Monthly Archives: May 2014

Proof is in the Passion

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I’ve had the most wonderful news over the weekend. One of my former wine students decided to pursue a career in wine. I am flabbergasted… I must have done something right.

For those who would like to follow in our footsteps and pursue a career in wine, here are some tips I’ve given him:

1) Don’t be a wine snob – Nothing spoils knowledge than sticking to the Grand Crus… And nothing but. Unfortunately, too many wine people have fallen into this trap… They take themselves far too seriously and put off every new blood that wants to get into wine. I’ve had my own fair share of horrible experiences with these people. It’s sad… Some of them don’t even have a sense of humor anymore.

Hence this blog, really. I can write a more clinical version of a beverage blog, but deliberately choose not to. I choose to be the anti-wine writer. I say it again: We need new blood in this industry and we need to stop scaring other people by throwing hifaluting wine terms to newbies and making them feel stupid. Also, there is merit to affordable or sweet wines… One musn’t ostracize the other for his personal preference.

2) Travel – The best way to learn about wines is to BE in the wine houses. That way you can have a conversation with people who are part of the culture and history of the wine you are consuming. I always say that a glass of wine is a reflection of the place it comes from… Its history, beliefs, practices, and people. I love travelling, and drinking wine makes me feel like I am travelling through a glass. If you’re in the actual vineyards, do ask questions. This is the winemaker’s magnum opus… They will be so happy to answer your questions.

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Just some of the wine books my husband and I own.

3) Read – I understand that travelling may not be an affordable option. In this regard, READ. EVERYTHING is available online these days… One hardly has an excuse not to research. I find hardbound wine books more romantic and prefer them over the internet, but at the end of the day, there is so much information out there.

4) Eat and Drink – As much as you can, as often as you could (within reason!). Each wine is different and similar in so many ways… The only way for you to understand that is to keep trying wine. Since we are talking about career drinking, I highly suggest avoiding the drink altogether if you’re emotional (good or bad). Not only will you not be objective in your evaluations, but this can potentially lead to using alcohol as an emotional crutch… First steps to alcoholism.

Wine cannot exist without food and vice versa (see previous post on food and wine pairing). Try many combinations. Try eating food that is indigenous to the wine region. Talk to chefs.

5) Share – Wine involves a lot of knowledge acquired over time. Share your learnings and discoveries. Keep it less about you and more about the wine… The “you” will follow. Be happy for others who get into the industry, don’t shoot them down. Let them begin and tell their stories.

Starting out? Need help? Let me know how I could assist you. Let’s do this over a bottle or two. 😉 Cheers!

The Absinthe-Minded Artiste

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My husband and I are psyched beyond words for our upcoming trip to Paris… If not for anything else, the weather in Manila is getting worse as the days pass. To celebrate the occasion, I initially thought of writing about wine… But that’s the easy (but complex) idea. You know how people automatically equate France to wine…? Too predictable. Plus, a discussion on French wines will merit a nice, long, intellectual (BORING!) chapter to do it justice.

So, I decided not to write about that.

I’ve mentioned that I write from passion, right? I decided instead to write about two things I love about Paris: Artistic Paris in the early 1900’s and alcohol, specifically Absinthe.

Anyone who knows me understands that I am obsessed with anything that has to do with The Lost Generation of Paris and The Belle Époque. Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso… Van Gogh, Degas… I think that some of the best literary and visual masterpieces came from this era and from this bunch of tortured souls. In fact I’m such a big fan of the film “Midnight in Paris” for reviving all these masters on the silver screen.

Prior to the film, I was left to read and imagine the daily dealings of these artists: Lounging about in Deux Magots, engaging one another in a pseudo-psychological yet intellectual conversation… Exchanging ideas from the most mundane to the most profound.

This is, however, a beverage blog… So before I bore you to death with my ramblings about these artistic geniuses, let’s move on booze talk. It’s quite interesting to note that the common thread these people had was an alcoholic beverage called Absinthe.

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Bottle of Absinthe from Ralph’s, Absinthe spoon from Paris, and a rock glass.

Much notoriety comes with this beverage. It is often attributed to the “tortured” part of bygone Paris’ tortured souls. Once called a “hallucinogenic”, this “green fairy” has such a high alcoholic content that it rendered the drinker so immensely intoxicated. This extreme level of intoxication was rumored to have induced so much creativity and inspiration from the Lost Generation of masters, and soon, it became a staple in the bohemian Paris café scene during the late 19th to the mid 20th century.

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Bottle of Absinthe from Paris (came with the spoon too!). Complete with Van Gogh’s self-portrait in the front.

What makes this beverage so lethal? Depending on the distillation methods, the alcohol percentage could be anywhere from 45%-75% (average beer is about 5% alcohol, wine has a range of about 10%-16%). They say that the level of intoxication you can get from a potent dose of Absinthe can make you “see things”, therefore it is called a “hallucinogenic”. Thujone was once attributed as a chemical component of this beverage. Thujone was once theorized to cause muscle spasms, then it was said to have similarities to cannabis (you know, weed…? Oh good, it’s organic, we shouldn’t panic). None of these theories were proven (in fact the similarity between Thujone and cannabis has been successfully disproven in 1999).

They also say that Absinthe is so addictive that it can cause some form of dependency… A form of alcoholism specific to Absinth called absinthism. Such was the fear of consuming this alcoholic beverage that it was banned in several countries (and still is) for decades.

Assuming you are one of the brave souls who are willing to try one, here a few methods for preparation:

1) The Bohemian method (my personal favorite for showmanship): Douse a sugar cube in a shot of absinthe. Put a slotted spoon on top of a glass (I personally prefer a rock glass for its ease) with one shot of Absinthe. Put the sugar cube on the slotted spoon. Ignite the sugar cube. Drop the sugar cube in the Absinthe. Extinguish with about 3 shots of water. This allows most of the alcohol to evaporate.

2) The French method (points for lethal-ness): Again, prepare a glass with one shot of Absinthe. Put a slotted spoon with a sugar cube on top, not necessarily doused with Absinthe. Slowly pour 3-5 shots of water through the spoon, passing through the sugar.

So… Artistic inspiration? Potential first step to a downward spiral? You be the judge. It’s available in most liquor stores. If you are not brave enough but still want to experience Absinthe in some sensory level, I found a nice, safe, non-edible alternative: Body Shop has an Absinthe hand cream which smells like the real stuff. It negates any smell of garlic you have in your hands too. 😉

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Available in Body Shop stores

Do share your experiences with Absinthe. Cheers!

**After further research, I found out that one of the factors that made Absinthe lethal in the early part of the 20th century is adding Opium in the cocktail. Le gasp!

Tea and TV

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LEFT TO RIGHT: Twining’s Golden Jubilee Tea (Santi’s), Royal Albert Teapot (Rustan’s Shangri-La), Japanese Sencha Tea (a present), metal tea strainer (from my mother-in-law), Twining’s Jasmine Tea (an easy to prep and readily available staple, supermarkets), TWG tea (pick one from their huge assortment and take one home), Royal Albert teacup and saucer (set of 5, Rustan’s Makati), Coffeemate (because I really can’t stomach dairy), Raspberry loose leaf tea (a present), and a solo tea mug with strainer (Salcedo Market)

I have been enamored by Donwton Abbey lately. Apart from unconsciously influencing my manner and use of English (much to the bewilderment of some friends), it dramatically spiked my intake of tea.

Being a purist, I refused to limit my selection on readily-available teabags in the supermarket. I decided to explore something that seemed a bit more “proper” to me, TWG.

Okay, honestly. I did not try TWG in Manila, given the length of the line it had when it first opened its Greenbelt branch. A few weeks after it opened here, I had to fly off to HK for business (I have a client for my wine consultancy there), and ended up having my first TWG in IFC mall Hong Kong. To make my trip more meaningful, I decided to order a pot of their “Weekend in Hong Kong”, and a love affair between me and loose leaf tea was born. I of course did not limit my selection to the name, so I decided to figure out what my preference is.

I got home, still daunted by long lines in TWG. Then, I got to Santis, and I found the Twining’s tea I mentioned in a previous post. Sitting through an episode of Downton Abbey, I decided to experiment on adding cream and sugar (okay, non-dairy creamer and Stevia).

It was BLISS. I found a little patch of heaven on a rainy afternoon. I looked at the back of the tea’s can and it said it “combines the rich, malty second flush Assam from the Brahmaputra Valley in North Eastern Assam, with the smooth, mellow Yunnan from South Western China”.

Ehrm… What…?

I decided to try to find a similar option in TWG. Unfortunately, the Assam TGFOP1 tea was not available then, and neither was the Yunnan. So I settled for the romantic option of their Paris-Singapore tea and reminisce about our honeymoon in Paris through Singapore. Made me feel better. Being the beverage geek that I was (and am), I found a TEA BOOK and decided to buy that.

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I went home and on reading the book, I found out that both Assam and Yunnan teas fall under Black Tea, one of the 10 varieties. There are also white (refreshing), yellow (expensive, sweet and flowery), green (good for your metabolism), blue (has the fragrance of green tea but with the richness of black tea, something I’m keen to try soon), red, matured (improves with age), tea flowers (buds that bloom in a cup; transparent tea pot HIGHLY recommended), compressed (more often used in bathwater for medicinal and relaxation purposes, something I also want to try), and blends.

Since I seem to be into black tea, I looked closer into it and found a few tips:

1) They are classified according to strength and leaf grades
2) Easy tip: The number ‘1’ when added to the grade defines the tea as of the finest quality within that grade
3) Orange does not indicate the flavor nor fruit; but originated from the Dutch royal family, known as house of Orange
4) It’s not easy to memorize the grades, but apparently the longer the acronym, the better the quality. They found S.F.T.G.F.O.P. (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) as the “most exquisite”.

What I also found interesting in the book is that there are other uses for tea (apart from beverage consumption):

1) Facial Toner
2) Blond Highlights
3) Oily Scalp Treatment
4) Treatment of Chapped Lips
5) To Soothe Skin Post-Waxing
6) Tanning Sans Sun
7) To Deodorize Shoes and Feet
8) To Strengthen Teeth and Nails
9) To Relieve Tired Eyes

Not bad, tea… Not bad.

Do let me know how you like your tea. I shall get back to watching Sherlock. 😉 Cheers!

Laboracay and Lamanila

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We seem to be in the midst of a BRUTAL summer here in Manila. Much as I would love to write about wine, let’s be honest: It’s really not that fun to drink wine in this heat.

Hence the writer’s block for the past few weeks. Okay, MONTHS.

So. What are my drink options in this tepid weather?

Assuming you live in Salcedo Village (or otherwise, people have been known to mosey over for the Saturday Salcedo Market), I would like to announce that, TADA! We have made an exciting discovery: Home brewed ginger ale. We couldn’t resist trying one out after we saw the promise of “liquid happiness” written on their board. Indeed, it WAS happiness in a bottle… This refreshing, sparkling drink has a touch of lemon to offset the spicy ginger notes. Best served ice cold but not iced. It’s so fresh it expires in a week.

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photo courtesy of Gerry de los Reyes, artiste extraordinaire 😉

Also in the area is the aptly named Citrus Delight from Poco Deli. I fell in love with the concept of a sparkling juice drink with fresh cut citrus fruits in a nearly overflowing carafe. Delightful.

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Since it’s summer, I was issued a challenge as well to come up with an alcoholic beverage that would be a great substitute for ice cream.

Well. I find the bar staple Tequila Rose perfect: This sweet, creamy, strawberry goodness is best on the rocks, but BE CAREFUL. At the end of the day, it’s still tequila, quite known for letting you think you’re okay while you’re sitting down… Only to knock off your feet once you’ve gotten up from your chair.

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For those desperate for wine, my BFF and I are notorious for bringing sparkling wine to the beach. A nice, crisp, ice cold Cava is a fun way to beat the heat… Plus, nobody really does it so much that my BFF and I end up with plenty to go around. 😉 Trust us, it’s fabulous. To keep it cold longer, we’ve (drunkenly) discovered that burying it deep enough in the sand helps.

However, many a foreigner have travelled far and wide for our gorgeous beaches and *drumroll* SAN MIGUEL BEER. The San Miguel staples are very easy to come by (San Mig Light, Pale, Super Dry, Premium, and even the infamous Red Horse). However, what amazed me to no end was a picture of an old friend enjoying the famous Laboracay party scene (Labor Day in Boracay, for those not in the know) with what I thought was a long lost beer: GOLD EAGLE BEER. In a Mucho Grande (1 liter) bottle, too. It’s still readily available in the provinces and is a cheap(er!) alternative to the aforementioned staples.

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photo courtesy of Nick Hernandez of #TeamStrato

So wherever you are in the Philippines during this insane summer heatwave, do enjoy, but don’t forget to hydrate! People tend to get drunk faster because of this heat.

Let me know how you stay cool in the summer. Cheers!