pocket pH meter and recently bought a couple of hundred Accuvin residual sugar strips.

Accuvin with Omega pH meterIf this sounds like overkill to you, take a look at that picture at the right. These are all Italian sangiovese. Four are Chianti one, Farnese is an IGT sangiovese, probably from Abruzza. (The numbers pictured are the pH.) Note the Farnese redlined the sugar strip. Most of the Chianti are bone dry.

Yes this is apparent especially if you leave a bottle open on the counter overnight. (You’ll get a LOT of vanilla and caramel flavours the next day, a tell tale for high residual sugar these days.) However even the most egotistical wine critic should like to double check on her or his tastebuds. So I test.

If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. And if you count it and don’t tell me, I’ll find out. Pictured at left is a tube of the strips with the Omega meter (in the coffee mug standing in some wine) in the background. I brightened the photo a bit to make the readout more apparent to my Iphone camera. I made no adjustment other than scale to the Accuvin strips at right.

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The Joy of a Gin & Tonic

Tonic, Glorious Tonic!

Tonic, Glorious Tonic!

I recently bought a bottle of Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin. For those of you not paying attention, artisan small batch gins have been springing up everywhere. Pricing ranges from normal-ish (~$30) to absurd ($100+). Aviation gin from Oregon has a huge following in America, as do various other small batch gins. In fact I have a friend in the UK who rather bashfully describes himself these days as “something of a gin snob.”

Truthfully I always seem to come back to Tanqueray which is probably a form of comfort food from my youth as much as any other rational reason. But if you like to experiment you should make a point of buying and trying any and all such gins you come across. Although there are some that for me, once was enough, I have yet to have one that resulted in me pushing my glass away.

There are a couple of things you need to know. Firstly the flavours in vermouth vary widely and if you’re a dry martini fan you need to have at least a couple of vermouths on hand and do an A/B/C comparison before rejecting a gin as a poor martini gin.

Secondly if you are a G&T fan the tonic probably matters as much or more than the gin, given it constitutes at least half the volume and likely more of your drink.

There is something delightfully decadent about a G&T, a drink that conjures up rubber plantations and seamy Somerset Maugham plots. The men and women who ran the rubber plantations were gods! They took malaria in their stride, keeping it at bay with daily doses of quinine diluted in gin. (Apparently the DTs were just another repetitive strain injury associated with the job.) This medicine eventually evolved into the modern G&T, a great summer drink especially when the going gets sticky: I drink them all year around.

liber g&t 001There are a few high end tonics out there, my preference being Q (pictured above) or Fentimans. If you are really adventuresome there are some tonic syrups out there that are exceptionally tasty like Tomr’s and Liber . These are wonderful but they darken the pure G&T and I must confess to being an effete aesthete and preferring the look of that perfectly clear G&T. (And if you like Tequila be sure to try the Liber Grapefruit Shrub with your fave tequila. It is also great with gin.) If you worry about your carbon footprint, the concentrates like Tomr’s and Liber are clearly the way to go as the concentrate saves shipping endless amounts of water around the country. (If you’re a soda stream person, you must must must keep a bottle of these handy.)

If you don’t feel like searching out, or can’t find a micro-distillery product like Saskatoon’s own LB Distillers or Aviation, keep your eyes peeled for Tanqueray Malacca which is an extraordinary gin although not common in Canada. Also Citadelle, another French gin is first rate. Again though you’ll want to do an ABC test with vermouths to pick the right one for a martini. Or just stay steamy and decadent and have a gin and tonic.

At right a picture of a Liber and Uncle Val’s G&T. I have to admit I rather like this combo despite the colouring.

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Mead Glorious Mead

And for those of you who missed it, here’s the link to my interview with Jeremy Dodge about the Cypress Hills, Bushwakker, and Chinook Arch Mead.

This is merely a starting point for the wonderful world of mead. Californian wineries are making sparkling and dry old meads. (Mead will cellar for decades apparently.) Braggot, or brakket, is the most common a sort of beer mead combo, but melomel (mead with fruit juice added) are catching on fast.

If you are a person with a cellar, I would recommend buying a case or two of the Cypress Hills mead and laying it down for a couple of decades. Open one a year and watch it progress…

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