Sunday, December 17, 2006

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah to all dear readers who celebrate the Festival of Lights!

We went over to my wife's parents' home to open the first day of Hanukkah with a traditional meal of latkes (potato pancakes fried in vegetable oil) and other sumptuous delicacies. It is said that every Jewish household has its own recipe for making latkes, but I didn't ask my mom-in-law how she made hers. I've always found them to be quite delicious, especially when eaten with a very thick Russian sour cream. For this occasion, I brought over 2 Israeli kosher red wines that I thought might be right for the celebration.

2001 Galil Mountain Winery, Yiron, Galilee, Israel ($20)
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot
A very dry Bordeaux blend. Quite fruit forward with a spicy hit in the finish. Dark plums and oaky vanilla are the prominent tastes. Soft, ripe tannin. Quite delicious.


2002 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee, Israel ($22)
Old-world style cabernet. Very Bordeaux-like in taste (St. Julien?). Oak and cedar hit the nose first, followed by tart blackcurrant. Quite tannic and tight (I'm enjoying this wine as I am writing this post. It's on its second day in the bottle and the tannins has not relented). A balanced wine with ample acidity and ripeness level. The label on the back of the bottle says that this wine "should age gracefully over the next decade." I am leaning towards believing this statement. But what do I know about Israeli wines at this point?

Of the two wines, I think I prefer the Yiron for the long term however, the Yarden may well outlive the Yiron. It's my speculation.

Also tasted during the weekend:

2004 Marquis-Philips Shiraz, South Australia ($12, 15.5%)

This brand was a popular project by Dan Philips, the American wine importer, with Sarah and Sparky Marquis, the Australian wife-and-husband winemaking team. The partnership has since been disbanded in 2006.

The 2004 of their generic bottling is a HUGE, multilayered wine. I could sense its viscosity from the moment it poured out of the bottle. Very focused and concentrated nose of casis, currant and sweet chocolate. You can taste the sweetness of the glycerin. Full bodied with tastes that explodes like a grenade in your mouth. Finishes long and spicy with dark chocolate. Very good balance considering the 15.5% alcohol (though it showed a bit hot in its finish). Elegant? Maybe not. Fun and delicious? Hell, yeah!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spring 2006 Qimen Hong, Top Grade

The sample being tasted here is a "top grade" Qimen Hong (Red Keemun) from Anhui Province (available from Jing Tea Shop). It has all the classic red tea characteristics. Dry leaves appear small, rolled, and in broken pieces, a common appearance of Qimen Hong. I placed 1/5 full of dry leaves into my gaiwan, which when brewed the steeped leaves filled 1/2 of the gaiwan.

Off-boiling spring water was used; flash rinse once, followed by 10s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 10s...

The liquor has an earthy-red color with an orange "bao guang" (halo). I botched the 1st brew by steeping the tea for too long (10 secs). Although the nose was inviting, the tea was bitter. For the 2nd brew, I reduced the time by ~5 secs, and the tea came out much better with distinct aromas of flowers, sweet fruits and salty plums. The smell and color of the wet leaves reminded me somewhat of Oriental Beauty oolong. Subsequent few infusions saw the tea improved in taste and aroma, but the mouthfeel became more tannic. Fine dusty tannin coated the entire mouth. I can see how a touch of milk would tame the tannins.

The finish was quite deceptive, which is a classic red tea behaviour. Though it seemed as if the finish was short, it actually lingered for a while after I drank the last cup. The one thing that bothered me about this tea was the harsh after effect on my throat...I felt as if I had a mild sore throat.

A good quality Qimen Hong, though not to my personal taste.

Monday, December 11, 2006

1970's Guangyun Gong Sheng Pu'er

A Brief Background
Guangyun Gong, or Guangdong – Yunnan Tribute tea, is the name given to this production to commemorate the trade relationship between the two provinces. Produced by the China Tea Co.’s Guangdong branch (中茶), the first batch of Guangyun Gong was released in 1958. Up until the end of the 1960’s, only raw Yunnan arbor leaves made up the series. Starting in the 1970’s, however, tea leaves from other provinces such as Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangdong, among others, were used in the production of Guangyun Gong. This was due to changes in the inter-province tea distribution structure in the 1970's when the Yunnan tea industry was given the rights to distribute their own teas and, as such, they were no longer required to send raw materials to the central distribution hub in Guangdong. Consequently, Yunnan arbor tea leaves became harder to obtain in Guangdong, so China Tea Co. began mixing raw materials from other abovementioned provinces.

Mr. Chan Kam Pong, Executive Editor of the Art of Tea publication, the 1970’s version is referred to as “Guangyun Tea Cake” and it is regarded as inferior to the highly sought after 1960’s “Guangyun Royal Tea Cake”.

(Photo: Houde Asian Fine Art)

(Source of background: Houde Asian Fine Art, Mr. Chan Kam Pong, and various tea fora, especially the LJ Puerh Tea Community)

I do not know how the 1960’s Guangyun Gong tastes like compared with the 1970’s version, which I thought was an interesting education piece. I wonder whether Yunnan arbor leaves really are/were superior to leaves from other provinces (I mean the leaves used in Guangyun Gong), or if it is merely a puristic perception.

Tasting Note
Dry leaves: dark red-black. A patch of white mold and many tiny white dots are visible (
click here for a higher resolution picture).

Brewing parameter: 3 sec rinse, repeat rinse, 10s, 10s, 10s, 15s, 15s, 20s, 20s, 20s, 25s, 25s, 40s, 45s, 1m, 2m (total 14 drunk infusions)

Color: medium brown at 1st and 2nd infusions, then becomes darker brown until the 8th infusions, when its color descends to become lighter. “Bao guang” (yellow halo surrounding the red-brown liquor) is present throughout.

Exceptional clarity from the first to the last infusion. This, I believe, is one of the characteristics that sets an aged sheng pu’er apart from a shu pu’er. As dark as the liquor becomes, it retains its crystal clear clarity, whereas a shu pu’er tends to get opaque and/or cloudy.

A whiff of Chinese herbs…ginseng being the most recognizable. This is accompanied with an earthy, mushroom-y, and toffee-like nose. A subtle sweet sensation is well integrated and felt on the side and back of the tongue. This is not the same kind of sweetness that a decent shu pu’er gives, which tends to be more obvious. Nor this is the sweetness that one gets from a black tea, which tends to be bitter at first then turning to a sweet finish. A hint of metallic taste (iron?) is present. This tea doesn't turn bitter even with prolonged brewing. Medium body at first, and later infusions are fuller (as the color of the liquor became darker). This tea is very smooth with tannins that is almost non-existent.

There is an obvious cooling sensation in the mouth and throat. A soothing feeling also goes down to the stomach and lasts for a few hours.

I felt a blanket of warmth by the 4th infusion, and the sensation grew warmer especially on my back, shoulders and neck. By the 8th infusion, my body felt sufficiently hot. It’s a very relaxing and calming experience. I’d attribute this sensation to good cha qi.

This tea may be a turn off to those who dislike the smell and taste of Chinese herbs/medicine, but I mean it in a pleasant way. I generally dislike the taste of Chinese medicine, too. However, the herbal / medicinal quality of this tea is inviting and soothing. An excellent tea all around.

The 1970's Guangyun Gong is available at Houde Fine Asian Art.

Thank you, BBB, for the sample!

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

T Ching

T Ching
There is a new community dedicated to the discussion of tea. T Ching is supported by various professionals within the tea, health, arts, and media industries, as well as by individuals who partake the noble beverage in their everyday lifestyle. The wide ranging backgrounds of the contributors make T Ching a unique and dynamic community.

Published by two veteran psychologists, Michelle Rabin and Sandy M. Bushberg, T Ching’s primary mission is to “improve the state of declining health in this country” through the sharing of knowledge on the wonderful health benefits of tea. Having been in the health care field for 25 plus years, they recognize the growing epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes – in youths and in adults – and they have taken tea as the central ingredient in this fight.

In addition to the health aspects, the various contributors also discuss history, art, design, preparation techniques, poems, and other engaging topics related to tea. Currently, on every Tuesday James Norwood Pratt, a widely published author, shares his insightful writings on the history of Japanese tea practices.

I am honored and humbled to have been asked by Michelle to contribute to her excellent site and cause…a cause that I have a personal connection with. My mother and grandmother succumbed to complications due to long term effects of diabetes. I sincerely hope that my ongoing pursuit of tea (and wine) knowledge and my passion for enjoying them is going to make a positive contribution.

I encourage you to visit T Ching and to participate in the discussions.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Thanksgiving & Picnic

The day after we returned from San Diego, my mom-in-law cooked a sumptuous [belated] Thanksgiving dinner. She is an excellent cook! (No, I don't think she reads my blog, so it's an honest opinion). We gathered at my wife's parents' home, joined by my bro-in-law, his wife and my 5-month old nephew, Anton. It was fun. So much so I forgot to take any picture of the foods she made until after we were finished. I brought two wines for the occasion, and the in-laws chipped in a bottle of an Australian Merlot by Jacob's Creek, which I didn’t enjoy, actually.

2004 Domaine Henri Bourgeois, Grande Reserve, Sancerre ($20)
Light yellow and straw green. Crisp and lithe with ample acidity and citrus taste. A nice and light aperitif to warm up the appetite.

2004 Turley Old Vines Zinfandel, California ($30)
Deep, dark ruby. The nose is very shy and subdued, which is unexpected for the usually upfront style that is Turley. In the mouth, however, it exploded with raspberry, cherry, coffee, and chocolate. A very ripe and high-octane wine (15.5% alcohol), which shows its hotness in the back of the throat. Any wine that is hot in the back is out of balance. Not the best showing of Turley Old Vines compared with the last 4 vintages (including the '04), though it still managed to be an intriguing wine at the table.

2005 Jacob's Creek Merlot, Australia
Tart and jammy. That's all I could remember. Had a few sips and gave up.

The next day, Sunday, we had a BBQ picnic with 10 of our best friends and their kids at the Will Rogers Park on Sunset Boulevard (nearby UCLA). The weather fortunately cooperated and gave us the whole afternoon of sunshine and low wind. It was a good day, overall. As usual, we hid the beer bottles from the authorities (not that they were around, but just in case) in our ice box and we drank from plastic cups.

Towards late afternoon, when the temperature began to drop, I took out 6 gaiwans, my Bodum glass teapot, and the jasmine tea balls that my cousin sent me from Shanghai. Everyone loved the tea, especially the ladies! There is something good to be said about enjoying tea in the great outdoors with friends and loved ones.

[Front: 2 jasmine tea balls in full bloom, Underberg: a spicy tasting German herbal liquor that my friend brought back from Germany. Back: My bro-in-law with my nephew, Anton, and behind him are our friend and her baby girl. Merely 2 years ago, our crowd clubbed and bar hopped until the wee hours...but not anymore]

Note to guys: impress your lady friends and girlfriends with jasmine tea balls in a large transparent pot. A vessel that fully shows the leaves and the flowers bloom is best.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Trip to San Diego

Sorry for the recent lack of update. The blogger beta just went nuts on me for the past few days and it still is. The formatting feature is gone, somehow, so I'm posting this using html, which requires a bit of a learning curve on my part.

The family (me, my wife, baby girl, and wife's parents) spent the Thanksgiving week in San Diego, which was nice. The weather is slightly cooler this time of the year in SD, but it could still pass as beach weather all the same. It was a casual trip with no preconceived mission for wine / tea drinking or any serious tasting notes.

On the way to our hotel in Pacific beach (next to the famous La Jolla beach), we stopped by Carlsbad to lunch at the Bellefleur Winery and Brasserie. The restaurant is also a bonded winery that makes wines under their own label. Since I was driving, I didn't order or bothered to buy any of their wine to go. The restaurant/winery was serving their Sunday Champagne brunch buffet, so they poured for us refill after refill of semi sweet (oxymoron alert!) Californian Champagne. Technically, it was a Sunday Californian sparkling wine brunch, but that doesn't sound as catchy, does it? At first I didn't get why the waiter poured the "Champagne" only halfway the flute, until the unannounced orange juice came. Aha...Mimosa! Go on ladies and gentlemen, load up on sugar and alcohol before you head to the buffet tables! The buffet selections were wide and varied. At $20/head I thought it was quite a good deal...a buffet like this in Las Vegas would probably have cost more.

We rented 2 cottages at the historic Crystal Pier Hotel where we literally slept above the lapping waves. The view from our private patio was just amazing, especially at sunrise and at sunset! The cottages are nice, too. Everything is clean and feel newly renovated with a comfortable large bed. The feature we liked best as young parents traveling with a kid is the full size kitchen. We could make food for our daughter in the comforts of our cottage before heading out to tour the city. And did I mention the view was great?

(Click to enlarge picture of the view from our patio. My baby and dad-in-law.)

I decided not to pack my tea set with me but just bring along 3 types of tea in stainless steel canisters: the Hong Shui oolong from Houde, the Spring 2006 Da Hong Pao from Teaspring, and the jasmine dragon pearls that my wife so loves. Since I brought with us a few bottles of wine in an ice box, and that we are not light travellers, the tea set had to give way, unfortunately. I should probably buy a small travelling set. It wasn't ideal, but I was able to improvise and managed to get decent cuppa every time.

On one cool, foggy night we dined at a Thai restaurant called Karinya nearby our hotel. The food was good and the spices was just what we needed to warm up our bodies. Every dish had a touch of homemade feel to it, which I appreciated. The price is a tad high since they are located in a high rent district (on Garnett Street, which is the main retail and commercial vein leading to the Crystal Pier). I forgo ordering from the wine list, though the Ch. Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer would be a good match for the dishes we had. Instead I just asked for a large pot of hot water for brewing the Hong Shui oolong that I brought along in my backpack.

For breakfasts in our cottage, I brewed mostly the Da Hong Pao in the hotel's coffee pot. As long as I was careful not to overbrew it, the tea was quite good. Everybody liked it and I thought the tea went quite well with the eggs, cheese, sausage, bread, jam and tvorak (a sort of Russian cottage cheese). Fellow tea purists, please don't crucify me for brewing DHP in such a way and for drinking it with food. :)

After coming back from the zoo, the Sea World, and what not (yes, this trip was about entertaining and showing our baby "the world"...not really for the adults) we usually spent the rest of the day at the beach below our hotel or just hang out in our private patio with a glass of wine (or two or three). I'm glad to have brought the wines myself because we do spend a fair amount of our time in our cottage, with the little one's nap and meal schedule. I just didn't have time to look for a proper wine store in the area. Some of the wines I brought and opened:

N/V Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne
($40) Fine mousse and bubbles. The nose is of sharp citrus and grapefruit. A little tight and needed decanting to soften it a bit, but I didn't have any workable decanter with me. The taste reflects the nose plus a hint of green apple. It's a mezzo-soprano of a Champagne. The finish is rather swift.

2004 Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
($15) We opened this one night while watching The Da Vinci Code on DVD in our cottage. Both the movie and the wine came up short. This Malbec bottling was mellow and rounded but lacked acidity, so it tasted flabby. An overall earthy wine with a somber note of blackberry. Rather depressing, actually, despite that it came highly recommended by some Winexilers.

2003 Joh Jos Christoffel Riesling Spatlese, Urziger Wurzgarten, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
($25) Simply lovely! All the characters of a balanced Mosel Riesling in play: yellow fruits, rocky slate minerality, acidity and sweetness. A polished, detailed, juicy and delicious wine. The sweetness is a bit high for a Spatlese, which is a typical character of the hot weather in 2003.

On the way home to LA, we lunched at an upscale looking white-linen restaurant called The CrabCatcher. The restaurant looked very nice and expensive, and it came complete with a snobbish lady maitre'd (perhaps because I had a little baby with me...a sign of potential mess and noise, which exactly what happened). Anyways, we were sorely disappointed with the quality of the food given the price, location and the manicured look of the restaurant. We ordered the crispy calamari as an appetizer, and for the entree we had the shrimp scampi, a $10 burger, the fish of the day (sea bass) cooked with a spicy salsa-like sauce ($24) and the Cioppino. The premium pricing was expected given the ambience and location of the venue...too bad the food didn't live up to the expectation that they themselves created, however. The service was gracious, I should note, so I still at least left them a generous tip at the end of our meal.

Their wine list was OK...they seem to have chosen their CA Pinot Noir and CA Cabernet Sauvignon selections with the recent trend in mind (Williams Selyem, Sea Smoke were 2 PNs I remember seeing on their list). The Champagne choices were good, too. Everything else other than those three wine categories felt like they are there only for the sake of having something on their wine list...not particularly exciting. As on the way to San Diego, I didn't order any wine again since I was the driver (I really wanted to order the Sea Smoke Pinot Noir, but nobody felt like having wine with their lunches, and it didn't come by the glass). So I just had two glasses of Anchor Steam beer, which was nice. After the dissapointing lunch, we walked around La Jolla a bit until the alcohol effect subsided before we headed back home; a journey that involved an excruciating 7 hours of heavy traffic.

To be continued...Thanksgiving dinner and a picnic with friends.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive!!!

The Beaujolais Nouveaus are here!!! At midnight on the third Thursday of every November, the Burgundians celebrate their most recent harvest with the world by drinking Beaujolais Nouveau. The common assumption goes that the release date of these fun wines was deliberately set a week before the U.S. Thanksgiving day. However, such is not the case because the Nouveaus are released on the same day everywhere in the world, and the last time I checked the rest of the world don’t celebrate the Thanksgiving that we know.

Visit your local wine store soon and grab a few bottles of fun-filled Nouveaus! These are wines for the young at heart! In general, a Nouveau can taste like a grape juice on steroid. It is very bright with fresh red fruit flavors such as cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. Some even taste like bubblegum candy! Because of the lack of tannins, it should be very soft in the mouth, and easy to drink. Do serve them slightly more chilled (55'F / 13' C) than you would any other red wines.

Of the many selections that you may encounter, three good reliable producers that are widely distributed in the States are Joseph Drouhin, Pierre Dupond and Georges Duboeuf. They average at about $11 per bottle. However, feel free to grab any Nouveau with your eyes closed. These are mostly simple wines that are meant for immediate enjoyment (the fresher the better). It is not meant for your sophisticated scrutinies.

The proper term of Beaujolais Nouveau is Beaujolais Primeur. By French and European laws, a wine released during the period between its harvest and the following spring is referred to as primeur. Gamay is the only grape variety permitted by law in Beaujolais Nouveau wines.

TN: 2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau ($9 at Costco, 12% alc)
Fresh purple! Immediately a bright nose of ripe strawberry, rose water, sweet cranberry compote. Bright acidity and sateeny tannin. It's simply an easygoing wine and fun. Made me giggle a little.

Duvel, The Champagne of Beers?

Duvel USA

This post is about a Belgian beer called Duvel. It is one of the few beers that I'd make an exception of posting on my tea and wine blog. Duvel is clearly one the finest beers available in the market.

If the Belgians called their beers the Champagne of Beers, it would be less of an oxymoron than calling Darjeeling the Champagne of Teas. Why? Belgian beers go through the refermentation stage in the very bottles that you pour (or drink) out of, not unlike Champagne wines. Even the bottles are corked and secured with wires like Champagne bottles are. It is truly a pleasure to hear the POP! of the cork out of this bottle.

TN: golden-yellow and foggy with precipitates. I'm not accustomed to describing the taste of beers, but this one is definitely quite hoppy and balanced with enough maltiness. A delightful beer!

I was only able to find the 750ml bottle. It was so good that I drank it all in a short 15 minutes (hick!). I'm on a hunt for the magnum (1.5 liter) or larger-sized bottling because the bigger the bottle the beer inside is fermented in, the better the taste…just like Champagnes, too!

Name of beer: Duvel
Origin: Belgium
Type: Blonde beer
Alcohol level: 8.5%
Price: around $9 per 750ml

Friday, November 10, 2006

Marketplace Watch: Classic 1961, 1949 & 1947 Clarets

Just in today!

New offerings from
Garagiste in Seattle to all their e-mailing list customers include 1 case each of three “perfect” (100pts by Parker) aged Bordeaux reds. If you are interested, please contact me after buying. I want to be your best friend.

1961 Latour a Pomerol (Lafite bottled) - $5,786.40 / 750ml
(WA 100pts) Parker: "Tasted 8 Times With Consistent Perfect Ratings. Although the 1947 Cheval Blanc is widely considered to be the "wine of the century" among collectors, the 1961 Latour a Pomerol also merits a share of the title. Giving points to a wine such as this makes one think of Shakespeare's reflection that "comparisons are odious." To put it mildly, this wine is "off the charts." If I had only one Bordeaux to drink, the 1961 Latour a Pomerol would have to be at the top of my list. Given its phenomenal richness and amazing precision and balance, it can bring tears to one's eyes. Still a saturated dark purple color with no signs of amber, orange, or rust, the nose offers extraordinarily rich, intense aromas of jammy plums, black currants, licorice, and truffles. Port-like, with remarkable viscosity and thickness, as well as a finish that lasts for more than a minute, this wine is in a class by itself. Even greater than the1961 Petrus and 1961 Latour (two perfect wines), it is phenomenal. Given its youthfulness (it is the least evolved wine of the vintage),it has the potential to last for another 20-30 years. 100pts"

1949 Cheval Blanc (Calvet bottled) - $2,670.96 / 750ml
(WA 100pts) Parker: "Tasted 5 Times With Consistent Notes. Although the extraordinary 1949 does not have the port-like unctuosity and heaviness of the 1947, it is an enormously rich, concentrated wine. It is better-balanced than the heavyweight 1947, yet as complex and extraordinary, both from an aromatic and flavor perspective. The wine exhibits a phenomenally fragrant bouquet of overripe red and blackfruits, cedar, Asian spices, and minerals. Decadently rich and jammy, it has an amazing plum/garnet color with very little amber or rust at the edge. It may out-live the heavier, thicker, more exotic 1947. 100pts"

1947 Cheval Blanc (Calvet bottled) - $3,680.73 / 750ml
(WA 100pts) Parker: "Tasted 11 Times With Consistent Notes Except For One Bad Double Magnum. What can I say about this mammoth wine that is more like port than dry red table wine? The 1947 Cheval Blanc exhibits such a thick texture it could double as motor oil. The hugenose of fruitcake, chocolate, leather, coffee, and Asian spices is mind-boggling. The unctuous texture and richness of sweet fruit are amazing. Consider the fact that this wine is, technically, appallingly deficient in acidity and excessively high in alcohol. Moreover, its volatile acidity levels would be considered intolerable by modern day oenologists. Yet how can they explain that after 47 years the wine is still remarkably fresh, phenomenally concentrated, and profoundly complex? It has to make you wonder about the direction of modern day winemaking. Except for one dismal, murky, troubled, volatile double-magnum, this wine has been either perfect or nearly perfect every time I have had it. But beware, there are numerous fraudulent bottles, particularly magnums, of 1947 Cheval Blanc in the marketplace. 100pts"

Monday, November 6, 2006

1970's Yixing Pots

A small, well-made Yixing teapot is always a nice find. It tends to become a close personal tea companion and possession as its size is ideal for serving one person: the owner. Also, there is something to be said about using just enough tea leaves so as to not waste any. After all, "tea is like eating silver."

Pictured are two 1970’s Shui Ping Hu (水平壶 “Balanced Water Pot”) that I acquired recently from Jing Tea Shop (left) and Houde (right). Both pots were made by Yixing Factory #1 and they have 70ml capacity. The pot from Jing Tea Shop is a Nei Zi Wai Hong1 kind (literally translates as "inside-purple-outside-red"). This type of teapot is made from low(er) quality Zisha (purple clay) and then “painted” or "showered" evenly with Hong Ni clay on the outside to hide its low-grade Zisha look. Judging from the absence of any drib on the inside of the lid by the air hole, the specimen that I got is most likely the "painted" kind. The outside texture of the pot, however, is not as smooth as the other pot.

The pot from Houde (right) is made entirely of Hong Ni clay. This pot has developed a somewhat creamy and juicy feel from age and use. It has a very pleasant wrinkled smooth texture. The clay quality, balance, and its clinking sound are excellent.

Notice the slight shape and proportion differences between the two pots? The nei zi wai hong has a "Zhong Guo Yi Xing" seal, while the hong ni pot has a "Jing Shi Hwei Meng Chen Zhi" seal. After some practice, both pots brew and pour very well, with good lid-body fit.
Click here to see better the inside-outside clay contrast.

These pots have become indispensable companions when I’m drinking tea solo. I use the pot from Jing Tea for high fire Tie Guan Yin oolong because it has a slightly bigger, rounder belly for allowing the leaves to unfurl better. The other pot from Houde, with its slightly wider opening, is for brewing high fire Wuyi Mtn. rock oolongs. So far, fortunately, I’ve had no problem fitting the long and wiry Wuyi leaves inside the pot. I suppose when I encounter a Wuyi with leaves that are too long to fit inside then I'd have to use a gaiwan.

1Thanks to Guang of Houde who
recently discussed about the history, the making and the attributes of Nei Zi Wai Hong and Shan Tou pots on his blog.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

How Much Is That Pu'er in The Window?

MarshalN, who is perpetually soaked in tea in Beijing, posted an interesting article about a tea tasting session that he attended at a teashop in Maliandao (a section of Beijing that is dominated solely by tea merchants). You can read all about it here. One of the things he wrote that strike me as interesting is about the 1930’s Song Pin pu’er, which according to him tasted a bit underwhelming. In his article, he held for us an entire cake of this tea, which can be bought for merely USD $17,000. I’m just kidding there, of course, when I said “merely”.

Then I wondered: I know of no wine that costs $17,000 per 750ml bottle. However, if a beeng of pu’er is selling for such a stellar price, how does it compare with the price of wine, milliliter by milliliter? So I did a quick computation based on many assumptions, please bear with me.

The assumptions are:

  • A beeng weighs 357gr
  • 7 grams of dried leaves per session
  • In a vessel that yields 100ml of liquor per infusion, and
  • 10 infusions per session

  • These assumptions are based on, more or less, the parameter I often use for brewing my pu’er.

    Computation: the 357gr beeng can last for 51 brewing sessions, with each session yielding 1,000ml of tea. The cost per milliliter, then, is $0.33 ($17,000 / 51,000ml). Therefore, the cost per 750ml of this tea is $250. In other words, 750ml of this tea is as costly as a $250 bottle of wine. Or, buying a beeng of this tea is equivalent to buying 68 bottles of $250 wine!

    Nowadays, you can buy a bottle of Krug Rose Champagne for $250. For the same amount of money, you can get top tier wines from excellent years, too! Truly, $250 can get you a stellar wine from a great producer from any region in the world. Of course, you can also bust $17,000 on just 17 bottles of Screaming Eagle from Napa or 5.5 bottles of 1975 Ch. Petrus from Pomerol.

  • This 1930’s Song Pin beeng is about the same price as any top-tier wines, milliliter by milliliter
  • Though it is a very expensive cake by any standard, milliliter by milliliter this tea is still relatively cheaper than the most expensive of wines that can cost $1, $2, or even $4 per milliliter

    My personal opinion: Not that I can afford to spend $17,000 on a beeng of tea (yet). If given the options, however, I would rather buy 68 bottles of different VERY VERY GOOD premium wines for my cellar than be stuck with a 357gr disc of this tea. Hey, it’s just me.
  • Edit 11/3/2006: Since the Peoples Republic of China has re-blocked Blogger, I e-mailed this post to MarshalN for his opinion. He responded by saying that the Song Pin can be brewed for "more like 30" (!) infusions per session. In that case, the price per 750ml of this tea is $83.33. Hmmm....that is quite a good deal if you see it this way.

    Wednesday, November 1, 2006

    TN: Xia Guan Tuo Cha Pu'er (Shou)

    Xiaguan Shou Tuo ChaLast night, I craved for some cooked pu’er. I have been drinking a lot of green teas these past few days, so I needed something more soothing to my stomach. The trouble was all of my good pu’er are in boxes in my car. Yes, I’ve been driving around to and from work with 5 large boxes of pu’er until I’m done with painting my home. I guess I’m taking my own sweet time with the painting. I need to speed up the process.

    I digress…

    I scoured my tea cabinet hoping to find something that I might have missed putting into the boxes. Got it! Jogrebe sent me a bit of Xiaguan cooked tuo cha pu'er (vintage unknown) some time ago and there was a bit left enough for one session. I was in business!

    Parameter: 5s rinse, twice. 2m rest. Then 5s 5s 8s 10s,…

    TN: Deep red-brown in color. Not much nose, except for a slight earthiness. No pondy smell either, which I prefer. In the mouth, it’s soy-milk smooth, round, and went down easy. Nothing too complex, yet it’s quite pleasant in a simplistic, easy going way. When the tea cooled down a bit, however, I detected a slight sour note. Although I’ve read that younger cooked pu’er can have some astringency note to it, I’m still not quite sure why. Is it due to excessive humidity during the “cooking” process? Is it normal? This tea, unfortunately, lacked a sweet aftertaste in the back of the throat that I usually like in my cooked pu’er.

    2 stars (mg)
    A smooth, clean tasting cooked pu’er but the aftertaste was lacking.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Happy Halloween! Would You Like Some Wine With Those Candies, Dear?

    Excuse me, are you going to eat that candy? With wine?! With a 20-year-old tawny port wine?!?!?!

    Sure, why not! has created a candy-wine pairing suggestions, inspired by 2 New York City's full-service dessert restaurants (they don't serve anything but yummy desserts),
    ChikaLicious and Room 4 Dessert.

    Here are what suggests:

    Candy Corn +
    Elio Perrone Moscato d’Asti ($15)
    The sheer, slightly effervescent Moscato is the perfect foil for creamy and addictive candy corn. The wine, which is chock full of peach and apricot notes, is a great match for candy corn’s orange dreamsicle flavors.

    Hershey's Miniatures +
    La Sera Red Malvasia ($14)
    The old standby of Halloween candy, the bag of Hershey’s miniatures, receives a fun new lease on life when it’s paired with this fuschia-colored fizz that tastes like fresh raspberries. Because this wine is red, and thus has a slightly fuller body, it’s not overwhelmed by the chocolate, which can be difficult to pair because of its thick, mouth-coating texture. Best of all, it handles Special Dark and Krackel with equal aplomb.

    Snickers +
    Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Port ($50)
    A 20-year tawny, which oddly is more an indication of style than of age, is going to set you back a few bucks, but we’ll bet you’ve never had a better high-brow/low-brow pairing. Tawnies have a silky, rich texture that stands up to the thick caramel/nougat/chocolate combo of Snickers. Plus, tawny ports -- especially those with age indicated on the label -- are known for their heady, nutty aromas.

    Butterfinger +
    Chambers Rutherglen Muscat ($17/375 ml)
    From Australia comes this liqueur wine that is one of the sweetest in the world. Due to its high sugar content and extremely viscous texture, it is commonly referred to as a "sticky" (spill a drop on the table and you’ll agree). It also smells and tastes just like toffee in alcoholic, liquid form. No better match here than a Butterfinger.

    Read the
    full article here at

    My personal favorite dessert-wine pairings are:

  • Vanilla ice cream topped with thick and sweet late harvest zinfandel

  • Crème Brulle with Hungarian Tokaji (4 or 5 Puttonyos)

  • Strawberry shortcake with a glass of Sauternes (Sauternes also goes well with raw oysters. Love the salty-sweet contrast!)

  • Godiva Chocoloate Cheesecake (from the Cheesecake Factory) with a glass of tawny port

  • Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Eiswein, just by itself
  • Monday, October 30, 2006

    New Cha He and Oriental Beauty

    It feels like it's been forever since I last posted. Work, home projects and chores had taken over my life in the past 2+ weeks, and not to mention the ongoing quarrel on Winexiles. It's always exciting when there is a quarrel of some makes everything more alive, but not when I'm being pulled left and right (literally, by the Republican conservative members vs. the liberal members) to resolve matter even handedly. Sigh.

    Anyways, I met a worthy replacement of my cha he (tea leaves holder) that committed suicide on me a few weeks ago. While visiting the Bamboo Tea House near my office a few days ago, I found this Japanese-made bowl that is perfectly shaped as a tea holder. Its sexy lips guide the tea leaves into any vessel with minimum spill. For just USD $8, it's a beautifully made ceramic cha he.

    2005 Summer Oriental Beauty Oolong
    Source: Teamasters

    Stéphane Erler was very kind to send me a sample of this Oriental Beauty oolong tea (aka: bai hao oolong, dong fang mei ren). Thank you.

    This Oriental Beauty was quite refined. It reminded me a lot of some of the best 1st flush Darjeelings I've had, but without the usual astringency and bite. It's well rounded, soft and smooth in the mouth with a complex taste of various tropical fruits and of something subtly sweet.

    This tea does not brew bitter, which is a good thing. When I was brewing it for the 2nd infusion, I suddenly had to help with my daughter (diaper change, yeah). As a result, the tea was brewed for a good 5 to 7 minutes before I decanted it (the previous 1st infusion was only for a few seconds). I expected a very bitter and astringent tea. But, no! Its taste held up well under such a long brew, and yet it gave almost no bitterness or astringency. Yes there were a little bit of bitterness and astringency, though the tea was still pleasant to drink. Thereafter, I was able to brew this tea for 7 or more times, which means it has good brewing durability.

    4 stars (vg)

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006


    Water color paintings of rural farmlands and tea fields in Western Java. I obtained these paintings while vacationing with my family there. The first two depict tea harvesting.

    2002 Coutet St. EmillionSo with your overflowing passion you would like to grow grapes and make wines. Where do you start? You need a nice piece of terroir that will give birth to the wines of your dream.

    Say you love Cabernet Sauvignon, how about this Napa Valley parcel for $3,900,000:

    "Estate site with Silverado Trail address near Dariush and Reynold Family Winery. 10 plus plantable acres, already staked 8x5. Park like setting to the Napa River 1400sf cottage, natural stone exterior fully landscaped, trellis cover patio, great vineyard hills and river views."

    Perhaps your passion lies with Malbec, instead. Then this winery in Argentina might do for a mere $489,000:

    "Amazing winery that shows very well with 1,113,000 liter capacity located on the main highway (188) between Buenos Aires and Chile and only 2km from the center of the city, General Alvear. . The winery has a 3 bedroom/1bath apartment attached to the property."

    The above properties and others are
    listed here.

    2002 Coutet St. EmillionHave you tried L'Occitane Green Tea Shower Gel before? It's quite nice and uplifting in the morning. It reminds me of Tai Ping Hou Kui (monkey king) green tea, but sweeter.

    Photo: L'Occitane

    Sunday, October 8, 2006

    Weekend Notes

    In Memory of Jeffrey Kneebone

    J. Kneebone
    1959 - 2006

    I uncorked a rare gem from Rasteau in remembrance and in honor of Mr. Jeffrey Kneebone (aka: Verdiball), a Baritone extraordinaire and a friend. Jeff was very passionate in what he did in life. His intense love for the opera can only be matched by his love for the nectar that is wine. Though I have never met him in meatspace, I’m glad to have been acquainted with him through the cyberspace for the past 2+ years. We have formed a friendship, as all other Winexilers had with him. I have only fond memories of him, his wisdom and intelligence in our exchanges. I really miss his presence on Winexiles. Jeffrey passed away [pdf] on August 1, 2006 from melanoma.

    A bunch of Winexilers gathered together on Saturday 10/7/06 at NYC’s Café Loup to celebrate and remember Jeffrey by fondly. I almost went to NYC, but a family circumstance prevented me from going. In his memory, I decided to open this special gem. As one winexiler said: “Verdi, I hope wine is legal in heaven.”

    2003 Sassira2003 Domaine des Escaravailles “Sassira”, Rasteau, Rhone
    (~300 cases produced, $27, if you can find one)

    Inky purple. Subtle and shy on the nose (going through dumb period?). But once it’s inside the mouth, it knocked my socks off! A powerful wine. It is concentrated, intense, full body of soy milk texture, and simply exhilarating. Boysenberries and blackberries of the highest intensity and concentration on the palate. A leathery aroma is also present. A coffee, dark chocolate and spicy rosemary finish that is long and persistent. This is a big-big wine with dusty tannin. At 15% alcohol level, it is balanced by lively acidity and fruit. I simply couldn’t put my glass down! A very balanced wine and impeccably detailed. An Hermitage in a Rasteau bottling! This wine should evolve finely and easily over 5+ years, probably even 10+ years.

    4.5 stars (vg - ex, due to a rather shy nose. Otherwise, it's a 5-star wine)

    Background information on the wine: Sassira is the flagship bottling and most limited item from Domaine Escaravailles. Only 300+ cases of this wine were made. From 30-60 year old vines, the Sassira is 90% Syrah with the remainder Grenache. This wine was not fined or filtered. This wine is extremely difficult to procure – it is one of the hardest Rhone wines to acquire outside of the Rhone Valley.
    The Sound of Music That is Zhuni

    What is the sound of Zhuni? Guang of Houde on his blog demonstrated some of his priced possessions to the world. It is simply a beautiful music to the ears of those who value the beauty of premium Yixing teapots. As a side note, the last pot in this video clip is none other than the late 18th century (mid-Qing Dynasty) "Fu Yuan Ting" Long Dan Zhuni that I mentioned about in my previous post. It is up for grab for just US $3,250 (also notice the pot's shine!). Now that I can listen to it online, I don't need to spend money for it. I can brew my tea in my humble $4 gaiwan and drink it while listening to the *pinging* of his zhuni collection. :o)

    2002 Coutet St. Emillion
    2002 Chateau Coutet, St. Emillion

    Plump, juicy, watery (light bodied), with reserved oaky-ness. Blueberry predominant. This is an easy going quaff. It went well with the Domino’s Pizza I ordered. Although 2002 was just an RP 89pts vintage year in St. Emillion, I’ve had a $7 Washington state merlot of similar, if not better, quality year in and year out.

    2+ stars (mg-g)

    Thursday, October 5, 2006

    TN: 2006 Meghma Garden Oolong, Kalikhop Valley, Nepal

    2006 Meghma Esate Nepalese OolongSource: The Simple Leaf
    $15 / 4oz

    Here is a pleasant tasting and highly aromatic oolong from Nepal. It’s certainly a new kind of animal for me! From observing the dry leaves, this oolong looks and smells like a good second flush Darjeeling tea of BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) grade mixed with some OP (Orange Pekoe) grade. It smells like a mix of tropical fruits (mango, peach, citrus, orange peel), muscatel and floral honeysuckle.

    I brewed this tea in several different ways to see how it reacts to different brewing methods: “gongfu” method with a gaiwan (lots of leaves, short infusions), “English” method in a porcelain teapot (little leaves, long infusion time of >3 minutes), as well as “office” method (vacuum thermos, little leaves, daylong brewing). I found the “middle path” method to be my personal choice for this tea. Middle path in this case is a method between the gongfu and the English styles where I use my larger (~400ml) Yixing pot, ~2 tablespoons of leaves, and medium infusion time of about 45 secs to 1 minute for each brew. Let me explain why.

    I felt that the gongfu method yields an intense brew but not quite an aromatic liquor, as if the tea’s perfume did not have enough time to infuse itself out. The English method yielded a tea that I thought was a bit too acidic for my taste, and so does the office style especially after several hours in the thermos (although the nose is very vivid and appealing). As such, the “middle path” brews a tea that is not too acidic, yet smooth, perfumy with a hint of honey aftertaste.

    The Simple Leaf provided this
    background information about the producer and the tea's characteristics.

    It exudes the aroma of the native Daphne bholua and Rhododendron plants. With a light and smooth liquor and a trace of honeysuckle flavor …. Founded in 1999, Meghma Garden is in the Kalikhop valley in the Ilam District in the far northeastern corner of Nepal. Nestled in the lap of the mighty Himalayas, Meghma Tea Estate is situated at an altitude of 7,000 feet, far away from the modern world. This makes it one of the highest tea growing areas in the world. This small estate produces hand-rolled all-natural teas."

    What I still don’t understand about this tea is the description of “hand rolled” in the product information. Is this definition identical to when one refers to pellet-shaped (fisted) Chinese oolong leaves? The leaves of this Nepalese oolong certainly are not fisted. Or perhaps “hand-rolled” means differently when we are discussing Indian and Nepalese tea processing techniques? Does it perhaps mean the leaves were “bruised” by hand and not by a machine?

    Another observation is that the picture of the tea on The Simple Leaf’s website looks much greener and more colorful than what I received. Has it been further oxidized during storage and so it lost its color vibrancy? The Simple Leaf claims that the tea was harvested in early August of 2006, which is only 2 months since this tasting note was written.

    Overall, a pleasant tasting and aromatic everyday kind of tea. Due to its shape and size, this tea is quite sensitive to infusion time. I agree with whoever said it would make a very refreshing iced tea, though I think serving it warm brings out its charms better.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006

    R.I.P. My Tea Holder

    Rest In Peace
    March - October 2006

    It's a sad day. My porcelain tea holder has commited suicide. It leaped out of my hand while I was drying it gently after washing and crashed on the floor. No suicide note, though I suspect the severe trauma from having held some repulsive Da Hong Pao leaves just minutes before was what caused it to end it all.

    I met it in Guangzhou in March of 2006 at a tea store on the popular Bei Jing Road. It's been a loyal tea companion during its short time with me. It will be missed.

    Monday, October 2, 2006

    Weekend Notes

    Az Agr 2001 Uccelliera Rapace IGT, Toscana

    2001 Uccelliera RapaceI won this 2001 Uccelliera Rapace from, an internet auction site. The Rapace is a modern style Super Tuscan made of primarily native Sangiovese varietal blended with “foreign” Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and it is aged in small French barriques. Traditional Tuscan wines, on the other hand, never use Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, and they are aged in large old barrels (mostly made from Slovenian oak wood).

    Uccelliera also makes excellent traditional Tuscan Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. The winery is located just outside of a village named Castelnuevo del'Abate in the southeastern corner of the Montalcino D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). Its vineyards face the southwestern exposure. The 2001 vintage was considered an excellent year in Tuscany.

    Tasting Note:
    2001 Uccelliera Rapace, Toscana
    ($30 retail, won on at $15/bottle)

    Intense, deep garnet color with a slight brick-ish red hue on the rim. The brick-ish hue had me worried at first that this wine had gone over the hill, but I was proven wrong. Focused nose of black berries, plums and a certain earthy notes. Fresh from opening, the wine was still very tight and tannic, so I decided to decant it. While decanting, I noticed that this wine had thrown some sediment.

    An hour later, the wine had somewhat softened, giving a complex nose of casis, along with those mentioned above. The texture turned slightly softer and creamier. A certain improvement already.

    About 24 hours later in the decanter, all the good aspects of the wine seemed to have melded together, giving it a certain complexity with an added touch of coffee and sweet eucalyptus aromas. Long finish.

    I would give another year until I open the second of the 3 bottles I won.

    4 stars (vg)

    Torrontes Wine

    2005 Finca de DomingoAs part of Winexiles twice-monthly online tasting, I tasted something that I’ve never tried before: a wine made from the Torrontes varietal. If not for my fellow wino Bodegatejas, who is a professional grape grower, a winemaker, and a Spanish grapes maestro - from whom various wineries buy wine grapes - I would never have thought of trying this varietal, let alone knowing it exists.

    What is Torrontes? Bodegatejas explained on Winexiles:

    Torrontes......which produces a wine whose aroma is a tumultuous outpouring of tropical fruit, candied peaches, lychee nut, rose petals and other floral hints. Its flavors rush into the mouth, with bright ripe fruits similar to the ones found in the aroma, with an extra zing of spice and acidity for good measure. Needless to say, this is not a wine for the faint of heart.

    Torrontes is a grape emanating from the Galician region of northwest Spain. There it is commonly used in wines from the sub-region of Ribeiro (not to be confused with the more popular wines of Ribera del Duero). Though you won't hear much about Spanish Torrontes, the same-named grape flourishes in the dry climate and mountains of Argentina. It is not clear whether the grape is identical in both countries, but who really cares? The main thing to remember is to look for Argentinean Torrontes, which has a strongly perfumed, distinctive character.

    The wine which I was able to find locally was the Argentinean example. I couldn’t find any Spanish Torrontes. An interesting note: the fruit that goes into this wine is grown 1 mile above sea level.

    Tasting Note:
    2005 Finca de Domingo, Torrontes, Cafayate (5600 meters above sea level), Salta, Argentina

    Muy bien! Color was clear, yellow-white. Immediately a nose of lychee and white flowers that reminded me of Alsatian pinot gris. There was this saltiness in the nose, as if I was smelling fino sherry. In the mouth, it striked me that this wine reminded me very much of the classic Tio Pepe Fino Sherry in its briny, ocean breeze character (no nuttiness as in Tio Pepe). The body was quite full, yet at the same time light feeling, as if it's foamy. Intriguing taste, but the finish was rather short.

    A simple dinner of grilled king salmon seasoned with dried dill and drizzled in olive oil complimented this white wine very well.

    3 stars (g)

    2000 Muga Reserva Rioja

    2000 Muga ReservaAs I’m writing this post, I am also sipping my Spanish favorite: 2000 Bodega Muga Reserva, Rioja. The strange thing about it is that the wine is in its 26th hour of decanting and it has evolved beautifully! Why strange? A year or so ago when I opened a bottle of the 2000, it tasted quite beautifully right from the start (though far from reaching its maturity or peak). It was immediately elegant and approachable, showing balanced dark fruits, gentle oakiness with a hint of violet floral-ness.

    I decided to open my last bottle of the 2000 last night and I was sorely disappointed, at first. The wine tasted extremely tart and tight. I was certain that the wine was still in a good shape and not yet over the hill. Color was fresh purple, with no hint of brick-ish red. Nose was of sour cherry and dark plums. Taste, however, was like esophagus-corroding acid...though not quite vinegary. I had about 5 sips and each one made my face cringe. I almost threw it all out down the sink, but I decided to decant it instead.

    12 hours later, the wine softened a bit and was less tart, but it still was too tart.

    26 hours later, this wine is now showing its elegant self…the way I remembered it last year. Nice!

    0 star, right after uncorking (poor)
    3+ stars (g -vg) after 26 hours in a decanter

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    TN: 2006 Traditional Dong-Ding "Hong Shui" Oolong

    2006 Dong Ding Hong ShuiOver the past few days, I tasted on several occasions a traditional type of Taiwanese Dong Ding oolong called 红水 (Hong Shui or Red Water). This style of oolong is more oxidized (~60%) and less roasted than most Dong Ding oolongs commonly found in the marketplace today, or at least where I live in. Apparently, according to the product description [pdf], this is the way Dong Ding oolongs used to be crafted before it later evolved to the less oxidized (~30%) and heavier roasted style that is now widely available.

    In response to my inquiry, Guang, the proprietor of
    Hou De, said “There is a ‘retro’ trend among Taiwan's tea drinkers recently. And the Hong-Shui oolong is getting more demand than before." His blog also explains the close ties that this Hong Shui style shares with Anxi Tie Guan Yin and Wuyi Yan Cha oolongs: the appellation of Lu Gu in Nantou County, Central Taiwan, inherited Anxi’s processing heritage and Wuyi’s oolong cultivar, and later also employed Wuyi’s processing philosophies, which resulted in the birth of the Hong Shui style.

    Compare the dry Hong Shui to the Huang Jin Lan (Golden Orchid) oolong, which is ~25% oxidized and lightly roasted (also in Hou De’s inventory).

    2006 Huang Jin Lan & Hong Shui

    Tasting Note:

    2006 Traditional Dong Ding "Hong Shui" oolong
    From Hou De Fine Asian Arts
    $12.50 / 2 oz

    Green-red, tightly fisted leaves (dry). Leaf pellets open up to wholesome and stalky dark green leaves with heavy streaks of redness due to the oxidation. Brown-red liquor. This is an interesting oolong altogether. It is quite different from the other Dong Ding oolongs I've tried. The highly oxidized and light roasting technique gives it the aroma of yellow fruits (dried mango, apricot and peach come to mind) and a whiff of lightly roasted grains. There is also caramel, which is especially found "on the bottom of the empty cup" and from the hot damp leaves. The liquor itself gives a tint of sweetness in the mouth, which persists in the back of my throat for quite long after swallowing the smooth liquid. Medium, rounded body, which in my opinion is good when compared to some Dong Ding oolongs that have good “nose” but hollow mouthfeel. I agree with Guang's observation on the Wuyi oolong taste resemblance in this tea, to some extent. In my view, this is a complex and very enjoyable oolong.

    4 stars (vg)

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    "Tea is like eating silver."

    The Good EarthThe Good Earth Poster

    The old man continued to cough perseveringly and would not cease until the water boiled. Wang Lung dipped some into a bowl, and then, after a moment, he opened a glazed jar that stood upon a ledge of the stove and took from it a dozen or so of the curled dried leaves and sprinkled them upon the surface of the water. The old man's eyes opened greedily and immediately he began to complain.

    "Why are you wasteful? Tea is like eating silver."

    "It is the day," replied Wang Lung with a short laugh. "Eat and be comforted."

    The old man grasped the bowl in his shriveled, knotty fingers, muttering, uttering little grunts. He watched the leaves uncurl and spread upon the surface of the water, unable to bear drinking the precious stuff.

    "It will be cold," said Wang Lung.

    "True -- true -- " said the old man in alarm, and he began to take great gulps of the hot tea. He passed into an animal satisfaction, like a child fixed upon its feeding. But he was not too forgetful to see Wang Lung dipping the water recklessly from the cauldron into a deep wooden tub. He lifted his head and stared at his son.

    Buck, Pearl S., The Good Earth, Chapter 1, Washington Square Press, 1931

    Sunday, September 24, 2006

    TN: 2004 Marquis de Goulaine, Rosé d’Anjou “La Roseraie”

    04 Rose d'AnjouA good rosé is a high quality wine of terroir. Too bad that in the US most people regard a wine that is neither red nor white as unsophisticated. For good reasons too. Most "pink wines" from California, which produces the majority of US pink wine output, are made with 2 things in mind: quantity and revenue maximization. These are usually made from the zinfandel variety, though lately other grape varieties such as merlot, syrah, and grenache have seen their share of pinkness.

    The wineries in Provence, Loire and other regions in France, on the other hand, are very passionate about their rosés, which have been perfected for centuries. These areas produce some of the most interesting rosés that I think are worlds apart in quality compared to the ocean of pink plonks produced in California.

    I looked into my wine fridge and found that I still have 4 bottles of rosés (a Côtes du Rhône, a Tavel, a Côtes de Provence, and this Anjou) that I had planned to open during the summer. Gotta drink them up soon lest they get stale by next summer!

    TN: 2004 Marquis de Goulaine, Rosé d’Anjou “La Roseraie”
    ($11 regular, purchased for $7 at Chronicle Wine in Pasadena).

    Lively pink-red color. Plenty of tropical fruits soaked in subtle rose water. This wine is bright and refreshing. Its high notes and acidity livened up the palate and made the wine seem sweet, though there is barely any residual sugar. At 11%, it is quite a nimble wine. Dry finish. This is a pleasant wine that is far from being a cliché, yet perfect for easygoing enjoyment. A good bargain!

    3 stars (g)

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    Super-Hyped Vintage 2005 Bordeaux

    The October 2006 issue of the Food & Wine Magazine features Robert Parker’s take on the ultra-hyped vintage 2005 Bordeaux wines long after the first futures was offered. It is akin to an updated review on the vintage. Commentaries like Parker's are relevant to wine collectors in order to get a sense of perspective; have we been sucked in by the senseless frenzy of the market? It serves to calm down buyers’ anxieties.

    Here is the article in Food & Wine Magazine, issue October 2006.
    (If the link is broken, the PDF version is available here)

    3 years ago in 2003, still reeling from the disappointment of missing the 2000 en primeur boat, I decided to get into the excellent 2003 Bordeaux en primeur market. I only purchased 3 cases, one of which is a Sauternes sweet wine. By that time, the recently released vintage 2000 Bordeaux had reached stratospheric prices in the stores.

    We are seeing this 2000 mania again with the “BEST EVER!” 2005 vintage Bordeaux. The market for 2005 wines is super-hyped left and right, up and down by everyone from the producers to the retailers, as well as by wine writers. All these have helped drive futures' prices for the 2005 vintage to become the highest ever in the history of Bordeaux.

    I’ve decided to forego the 2005’s overpriced futures for something that I love as much: 2005 pu’er teas and 2005 German Rieslings. They are both as ageworthy as fine Bordeaux, and maybe more so.

    What is en primeur / futures?
    It is basically buying your wine in advance, before it’s even bottled. The grape juice is practically still inside the oak barrels at the Chateaux when you buy it. Major critics and buyers travel to Bordeaux to get a first-hand taste on the juice and evaluate their potential. Then the wines are offered to the consumers by the importers/wholesalers/retailers. This is why consumers rely heavily on their favorite [supposedly] independent wine critics/writers/publications, such as Michael Broadbent, Steven Tanzer, Robert Parker, Decanter Magazine, Wine Spectator Magazine, etc. as guides.

    It is also, basically, an educated gamble. Depending on subsequent news and critics’ reviews, a wine produced by a particular Chateau may appreciate or depreciate in value before it even hits the retail floor. Therefore, it can be said that if you buy a futures for $30/bottle and this particular wine hits retail at $40/bottle, your investment has appreciated by 33.33% or you have saved 25% off retail price (not taking into account future value of present dollar, etc). However, the opposite may also happen. Some win, some lose.

    Read The Wine Doctor’s excellent article about en primeur to learn more.

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    Weekend Notes

    Package From Tea Masters
    Package from Tea Masters
    A highly anticipated package finally arrived this weekend from Monsieur Erler in Taipei. I purchased from Stéphane (of Tea Masters) a small zhuni Xishi Yixing pot and a variety of oolong samples from his product selections. Stéphane really paid a lot of attention to the details, down to the littlest of things on the labels, packaging and the well-written cover letter (with deliberately-burned sides for visual effect!). I felt like receiving a package from a very dedicated and boutique-y teashop. Having tried a few of his selections, including his 2003 Yiwu pu’er and 2006 Dong Ding "classic" oolong, I can confidently say that he had carefully chosen his products to include only the very high quality. Moreover, his approach to customer service is simply responsible in all manners, which is more than one can ask for. To wit, Tea Masters is among one of the best and most reliable vendors out there, and it has set the standard bar very high for other vendors to match. Praise where praise is due.

    Zhuni "Xishi" Yixing Pot From Tea Masters (100 ml)

    Xishi Yixing Pot
    If Marie Antoinette’s bosoms were dedicated to Champagne saucers, then the realm of Chinese teas has Lady Xishi to thank for. At least that’s how I view a Xishi teapot should look like. I decided to purchase it from Stéphane because, first and foremost, of its very sensual shape. Most Xishi teapots out there do not have the shape that is as “appealing” as this one, in my humble opinion. Ok, so I maybe have a fixation on breasts…I mean, who doesn’t? It’s the perfect symbol of mother nature.

    So how is the teapot? Outstanding! Good clay, great proportions, excellent workmanship, swift pour, and perfect lid fit that is airtight and not drippy. It is the epitome of satisfaction a Yixing can give. I think it’s an excellent buy for the quality. It’s too soon to say what it’s for, but I am thinking of dedicating Da Hong Pao with it.

    04 le Clos du Caillou CdR

    2004 Domaine le Clos du Caillou, Côtes du Rhône, Vieilles Vignes (Old Vines)

    "We assembled a blend of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre and 5% Carignane for our Cuvée Unique. Think blackberries dusted with baking spices, juicy cherries dipped in dark chocolate—simply a blockbuster Côtes du Rhône! Our selection of the finest lots of the vintage includes wine from some 37 older barrels, blended with wine from two different tanks and a few larger foudre. Hard work—but it definitely paid off. This is unmistakably the best of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in a bottle of Côtes du Rhône."

    TN: Beautiful, lively young, deep ruby red color. Refreshing nose of blue and black berries, red cherry, pencil shavings, and soft oak. Some minerality came through. Soft and silky mouthfeel with fine tannin. Medium finish (20 secs) with a light coffee and chocolatey aftertaste. Good acidity level complements the overall taste to make the wine feel vibrant. On the second day (stored with inert gas to preserve freshness), some stewed strawberry taste emerged.

    I think this is good wine to accompany lamb chops, osso buco or that $15 hamburger at a fancy restaurant.

    3+ stars (g - vg)

    04 Drouhin Chablis

    2004 Domaine Joseph Drouhin Chablis

    Vivid nose of gooseberries, citrus, pear and sweet ripe apple…and the absence of oak, of course, which is Chablis. I prefer my white wines non-oaked nowadays because oak masks the true characters of such a delicate type of wine. In the mouth it is quite lean, bordering on being watery. Dry and crisp, with bearable amount of acidity. I was expecting daggers from the acidity, which is common in young Chablis. Better nose than mouth, I say.

    This wine makes for a good aperitif to accompany light salad with vinaigrette dressings or fresh raw oysters! It should also go well with light seafood dishes.

    3 stars (g)






    Wuyi Weekend

    06 DHP

    Spring 2006 Da Hong Pao from A lighter fired version of Da Hong Pao that I found to be very good. Complex tastes and aromas of flowers, fruits, caramel and some greenness, all this with an undertone of soft roasted taste. I enjoyed it very much. According to Daniel Ong (the proprietor), the lighter-fired oolong such as this should be at its apex in about 3 years time.


    06 BJG

    Spring 2006 Bai Ji Guan from This Bai Ji Guan is quite green! It’s quite hard to describe the aroma profile of this tea…I don’t think I have the vocabularies for them yet. Can anyone please tell me to what usually the aromas of Bai Ji Guan is attributed to? It’s light bodied and mild.



    06 SJG

    Spring 2006 Shui Jin Gui from The Shui Jin Gui is a bit more roasted than the Da Hong Pao, and it exhibits herbal characteristics reminiscent of Chinese medicine…the tolerable one. It’s kind of soupy in a way that it reminds me of the herbal chicken soup with a potpourri of Chinese herbs in the mix. Interesting, but an acquired taste for me.



    06 SJG
    I also tasted a 1997 Shui Xian sample from Stéphane (Tea Masters). This tea exhibits a chocolatey nose and something that reminds me of toffee. On the palate, the first thing I noticed was its obvious astringency, as if there is a drop or two of lemon juice in my cup. The mouthfeel is pretty good…medium bodied and smooth. There is no smokiness or any heavy roast taste, perhaps due to the aging effect?