Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Robert Parker on SA Wine

It's not very often that Robert Parker waxes lyrical about South African wine, so this comment from him on a bulletin board was cool to see:

"Fabulous South African wine-ANWILKA
Funny to me commenting on this wine after tasting 225+ rather astonishing 2005 Bordeaux this week,but this is the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa.... a partnership of Bruno Prats,Hubert de Bouard,and the Klein Constantia folks.This debut release, the 2005,a blend of 37% syrah and the balance cabernet sauvignon, is world class one might expect from the people behind it.... the first release... there are 42,000 bottles from their vineyards in Stellenbosch,and it is priced to sell for about $40-45 in the USA...release is imminent.... exceptional wine...."

It's interesting that only 10% will be sold in South Africa (for around $30 a bottle, compared to around $40 in the US). The 90% destined for the international market is being sold via the Bordeaux negociants - that must add a bit to the cost? (Does that mean the wine also gets shipped via France?)

Oh yeah... Take that Jeremy Clarkson! :P

Garagiste are offering this wine, and I'm tempted to try some, but will have to wait a while since I already have a heavily overloaded wine fridge. If you try some, let me know how it is.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Everyone's Irish today! Some Slate pics...
Which makes me think of Irish Coffee. It turns out there's a small controversy over where it originated. Maybe not in Ireland as
this Wikipedia page states lore would have it, but in America at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco.

Wherever it was invented, it's yummy. I remember my folks making them at home for guests at dinner parties in the late 70's and early 80's, but they seem to have gone out of fashion a little. When was the last time you saw an Irish coffee on a restaurant menu? And for that matter, why is there a dearth of
Dom Pedro's on American menus? :)


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fun with Pandora

Thanks to Carrie, I've discovered Pandora - a fun way to discover new music. It tries to learn what sorts of music you like based on artists and songs you add your "radio station". You can then vote for similar songs that Pandora picks, and it will include your feedback in future music.

It reminds me a bit of MusicPlasma (now LivePlasma), except that Pandora streams the music to you for free, instead of just showing you related bands and letting you browse for albums. Both have slick UI designs, with Pandora's being a nice alternative to the standard web page/tab sheets/popups design - very appealing and easy to use. Vista's new Start menu uses a similar approach, but is not as fluid.

If you want to listen to some of the stuff I like, here's a station I've built. (Click to listen in your browser)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Happy Pi Day!

Today is 3.14, so of course it's also International Pi Day! How often do you get to celebrate something that is both transcendental and irrational? "What's pi?" you ask?

PS: In the USA today is also National Potato Chip Day!

Some South African wine news

The good: South African wine estate Vergelegen wins the "New World Winery of the Year" accolade from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

The bad: Recent power outages in the Western Cape have jeopardized the production of wine this year, especially white wines that need careful temperature control. (Stormhoek mention the power outages here too.)

The ugly: Many people don't like SA wine, especially the home-grown varietal Pinotage, saying they taste green and unripe. Stormhoek claim to have made some "world-class Pinotage" that doesn't have this problem, so I'll have to see if/when it is available here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

25/$25 Dinner @ Brasa

Dinner here on Sunday was good, but not stellar. It was clear that the portion for the 25/$25 promotion are scaled-down from their regular menu - generally I don't mind, as long as I feel I'm still getting good value. At time, Brasa felt like they were pushing their luck...

Inside, Brasa is warmly decorated with booths along the outside wall, an open kitchen, and lots of dark colours. The overall ambience is fairly posh, but inviting and intimidating. For some reason our table had no table-cloth, which I thought was a bit tacky. Some tables are wood, and lookd OK without a cloth; ours wasn't wood.

Service generally was excellent. SLightly irritating was that they left 4 or 5 empty wine glasses on the table until quite late in the meal. I was even served a glass of wine which was put down right next to an empty glass for my setting... A waiter brought out appetizers and gave them to the wrong diner, which is not something you expect in a fancy place like this...

Food-wise, everything I tasted was good to very good. We were served really nice crunchy bread with very fruity olive oil to use for dipping. The 25/$25 menu works like this: you get to pick any starter and main course on the main menu that is marked (with a cute piggy icon). So the choice is very good compared to the average 25/$25 restaurant which usually offer 3 options for each course.

I had the Mediterranean mussels, and then poached black cod. The mussels were very small, and I think I had all of 8 in my bowl, but they were very tasty! Alyssum had a really interesting tomato and orange soup, followed by good wild mushroom risotto. (The presentation for her risotto was a bit sad). Others had the strip steak (which looked very good and was the most generous portion served at our table). One of us ordered the carpaccio for a starter, and finished it in 3 bites, again a victim of the tiny portions.

For dessert I was disappointed to see there were only 2 options for 25/$25 diners, both quite similar: a mascarpone cheesecake with pistacchio crust, or frozen lemon mousse. Waah! No cheese option. (There is an impressive-looking cheese selection when you walk into the restaurant - reserved for higher-paying guests, no doubt).

I had a great glass of white wine: billed on the wine list as Big House White 2003 Ca' Del Solo. I thought this might be Spanish, but Googling it now I see it actually Boony Doon Ca' del Solo from California. (2004 vintage info here). The 2003 was nice and refreshing, with a mineral tang, good acids and a firm but smooth finish. The wine list is very good, with a nice wine-by-the-glass selection, some interesting Spanish wines, and a "Cliff Notes" section with several wines around $30.

Overall, this was worth the money and I'd recommend trying Brasa during the 25/$25 promotion. Assuming the portions are normal-size when you pay full price, they're worth checking out outside the promotion too, although this is on the more expensive end ($15-ish for starters, $30 for mains, $10 for dessert)

"The greatest match ever played"

Normally, 300+ runs in a limited-overs cricket match is a decent score. A score in the high 300's would be unasssailable...

Before Sunday, no side had ever scored more than 400 in a one-day international, but Australia managed to hit 434 / 4. South Africa still managed to beat them, though! With one ball to spare, SA hit 438 / 9.

Unfortunately I didn't get to watch this match, although it looks like they'l be making a DVD of it. IOL have a nice summary of the match here.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Jeremy Clarkson on South African wine

You know him - he's on Top Gear. He's sometimes irrititating, but always entertaining.
Well, he was lucky enough to be invited to South Africa on Jaguar's tab.,,12529-2068235_1,00.html has his impressions on the country, the wine, and the Jaguar XK. (Read the article, it's fun)

Now Stormhoek has an open invitiation for him to visit their winery, so that they can show him some smaller stainless steel tanks and explain the difference between pressure guages and temperature guages.

Perhaps they can get the Stig to drive a fully-laden minibus around the Top Gear racetrack in return?

New music releases

There have been some interesting new CDs released in the past few weeks:
  • William Orbit - "Hello Waveforms" - his first album in 5 years or so. After a few listenings, I quite like it but find it a little too spaced-out and mellow. It's follows in the same veign as "Pieces in a Modern Style", although there are some vocal tracks. I still prefer Strange Cargo 3 and Hinterland. Good news is that he is supposedly releasinganother album later this year.
  • Beth Orton - "Comfort of Strangers". I love her voice, but it took some getting used to. No review of the album yet - I need to listen to it more.
  • Bic Runga - "Birds". An incredible singer/songwriter from NZ. Instead of an Amazon link, the link on the left is to the HMV site in Aus, where you can order a special edition which includes 5 live tracks. Neil Finn plays piano on the live songs and plays on the album. I've just ordered this, so no review yet.

Monday, March 06, 2006

25/$25 Dinner @ Yarrow Bay Grill

Worth $25? Hells yeah!

Yum! This place is consistently excellent - this was our 2nd visit for dinner during the Twenty-Five for $25 promotion, and as before, everything was superb.

The restaurant has a great location, right on Lake Washington with a wonderful view. It's definitely a posh place, normally too expensive for me to visit except for special occasions. The Beach Cafe downstairs is a nice choice if you want a less formal meal. The service was very good, right from the moment we walked in. The maitre d' made welcomed us promptly, offered to take our coats and ushered us to our table. Our waitress was great - friendly and prompt, but not intrusive or trying too hard to be friendly.

(At one place that shall remain nameless the waitress thinks it's a good idea to grab your shoulder or praise you for each order as if you're in kindergarten and just ate all your peas!)

I had:

  • Seven-spice calamari. Served with a scallion aioli and spicy soy dipping sauce.
  • Sole fillets with broccolini, mashed potatoes and crispy fried onions.
  • Cheese platter (Penazul, St. Andre, La Leyenda)

Alyssum had:

  • Bibb lettuce salad
  • Jalapeno and cilantro ravioli
  • Meyer lemon meringue

All the food was delicious. My calamari was crispy on the outside, not oily, and tender on the inside. The aioli was minimally spread under the calamari, but added a nice rich flavour, and the dipping sauce was the perfect counterpoint. The sole fillets were nice and thick, firm and tasty. Excellent mash and broccolini, and the crunchy onions not only made a nice garnish, they tasted good too. The cheese plate was incredibly good - the three cheeses were at the perfect stage of ripeness, just the right temperature, and served with a yummy dried fruit preserve and almonds. My only small peeve was that the waitress didn't clue me in to which cheese was which.

For future referrence:

  • Penazul: Spanish blue cheese. Buttery, sharp and tangy.
  • St. Andre: French triple-creme soft cheese. Rich, mild, but more flavour than brie or camembert.
  • La Leyenda: Firm Spanish sheep's mild cheese aged for one year (rubbed with oil and herbs) and then soaked in solera brandy for 4-5 days. Nutty and crumbly.

Alyssum was also very happy with her food. (She usually gets stuck with no real option at these dinners, being a vegeterian). Her salad was very simple, just really fresh good lettuce, good blue cheese crumbled on top, and a nice dressing. Still, getting something this simple right is an art. Her ravioli was very tasty - a nice creamy sauce and good flavour from the peppers without the heat. Her dessert was very good - meringue that was crunchy on the oustide but not overdone and powdery inside, nice lemon curd, and an interesting pastry with poppy seeds top. The cream was a little unneccessary, but that's a small niggle.

Tsotsi is a winner!

Woohoo! Tsotsi won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last night! (My previous post on the movie is here.) Congrats to the director, actors, crew and all involved!

Jurgen Fauth & Marcy Demansky make a valid point:
"The award is well-deserved, but we're disappointed with the Academy for seriously shortchanging the category.The nominated world films--Paradise Now, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, Joyeux Noel, Don't Tell, in addition to the winner--were listed with a notable lack of enthusiasm by Will Smith without so much as a clip of the films while their posters scrolled by in the background. Even animated shorts and sound editing got a montage--and Sophie Scholl's Julia Jentsch flew in from Berlin without getting shown in the broadcast once."

Anyway, I hope this means that Tsotsi will now be shown by a Seattle cinema or two.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Term-o-the-day: Conspicuous Consumption

Since I finished reading "The Undercover Economist", I've moved on to "A History Of The World In Six Glasses". So far it is excellent, and it introduced me to new term: conspicuous consumption. I love it! I perfectly describes so many things you see in modern life... From designed clothes, flashy cars, palatial homes, to snobby wine collectors and Whole Foods addicts. (Myself included)

If it's new to you too, Wikipedia has a good overview of the term here, and a related topic: Veblen goods.

Speaking of wine, I encountered term in the chapter of "Six Glasses" dealing with this drink. I didn't really appreciate how much ancient Greek and Roman attitudes to wine have influenced our modern views - very interesting!

Wine snobbery abounds nowadays... And since reading the two books above, I'm beginning to feel that I need to push back.

I've been on a"rare wine" mailing list for a while now, and have bought a fair amount from them. Their wine blurbs often make amusing reading, being laden with "wine speak", pretentious descriptions, insider references to other snooty wines (e.g. "the poor man’s Clos de Pape or a more rugged Vieux Donjon"), and frequent spelling mistakes (that ruin the snooty image they're trying to create!)

There are obviously many factors in determining wine prices, e.g. prices for California wines. Supply and demand, cost of production, etc. But it seems a large part is also the perceived snob value of the wine - People think: "If it is expensive, then it must be better, and it also will impress people more, so I'll buy it." In most cases I'm sure people wouldn't be able to tell their $100+ wine from a $15 or cheaper one.