Friday, April 28, 2006

Tasting notes and some slang from down under

Just a reminder that I tend to not post wine tasting notes here anymore, instead I put them up on Cellartracker. I just added a note for 2002 Larrikin Shiraz (Barossa Valley, Australia). It's very yummy!

Here's are my notes from April. (Yikes, that's a lot of wine!)

Interestingly, the word larrikin is Aussie slang, and pops up on quite a few wines from down under. (For example, there's Mount Langi Ghiran Larrikin Shiraz ) Some info on the origin and meaning of larrikin is here. Oddly enough, it looks like larrikin means the same thing as tsotsi! :)

PS: Unrelated to wine, but an Aussie at work used the term flat stick today, in this context: "We have a couple of emergencies, so the team is flat stick at the moment". No, it's not a reference to ice hockey, here's info indicating it means "flat-out" or at full speed. I'll have to ask Michael Quinion what the origin is...

Sauvignon Blanc overrated?

Slate has this article on why Sauvignon Blanc is overrated.

Simply put, the grape is a dud, producing chirpy little wines wholly devoid of complexity and depth, the very qualities that make wine interesting and worth savoring.

What's with the poo-pooing of whole grape varieties in the USA? First it was Chardonnay that was "out", now Merlot seems to be in the firing line (seen "Sideways"?), and now Sauvignon Blanc? It should be about the taste of the wine, not whether the grape being used is currently in favour or not. (What next? Grape tabloids? "Did you see how fat Pinot Gris is getting? She's so over the hill!")

A little harsh, methinks. Sure, most Sauvignon Blancs are fresh, crisp and refreshing and do not have the "complexity" of heavier white wines (which are often oaked to hell and gone). But sometimes you want that - it's like having a nice refreshing salad instead of pate de foie gras. I think packing good flavour into a light, crisp white wine is as much an art as making a lush, opulent red. (But then I'm a yobbo that actually likes some heavily oaked Chardonnays every now and then)

I tend to drink mostly reds, but have had some good Sauv Blanc in the past, most recently a 2004 Southern Wright (from South Africa, of course). With the sunshine and warmer weather finally making themselves felt in Seattle, I'll no doubt be buying a drinking more white wine than red.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

[yellow tail] wine

The New York times on Sunday had two articles discussing the phenomena of Yellow Tail wine (which is printed [yellow tail] on their labels).
The first is this one, covering the topic of animals on wine labels.
The second is this detailed story of the rise of Casella Wines and the Yellow Tail brand, which is now one of the top-selling wines in the USA with 7.5 million cases sold in the US last year. Interestingly, only a tiny fraction (<2%) of their wine is sold in Australia.

* If you're needing a login to read NYT stuff, try / cypherpunk.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sad news

Sometimes you find sad news when browsing around the web...
I was looking around to see what the guys from the South African band Tananas are up to nowadays. I Googled one of the members, and came across this story about Gito Baloi from April 2004: South Africa music star shot dead. F u c k....

Here's a page in memory of him, and a bio page on Sheer Sound's website.

I'm lucky enough to have seen Gito play several times along with the other members of Tananas, the last time being the WOMAD festival in Marymoor Park here in Redmond, WA.

On the positive side, it looks like Steve Newman and Ian Herman are playing together again, with a new bassplayer (Mlungisi Gegana).

Tsotsi : 's good, 's good!

(My previous post about Tsotsi is here)

{A} and I finally got to see Tsotsi on Friday evening. The movie was great - I'd give it a 80% fresh rating on the All-Gold Tomatiesous Meter! I heartily recommend it and am very proud in a vicarious way. The picture it paints of life in gangsterism in South Africa is not flattering, but it shows a realistic slice of life for much of population.

There's some great language to tease your ears with (a little Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tsotsitaal, and maybe Sotho or Tsonga). It seemed to me that the writer/director deliberately tried to mix in as many Southern African languages as possible - and at times this seemed a little contrived.

The acting is pretty uniformly great. Presley Chweneyagae is amazing as the title character, and the other three actors playing his fellow gang members flesh out their roles nicely, so that you get a real feel for them each as individuals. The only weak links in the acting for me were the police

The kwaito soundtrack is very good and mostly performed by Zola who also plays a role in the film. (Some of the songs are harsh and challenging to listen to - not that I claim to understand most of the lyrics - but they add greatly to the mood.) The schmaltzier music at times became intrusive, especially towards the end of the film, but that's a small quibble.

I'd be very interested to know how well this film does within South Africa - I hope it connects with audiences there in a big way, although the melting-pot of languages used may mean that only literate audiences that can read subtitles will be able to appreciate it.

It was interesting to see that all of the victims of the gang's crime in the movie are black. I liked that the stereotypical view of crime in SA being perpetrated against white people was challenged. The film showed that there is a class of wealtyh black people in the country, and also highlighted that the target of petty crime is more often the people living and working in the townships. Still, avoiding having a white family targeted seemed a little contrived. (Would the movie have provoked a backlash of protest, or come across as racist if it had included crime targeted at a white family?)

On a side note, this was our first foray to the schwanky new cinemas at Lincoln Square, and I must say I like them. They serve Tully's coffee and good ice-cream, have cushy leather* seats that recline and have folding armrests. Sadly, the theatre was almost empty, but that meant we could pick great seats and enjoy the film without obnoxious neighbours.


* Prolly not real leather, but nice anyway.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Guess Hu's coming to dinner

Visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao had dinner on Tuesday nigth with Bill & Melinda Gates at their Medina home.

I wonder what Hu ended up choosing from this menu?

Thembi's AIDS Diary

There was a very moving segment on All Things Considered yesterday evening: an audio diary from a young South African woman who has AIDS.

Read about it and listen to the segment here.
Read an interview with her here.
Thembi will be travelling around the USA between now and May 4th. (Sadly Seattle is not on her tour list)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Pittsburgh visit

Here's a little bit about our trip a few weekends ago to Pittsburgh. {A} has already written a bit on her blog about "Operation Snow My Mum", in which we deceived her mom in a most sneaky way and got her on a plane to Pittsburgh without her knowing where she was going. (OK, she probably knew once she saw the tickets... But she didn't know for sure what was up until then.) Even when we pulled up at the airport she was still not sure whether we had meant to go there for dessert - our excuse for driving so far south after dinner at Firenze. The flight was a red-eye,connecting through Detroit. I had not fully appreciated why these things are called "red-eyes" until this trip - you definitely feel crusty and not too fresh when you step off a plane at 7:30am after 6 hours of travelling. Detroit airport is quite cool, by the way - defintely a nice option to transfer through. We were met at the airport by {J}, got our rental car, and headed out with him directing. (It's so nice having someone that knows their way around directing you - makes driving a snap, although I can't take any credit there since {A} did all the driving for this trip, and did a brilliant job!) The airport is about an hour outside of downtown Pittsburgh (I'll call it Pgh for short), and we drove through a mixture of rolling green hills, some with forests of spindly trees (no evergreens here). We passed a mixture of urban and suburban buildings right next to the highway, some of the houses abandoned and rather sad looking. {J} said you could snap one up for $15k!

The final approach to Pgh was a tunnel through Mount Washington (really more like a big hill, heh). You pop out the other side of the tunnel, and BOOM - there's Pittsburgh! Pretty cool... (There area LOT of bridges in Pgh - it makes Portland Oregon look tame) The rest of the morning is a bit of a blur - I remember walking around downtown and getting our first look at the Cathedral of Learning. This is a very cool-looking gothic building, and despite its church-like appearance, it was in fact built originally for academic use by the University of Pittsburgh. The inside is very grand (picture Hogwarts from Hatt Potter), and has a huge open commons room in the center of the ground floor. There are also the 27 Nationality Rooms - classrooms decorated to evoke various nations, such as Japan, England, etc. The rooms were closed when we were there, but we got a small look at them via peepholes :) We also stopped outside the museum of natural history and got this cool picture of the dinosaur statue outside. (We came back to the museum too close to closing the following day, so we never got to see the interior - something to definitely do next time!)

We grabbed some much-needed breakfast and caffeine at a nice diner close to the university. (I gorgot the name - {J} will have to refresh my memory). Despite the caffeine, by this point we were all almost falling asleep where we sat, so we headed off to {J}'s apartment for a snooze. {J} lives in a cute old brick apartment building. (In fact, most of the buildings in Pgh are brick - very different to the west coast). We walked up a few blocks to a little commercial area and had afternoon tea at a cute little place called Te Tea. Very friendly owners ({J} and his friends are regulars here, so we were treated like royalty...) {A} and I realized we don't know of a comparable tea place in Seattle (which is sad), so if anyone knows good tea places, let me know. (The criterion are (a) a nice, relaxed atmosphere and (b) a good selection of tea, including good black teas.) has an impressive list of places for us to try...

Anyway, back to Pittsburgh... We joined {J} and his Economics colleagues for a barbeque party that night, which was great fun - one of his friends is Jamaican and made some amazing-looking Jerk chicken. Our band of merry vegetarians headed off to a nearby Giant Eagle to buy some goodies, and I was really impressed with the store. ({J} says it used to be pretty sad, but was recently overhauled to compete with a Whole Foods that opened nearby.) The quality and selection of cold meat, fresh meat and fish was incredible - better than the Whole Foods we have near us...

The following day we headed down to The Strip - a district dominated by a long road full of cafes, delis, gift shops, street vendors, restaurants, ... The atmosphere was very lively and there were tons of people milling around enjoying the sunshine. A great little deli provided some breakfast, La Prima provided a great cappuccino. (You know you're in an area with a lot of Italians when you ehar the customers in the coffee bar speaking Italian and there are notices from the local consulate/embassy on the walls.) The most amazing place for me was definitely the Italian grocery store we visited: Pennsylvania Macaroni Company.

A sprawling layout of rooms with old beat-up wooden floors, each room filled with an incredibly array of goodies from Italy and elsewhere. A whole room was dedicated to cheese and cold meat, another room had huge vats of olive oil waiting to be tapped-off into your own bottle (or you could buy a cheap bottle there). Tons of great bread, pasta, sauces and convenience foods. The only thing missing was a selection of Italian wine. Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, it turns out, are even more strict/weird about alcohol sales than Washington state is. You can only buy wine and spirits in state liquour stores - no grocery is allowed to sell them. Some specialized beer stores are allowed to sell beer, but not wine of spirits. (There was one store we went into on the Strip that sold their own wine brands, but you had to buy $50 or more, and wait at least a few days for delivery).

The Italian grocery store did have one beverage that I ended up buying: Chinotto from San Peligrino. The bottle caught my eye for some reason, and I immediately thought of China Martini, an Italian amaro liqeuer that my uncle first introduced us to in South Africa. On the off-chance that this had a similar taste, I bought some. Indeed, this was amaro-flavoured soda! Yum! Now I just need to find some in Seattle. I'll check the Italian deli store in Pike Place - they are likely to be the best bet. (Anyone know of a larger, less snooty Italian grocery store in Seattle? Something more like Penn. Macaroni Company?)

Our return hike to the car took us past the Church Bew Works, so we had a late lunch here. As the name implies, this is a brewery inside an old church. They've kept the exterior unchanged, and made minimal changes to the interior too, so you sit at booths made from the old pews. The altar is now devoted (rightly, IMHO) to the production of beer, with huge shiny kettles serving as the focal point.

A great stained-glass window high in the opposite wall cast a colourful image onto the glass shielding the kettles... Their beers are yummy too, so if you like beer I'd definitely recommend coming here. (Nice food too...)
Sunday was mostly spent inside the Fipps Conservatory - a huge conservatory (that's a glass building with plants in it, fer dummies like me). They have an amazing collection of orchids, lillies, tropical fruit trees, a japanese garden with several bonsai, and a butterfly room. (The butterflies will mostly still about to hatch from their pupae). Really nice - it's a pity we left our camera in the car, but you can get a sense from these pics. (I hope they don't mind the link).

All too soon, we had to head back to the airport for our return trip. Pittsburgh was great fun, and much prettier than I had anticipated. It has a very different feel to other cities in the US I've been to (mostly on the west coast), and you definitely can see and feel the history all around you.

More pics here. (Note: You need to login as a friend/family to see all of them...)

Friday, April 07, 2006

The gospel of Judas

Judas: This is what really happened from the Mail & Guardian is interesting. The National Geographic Society unveiled the leather-bound Gospel of Judas Iscariot, supposedly written in AD 300.

I always thought it strange that Judas was villified by most Christians and that his name has been synonymous with neing a traitor, when he was supposedly helping with God's "great plan" for the salvation of mankind. It seems someone had to turn Jesus in, and Judas was the lucky one to get to do it. (I wonder why God didn't just have the Roman soldiers find Jesus by accident, or have Jesus hand himself over? hmm...)

I've recently gotten re-interested in the Gnostic gospels after reading some interesting quotes from the Gospel of Thomas in a great little book of aphorisms. (The World in a Phrase, by James Geary) There are some real gems in this book, and it gives a really interesting sampling of various philosophies over the ages, with little biographies and anecdotes about the various philosphers, authors, and wits that created the selected aphorisms.

As a result of reading this book, I have a few books about the Gnostic bible from the local library waiting for me to read them...

PS: The Dead Sea Scrolls will be in Seattle later this year. Does one go despite the high liklihood of encountering freaky religious nuts? Hopefully the freaky history nuts will outnumber them... :)

Update: 4/10: Slate has a story on the manuscript's history:

After it was found—the official story is that this happened in the 1970s, but it was probably much earlier—shadowy figures in the black-market antiquities trade took the text to Europe and kept it out of public view. The reason for their secrecy was not theology, but greed. The sorry tale is a narrative of venal irresponsibility.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Decoding the cherry nose

Reading and decoding wine reviews can be tricky or just downright amusing. Take some of these for example:
  • This is a sultry, sensual wine with a huge palate presence of smoked meat and spice. Velvety red fruits literally spill from its sides.
  • ...thick with flavour yet chocked with interest, the plummy, meaty, peppery drive aided by gorgeous flourishes of tar, sap, violets and reduced pan juices. The tannin make-up is exemplary, as is the cedary, suave, quality oak. Is it bitter on the finish? Yes, but in a sophisticated way.
This audio segment from NPR's Weekend Edition tackles this topic: has what looks like a comprehensive glossary of wine-tasting terminology. Now to write a review that would put Parker to shame! :)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Indian Recipe: Spinach and mixed vegetable curry

So, I was a little confused when I wrote a few days ago about the new wine blogging event. Of course, only the host gets to decide what the food/recipe is, and everyone else is meant to then make the recipe and suggest wine pairings.
The first event is live here...

But, I'm going to stick to my guns and post an Indian recipe and then post later about the wines we drink on Sunday... Here's a recipe from Ramola Parbhoo's Indian Cookery for South Africa:

Bhaji Nu Sakh : Spinach and mixed vegetable curry
400 g spinach, washed & finely chopped (fresh is better than frozen)
2 large onions, chopped finely
250 ml (1 cup) frozen mixed veggies (I like a mix with some frozen lima or soy beans in it)
4 potatoes, diced (waxy ones work best)
15 ml (1 T) dhunia-jeero (corriander-cumin powder)
2 ml (1/2 t) salt
10 ml (2 t) sugar
5 ml (1 t) green masala (green chili, ginger, oil and salt blended together)
For the Vagaar:
125 ml oil
5 ml (1 t) jeero (cumin seeds)
2 ml (1/2 t) rai (mustard seeds)

In a large dish, mix the chopped spinach, onions, mixed veggies, potatoes, salt, sugar, and spices. Toss well.
Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the cumin and mustard seeds and brown for 10 seconds. Add the vegegtable mixture. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes on low heat or until the vegetables are cooked.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Wine for Men that enjoy being Men

Ready for some wine that'll put hair on your chest and strip the grease off your intake valves? Ray's Station has started a wine advertising campaign targeting men explicitly. Gems from the BBC news story:

  • No white wines - they're for the ladies only, apparently. (I guess that goes for rosé too)
  • No pinot noir - it's too light and delicate.

The BBC story mentions wines from other countries that use "silly names" to attract customers, including "Goats do Roam" from South Africa. An earlier news story talked about how wine that uses animals on the label sell better than wines without.

My prediction is that soon we'll see techy geek wines and anime-themed wines to appeal to Microsofties. How about some Chardonnay Champloo or Parity Error Pinotage?

New wine blogging event

Andrew Barrow over at Spittoon has suggested a monthly blogging event to complement events like Wine Blogging Wednesday. Briefly, his idea is to get people to try combining food and wine and blog about the results. More info in his post here.

The idea sounds like a fun way to explore new food recipes and possibly new wine, or just be more adventurous about pairing wine and food. Seeing as I'm doing an Indian food & movie nigh next weekend, I think I'll take the opportunity to try doing a post about pairing Indian food with wine. I have a few off-dry wines in mind, I'll let you know it goes in a few weeks.

I'll post a recipe from my South African Indian recipe book on the 4th...