Sunday, March 30, 2014

Montezuma's Revenge - Silly Me

I'm thinking that this post is going to be short finish - and more of a pictorial visit - to our last days in Mexico City. The primary reason is that I spent a good portion of our final two days in bed.

Silly me. Anyone and everyone who has visited or intends to visit Mexico knows not to drink the water. And, believe me, I didn't except for the filtered water at our host, Mexican Lou's, home or bottled water (after checking that the cap was intact). Regardless of all the care taken, I still got hit by a wicked round of Montezuma's Revenge. Bad enough that Boo (an ICU nurse in real life) was worried that we wouldn't be allowed to get on our scheduled flight home if my fever didn't break.

Naturally, I started feeling poorly on the one day that Lou had taken off so that he could play tour guide during the day. We were strolling through his Condesa neighbourhood - taking in all the art deco buildings and local parks - on our way to a local market when I needed to beg off on the tour and beeline home.

It was only about twenty hours later that I felt remotely well enough to get out of bed and try a bit of a last wander around the neighbourhood. Thinking back, I concluded the only thing I ate or drank that might have caused the problem was some guacamole I had while at the Teotihuacan pyramids. The "authentic" lunch we ate there featured a guacamole that was more like salsa. How else would you make a watery guacamole but with water? Perhaps it was just a little too authentic. I should have known better, but the guac did taste good.

Not that good enough to give up two days of wining and dining though.

Accordingly, we played it pretty close to home for the balance of our stay. Choosing to forego the rooftop cocktails on the local hotel hotspot, I did manage a couple shrimp and chile relleno tacos. We'd noticed this seafood taco stand/restaurant down the block from Mexican Lou's place the night we'd arrived but we kept delaying a visit as there was always a lengthy line-up. Since it was our last day in town, we realized it was now or never; so, we took our place in line. After all, it must have been darned tasty food if there's a perpetual queue. Our wait turned out to be about a half-hour but we both admitted that these were tasty tacos - especially since it was the first substantive food I'd tried in a couple of days.

We had to get up in the middle of the night to catch an ungodly 3.30 a.m. cab to the airport. So, we faced a decision of staying up all night or catching a bit of shut-eye before our wake-up call. We chose the latter - but only because I was still a bit under the weather. Really. (OK, who am I kidding? We likely would have taken the nap in any event.) So that left us one last evening - albeit a tame and shortened one - with Mexican Lou. I may have only been up to chicken soup for dinner but I was game for one last cocktail in our Mexican Manhattan enclave. It was then that I realized that I hadn't had a margarita yet. I couldn't leave Mexico without at least one margarita under my belt.

I just prayed that the ice wouldn't exacerbate the Revenge. Or the flight home.

Chalk one up for the margarita. It marked an end to our three country whirlwind tour. We might not have added a bottle of wine to The List in a couple of days but I think we did a pretty good job over these last two weeks.

Now to dry out for a bit - both from the steady diet of cocktails AND the Montezuma's Revenge.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Teotihuacán - Pyramids of the Sun and Moon

Our visit to Mexico City was different from most vacations in that we didn't really have a game plan - not even a list of places that we wanted to definitely visit - except for ensuring that we took in the old ruins and pyramids outside the city. With our bud, Mexican Lou's, assistance we figured out our timing and a tour and this was the day. 

As is wont with taking a group tour, there were a few stops along the way - even if you were really only interested in the main event. The old Aztec site, Tlatelolco, and the Plaza de las Tres Culturas - right in Mexico City - was our first stop. A quick history lesson, some Mexican tour guide humour and a church built on the ruins. Not exactly a tour highlight. 

Next up was the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe - the most visited Marian shrine in the world (shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary). I knew this was one of our scheduled stops and it didn't really appeal much to me beforehand; however, I will admit that the church (churches), the plaza and the gorgeous gardens and old chapels on the hill of Tepeyac were well worth the visit and were both quite interesting and stunning. I was told that the surrounding plaza is filled with countless folks during special occasion masses - despite the fact that the Basilica itself can seat 10,000, with the second floor and atriums bringing that total to 50,000. I couldn't find confirmation in any materials but the figure of a million+ on the plaza sticks in my mind as being possible. Blows the mind.

The iconic picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe is seen everywhere in Mexico City; so, it was quite impressive to see the original tilma (peasant's cloak) hanging in the Basilica. Even more impressive, however, were the old basilica nearby - showing its definitive slant from the shifting lands beneath the church - and the simple chapel that sits atop the gorgeous gardens on the hill of Tepeyac - where legend has it that, in 1531, Our lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, and bade him to see that a church be built on the site in her honour. A couple of miracles later and Mexico's patron saint was well on her way.

I definitely think a picnic - with a little sacramental wine - would definitely be a worthwhile excursion. It wasn't in the cards for today though.

Teotihuacán - and its Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and Avenue of the Dead - was the real goal of the day. Having visited the Mayan city of Copán many years back and visited, more recently, the Great Pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu with Boo, you might think that I have a bit of a jones for these windows into past civilizations. You'd be right.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, Teotihuacán is found approximately 50 kilometres outside of Mexico City and it should be no surprise that it is the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. In its heyday - between 100 BC and 550 AD - the city's population was estimated at 125,000 or more and it was one of the largest cities in the world at the time and the largest in the Americas.

Just don't forget to liberally apply the sunscreen, bring water and be prepared to climb. The accompanying picture gives a good representation of the steepness of the Sun Pyramid and, thankfully, my propensity to experience vertigo was well-behaved today. No doubt, the chain handrail in the middle of the primary staircase acted as a bit of security blanket.

I was equally thankful that I didn't have to make my way down the pyramid on my butt - but ever so glad to have climbed the pyramid in the first place. Plus, that effort was definitely worthy of some well-earned cocktail action upon our return to Mexican Lou's.

An "authentic" Mexican lunch was part of our tour but, for the evening, Lou had arranged for dinner at Azul Condesa - one of the trendier restaurants in his already trendy neighbourhood. The restaurant is operated by Mexican celebrity chef, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, who wrote the book on Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy - and I mean literally wrote the book.

Azul Condesa is known for its authentic, regional cuisine and, each month, its menu is celebrates a different theme. Contemporary Yucatan cuisine was the feature with this month's festival menu. I wouldn't know the difference between a Yucatan dish, a Oaxacan plate or something else altogether but we'd mentioned that we hoped to see what a higher end Mexican restaurant would be like. When presented with a menu that meant virtually nothing to me, Boo and I simply took some tips from Mexican Lou and sampled soup, shrimp and pork. Oh, and a house specialty: the guacamole with chapulines. That would be the grasshoppers that add a little crunchy note to the guac.

1578.  2011 Cuatro Niñas - Cosecha (Valle de Guadalupe - Mexico)

If making my way through the menu was a tad difficult, trying to figure out a wine to order was beyond hope. Unfortunately, neither our waiter nor the sommelier knew more than bare bones English; so, Lou tried to translate the waitstaff's comments on the forty odd Mexican reds that were available on the wine list. We ultimately went with "Four Girls" Cosecha. When we were told that this was a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo, I remembered back to having enjoyed a Mexican Nebbiolo (L.A. Cetto) at the Vancouver International Wine Festival some years back and thought this might be worth a go.

The wine was big - and enjoyable - although I'll admit it went better with the meat dishes than it did with the lighter fare. Maybe that's why drinking cervezas with dinner is more common than wine around here. Par for the course with the Mexican wines we tried on the trip, I couldn't find any online information about the winery or the wine after the fact. Alberto Rubio is apparently the winemaker and the one reference I found about him briefly stated that he's yet another up and coming, young winemaker in Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe.

I figure it's better to have tried these local wines and still know nothing about them than to not have even tried them. I'll just have to keep my eyes and ears open for future opportunities and maybe, by then, I'll know a little Spanish or, more likely, the person introducing the wine will know English.

All considered though, it was a day for the ages. Unexpected religious treats. Historical wonders. And fine dining. In my book, that's what vacations are supposed to be all about.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Monumental Markets, Beasts and Cathedrals

Following yesterday's misdirections and overwhelming pounding of the pavement, our feet dictated that our tour of La Ciudad's Historic District needed a little more restraint, plenty of rest time and a cab ride home. Naturally, we'd requested some suggested highlights from Lou - especially since he works right in the midst of the Centro Histórico.  As with yesterday's visit to the Museum of Anthropology, there was more than enough in the district to keep us occupied for days. We, therefore, limited ourselves to three target locations.

First up was La Merced Market - the largest traditional retail market in the city. It turns out we only visited one of the buildings that constitute the market but, even still, we saw an incredible assortment of fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, meat, poultry and prepared foods. What was a bit of a shock to our more sanitized outlook on markets was how we could see the butchers skinning the goats, women plucking the chickens and baby pigs being delivered by the barrel.

I could definitely see La Merced as being a chef's delight - although it would take me some time to incorporate unfamiliar ingredients like huitlacoche (black corn fungus), mealy worms or these tiny crustaceans that looked like crawfish but were the size of your thumbnail. That doesn't even consider all the different peppers, mushrooms or types of fish that I didn't recognize.

I was sorely tempted to buy a small container of passionfruit pulp not to mention any number of other treats - but we limited ourselves to a couple of sandwiches for a picnic lunch. We realized that we'd not only have no opportunity to utilize all these culinary treasures but that we were going to be wandering around in the sun for hours to come.

Next up was the Museo de Arte Popular - the institution dedicated to the preservation of Mexican crafts and folk art. We immediately knew this would be our cup of tea when we were greeted on the street by some monumental alebrijes - oversized fantastical creatures that incorporate various parts of real life animals with mythical or imaginary beasts. Starting in 2007, the Museum sponsors an annual parade of the larger-than-life creatures. Less than a decade in existence, the parade already draws more than 100 entries and two million spectators.

The alebrijes alone would have been enough to captivate me but the museum exhibits also included incredible dioramas of Mexican historical events that were re-enacted by Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) figures, costumes, religious items, masks and every day items. In retrospect, it boggles my mind that the museum has only been around since 2006. Just like at the Museum of Anthropology, the range of the exhibits overwhelmed the senses and there was just too much to take in over one short visit.

Leaving the museum, I'd hoped to find a shop where I could buy a bottle of wine for our picnic but that wasn't in the cards. There it was, a perfect opportunity to add a bottle to The List - squandered. After our wine-less lunch, we carried on through the Historic District.

While the entire Centro Histórico has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, our final stop for the day was the Zócalo - the city's main plaza and site for popular cultural events and political protests alike - and the Metropolitan Cathedral found at one end of the plaza. The Zócalo was fenced off today for some reason but the largest cathedral in the Americas was open for the masses - and it's quite the sight, even for a non-Catholic guy like me.

Construction of the Cathedral started shortly after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and the conquistadors chose the site of the Aztec Templo Mayor to solemnize their victory. The original church was expanded upon, built around and ultimately replaced as the Cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813. The Cathedral has suffered much damage over the years - mostly due to the fact that its foundations are threatened by the soft clay soil the Cathedral was built upon. Most of Mexico City is built on an old lakebed and as the city's enormous population continues to draw water and lower the underlying waterbed, the city in general and this site in particular is prone to uneven shifting - to the extent that the cathedral was added to the World Monuments Fund's list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. While reconstruction efforts have helped stabilize the foundations and the Cathedral is no longer on the endangered sites list, you can still see irregular angles and slopes inside that highlight the Cathedral's vulnerability.

Following a short respite in the pews to rest our weary feet, it was time to make our way back to Mexican Lou's.  This time we made no mistake about finding our way home. We simply took a cab.

1576.  2010 Tomero Torrontés (Valle de Cafayate - Salta - Argentina)

Having missed out on wine with our picnic, we immediately popped the cork on a bottle that just happened to be cooling in the fridge back home. I'd grabbed the Tomero the other night for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think Mexican wines are known more for the reds and secondly, the Tomero brand is    a second label for Vistalba - one of Boo's and my favourite Argentine wineries - and we wouldn't normally see this wine back home.

I won't say much about Tomero wines because I've written more effusively about Tomero, Vistalba and the Pulenta family in other posts. As mentioned though, the Torrontés isn't a route we regularly take at home. Perhaps Argentina's signature white variety, these grapes are grown, not in the familiar Mendoza region, but in the more northern Salta district. With vineyards being planted at some of the highest altitudes seen for grapes, varietal Torrontés can be somewhat deceiving. Its nose can be reminiscent of Gewürztraminer but its body is bigger and it can be drier on the palate with more tropical than tree fruit. The key to the wine's success is that the higher altitudes bring cooler temperatures in the evening, helping to maintain the grapes acidity because the Argentine days get hot in Salta. The region is similar in latitude to Baja California and you know there's going to be plenty of daytime heat as Salta is about as close to the Equator as quality wine regions get.

We thought we better be nice and leave some of the Torrontés for Mexican Lou especially since we peaked and knew that we had some chicken in store for our dinner. Lou is a lucky guy in that his mom is old school and still drops by his place weekly to conjure up a batch of her home cooking for him. She kept up that tradition - even though he had guests - and we were the beneficiaries. We'd told Lou that we were hoping to try as much local and authentic Mexican food as we could while we were here. You can't get much more authentic than a mom's home cooking.

The Torrontés quickly disappeared and it was time to open another bottle - of Mexican wine.
1577.  2009 Bodegas de Santo Tomás Syrah (Valle de Santo Tomás - Mexico)

Founded in 1888, Bodegas de Santo Tomás is Baja's oldest winery and one of the largest in the country. While the winery does have a website, unfortunately for me, it's all in Spanish. I found a few other articles that mentioned the winery and region and Wine Enthusiast described Santo Tomás' internationally trained winemaker, Hugo D'Acosta, as "the most significant evolution in Mexican wine since Spaniards first planted vineyards at the Santo Tomás mission in 1791." D'Acosta apparently started the La Escuelita wine school and custom crush facility in 2004 and his students have started more than a dozen small wineries in Mexico. La Escuelita just happened to be the school that Thorsten Schocke, of Bodega de la Resistance, attended. His Tolochos was the wine we enjoyed the other evening.

Despite a long history, Mexican winemaking is still learning the nuances of modern tastes, production and marketing but Santo Tomás is acknowledged as being in the forefront of the movement and it appears that the majority of premium wine is being made in Baja Mexico. There are three main valleys for wine growing in Baja: Valle de Guadelupe, San Vincente and the eponymous Santo Tomás. Santo Tomás, the winery, grows grapes in all three valleys, allowing it to take advantage of the different microclimates and soils.

I couldn't find any specific information about this Syrah but we were pleasantly surprised. Restrained in its expression of fruit and integration of ripeness, tannin and acidity. There'd be no confusing it with an Okanagan or old school Rhône Syrah but it it could certainly match up against many an Aussie or Californian Shiraz.

Once the Syrah was put to rest, we decided to put ourselves to bed. We'd arranged to go on a tour out to the Teotihuacán pyramids in the morning and we needed to be ready for the bus by 7 a.m. - a rather early start for a vacation, I'd say. There wasn't likely to be any wine on the tour but we thought we could manage.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dos Cervezas Por Favor

I believe this post on our first full day in Mexico City is going to be more of a photo essay than commentary - especially since there are no wines to add to The List this time around. Boo and simply set off on foot to experience the city and take in a museum or two since Mexican Lou told us that his home was quite close to many of the major sights.

We initially made our way up to Paseo de la Reforma - a wide avenue, modelled after the great avenues of Europe, that cuts diagonally across the capital. It is the home to many of the city's most notable monuments - including the Angel of Independence and Monument to the Revolution. It is also lined with jacaranda after jacaranda tree. We were thrilled to find that the trees were still in the final stages of full bloom as the brilliant purple flowers are among our favourites to see but the trees aren't able to grow at home in Vancouver. Buenos Aries is awash in jacaranda as well but we'd missed their flowering season by a couple of weeks when we visited a few years back. Jacaranda in bloom could be a destination all on their own - much like visiting Washington D.C. during cherry blossom season.

Reforma leads straight into Chapultepec Park - one of the world's great urban parks - and Lou recommended it as his favourite place for a jog. Neither Boo nor I was game for the running part but the fact that many of the city's top museums are located in the park was a definite draw.

Although it hadn't been on our radar at all, Lou heartily suggested that we climb to the top of Chapultepec hill in the park to take in the panoramic view of the city. A bit of a hike, I heard Boo grumbling "God must hate me" on more than a couple of occasions. Mind you, that statement has pretty much become de rigeur for him if he encounters more than a dozen stairs. So, I'd have been surprised if he hadn't exclaimed his issues with the climb.

Little did we realize that the city view came with castle and museum. Chapultepec Castle was built in 18th Century as a summer retreat for ruling Spanish viceroys. It later became the residence of for Mexican heads of state, including Emperor Maximilian, following the country's independence. The castle is now part of the Museum of History and the hill climb even seemed worth it to Boo after we'd toured around a bit.

I think we could easily have said that we'd put in a full day already but our real goal was to make it to the Museum of Anthropology - considered one of the greatest archeological museums in the world. Its 25 exhibit halls are devoted to major pre-Hispanic civilizations in Mexico, including Aztec, Maya, and Toltec and is awe-inspiring. We barely scratched the surface of the offerings available. Not that it's a fact that needs to be pointed out but, if you didn't already know, the Museum makes it abundantly clear that the past civilizations of these lands were advanced and interesting beyond the imagination. I completely understand why guide books say that you really need to allow two to three days to do the museum justice.

Our feet were passing their own judgment on the day, however, and we decided to take a brief wander through one of the very fashionable neighbourhoods and make our way back to Lou's. We hadn't counted on getting lost on the way home though. I made a miscalculation on a route and sadly learned that guide books don't always warn you about not being able to get across freeways and that you can't always get there from here.

It didn't help that none of the streets in Lou's neighbourhood are on a straight grid either - they all curve here and there. Makes for a marvellous feel to the area but it was a nightmare for these tourists - especially as it was getting dark and we couldn't really understand any of the directions we were being given by any of the locals nice enough to try and help us.

We readily agreed that our circumstances - and lack of ability to simply find our way home - didn't bode well for our ever winning The Amazing Race. We were only dealing in Spanish - and Boo can speak basic Spanish. Imagine our having to cope in Chinese or Arabic.

It should come as no surprise that we both needed a drink as soon as we finally made it home. That drink was a martini, however, and I was too spent to even think about a photo since it was never making it to the wine blog anyhow.

When Mexican Lou got home, we commiserated over our sore feet and celebrated the excitement that is Mexico City. It was then on to tacos and cervezas - Negra Modela and Montejo to be exact. We asked Lou to take us to a tasty, simple, authentic taco joint in the hood. He came through in spades. We just kept letting him order, saying that someone needs to come to Vancouver and open a restaurant like this in Vancouver.

If only we'd fit some wine into the day - other than our whining about sore feet and getting lost.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mexican Lou and La Ciudad

Whether you call it Mexico City, México D.F., La Ciudad or just DF, we've arrived at one helluva grand city. Largest city in the Western Hemisphere, one of the most populated cities in the world and the largest Spanish-speaking city anywhere, including Spain. Neither Boo nor I have ever been here before but we thought it would be an incredible place to visit now that our amigo, Mexican Lou, has been back in his birthplace for a couple of years now.

Unfortunately, our arrival time wasn't so great in terms of syncing with Lou's work and rush hour. So, we simply grabbed a cab and hoped we'd make it to his place in one piece. Actually, we were happy to even make it in the first place. We arrived at the Miami airport only to find out that our flight had been changed to a flight that left two hours earlier and that we'd received no notice of the change. Luckily, there were seats on a second flight that would get us there almost on schedule.

So, it was a major relief when Mexican Lou was just crossing the street as the cab arrived at his place. He had us inside and had some welcoming tequila poured within minutes.

Now, little did I know - especially when the Tequila was poured into those little shot-like glasses - that we weren't meant to shoot our drinks. Turns out that our Maestro Dobel Diamante and Herradura Reposado were sipping Tequilas and that, by downing my Maestro, I'd just shot back the equivalent of a high end single malt Scotch.

Oh well. Welcome to Mexico, I figure. Besides, after our airport worries, I needed a strong and quick drink.

Lou was going to have to head into work in the morning; so, he thought that a bit of a tour of the neighbourhood would be a good way to help us get some bearings for the days to come. He lives in La Condesa district and, again fortunately for us, it's one of the nicest parts of the city. We didn't even walk around for an hour but we could easily see how Lou's stories of renovation and gentrification of the neighbourhood had manifested themselves.

Our wanderings left us feeling like we'd somehow ended up in a little known part of New York City - albeit warmer and way more Spanish. Lou lived by a couple of local parks and by any number of streets with very enticing restaurants but we decided to simply pick up a few grocery items (including wine and juice for mix) and head home.

 A little of Lou's home cooking and our first bottle of Mexican wine just seemed like an easy way to catch up and to make some plans for the days to come.

1575.  2012 Bodega La Resistance - Tolochos (Mexico)

While I've had a couple of Mexican wines over the years, the first thing I learned about wine on this trip is that I was going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers if I was ever going to make a decision on what wines to try. I took a quick look at the wine section when we hit the grocery stores and there were certainly more Mexican wines than I'd ever seen or heard of before. What was going to make it even more difficult, however, was that I wouldn't be able to understand any of the store assistants or any sommeliers. Lou picked this one out for us. So, I managed to get through our first wine decision unscathed.

I couldn't find out much about the wine or the winery - in either English or Spanish - but I did discover that Bodega La Resistance has a Facebook page (en Espagnol) and that it is a newer winery with limited production. Owner winemaker, Thorsten "Thor" Schocke, is part of a new generation of winemakers that studied at El Porvenir school in Baja California and, between those studies and a stint in the South of France, he's created two red blends in Mexico and one in France.

Tolochos is a blend of Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and Cab Sauv from grapes grown in the Valle de Guadalupe - one of the foremost wine regions in the country. Tolochos is produced as an approachable sip - a "picnic wine" as I saw it referred to online - and that's exactly what it was. It didn't overpower our chicken mole and, while there was plenty of fruit, it didn't blurt out pure commercial fruit bomb.

Much to Lou's relief, as our first Mexican wine of the trip, it certainly left us thinking that we need to find some more.

As we dined and wined, Lou gave us the lowdown on the neighbourhood and the best route to follow in order to take in some of the sights, museums and their equivalent of NYC's Central Park and Stanley Park back home. Things are looking good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

There's More to Miami Than South Beach

Indeed, there is more to Miami than just the hustle and bustle of South Beach - and, luckily for Boo and I, Esperanza and Cruncher offered to play tour guide and show us some of the sights.

As much as I might have liked to drop in to visit Gloria Estefan or Ricky Martin on one of the chi-chi gated island communities, that wasn't quite in the cards this time around. We did, however, head over to the chi-chi-esque Coconut Grove where we took in Barnacle Historic State Park and wandered by some of the more reasonably priced homes. Hell, you can find a townhome next to the park for a couple of million.  Who knows, Boo may want to move back to Florida after all.

Our primary destination of the day, however, was Key Biscayne - in part, to see how one heckuva lot of locals spend a sunny Sunday. Traffic out to the parks and beaches was bumper to bumper for a good portion of the way. No doubt, everything was busier than normal because the Sony Open tennis tournament was on to the fourth round and there were plenty of big names playing. Had we known in advance, we might have tried to pick up tickets since Milos Raonic was still playing and he likely could have used a bit of Canadian support.

Tennis may not have been in the cards. But, we did stumble upon a perfect picnic table, away from the teeming masses and the sand, while hiking the seawall that carried on beyond the end of the beach. A bit of shade, some gorgeous weather, a picnic lunch and a couple bottles of wine. Worked for me.

1572.  Candoni Pinot Grigio (Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie IGP - Italy)

Remembering the ins and outs of al fresco dining from Antigua, we went with a couple of whites that we figured would suit the occasion. I'd never seen the Candoni brand before but we quite enjoyed the 100% varietal wine. I'm not always the biggest fan of Italian whites. I often find them flabby and rather bland - at least when compared to the readily available BC whites at home - but this one had nice acidity and fruit. I don't know whether it's the fact that the grapes for this wine were organically grown, but I'd have no problem giving a Candoni wine another pour.

1573.  2011 Trimbach Riesling (Alsace AOC - France)

We don't tend to drink many Alsatian wines either but at least I recognized the Trimbach brand as being a wine available back home. As a Riesling aficionado, I may need to get a little more familiar with the brand. The wine was a great match to our day and to our sushi and panini picnic. Great citrus and acidity for a warm Florida afternoon.

As relaxing as the afternoon was proving to be, we realized that we had to contend with all the beach and tennis traffic, we took a final hike past the Cape Florida Lighthouse and made our way back to the car and the mainland.

I think my catch-of-the-day is a little more exciting

Upon our return to South Beach, we happened upon a street market - which was both a blessing and a bummer. I love taking in markets while on vacation but there was no real opportunity to buy any of the fresh produce or baked goods since we were leaving the next day.

Esperanza had also mentioned that there was a small Spanish/Latin-themed street that was known for restaurants. So, we made our way there and, as much as we hardly needed more food, a light snack quickly turned into a full dinner. Italian none-the-less. I was thinking that a few Cuban tapas might be nice. Next thing I know, we'd ordered Caesar salad for four, grilled calamari, pizza and pasta.

Good thing we had plenty of time - and another bottle of wine.

1574.  2010 Cascina Chicco - Granera Alta (Barbera d'Alba D.O.C. - Piedmont - Italy)

For me, one of the joys of travelling is to try wines that I don't recognize from home. The problem with trying those new wines is that, when you really enjoy one - like we did with this Barbera d'Alba - it can suck when you realize you'll likely never find it again at home. That just meant that we had to savour it for as long as we could. As much as we liked the wine and as tempted as we were to buy a second bottle, we concluded that, vacation or not, we probably didn't need any more.

And on that note, we made our way back to the B&B, thanked Esperanza and Cruncher for all their hospitality and started to get things in order to move on to the third stop of our journey - Mexico City. Miami certainly has its share of latin flair, but something told me my total lack of command of the Spanish language might just prove to be a bit of a test. (Besides speaking Spanish is what Boo and Mexican Lou were going to be there for. My job would be to order the wine.)

It might have been a short visit to Miami but it was an eventful one and I did manage to add another eight bottles to The List - and Esperanza promised to help me add a good number more if we make down to visit again. There's a standing offer.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Miami Walkabout

What a difference the day makes!

Having run the gauntlet of Ocean Boulevard on a Friday night during Spring Break (which wasn't nearly as outrageous as you might expect - mind you we did head home by midnight), South Beach seemed downright tame today.

After a leisurely start to the day, we joined up with Esperanza and Cruncher for an art deco walk around the neighbourhood and along the beach promenade. The evening lights definitely add a whole different level to the feel of the city but the daylight views of the architecture offer an element of excitement all their own.

We battled a few showers through the afternoon and thought better of taking a guided tour of historical South Beach since the showers were at their heaviest just as we were scheduled to depart for the tour. The alternative was to hit Whole Paycheque and pick up a little poolside picnic. We'd gorged on a rather hefty lunch of Cuban fare earlier on and figured we'd all benefit from some lighter fare. Lighter fare and more wine, that is.

1569.  2011 Apothic Red - Winemaker's Blend (California)

After yesterday's "reveal" that Esperanza loves her value wines, it only made sense that we serve up a bottle of Apothic Red to whet her whistle. This was the one bottle that travelled back with us from Antigua. English Doc had left the bottle behind at our villa but, as I mentioned in the posts from there, the weather and food weren't all that conducive to red wine. Plus, I think Doc felt a tad tweaked when I mentioned that Apothic appears to be heir apparent to the [yellow tail] crown in the States as a big selling, easily approachable wine. It wasn't meant as a diss. I may not drink a lot of either Apothic or [yellow tail] but I think they're both keying in on what the general public enjoys in wine - and I'm all for anything that gets people drinking wine.

Esperanza and I picked up the other two bottles specifically with Cruncher in mind.

1570.  2010 Zenato Ripasso (Valpolicella Ripasso DOC - Italy)

While we we perusing the wine aisle, Esperanza said that Cruncher's favourite wine was Amarone - but added that they rarely grab a bottle as it's not generally available at bargain prices. Girl needs a little Ripasso in her life. I told her that, more often than not, my jones for Amarone needs to be satisfied by its "baby brother."

"Ripasso" is pretty much exactly what it means - "repassed." In an effort to impart additional colour, flavour and body to the lighter red of the Veneto, Valpolicella wine is "repassed" with the skins and lees (spent yeast cells) from fermented Amarone wines. In terms of Italian wine history, it's a relatively recent product but it has quickly become popular as a reasonably priced alternative to Amarone.

I'm always on the look out for a good Ripasso and I remembered having enjoyed this one some years back. I do believe that Cruncher is going to be searching out some bottles of his own down the road as well.

1571.  2013 Bodega La Flor - Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

The Ripasso was obviously picked because we thought it would be right up Cruncher's alley. The Malbec? Not so much. Cruncher's palate just has no affinity whatsoever for Malbec. He says that he just doesn't like anything about it - especially in that he finds it has a distinctive bouquet that he can't abide. I bought the Bodega La Flor because I thought I might be able to pull a fast one on him. You know, serve up an unannounced Malbec, see what he thinks and, then, tell him it's a Malbec after he says, "Boy, that's nice."

I haven't seen Bodega La Flor wines in the market back home in Vancouver but I knew the producer because Boo and I visited Pulenta Estate when we were in Argentina. La Flor is the entry level label for Pulenta and I knew that we'd have no problem finishing off the bottle even if Cruncher didn't want to have anything to do with it.

I didn't fool him. He said he knew it was Malbec before he'd even taken a sip and that, even if this was a fine expression of the varietal wine, it wasn't his cup of tea. As such, we left Cruncher to the Ripasso and we sipped back on other vacation memories.

Much to our surprise, Esperanza decided to call it an early night. She'd had enough of the "gauntlet" for the time being and not even the possibility of a dance or two could keep her from her bed.

Boo and I didn't have that option. We'd planned our flights to give us a Saturday night in South Beach and we knew we had to at least hit Ocean Boulevard for a perfunctory cruise. Luckily, our timing was such that we lucked into a street-side drag show at one of the bars along the strip. A beer or so later, the show was over and we could say that we hit the town. At least, we sort of "hit the town" - in a middle aged, milquetoast kind of way.

Next morning, we found out just how middle aged we'd become. We learned that, on our way home after the show, we'd walked right by one of the hottest gay bars in Miami and we hadn't noticed a thing. Apparently, things don't heat up until well after midnight and, predictably, we'd long gone to bed by then.

Good thing we were keeping ourselves busy during the day and starting our cocktails long before the young'uns had likely even gotten up from the night before.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bienvenido a Miami

Having flown 5700 miles for our Dinner Club's Road Trip, it seemed that our time in Antigua's sand and surf had come to an end far too soon. However, since our plane didn't leave until the afternoon, Jeaux and Matinder figured we'd have just enough time for one final tour and a stroll through Nelson's Dockyard and English Harbour - an 18th Century British Naval base that has been restored as part of a national park. "Just enough time" really meant a quick scratch of the surface - no leisurely cocktail in the historical bar; no hike up the headlands; no wine-filled picnic in tropical surroundings. It did provide a glimpse into the past and a bit of an insight into the island's long commemorated ties to sailing though - and enough of taste that our appetites to return were fully whetted.

Seems like all of the Dinner Club couples used Antigua as a stopping off point for a second vacation stop. Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed took off to Spain. Axel and English Doc chose Washington D.C. Boo and I thought that, since we were already in the Caribbean, we could carry on to Mexico and visit our friend, Mexican Lou, who had returned to his birthplace a couple of years ago.

Problem was, however, that you can't really get there from "here." It would seem that Mexicans don't travel to the Caribbean much - unless it's their own coast - and, in order for Boo and I to make our way to Mexico City, we had to return to the continental mainland and transfer on to Mexico City. There were connecting flights in D.C., Atlanta, Phoenix, Newark and even Toronto - hardly what I'd call convenient - and then there was Miami. It still involved flying North when we wanted to head West but at least it made a bit of sense.

Since Boo grew up in (Northern) Florida and I'd never been to Miami, we decided to stay over the weekend and take in a bit of what South Beach had to offer. As timing - and luck - would have it, an old family friend Esperanza and her newly minted husband, Cruncher, were in the process of moving to Miami and they were thrilled to have someone to show their new town to.

Esperanza has previously graced these posts - particularly when Boo and I met up with her and Cruncher when we travelled to North Carolina awhile back. However, her nom de blog back then was Desirée. We decided she needed a little more Latin fire to her name now that she's calling Miami home. Hence, Esperanza was born.

And, the doll that she is, she and Cruncher picked us up at the airport, took us to our B&B/hotel and had a couple of bottles in hand so that our transition to an Art Deco lifestyle would be as seamless as possible.

Talk about your "Bienvenido a Miami."

1567.  2011 Jacob's Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (South Eastern Australia)

Esperanza makes no bones about the fact that she's a bargain wine kinda gal. Indeed, she wonders how - and perhaps more importantly, why - I can spend so much time just wandering the aisles of a wine shop perusing what's on offer. She has her "go to" bottles and she's got it down to an art. She goes to wine aisle, if one of her preferred wines is on sale, she grabs some. No fuss. No muss. The good thing for me is that her "go to" bottles are inevitably quaffable.

I mean there isn't much chance of going wrong with either Jacob's Creek or Santa Rita is there - especially now that we were poolside. Having spent a good part of the day flying and hanging around airports, lounging back, wine glass in hand, was pretty much going to work regardless of how we'd filled those glasses.

1568.  2012 Santa Rita - 120 Merlot (Valle Central D.O. - Chile)

It was interesting to note that two of the better known brands for value back home were just as popular in Florida - particularly since I thought that Aussie wines weren't nearly as ubiquitous in the States as they are back home in Vancouver.

By the time we'd polished off the Merlot, it was time to grab a bite and "walk the gauntlet" (as we grew to call wandering on Ocean Drive).

While our timing was fortuitous with Esperanza and Cruncher in town, we'd also managed to "pick" a Spring Break weekend for our little tide-over. As we cruised the strip, it was abundantly apparent that I was not going to be able to keep pace with the Spring Breakers. The bravado and urgency to make the party was an eye-opener. There was a time - but even I realize that was many years ago. As a toast to Spring Break, I did order one monster-sized mango margarita but I figured it was best to pass on the version that has two beer balanced upside down in the glass so that the beer continues to replenish the drink. I've seen a lot of drinks in my day but that was first.

I suppose there might be a reason why I gravitate to wine as much as I do.

And something told me that we'd be throwing back a fair bit as we took in a weekend of what Miami, South Beach and Esperanza had to offer.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From Baton Rouge to Antigua

Our last night in Antigua is upon us and, following our epic afternoon at Jacquie O's Love Beach, we've opted for a light dinner at Jeaux and Matinder's. Jeaux offered to make "conch water" - which is apparently Caribbean for conch soup. Jeaux advises that if the dish were called "conch soup," it would really be more of a stew. Regardless of the name, it was tasty enough that she could have served it up as part of the Dinner Club Road Trip menu. After all what's 5700 miles when there's conch water involved.

Our pre-dinner task was to finish off the last of the duty free gin and engage the hummingbirds on the deck. There was a steady barrage of the little guys. They sure loved that sugar water (and that's real "sugar water," not sugar soup). Some of them were even brave enough to come up to the feeder while I was holding it out at arm's length. Luckily for me, they preferred the sugar water to my gin.

Jeaux's mom was our additional guest for dinner. Having visited J&M during one of their winter migrations to Antigua, Maman decided to forego the standard Quebec snowbird destination of Florida and rent a villa of her own at Jolly Beach. Many years have past since the last time I'd seen Maman and we were certainly much tamer than we were the first time I'd met her over two decades ago. At the time, she was teaching French in Baton Rouge and she'd graciously (read "foolishly") offered up her couch to a gang of four that had descended on Louisiana for Mardi Gras. Jeaux and Matinder can weave some riveting travel stories, but Maman is no slouch of a storyteller herself and it was lovely to reconnect after all those years.

Admittedly, our shots of the wine bottles being added to The List with this post weren't quite as lovely as the event. I will point out, however, that despite our day touring the island, it wasn't an inability of the photographer to focus. Somehow, we managed to hit a wrong button on the camera and we hadn't noticed that it wasn't focusing until we went to review a couple of shots later on.

Luckily there was a picture or two of the bottles on my phone so that I'd have close ups of the label.

1565.  N.V. Torresella Prosecco (Prosecco DOC - Italy)

A final visit to Epicure - our resort wine source - led to yet another Prosecco that didn't seem familiar from our own Vancouver market. A little crisp, bubbly action was a fitting way to toast the end of our brief stay in the Caribbean. It was a definite feat - and fête - to shepherd four couples to the far corner of the continent for a dinner party but J&M pulled it off.

I figure that if you can't raise a glass to that, I don't know what is toast-worthy.

1566.  2009 Cederberg - Bukettraube (W.O. Cederberg - South Africa)

I definitely didn't know what I'd grabbed when I picked this one - our final bottle in Antigua. Cederberg is apparently South Africa's highest vineyard (at 3200 feet above sea level) and it is currently celebrating the fifth generation of the Nieuwoudt family on the land's rocky, high-altitude terrain. But, more than that, it turns out that Bukettraube isn't just a proprietary name for the wine, it is a rather rare variety. A cultivar of German and Alsatian history, there are apparently less than 77 hectares of the grape remaining in the world.

Score another addition to my Wine Century club tally!

Given its German/Alsatian heritage, it might not be too surprising to find that the grape is part of muscat family. It had a definite residual sweetness - such that Boo didn't want anything to do with it - but I found that the more hot sauce you added to the conch water, the better the wine went with it. The sweetness of the wine also matched up with the Antiguan Black pineapple (that we finally managed to find at a reasonable price after a number of roadside stops during the day) and coconut ice cream.

Some bubbles with Maman, a new Wine Century Club grape and a final night dining harbour-side with  wonderful friends. It doesn't get much better than that. But on that happy note, it was time to head back to our place and pack. We had one last island adventure planned for the morning but that meant we had to be ready bright and early to allow enough time to tackle our quest and make it to the airport.