Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Change of Address~!!!

Good day readers,

 please note that effective immediately I will be posting all future articles on The Chef and The Grape ... thank you very much for visiting and I hope that you will continue to enjoy my reviews of wine, spirits and cigars and of course the food pairings!


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Valentine’s Day menu: spoil the one you love

Spoil the one you Love
There is nothing as powerful as sharing yourself; your time, your energy and your passion with the one you love.
To me very little can encapsulate this idea as readily as cooking a meal and, yet, I know few people who genuinely love cooking these days. It seems as though I’m watching an entire generation grow up in the shadow of fast-food and ready-to-eat meals. In fact, those two areas have been the source of almost all growth in food sales in North America for the past 5 years in a row.
And I’m trying to understand: the busy lifestyle, the need to continually be doing more… we all know that incomes don’t stretch as far as they used to and everyone is working just a little bit (or a lot) more than ever. You’re up before 6 to make it to work by 8 so that you miss the worst of rush-hour. Maybe you work through lunch or, if you go out, it’s for something quick. Then you’re lucky to be home by 6 and there’s just no time to make something from scratch!
Trust me – I get it. I’ve been there, in the trenches with you. It’s not easy yet I find myself pitying the busy-people more than a little. Why pity? Because these people have forgotten the joy one can find in cooking! The joy of creation, the joy of doing something well and the unabashed delight in putting a smile on someone else’s face… with something as simple as a cookie or, in this case, my Valentine’s Day’s menu.
I crafted this for the light of my life:
filet of beef tenderloin, local wild mushroom demi-glaçe
roasted local organic new potato
roast organic gold beets and butternut squash
steamed organic Swiss Chard
 This is not a complicated menu and yet, should you go to your local steakhouse, no doubt you would be charged in excess of $30 per person just for this entree… and more like $45 when one considers that the entire menu is organic and/or local, seasonal. If I told you that the beef came from a local cattle rancher and was grass-fed and free-range, hormone and antibiotic free and dry-aged for more than 40 days then the price goes up again: $60+ in most markets and an easy $100 in Las Vegas.
I’m not saying that it’s easy to afford the $150+ for just the food in a restaurant, much less the $100+ bottle of wine I would want to pair with it. By the time the night is over you will have spent $300++ and no, for most people, that’s not easy. But my grandma told me once when I was very young “Christopher never give money as a gift, it is a poor way to show you care“.
So let me help you show you care. Let me share a few tricks-of-the-trade and you can make this meal for less than half the price (total cost for these ingredients for 2 people was about $50 CAD at Hopcott’s); you and your special-someone will appreciate it twice as much!


There are a litany of things that all chefs do before they cook and all of these little steps get generalized as mis-en-placewhich means “putting things in their place“.
notice the marbling, the quality one gets from a local butcher
notice the marbling, the quality one gets from a local butcher
a) choosing the steak: notice how this beef is marbled; the fat is integrated right into the muscle meaning that, as it cooks, that fat will render and keep the meat moist. I got this from my local, artisanal butcher (Hopcott’s) and if you Google “local butcher” you’ll find one in your neighborhood as well
b) prepping the steak:  bring that steak out of the fridge an hour before cooking to come up to room temperature before you fry it: going straight from the fridge to the pan makes for tense/tough meat. Pat it dry on paper towel to wipe away any excess moisture and allow for proper searing which locks in the natural juices. Season as you will; the better the quality the less seasoning I use… for this steak all I used was Kosher seasalt and freshly ground black pepper
c) heat your pan: seems like a “no-brainer” but so many people neglect to heat their fry-pan enough. How hot does it need to be? Leave it at medium+ heat for 10-15 minutes before you start to cook so that the steaks start searing immediately and never, ever crowd the pan or you won’t be able to keep the pan hot (the steaks should never touch)
As much as possible, everything that can be done before you start cooking should be done. Once again, this is a key element to mis-en-place because our goal in the kitchen is to ensure we can spend as much time focused on cooking our food as perfectly as possible. So do it! Trim your veggies, dice your onions, set the table, open the wine – all before you ever start to cook the steaks. Now pour a half-glass of wine, start to sear the steaks, and enjoy the process! This is great cooking and these are the stunning wines I’ve sourced for you!

2010 Muga Reserva Rioja DOCIMG_7481

91+ points, $25+ CAD, EXCELLENT Value

… perhaps the most enticing aspect to this wine is the rich floral aromas it offers at the same time as the ever-approachable ripe red and black berry tones (think of a bowl full of raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries and black currants); hints of vanilla, warm toasty oak and peaty-earth round out the bouquet. The palate is brisk enough to warrant food (medium+ zippy red/black currant acid) and the sultry/fine medium- tannin structure means you can enjoy this on its own, with food or even a great cigar! Bold flavors with a full, youthful expression mimicking the aromas are truly fantastic when one considers that the winery produces over 850,000 bottles of this: more of this is made than the total production of many small to mid-size wineries! Enjoy 2015-2020+ due to excellent construction.
… the only way this wine could be any better, more complimentary, with beef tenderloin is to grill that beef over a wood fire; the smokey tones of mesquite, applewood, hickory or whatever you use for your barbeque will play with the wines’ peaty/earthy tones and bring greater balance to the ample berry notes. The crispness/freshness of the acidity works perfectly with an unctuous sauce like demi-glaçe or a compound butter and the peaty/earthy notes will find unison with the wild mushrooms used in this example.

 Chaberton 2011 _reserve_syrah_thum2011 Chaberton Estate Reserve Syrah

Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, BC

92 points, $31 CAD, EXCELLENT Value

**Silver/2014 National Wine Awards of Canada, BC**

… there are producers in BC whose Syrah/Shiraz is easily on par with some of the top producers in the world. Dollar for dollar these wines can be compared to the northern Rhône valley (France), Barossa (Australia) or Colchagua (Chile) and yet, for the most part, they are unknown. But not for long! Chaberton Estates is just one of a litany of great Syrah  producers and the wine speaks for itself; textured aromas rich with red and black berries (raspberry, blackberry, huckleberry), dark flowers (irises, lilies, roses), cinnamon bark, pink peppercorn all colliding with a stunning synergy. The palate is brisk enough to warrant good food and yet balanced well enough to enjoy on its own; tight/focused full red currant acid frames a full/fine/chewy tannin structure that delivers an excellent concentration of flavors that mimic the bouquet. Excellent structure, this wine has the capacity to age gracefully for years and will continue to evolve: enjoy 2015-2025.
… this is a sophisticated wine; as such, pair it with food that is more subtle. Beef tenderloin is delightfully tender (hence the name) but rather lacking in flavor, especially when one compares it against cuts like a T-bone or ribeye. Let the musky, perfumed floral tones in the wine bring balance to the beef and elevate both! Savor the wine on its own or delight in how the fresh acid keeps the beef from weighing too heavily on the palate… the fresh berry tones will also balance the ultra-rich demi-glaçe.
IMG_7476a) the pan: pan-searing steak is classic French cooking at its finest so don’t be afraid to emulate classic French methodology! We only drizzle a touch of oil (canola) on the steak before searing but otherwise it is a dry pan. This is important for purity of flavors as, if the oil gets too hot, it can impart unpleasant flavors on the beef.
b) turning the steak: Notice how I don’t turn the steak until it has seared perfectly on one side. How do I know it’s seared? It lifts easily from the pan! Now I just turn it over, spoon a healthy dab of butter on top to ensure it stays moist, and finish it in the oven
c) the oven and timing: I cooked this at 425F and, given the 1.5″ thick steaks, calculated approximately 90 seconds in the oven for every degree of “doneness”: RARE=90 seconds, MEDIUM RARE=3 minutes, MEDIUM= 4 1/2 minutes, MEDIUM WELL= 6 minutes, WELL=8 minutes… if you’re cooking for 5 minutes or longer, take a moment to spoon those lovely pan juices over the steak. It just takes a moment but makes the world of difference!
organic produce just TASTES better!
organic produce just TASTES better!
I love cooking but I do not love cleaning. As such, I make every effort whilst cooking to ensure that when I’m done the kitchen is as clean and organized as possible. I want to enjoy my meal, savor every moment, and when it’s done take my wife and the remaining wine and curl-up on the couch. I can’t do that if the kitchen looks like a bomb went off! So take a moment while the steaks are searing, the veggies are roasting, the sauce is simmering and the greens are steaming: clean a few utensils, scrub the cutting board, wipe the counter. And never forget to just soak your pans when you’re done with them! My clean-up, post-meal, is rarely more than 10 minutes because it was drilled into me from an early age: Clean As You Go!
So enjoy your Valentine’s meal and enjoy the process! You just might find it so addictive that you’ll want to be sharing that special feeling more and more often! And it truly is like anything else in life; the more you do, the easier it gets. It’s still work, even for chefs, but it is rewarding work. It’s fun work and the kind of work that I now share with my 3-year old daughter who comes and helps me season food or scrub veggies in the big sink. She loves organizing my dirty dishes and YES! That inevitably means that I clean up after her cleaning-up but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
My daughter gets excited about baking scones with Daddy. She grabs a chair to come help with dinner and gets mad if she’s shooed off. She actually enjoys helping to unload the dishwasher. Is our family perfect? Far from it. But – but I’ve seen the gleam in her eye, the swelling with pride, when she tastes something that she helped to make and I am so humbled that I helped her find that within herself.
 This Valentine’s Day my hope is that you will remember: the most genuine happiness comes from knowing you have shared with the one you love and shared not just of your wallet, but of your self.
Many thanks to my friends the Hopcott family of Hopcott Meats (artisanal butchers) for the brilliant components for this meal; they truly are some of the best tasting, most tender, steaks I have ever had! And of course to Christopher Stewart Wines: importers of Muga for Canada and to Chaberton Estates of British Columbia for the generous sample bottles. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on:

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

“Message in a Bottle”, Il Palagio, Tuscany

palagio logo

Il Palagio

The first time I can remember ever consciously listening to a band – not just listening to music – I was sitting by the radio in the kitchen and waiting for “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “King of Pain”. It was 1983, I was 12 years old, and this was some of the most passionate sound I had ever heard. I became, though the Synchronicity album, a fan of The Police.
Very little changed for me two years later when Sting began to explore his solo career: Sting went through jazz to Celtic to Spanish-influenced and was even recognized for contributions to classical music. At the same time I was going through that hormone-induced metamorphosis from pre-teen through angsty teenager and on to the madcap evolution of a young adult. All of these genres resonated with me at one time or another… And as I sit in my second floor office at home, two decades later and my children playing so loud in the living room below that I’m forced to wear headphones, I marvel that once again I’ve found resonance with Sting’s work.
But this resonance is with music – of a different nature: wine.
I recently read that Sting has told his children that they shouldn’t count on a fat inheritance to provide for them when he parts this mortal coil; he and wife Trudie plan on spending it all! Of course, one’s thoughts instinctively turn towards the “musician lifestyle” and how this couple must be “tripping the light fantastic” in nightclubs with rare bottles of Champagne, bathing in pools of rubies and wearing golden underwear. You would have to do all of that, and more, if you wanted to burn through an estimated fortune of $300 million dollars, right?
But try as I might, I can’t imagine Sting practicing Jivamukti yoga after umpteen bottles of bubbly, nor the couple who have helped raise over $25 million for the Rainforest Foundation Fund wearing gold-plated anything. The truth is actually more spectacular than even I could have dreamt: Trudie and Sting have invested a significant portion of this hard-earned wealth in the renovation and rejuvenation of a heritage estate in Tuscany. Il Palagio.
Estate: just the word conjures images of a decadent lifestyle filled with too much tennis and wine, too little hard-work and callouses. And that image may have been accurate in the past, when Il Palagio was the home to nobility; there were lavish meals, many bottles of wine and, yes, there is a tennis court! But with changes to a global economy the noble lord who owned this land up to 1997 was forced to sell off bits and pieces of the property, forgoing maintenance to many buildings on the (originally) 800+ acres. The gem of Figline Valdarno (the local town) was becoming a bit – dated.
It was Trudie who found the property… unless one wants to be metaphysical about it and then it was the property who found her. In either case, Trudie had spent 7 years searching for a patch of land that would bring solace to a family that spent an inordinate amount of time working and, when they worked, working sometimes 7 days a week for months at a stretch (Sting did a reunion tour with the Police in 2007 that lasted 15 months). Trudie wanted to find a hidden corner where rest could be found and the family could give something back to the land.
palagio grounds
the gardens at Il Palagio – courtesy of Il Palagio
At Il Palagio Trudie and Sting have found this and much more.
I could talk about the honey for another 1000 words and that’s without ever having tasted it! The intrepid couple are both ardent bee-advocates and Trudie has spear-headed the establishment of over 80 colonies on the property. The resulting honey is now sold via the estate (and on-line) and has a devoted following. But the spin-off from this effort is what’s most exciting for me…
By raising their sleeves, digging their hands in the dirt, two people have helped re-create an environment that everywhere bursts with life! This is why customers pay $20 USD for a bottle of the olive oil, this is why people willingly fork over almost $10 for a jar of the small-lot honey offering such individual flavors as “Chestnut“, “Forest” and “Thousand Flowers“. Some might say that there will always be consumers willing to pay these prices because of the “star-factor” that’s attached.
“Bollocks to you” I retort.
It’s no secret that a poor product with a significant name attached is inevitably doomed to failure. And it makes the a-fore mentioned star look like a schmuck.
IMG_7449People; locals and tourist alike, line-up to buy a bounty of products from Il Palagio as, indeed, they did hundreds of years ago. And it’s because two dreamers fell in love with this hillside running down to the village and the way the wind sounds in the centuries-old olive groves where once strode Italian Dukes, the weight of the world seeming on their shoulders but finding solace in these glens. It is this love, this feeling of “home” that compelled Sting and Trudie to invest heavily in returning a fading beauty to her proper place in the community.
In doing so, they have created not only a beautiful home for themselves, their friends and family and you – should you have the means with which to do so… they have created an anchor in the community. There is work here for those who want it; meaningful work. And there is rest. And there is harmony with nature. And there is wine… very, very good wine. And I’ll step out on a journalistic-ledge and contemplate that this is the hidden meaning behind the name of the wine. It’s like the famous guru Zig Ziglar said “Help enough people get what they want and you’ll get what you want”. Trudie and Sting reached out to a community, to a special place, and gave it the love and attention it needed and in giving of themselves have found some measure of peace at last. At least that is, until you finish this article and book your next trip to Firenze!
I hope you enjoy the wine, and the “Message in a Bottle”, as much as I did.

2011 “Message in a Bottle”bottle shot with SOS cork

Rosso Toscana IGT

Sangiovese 70%, Syrah 15%, Merlot 15%

91+ points, $22+ USD, EXCELLENT Value

…it is my personal opinion that the work that Trudie Styler, Sting and the entire Il Palagio team have done to create a vineyard filled with bio-dynamics and bio-diversity is paying off huge dividends. This wine is fantastically concentrated with pure, elegant expressions of varietals and local terroir. On the nose are huge aromas of wild blackberries/blueberries, musky notes like damp forest floor and wild mushrooms and the sophisticated finish of freshly crushed black peppercorns (thank you Syrah). The palate is fresh, clean, brisk and alive! Medium+ red currant/young raspberry acids work symbiotically with a full, fine yet chewy tannin structure to deliver flavors perfectly in-sync with the bouquet. Excellent balance, structure and concentration, this wine drinks superbly now (thanks to Merlot) but will reward cellaring. Enjoy 2015-2020+
…wine with such dimension will pair easily with a variety of foods and, given the ease with which it was consumed in my house, needs no food at all to be enjoyed thoroughly! However as a chef, and husband to a beautiful wife of Calabrese descent, I suggest: baked penne with roasted garlic, chickpeas, fresh basil and Asiago. The bright acid will certainly delight in a touch of fat, the savory tones to the wine will evolve next to earthy garlic and chickpeas, the fresh basil will play well with the fresh berry tones and the salty Asiago brings the minerality in the wine back into focus.
vista at Il Palagio - courtesy of Il Palagio
vista at Il Palagio – courtesy of Il Palagio
Many thanks to Maritime Wine (importer to the USA) and Il Palagio for the very generous sample bottle. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on:
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Friday, January 16, 2015

Thorn-Clarke wines, South Australia

Thorn-Clarke Wines

thorn-clarke banner

 With the 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival just around the corner my mind has started leaping ahead to the star-studded line-up of world-class winemakers who will be jetting in. Over 1,700 wines from 170 wineries will be poured and some of the most exciting, to me, are from this sixth-generation producer from the Barossa valley.

 Let's be honest about why I'm so excited to meet these folks: it's all about quality. But maybe I don't mean quality in the way that you're thinking. It's not just that this family, who've been pouring heart and soul into South Australia since the 1850's, released an entire line-up of wines that are great value for money. Hey - it's the "Golden Age" of wine! We're used to getting great wine for a great price.
the vineyard of St Kitts
the vineyard of St Kitts
THE thing to me is that I'm continually impressed, each and every year, because this is what they do with every vintage. I'm entering my fifth year writing about wine (a "youngster" still to many) and I taste a silly amount of wine... on average it's over 2,000 per year. And I can tell you, without reservation or hesitation, that there are very very few producers who are releasing quality of this magnitude year after year after year. Every year just a little better than the last, every wine being sold for less than it's true value.
The Clarke family state categorically that they:

"-take a long-term view of the future and our goal is unashamedly to be still growing grapes and making wine for another six generations."

And this is how it's done. This is why James Halliday, who knows more about Australian wine than any person who ever walked the Earth, has given Thorn-Clarke 5 stars for the ninth time in a row! Not familiar with Mr Halliday? Suffice it to say that when a winery earns it's first 5-star rating, it's going to be written about in the news. It is the benchmark for "outstanding quality" in Australian wine and is used as the yardstick by which every winery judges it's calibre versus it's colleagues and it's own previous vintages.

Nine times in a row means that the man who knows the most about Australian wine considers this tightly-knit team to be amongst the top echelon of a country brimming with brilliance. And when one hears the stories - of David Clarke testing soil samples by the light of the headlights of his car, at night, so as not to arouse suspicion in local farmers... well, stories like this are what feed the intuition that herein lies something beyond a desire to make good wine, it's (mild) obsession in the best of all possible ways.

This is the team that outfitted entire vineyards with moisture-probes: calibrated to only allow the vines access to irrigation under the most stringent conditions. Is this an environmental responsibility? Of course it is, but the benefit to you and I is that Thorn-Clarke is keeping it's berries small; less water per grape means a higher concentration of flavors!

Planting cover-drops between the rows of vines, planting thousands upon thousands of trees on the properties; these are environmentally responsible as well right? Once again - the winery and it's team are to be lauded, but as someone who's just one generation off the farm I'm thinking about the bio-diversity! What is happening is a return to, as some call it, ancestral farming. Through these techniques Thorn-Clarke is creating an environment that will allow full expression of flavor to come through the grapes and give their land it's own unique taste.

And this vision is all the more apparent when one hears them speak of their ardent efforts to now return the local waterways to " -a pristine example of native vegetation.". It's funny in a way, to think that in 100 years we as a First-World culture have come full circle; from the early 1900's and respecting the land and it's cycles, to the mid 1900's when we first decided that we needed to control Mother Nature and her many flights of whimsy, to the early 2000's when the trend is coming back to a place of respect.

And perhaps that's what separates Thorn-Clarke most of all from their competitors. In a time when quality is easier to come by then ever before and even great value can be found on almost any wine-vendor's shelves, respect in it's most sincere form is still rare enough to be extolled when we see it. Respect for the land, respect for the water, respect for the grapes and the winemaking process and, most of all, respect for you - the customer.

I hope you find value in my thoughts on these beautiful wines.

2011 "Terra Barossa" Shiraz-Cabernet-Petit VerdotThorn-Clarke 2011 Terra Barossa shiraz, cab, petit verdot

89+/90 points, $13+ USD, Great Value

... Expansive yet not expensive: this wine is rich with aromas of wild blueberries and Saskatoons, tomato leaf, warm earth, hints of vanilla, oak. On the palate is a perky acidity with fine, well integrated tannin and an intensity of flavors that well-matches the nose. Very good balance and structure, the length on the palate is also substantial for the price.
... When I smell and taste those darker berry flavors: blueberries, black currants, Saskatoons, I immediately think of venison! To me there's nothing that would pair better with this then a dish of venison stew/ragout with steamed new potatoes and fresh garden veggies. Although, I say that and then I savored the bottle over successive evenings and a ration of premium, hand-made, fresh peppercorn beef jerky from Hopcott farms, Pitt Meadows.

2012 Cabernet SauvignonThorn-Clarke 2012 Terra Barossa cab sauv

89+ points, $16+ USD, Great Value

... What I love about this wine is its ability to express young Cab: big, beautiful, pear-shaped tones of ripe red fruit, summer flowers, the backbone of pencil-shaving/minerality and the warmth of musk/forest aromas. The bouquet is inviting, the palate offering substantial yet well balanced acid and more of the trademark well-integrated tannin though these are more substantial then the previous blend. Great structure.
... Food pairings abound! A natural for beef dishes, this will also bring beauty to the meatier Italian dishes like a lamb bolognese but I found it light enough to serve with grilled panini for lunch. This is a terrific introduction to the "softer-side-of-Cab" and pairs well with Tuesday nights and a warm fireplace :)

 2010 Barossa "Quartage"Shotfire 2010 Barossa Quartage

Left Bank Bordeaux-styled blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot

91+ points, $18-$25 USD, EXCELLENT Value

... it's no secret that I love Bordeaux, but good Bordeaux is becoming out-of-reach for a writers salary. Top-tier Bordeaux is out-of-reach for most doctors and lawyers. But~! But there is great Bordeaux-style coming from all corners of the world and Australia is certainly a part of that wave. This wine is a personal favorite of mine and I have been constantly impressed vintage after vintage. For the money, this may be one of the best values in the North American market! Rich, nuanced dark floral aromas burst from the glass with violets and dark roses followed by black currants/black cherries/red raspberries. The palate is brisk with lean/focused young red currant acid, fine/chalky tannin and a concentration of flavors that well-mimic the nose and outperform the price-tag. Excellent balance, very good structure, this wine drinks well now and holds for several years but will not develop in bottle due to the Stelvin enclosure.
... Food pairings? Try cigar pairings! From Rocky Patel "Decade" to Montecristo, this wine is a cigar-lovers delight. If you must pair it with food, consider the price and then spoil yourself: this is a decadent treat for a Wednesday afternoon and gourmet pizza, capicollo panini or a simple steak frites... use great ingredients and let the beauty of this Barossa shine!

2010 Barossa Shirazshotfire 2010 barossa shiraz

90+ points, $15-$22 USD, Great Value

... first, a word on Shiraz if you're thinking right now "Oh - I don't like Aussie Shiraz, I only like French/Spanish/California/etc". In a recent blind tasting with a dozen highly skilled industry professionals, no one could tell which Shiraz out of ten bottles was from Australia. Well... I could tell one of them, but only because I was incredibly familiar with that particular winemaker and knew his "signature". But my point is that there is a new era in winemaking and what you tasted 10 years ago (or older) isn't necessarily what you will find today! I have shown colleagues time and time again that the "New Face" of Aussie Shiraz is a sophisticated, elegant one that merits attention.
... Harmonious. This wine achieves a delightful balance of dark floral aromas, dark exotic chocolate and warm earth tones. The palate is awash in fresh red berry flavors and achieves mouth-watering acidity yet in a balanced and approachable manner. Very good concentration of flavors that match the nose with that ever-present peppercorn finish, to me this is a great example of the modern Shiraz.It will keep well for several years in cellar but, once again, will not develop due to Stelvin enclosure. Enjoy it young with sea-salt and olive grilled lamb and an herbaceous quinoa-tabbouleh salad!

2010 "William Randell" Barossa ShirazIMG_1191

93+/94 points, $40-$50+ USD, WORLD CLASS

*97 points James Halliday
*in my TOP WINES, 2014
*minimum 1 hour decant or 2 runs through the aerator
... made from small, select lots and only in the best years, this is the essence of truly Great Barossa without the staggering price that some can fetch. That James Halliday of the Australian Wine Companion would bestow 97 points on this is enough for any reasonable person to ascertain that here-in lies beauty... created as an Ode to one of the patriarchs of the Clarke family, this wine offers the "Holy Trinity" of stunning: balance, structure and concentration.
... if you open this wine and find the aromas closed, just try decanting another 30 mins to an hour; it is impossible to over-decant this. To the eye this wine is so dark in it's bruised purple tones that it appears black in the glass. I was most struck by the plethora of floral aromas; the usual suspects of red and dark berries, dark cocoa, peppercorns and warm Barossa soil abound, but the lifted scents of violets, soft roses and irises is both feminine and tremendously alluring. On the palate, it presents tight, lean, well-focused red currant and young red raspberry acid that reminds one of Northern Rhone; tremendously fresh. The tannin is full, yet ultra fine/chalky/chewy and is delightfully approachable considering it's relative youth. The flavors are as full, and full of life and dimension, as the bouquet; a true craftsman's work. If you would drink this now (and it is utterly delightful now) I would highly encourage buying another few bottles to set aside. This wine will live and evolve for at least 15 more years with grace. Food pairing? Consider this dish I created for my Chef du Cuisine final project:
lamb, 3 ways               (sourced from Elliot Ranch, Strathmore, Alberta)
1. tenderloin (wrapped in duck pate and spinach) on braised chicory
2. two points of rack, baked in coarse salt with vanilla bean & fresh thyme, Hainle vineyards Gewurztraminer icewine poached Anjou pear, warm crab-apple compote
3. individual tortierre with braised shank and shoulder, charred heirloom tomato ketchup
the vineyards of Thorn-Clarke
the vineyards of Thorn-Clarke
Many thanks to Renaissance Wine Merchants (importer to Western Canada) and Thorn-Clarke Wines for the very generous sample bottles. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on:
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Monday, January 12, 2015

Juan Santos 12-year rum

Juan Santos Rum

One of the best evenings I had in 2014 was with the fine folks at the Vancouver Cigar Company as we shared a host of genuine Cuban cigars and a terribly fine bottle of Colombian rum courtesy of Juan Santos. Latin music drummed in the background and the machismo energy was on overdrive as we savored the world-class spirits, smokes and slick rides. It was impossible not to remember the year before and the massively brilliant evening shared by hundreds of cigar aficionados.

Simon Yang of Vancouver Cigar Company
Simon Yang of Vancouver Cigar Company
And it got me to thinking: there's an art to smoking great cigars! Notice my friend Simon Yang, customer service-extraordinaire at Van Cigar Co, and the way he lights this beautiful Cuban tobacco; the time he takes, the attention to detail... every bit as much an artisan as the inspired rum that comes from Juan Santos. I've long been a fan of their work and wanted this chance to share with you the why: why do I love the rum, why are they working so hard and why haven't you tried it yet?

But I can't do that.

It seems that, for all my research skills, I can't find any proof that the distillery for Juan Santos exists. Or, at least, that it exists in Colombia. I started wondering: "Why would the importer not want to link their website to the website of the distillery?" but it goes further than that... they won't even name the distillery, or the name of the family who theoretically own the business. Why would that be?

I know that the label Juan Santos has been created solely for the Western Canadian market and so, should you live outside of that, there is the very good chance that you will never try this rum. Or will you? It turns out that a colleague of mine who writes about rum prolifically was gifted a bottle of aged rum from Cuba. Now he ascertains that the company producing Juan Santos is Casa Santana and they claim to have started their company in Colombia in 1994 - having come from Cuba.

It's a good story and might very well be true and, yet, it immediately raises a red flag: how did a distillery started in 1994 start releasing a 21-year rum in 2012: 18 years later? And how did this colleague of mine, who was gifted the rum from Cuba, end up with a bottle that looked and tasted identical to Juan Santos? The Cuban distillery I speak of Ron Santero and they may very well be the producers of Juan Santos rum. Cuba does, after all, share a bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia.

Well enough of my "Conspiracy Theory"... at the end of the day all I know for certain is that an importer bringing beautiful rum to a population of 10,000,000 people (Western Canada) hasn't figured out that they need to share Who the producer is. As if, somehow, the Who and the Why aren't as important - or even more important - than the What. A shame... I'm betting money that there is a great story in this and one that I sincerely hope I get to share with all of you one day.

For today, I'll let the tasting notes stand on their own. Quality spirits, and quality cigars, are meant to be shared. Indeed, to me, that's where most of the pleasure comes from; seeing a friend, a brother, a colleague, your sister - try something truly special and savor the moment. Every time I've been to the Vancouver Cigar Company I have been wholeheartedly impressed with the consummate professionalism and the unquenchable enthusiasm these master tobacconists display. Their functions are memorable, as was the rum, and I hope I have the pleasure of bumping into you the next time I'm down there.

[cincopa AwFAMPsnrOGR]
the 90+ point Juan Santos 12-year
the 90+ point Juan Santos 12-year

Anejo 12 anos / aged (for) 12-year

89+ points on its own/90+ points with a dram of water: Very Good Value

... warm caramel and toffee pudding. Summer flowers growing in the garden - the aroma wafts through the kitchen window as you snooze on the couch. These are the kind of  inviting aromas that surge from the glass; a plethora of sweet-welcome, like the beautiful girl you dated in college. Slightly hot alcohol hiding beauty; the palate conveys strength and discipline: the (expected) caramel tones warm the tastebuds to open for mineral tones, hints of peach and apricot and the savory edge of Macadamia nut. Very well balanced, with good structure and medium+ length, this has just passed the realm of mixed drinks and entered the "land-of-rocks" because, really, we should only enjoy this just with a glass or "on-the-rocks" with an ice-cube if you must (a dram of water does a better job). For rum aficionados this is a must to show yet another dimension to artisanal rum.
the smiling faces of Van Cigar Co have kept customers returning for years
the smiling faces of Van Cigar Co have kept customers returning for years
And so what have I learnt through this? I admit, I was a little jealous of my friends and colleagues down at Van Cigar Co when they started talking about the Cuban cigars we were smoking. It seemed like for every cigar that was lit there was a story about "the last trip to Cuba" or "remember when that cigar-roller visited us a few months back?". I was so proud of the fine rum that I'ld brought but had no story to share. Maybe it shouldn't matter! Maybe I should be able to look beyond who made a product and where and just concentrate on the quality of what's in the bottle. Right?

But we human beings aren't like that; we aren't so analytical. In fact we're anything but. We make decisions impulsively and with our hearts. We yearn to hear a fantastic tale of a "David" slaying the mythic "Goliath"... without this human connection consumers are soon left cold and move on. This is a lesson that Van Cigar Co learnt a long time ago and is why, in a sea of non-smoking legislation, they not only survive but continue to thrive. My hope is that other businesses will learn from their success.

Many thanks to The Liber Group for the very generous sample bottle of Juan Santos and to (General Manager) Trevor of the Vancouver Cigar Company for their incredible hospitality. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on:
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