Friday, January 31, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

First night in Florence

Most moving part of my trip so far #Italy2013 Part of the Venice Biennal...

So I married a Turk Episode #1

10 Reasons you should start drinking Austrian wine

"Austria makes wine? Aren't they known for beer?" This is the typical response I get when I suggest an Austrian wine to a guest or a friend. My answer is always "Yes they make a great brew, but their wine is among the best in the world." And here is 10 reasons why you should give Austrian wine a chance.

#1 Purity. Yes, we all love a delicious piece of salmon dressed up in a delicate creamy caper beurre blanc, maybe even cooked on a cedar plank. But a piece of salmon sashimi is pure. It allows you to focus on the satin texture of the fish, to really taste just the salmon in all its glory. To me that is what stands out about Austrian wine, and in particular the wines of Rudi Pichler, a producer from the Wachau Valley. I have likened drinking his wines to being like diving into a crystal clear lake. Your mouth feels so refreshed and clean after a sip of his wines, it can be difficult to stop sipping. The texture of the wines, that is the way they feel in your mouth which is luxuriously silky smooth is not oily. The wine doesn't coat your tongue, like the way a piece of salmon all done up in a sauce can. It just glides over your mouth, leaving you with a impeccably pure finish. 

#2 Terroir driven. A word we see quite often in description of the world's finest wines. But many have a hard time wrapping their brains around the concept. I think of terroir perfected wines being like a pristine beach day.  You pack up the car and get out of the city in record time. When you arrive at the beach the weather is optimum, and there is hardly a single other person to invade your space. A light breeze is blowing, just enough to keep you cool, but not enough to blow the sand around, and there isn't a cloud in the sky. The ocean is refreshing yet still warm enough that you can stay and swim for as long as you want. Bonus there is not a jellyfish or stray piece of seaweed in sight. The drinks stay cold, the sandwiches sog free. You drive off as the sun is setting, an intense combination of pinks, reds, and oranges thankful for such a perfect day. A terroir driven wine is like that, it's as if all the factors in the universe (weather, soil, fermentation) have agreed to come together to create a consummate wine. A wine that tastes like a place not just a beverage. The Wohlmuth winery in the Southern region of Styria, is a great example of Austrian wines ability to capture that perfect beach day vintage after vintage, no matter how difficult it may be to farm the terroir. Wohlmuth is home to some of Europe's steepest vineyard sites a slope of 80º in some places. They are an average of 500 metres above sea level, and have a combination of rare red, grey, and black slate. It reminds me of a beach I was shown in Ragland New Zealand. I was convinced the van was going to topple over on the twisty mountain dirt road that took over an hour to navigate. When I finally arrived, I was rewarded with a stunning black sand beach coupled with beautiful big waves and framed by giant lush green cliffs. Wohlmuth is rewarded for farming these difficult conditions with wines of a incredibly unique spicy, salty character (hence all my beach references). When I drink a Wohlmuth wine I feel like I am standing/leaning right in the vineyard. 

#3 It pairs with...just about everything. Artichoke, and Asparagus. Pad Thai, and Peking Duck. Curry, and Cakes. Salads, and Seafood. Austrian wine can enhance just about any dish, due to its perfectly balanced acidity, and great fruit aromas. There is a wide variety of wine styles in Austria, but the friendliest grape for all the above dishes is the native Grüner Veltliner. The Knoll Winery in the Wachau has embraced this food camaraderie by opening up a restaurant right next door, perfectly situated along the Wachau bike trail. Loibnerhof-Knoll showcases the explosive, tight wines of this incredible producer alongside traditional Austrian cuisine. They are renowned for a Butterschnitzel ravioli with greaves, and when paired with a Emmerich Knoll, Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, the result will leave you unable to continue by bike. 

#4 Friends of the planet. Every winery I visited in Austria mentioned the care and consideration that they take to ensure a symbiotic relationship with nature. The Lagenlois producer Loimer is a leader in Austria when it comes to "Green Winemaking". He is the founding member of a local group called Respekt. The group's main focus being, yep you guessed it, respecting the land that gives them their crop. Loimer has adopted the ideals of fellow Austrian Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy based bio dynamic practices. I think of bio dynamic practices being a bit like psychology for the earth. Now for this analogy to work, the patient (the earth) in this case is suffering from minor depression, nothing like Bipolar or Schizophrenia. Any Doctor will tell you exercise and eat right and your body will feel better, which takes care of the organic portion of the philosophy and analogy. But what about your mind? Some prescribe pills, some placebos, or in the bio dynamic case sometimes it involves an animal's horn. But sometimes we just need to feel someone is listening, that we are being heard to feel better. That is what I believe Bio Dynamics is at it's heart. Listening to the earth, and hearing what it needs to be happy, through the lunar cycles, and the changing seasons. The earth does not like herbicides, pesticides, or artificial ferilizers, they are like junk food. The earth prefers natural fertilizers like those that are imparted to the ground from Loimer's herd of sheep. Fred Loimer has been certified biodynamic for over 7 years now, which is perfectly displayed in his beautiful racy fruit driven wines.  

#5 Small producers. I have never been a subscriber to the belief that bigger is necessarily better. Especially when it comes to farming I think it is much more important to ensure quality over quantity. That is not to say that large scale producers cannot produce fine wine, but it's the difference between shopping at a farmer's market versus Cosco. I love getting a great deal at Cosco, on toilet paper and meatballs, but the chance to speak with the farmer and ask how his crop has been is invaluable. This small scale production and opportunity to speak directly to the winemakers was a factor that I noticed and greatly appreciated in many of the Austrian wineries I visited. It is also a big piece of the puzzle as to why Austrian wine is so divine. Let's take F.X. Pichler for example, a winery that has received massive praise from Robert Parker Jr. (he calls it the Romanée-Conti of the Wachau). This winery employs 7 people, 4 of which are F.X. himself, his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law. They farm only 18 hectares of vines, while the largest producer in the world E&J Gallo have 16,000. The most surprising part besides their incredibly elegant wines is that F.X. Pichler does not proudly boast family owned and operated on their wine label. A term I have seen haughtily displayed by many wineries that I then have visited, and not a single member of the family appears to be present at the winery, or actually have anything to do with making the actual wine. So what does this small scale production yield? Well if you have ever tasted a F.X. Pichler wine you may find it is like putting on a Oscar de la Renta dress or an Armani suit. You feel sumptuously beautiful, while drinking their wines. You taste that every grape has been cared for, just like every stitch was carefully sewed. The wines have subtly balanced sugars, and a exquisite smooth texture, yes you pay more for this kind of attentiveness, but when you want to treat yourself, you may as well treat yourself like nobility.

#6 An opportunity to learn German. Sure the labels of Austrian wine can be extremely intimidating take the producer name Jurtschitsch, pronounced yur- schiche no matter how you twist your tongue it just doesn't seem to sound correct. However, it has been my experience that the more difficult something is the more you appreciate it. Jurtschitsch's wines are truly remarkable. Alwin Jurtschitsch and his wife Stefanie have done a great job of preserving the old traditions while ushering in the new technologies. Their wines have an intense bracing minerality, coupled with a clean and clear sense of terroir. So don't let the hard to say words scare you off,  you will be missing out on some seriously scrumptious wine. Instead take it as a opportunity to learn a bit of German. Here is a crash course to help you navigate some of the more common terms seen on a wine label. Erste Lage, or Smaragd = Grand Cru = really good wine.  Schloss = Castle. DAC= Districtus Austriae Controllatus= Regional designations like DOCG in Italy. Weingut= Winery. Wien= Wine but also Vienna. Niederösterreich= Lower Austria (largest quality wine growing area). STK= Steirische Klassik-Winzer= Styrian Classic Vintners. Eiswein...well I think that one is pretty self explanatory. I could go on forever, but this should be enough to help you navigate at the liquor store, and get you started on enjoying delicious fine wines like Jurtschitsch.

#7 Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, yes we all love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with its pretty pink grapefruit aromas, what's not to love. I am not going to debate on one being better than the other, but drinking only NZ Sav Blanc is like going into a DSW shoe outlet and trying on only 1 pair of shoes. Of course that one pair is fabulous but with so many other options why not try on a few more. The Southern part of Austria, pressed right up against the Slovenia border is where you can find that hidden pair of Jimmy Choo's marked down by %50. The single vineyard Grand Cru STK quality Sauvignon Blanc produced in this region will blow you away. It has an aging potential of up to 15 years, and prices for a Premiere Cru STK are about the same as a bottle of Kim Crawford. Spicy, and complex with aromas of currants, and tropical fruit. The two Kings of Sauvignon Blanc besides Wohlmuth (which I have previously mentioned) are Tement and Polz.  Neighbors that share the vineyard Grassnitzberg but in terms of style are like a pair of Alexander Mcqueen's and Louis Vuitton. Both make you feel beautiful, and luxurious, but Tement is like Mcqueen wild and exciting with its combination of cool fruit flavours, and a spicy heat, that leaves your mouth reeling from the sensation and begging for more. While Polz is like Louis Vuitton classic and elegant. The ancient coral reef that their signature Grand Cru comes from HochGrassnitzberg reveals itself to you through layers of exotic fruits, and has a lovely long lasting lemon finish.

#8 Grüner Veltliner. Another word that may intimidate your pronunciation ability, but really it sounds just like it looks. This Austrian native is the most commonly grown in Austria, it is food's BFF and is truly enjoyable to drink. The wine typically gives off stone fruit aromas and has a white pepper spice to it. The Schloss Gobelsburg of Lagenlois is one of the oldest wineries in the world, and that history has imparted a knowledge that has allowed it to make truly earth shattering Grüner Veltliner. It dates back to 1171 when the Cistercian monks first acquired the vineyards around Heiligenstein, and Gaisberg, although they did not take ownership of the actual castle until 1740. Much like what the Cistercians did for Burgundy, they did for Gobelsburg and Grüner. The Castle still belongs to the Monks but is now managed by Michael Mooseburger and his wife Eva. It can offer over 10 different Grüner Veltliner's ranging in style from decadent Eiswein to terroir perfected Erste Lage single vineyard sites; like Grub and Renner. If knowledge is power Schloss Gobelsburg is a Master when it comes to Grüner Veltliner. The expertise passed down from centuries of the Cistercians farming the land around the castle is well observed in the consistent quality of the wine, and each wines unique character, but the knowledge winemaker Michael Mooseburger brings to the label should not be overlooked either. Son to the founding member of the Austrian Sommelier Association, Michael has a pulse on what the market is looking for, and a quiet confidence in his unlimited knowledge of not just his vineyards but of wines from all over the world. Between tradition from the monks and an encyclopaedia of knowledge from Michael it's no wonder Schloss Gobelsburg is a superstar of Grüner Veltliner.

#9 Riesling. For wine lovers just that one word should be enough to convert you. Rieslings although commonly misconstrued as a sweeter style wine, when they come from Austria they are almost always bone dry. They can be a textural adventure of silk with such a powerful minerality to them you will wonder how fruit and soil can combine so deliciously. The light silky structure doesn't feel like a jacket for your tongue, more like a light brush of wealth. Riesling has this incredible crispness to it, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple. The acidity is powerful but never harsh, and the final product leaves you with a wine that has both power and elegant grace. Riesling thrives all over Austria but the Riesling superstar is the mountain Heiligenstein,with it's primary rock deposits some 250 million years old. Producers from the Kamptal like Schloss Gobelsburg and Jurtschitsch both have a small plot of vines on in. The Zeus of Austrian vineyards has been noted for its wine potential since the 13th century, time tested and true. If you see this name on a Austrian wine label grab it! But to be fair Heiligenstein is far from being the only great mountain for Riesling, the Wachau Valley has many great sites for Riesling as well, including Liobenberg, Kellerberg, Achleiten.The point I am trying to get across is that Riesling is a true delight to drink and I think Austria makes one of the finest examples of the grape variety, so you shouldn't miss out any longer.

#10 Co-operatives. I love when people work together, instead of competing and trying to cut the other down. Many Austrian winemakers share machines between producers, allowing small scale farmers to produce a wine without having to purchase an expensive wine press. There are almost 60 different wine making associations in Austria, that all work in sync to ensure the highest quality of wine is produced with the patriotic red and white seal. Heiligenstein as I mentioned is shared among several growers, which also allows you to taste a winemakers style in comparison to another from the same vineyard. This spirit of co-operation benefits all, especially the consumer. They are like Mathletes, a team effort that is always striving to not only succeed but to supersede all expectations and give us the best possible product by working together not against each other. Take the Vinea Wachau Nobililus Districtus. An organisation that includes some 200+ wineries all from the Wachau Valley, that work together to promote the Wachau on a whole. But they also hold themselves to an even higher level of quality than the already strict Austrian requirements. They even have their own 3 tiered wine designations. Steinfeder the lightest, Federspiel with a bit more character , and Smaragd the Grand Cru and most treasured of the vineyards of the Wachau.  Just like a Mathlete each winery has the challenge of meeting the strict requirements and answering the question correctly, but only by working as part of a team will they all flourish.

I hope this article has convinced you to start drinking Austrian wine whether it be the Native Grüner Veltliner, a Noble Rielsing, a Grand Cru Sauvignon Blanc or one of the other tasty grape varieties Austria makes that I didn't mention here. Don't let the names scare you off, and if worst comes to worst and you find you don't like Austrian wine well you can always fall back on their delicious beers.

Doluca DLC Grenache 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Doluca DLC Grenache 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Time to pay some wine tribute to my husband's native country of Turkey

Thursday, January 23, 2014

CH 3 – Original voice Exercise: Tea time in Trabzon

I’ve just sat down on a stool that feels like it belongs in an elementary school. The smell of sea, cigarettes and charcoal float through the air. The busy highway is directly behind me, the black sea directly in front. The two noises clash against one another, creating a havoc of whooshes.  All around me people are squatted down on these 2 feet stools, sipping from tiny clear tulip shaped glasses. They are drinking the Turkish equivalent for tea known as çay. Although it sounds exactly like Indian Chai tea, the flavour of Turkish tea couldn’t be more different. It has a brick like colour, with dark green leaves lightly floating on the bottom. It resembles orange pekoe in flavour, but sharper and tarter. It is not sweet at all, unless you add 2 or 3 of the individually wrapped sugar cubes, available in a glass jar on your table. There are three groups of people sitting around drinking their çay. Three young girls sit to my left.  Two are wearing multi coloured head scarves and long tan coloured trench coats. The third is dressed in Western garb right down to Ugg boots, and her dark thick hair flows freely.  All three have their bedazzled phones out and appear to be simultaneously texting and chatting to each other. The conversation moves very quickly with a flurry of hand motions. Their faces are full of a strength and attitude that even a girl from the Bronx would be hesitant to mess with. An old man in a wheelchair sits in front of 2 young men. They sit on the only normal sized bench, and they are all smoking. The conversation moves slower here, and when the old man speaks both young men listen attentively. He seems to be sharing an opinion with them, perhaps on politics. He holds out a hand, and seems to list an assortment of reasons why the answer to whatever problem they are discussing is simple. He shakes his head expecting full agreement from both young men. They respect the man in the wheelchair, it is obvious in the way their heads are tilted down, as if in deference. Finally there is a group of rowdy young boys, one of which has just joined the group. He goes around the circle to each boy and forcefully grabs their hand. They lightly touch their temples to each other on both sides and embrace.  The newcomer lights up a cigarette while the others follow suit, like a row of dominoes. They are all talking at once in a crescendo that rises and abets like the black sea waves in front of us. Their hands are out to both sides holding the boys’ arms on either side to them in what appears to be an attempt to hold the other down, while each one attempts to be the loudest and finally dominate the conversation. It is not violent in any way, in fact it is quite endearing. The way these boys laugh and touch each other is sweet. It appears as though they have been friends forever and have such familiarity they can all speak at once and somehow everyone will still be heard. These Trabzonians are undeniably loud, and full of passionate motions when they speak. But just like the iconic beverage we are all sipping on they are uniquely Turkish.

CH 2 – Story forms Exercise: A walk to the Seawall

It’s 9:15am, I step outside of the Pacific Beach building on Jervis St. in the West End of Vancouver, Canada. A faint whiff of the sea drifts my way, and a siren is blaring in the distance. The creamy white Calla Lilly and princess pink Foxgloves are so big they are starting to droop over into the sidewalk. I could head right and proceed to climb the 75 degree hill that has given me buns of steel over the winter, but the sun is shinning and the water off English Bay is sparkling so I proceed to the left instead and head downhill. There is a scent of asphalt heating up in the morning sun as I patiently await for the beep boop sound that signals it’s safe to cross. I am on Beach Ave. or is it Pacific? It is just where the fork begins and one road becomes two. It is like a street purgatory not quite Beach and yet not quite Pacific either. It always leaves me baffled as to which street I should tell the taxi cab to drop me off home at. But today I am on foot, and the salty sea smell is getting stronger. The siren is fading and is replaced by the  delicate sound of a trickle of water as I pass by a 10 ft. Pyramid shaped fountain that slowly flows water down each one of the steps. It is surrounded by Palm trees, that are not only surviving but thriving, a mystery to me as this is Canada after all.  The fountain was donated by Doris and Charles Davis to Vancouver on it’s centennial. The fountain is so protected by the Palm trees I didn’t even notice it until after a few months of living in the neighbourhood. The hill on the fork of Beach/Pacific has a nice easy slope that draws you down towards the water. As I pass over the crosswalk I hear the woosh of a group of bikers as they whiz by in their second skin neon clothing. I pass under the shade of a Cherry Blossom tree that was in full bloom throughout the month of March but now looks slightly like a large bonsai tree. That incredible fresh aroma of fresh cut grass wafts up as I pass by, I try to fill my lungs with it, but the hill is pulling me down. The concrete path takes you to a set of stairs that are about 3 feet wide and are too big to walk down normally. I must resort to descending like a child does placing both feet upon each step before I continue on to the next. I hate this forced return to infancy so I usually take my chances on running down the last part of the hill praying that I don’t slip and fall on the freshly cut grass and make a fool of myself. I prefer the feel of the grass under my feet anyway although the grass is never truly dry in the Vancouver climate of near constant rain. The other risk I take by going the grass route is accidentally walking in the local residents poo. Today I can see the group of 25 Canadian Geese soaking in some early sun on Sunset Beach. There are only 3 groups of people on the beach at this hour. A lone girl with a big coral hat lies out in her matching pink bikini reading a Vogue with Katy Perry on the front. A family of three follows their toddler as he wanders by the water’s edge picking up anything that catches his attention. His small blue shirt seems to keep rising above his little pot belly. And a young gentlemen has a tripod set up and what looks to be a Canon camera, he is getting set up to catch some morning shots of the North Shore Mountains. His khaki shorts are bulging at the pockets with what I would assume are batteries and flashes and other camera paraphernalia. The salty smell of the ocean is so strong now I can almost taste it, and inevitably a craving for oysters grabs hold of me. I have one more obstacle to pass before I reach my destination and can relax into a morning stroll; the seawall bike path. Everything from unicycles to skateboards whiz by without any real ability to stop should some careless pedestrian cross without looking both ways. But after a break in traffic I scramble to the far side and join the hundreds of people out for a walk on the Vancouver seawall. By evening thousands will have walked over some part of it’s 22km asphalt pathway that includes Stanley Park, Coal Harbour, English Bay and Kitslano.

CH 1 – Travel writing evolution Assignment: They’re off and Pacing!

The trumpet song “First Call” blasts through the speakers.
The big white truck with fence like arms that extend a metre out to each side picks up speed. The horses line up and begin to follow the white truck around the turn. As they approach the start line the crowd’s anticipation builds for the 4 words they know are coming. “They’re off and pacing!” Yells race tack announcer Vance Cameron.
Each Announcer tries to develop their own signature send off similar to Michael Buffer’s “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!”I know Vance Cameron has won over the respect of the crowd but I think I speak for us all when I say Boomer (who is now our local weatherman) was the best. Boomer could take the time the race was won in and make it last as long as the actual race had been, his voice was so boisterous I often wondered if he even needed the microphone.
The horses have just completed their first lap of the Quarter Mile track, 1 more to go. The pounding of  32 hooves slamming into the gravel track sends up a thunderous echo and a cloud of dust. The excitement builds as 2 horses pull away from the pack, the #2 horse Mr. Dibs and the #5 horse Scarlet Starlet. They are rounding the back stretch now Mr Dibbs and Scarlet Starlet are neck and neck. People are beginning to stand and lean forward. As they go around the final turn and barrel toward the finish line people begin to yell and cheer. Suddenly the rolled up race programs are whips and the more excited members of the crowd are using them to urge along their pick, screaming things like “Come on!” “Almost there!”  It’s down to the wire, but what’s this Mr. Dibbs pulls ahead at the last second to win it, Scarlet Starlet right behind him to place and Lightning Boulevard for the triactor. Some tear up their tickets with varying degrees of disappointment on their faces others head down to collect the winnings from their bet. But my family and I head down to the winner’s circle for a photo with Mr. Dibbs and my Dad his Trainor/Owner/Driver.
The Charlottetown Driving Park in Prince Edward Island, Canada is where I spent many summer hours. It has changed a lot since I was a kid going from a white wooden building that could hold 500 to a shinny modern 50,000 sq ft. building complete with a casino and top of the park restaurant. The name isn’t even CDP it’s Red Shores, but what does remain is the beautiful white and green judges stand, located right at the finish line in the centre of the track. Originally built in 1889 the year the track first opened. It’s a wonderful example of how PEI has embraced the future while holding onto to a piece of our history. This balance of new and old is just one of the many things I love about Prince Edward.

La Frenz Sémillion 2012 - Natalie MacLean

La Frenz Sémillion 2012 - Natalie MacLean

Love my Canadian wine and this little winery has many great varieties, but this Sémillion is a show stopper

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Monday, January 13, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

Domaine Chanson Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009 - Natalie MacLean

Domaine Chanson Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009 - Natalie MacLean

I love a good Burgundy Pinot Noir but can't always afford the cost of the Premiere and Grand Cru wines, here is a great entry level wine with all the great flavours without the high price tag. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cantine Ferrari Maximum Brut - Natalie MacLean

Cantine Ferrari Maximum Brut - Natalie MacLean

I'm not going to work out, or diet this new year! This year I am just going to drink sparkling wine every night starting with this one