Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday, September 3, 2010

An Unusually Explosive Ribera del Duero

El Arte de Vivir, Ribera del Duero
One of my favorite reds for the last year has been El Arte de Vivir, a gorgeous, smooth Ribera del Duero with blood orange, Ranier cherry and dark chocolate notes that just hit the spot every time for a fantastic price. I'd been looking forward to this bottle (a 2008) for a few weeks now, but I was having troubling finding a good time to open it.

Well, I got my chance tonight. I rinsed a wine glass, fished my corkscrew out of a drawer of kitchen utensils, and dug it into the cork. All very status quo.

Well, it was all going normally until I began to pull the cork out. It broke in half, and the remaining half was buried deep inside the neck. I gave the corkscrew another shot, and came up with nothing more than a few splinters.

Now, my home corkscrew is the kind that Dave loathes, the kind with the wings that fly up as you turn the screw in, so it's reach was too short to get to the last bit of cork stuck deep, deep in the bottle neck. I searched my drawer for the little skinny kind that would allow me to reach in deep, but then I remembered that corkscrew actually lives in my desk at work.


So I did the only thing I could think of: I pushed it in with a steak knife.

If you've been around wine for a long time, you can probably guess what happened next. This beautiful Spanish red erupted like a volcano, leaving both me and my white kitchen cabinets soaked.

I ran to the bathroom to wipe it off my face, and when I caught a glimpse of my wine-soaked face in the mirror, there was nothing to do but laugh!

So I probably lost some juice to the explosion, a little more when the bottle fell over onto the stove top, and it has the mutilated remains of a bad cork floating in it, but my face and the kitchen both have been wiped down and the wine tastes none the worse for all the drama.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

China: 1 Billion Wine Noobs

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit China in May for an international business field study. While in Beijing, it just so happened that our itinerary included a visit with Carl Crook of Montrose China. our group was ushered into a conference room stuffed full of wine bottles, and I knew it would be my favorite company visit of the trip.

Unfortunately, since it was an official university visit, we didn't get to sample the product, but there were many interesting insights about the wine culture developing right now in China. Traditional western wines are a fairly new concept in China, and Chinese palates have thus far shown a preference for ice wine above all else. I think of this being a lot like high school kids who cut their teeth on wine coolers and Boone's Farm, cheap, sugary drinks which are more like Kool-Aid for adults. Ice wine certainly has its place, but it's still a dessert wine and "sweet" seems to be a common point of entry across cultures. Give them time to refine their tastes and they will become a powerful wine market.

A day or two later we spent an afternoon at 798, Beijing's trendy art district. The bus dropped us off, leaving us to explore the galleries and shops, and the skies promptly let loose with a torrential downpour. When it showed no signs of letting up anytime soon, a handful of us ducked into a wine bar whose name now escapes me (and Google is not being helpful, boo!) This place was definitely more of a western-style wine bar, with the standard array of reds and whites subcategorized by country of origin, though I didn't recognize much of anything on the list. At the next table, a couple of Chinese hipster photographers were doing a food shoot, I'm guessing for the wine bar's menu. Despite the language barrier, I was able to recruit them to take a photo of us with my D80.

Being the resident wine expert of the group (hah, imagine that!) it largely fell to me to pick something, and with the waiter's help I settled on a bottle of something red, I think it may have been a zinfandel. It was alright, nothing to write home about, but not terrible and definitely a nice way to wait out a Beijing rainstorm.

On our last night in Beijing we took the bus over to the bar district near Houhai and found a hipster restaurant, painted all in white. There was another photo shoot, this time on couches with models, happening next to our table. Again, we had a wine list. This one was smaller but of better quality than the one at the wine bar in 798 and I chose a glass of something red - again I have no recollection of what it was, but it was something I actually recognized and was impressed by. After dinner we stumbled across a tiny bar called The Awesomeness Bar, which was hidden away in a fairly dark alley off the street. We were the only customers, but it was, well, kinda awesome. The walls were covered with vintage board games and other hipster accouterments, the seating was a maze of mismatched plush sofas and chairs, and the music was classic jazz featuring the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. When we walked in, one of the bartenders was shopping for bartending books on Amazon. Ha! No wine here, but delicious and expensive mixed drinks? Absolutely. Anyone looking for a chill place to drink with friends in Beijing should make it their mission to find the Awesomeness Bar.

Overall, my experience with ordering wine in China underscored Carl Crook's point about western-style wine appreciation being something that's just catching on among China's upper middle class. If we found it, it was in trendy hipster bars and restaurants.

In a historical context, it makes some sense. During the Cultural Revolution there definitely would not have been a place for wine. It probably would have been actively sought out for eradication, being either too intellectual (which was bad) or too foreign (which was also bad). It's only when the country reopened to the West in the early 1980s that it would have slowly begun to find its way back in. They're learning it from scratch, and today upper middle class aficionados in China use wine knowledge to gain prestige amongst their peers.

Who would have ever thought I would find a place where I'm considered an expert?

Interestingly, the whole experience of meeting Carl Crook and finding decent wine in Beijing led to my thesis topic, Chinese e-commerce. It doesn't focus on wine, per se, but uses Montrose Beijing's as an example when discussing how to best approach the Chinese market online.