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.