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.