Saturday, 28 July 2012

Tartar Build-up...

Today, I had the joy of visiting the dentist for the first time in several years.  I'm happy to report that overall, the check-up revealed that my teeth are in good condition for someone who is (and I use the dentists' words exactly) "young and healthy like yourself." Of course, no visit is perfect so one thing I must focus on is softer toothbrushes in order to have a better handle at my receding gumline. All in all, not that bad as better brushing can reverse receding gums; no amount of hair care can reverse the effects of a receding hairline. I'll take my ultra-soft toothbrush with pride, thank you.

Another thing that came up was the amount of tartar build-up that has accumulated since my last visit 3 - 4 years ago (most likely 5, but I didn't say that). One hour of polishing, scraping, and spitting and only my bottom teeth (with junior-high-aged retainer still in place) are now squeeky clean. Litterally squeeky clean as the hygenist demonstrated smoothed-out teeth (no squeeky sound) versus not-yet cleaned teeth (a mini nail-on-chalkboard sound) with her picks and drills. 

As I lay in the chair going over the rest of the day's plans (visit with friends, grocery shopping, gardening), an inspired meal from the heavens descended upon me. (In hindsight, it was likely more the shine of the dentist's lamp than heavenly beams that blinded me at the time of inspiration). If my teeth have that much tartar build-up, why not treat my teeth to a totally tartar dinner?

First, the tartar meat. As I am hesitant to prepare and serve myself completely raw red meat, I opted for fresh albacore tuna steak. The marinade was a combo of what to me would naturally go with tuna (Japanese ingredients: soy, salt, sesame oil) and my mojito of the moment (lime, sugar, rum), with a bit of ground ginger in honour of my slight growth of gingivitis (sp?). Marinade 1 hour, grill to sear outer edges and serve.

Next, the sauce for my tuna tartar could only be homemade tartare sauce, right? Tartare sauce is essentially mayonnaise flavoured with fresh dill, parsely, and chopped cornichons. Store-bought mayonnaise pales in comparison with homemade, and making your own mayonnaise is so easy: 1 egg yolk for 1/2 cup olive oil and 1 tbsp lemon juice (vinegar or lime juice also good), with some salt for flavour. Whisk gradually and voi-la! You'll never buy Hellman's again!

Serve tartare sauce over cubed tuna tartar with rice and kale (which was stir-fried in the leftover marinade), and you have a dish perfect to celebrate your tartar-free teeth with! The perfect wine-pair for this meal was a Cab-Franc rose from BC's own Tinhorn Creek, but any dry rose would do fine.

When enjoying this tartar-inspired meal, don't forget to say "aah!"

Friday, 27 July 2012

Atop the Wine Podium...

With the start of the Olympics this weekend, you may reflect on what it takes for a wine to be granted a Gold, Silver, or Bronze medal in any given wine competition. Or what more, how does a wine achieve a score such as 92 points (of 100) or 18.5 (of 20)? How can a $20 wine score higher than a $70 wine? While the worlds of wine and sport may appear to be different, parallel bars do exist between judging sport and wine.
As we all know, wine is enjoyed by everyone on a subjective matter, so there is nothing in the absolute terms as the best wine as we would see a fastest runner, highest jumper, or strongest weightlifter. Instead, like judges of gymnastics or synchronised swimming, wine judges are trained to be able to discern the fundamental elements of the wine before them and rate accordingly. Formal wine tasting is divided into appearance, nose, palate, and conclusions. Points are assigned in each category. With regards to conclusions, for example, the acronym B.L.I.C.E. is a good way to determine a wine's overall rating: Balance (are all the parts in harmony?); Length(how long do the flavours last?); Intensity (how well can you detect the flavours?); Complexity (how many flavours are going on?); Expression (is the wine indicative of the grape(s) and region?). Score well on each of these elements and your wine may be in the running for a gold medal.

As above, however, how can a much less expensive wine score significantly higher than a much more expensive wine? An explanation for this can be found in such sports as boxing or wrestling. No one expects a featherweight to be able to take on a heavyweight, so a $15 bottle of wine is not expected to outclass a $50. As such, each price range can be related to a weightclass; gold medal winners show the best for their respective range. Likewise, as distances have separate competitions on the track, different categories exist for each varietal or blend. In this way, Rieslings will be judged on their own merit and not against a grape of completely different style, like Chardonnay.

The fun thing with my training and occupation is that I can play the role of Wine judge on a daily basis. On average, about 10 wines will pass my palate and I get to decide (along with my peers) which wines pass the test and get listed. My own Olympic tasting record is 100 wines (exactly) in one day. Like a marathon, it took lots of training and pacing in order to achieve not only the goal of getting through the wines but also to taste and judge effectively. Of that group, only a dozen or so reached the heights of gold with a few silvers and bronzes; most were eliminated in the qualifying heats.

I'm certainly not the Olympic athelete in the family (that's my cousin - as my Mum pointed out, I'm the smart one), but I could always represent as an Olympic wine judge. A tough job, but someone has to do it. Wh


Thursday, 19 July 2012

When Everything Old World is New Again...


In the world of wine, the term "Old World" refers to wines from Europe and "New World" refers to everywhere else (Canada, Australia, Chile, South Africa...). As with our societies, grapes made their way from their homelands in Europe to the vineyards of the New World. In turn, the grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling are the standards of fine wine in both Worlds, likewise are winemaking styles such as Port and Sherry.

Yet beyond the borders of France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal, some regions winemaking traditions that predate most of what we consider "Old." Modern countries such as Greece, Turkey, and the Republic of Georgia have centuries of traditional wine styles using a host of indigenous grapes that rarely leave their homelands. Little-known grapes like Agiorgitiko (Greece), Bogazkere (Turkey), and Saperavi (Georgia) are consumed locally but are also capable of producing red wines of a quality that can rival "classic" regions of Europe.

Within this "Ancient World" of wine producers are also countries who are new to the modern wine world but have a wine culture that dates back centuries. Holy Land countries like Israel and Lebanon are home to some of today's best labels and wine styles. Chateau Musar of Lebanon is famous for its unique Bordeaux-inspired red blends. Israel has also gained an international reputation for quality wines, with or without Kosher designation. In both these cases, "Old World" grapes have made their way to Ancient lands that produced wine long before Europe had its first vines.

While I have yet to visit the wineries in this part of the world (and I stress "yet" - a wine tour of Georgia would be fun!), these wines are are very food friendly and are the perfect match for ethnic dishes of the same area. Roasting an herb crusted lamb? I did last week and had an Agiorgitiko (the "g" is pronounced like a "y" - yes, it's all Greek to me too). Want to revisit the multi-cultural mezze I made a few weeks back? A Calkarasi/Bogazkere blend from Turkey is a perfect Pinot Noir substitute. Caviar on crackers? Well, maybe a bit too rich for my blood, but Rkatsitali-whites are surprisingly great sushi wines.

It's just a summary of a long overlooked wine region of the world, but remember that every wine journey begins with a single sip.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A Libation for the Nation

If you happened upon my store last Friday, you may have had the chance to sample a caipirinha. Made with lime, sugar, and a rum-like spirit called cachaca, the caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil and is cosumed everywhere by most everyone. This led me to think if Brazil has its caipirinha, Chile its pisco sour, and Cuba its mojito, as Canadians this Canada Day, what would be our national libation? If we were to go Rio, would we pour the Brazilians a Tim Horton's double double?
The first libation that comes to mind that has intenational recognition is, without a doubt, our icewines. Consistently cold winters, strict regulations, and quality grapes such as Riesling or Vidal make the icewines of BC and Ontario our "signature wine." Amazing as these wines are, how many of us as Canadians have icewine on a regular basis? Furthermore, dry table wines from Chardonnay to Shiraz have won international competitions, but we've yet to highlight a single varietal as our "national wine."

Despite the successes of our wine industry, beer remains the overall libation of choice across the country. However, with the growth of the craft brew culture, gone are the days when 2 - 3 domestic brands dominated our market. Instead, we now have a plethora of styles and flavours produced in small batches suited to the local markets. For example, we here in BC love our beer hoppy, so IPAs and ESBs are the dominant style. Further east, a pale ale suits the palate fine. Not to mention the great seasonal variety of summery hefeweizens and wintery spiced ales and everything in between makes it difficult to pick just one style of beer reflecive of the Canadian palate.

Speaking of regionality, the choice of favoured spirit also changes from province to province. The vast fields of the Prairies make rye whiskies the prerred drink in Alberta and Saskatchewan. On the other hand, trade routes dating back centuries have resulted in rum being the top spirit in Newfoundland.

In the end, as unifying as a caiprinha may be for Brazilians, I think the lack of one "libation for the nation" celebrates the diversity of our Canadian community. From pyroghies to poutine, this July 1st, raise a glass to Canada's National Libation: whatever it is you choose!