Sunday, June 29, 2008

1998 Shu Pu'er Tuocha From The Tea Gallery

First off, Olé España!!! Finally!!!

This tea sample came from The Tea Gallery in New York City, a brick-and-mortar tea store which only recently inaugurated its online store. Congratulations! We in the tea blogosphere have known about this establishment for quite some time as the quasi-headquarter of New York City's teaheads, such as Toki.

I must generously give my thanks to Dae, of The Tea Gallery, who was most courteous and patient with this first-time customer’s incessant questioning about the shu pu’er at hand (we had a lengthy, multiple exchanges of emails due to our confusion with another shu tuocha).

On to the tea.

Dry: decent-sized leaves with lots of stalks in the mix. Earthy-red-and-black in color, with a clean appearance and absent of mold or any hint of it. It gave off a fresh, clean, woody smell. One could see (and smell) that the tea went through the pre-requisite wo dui process to have been classified as a shu, but perhaps not all the way through. Also, it was apparent that this 10-year old tea had been well-stored.

Brewing parameter: 1/3 full of dry leaves in a 125ml Yixing pot. Mineral water, boiling-hot temperature, 5 sec. wash, 30 sec. rest. 10s, 15s, 30s, 45s, 1m, 2m…then brewed with warm water for 4 hours.

Liquor: clean-tasting, thick body, pleasantly woody, and smooth. The first 2 infusions had some silky-smooth astringency (from the stalks?), but this characteristic dissipated thereafter to give a pristine mouthfeel. There was hardly any fault with this shu pu’er, though in itself was quite ordinarily pleasant. Its taste profile hardly changed from one infusion to another. Lasted for about 6 - 7 infusions.

Overall: a thoroughly pleasant and faultless shu tuocha pu’er, if rather charmingly ordinary and straightforward. I have no complain about this tea. I enjoyed drinking it.

3.5 stars (good / very good)

On another I visited the various gardens at The Huntington Library in San Marino. Below is a snapshot of the tearoom in the Japanese Garden.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

George Michael -- 25 Live Tour

Just returned from George Michael's concert in Anaheim. Great show! He is in perfect form, commands a great stage presence, and his voice carries its timeless charm, as if unaffected by years gone by and drugs. In fact, he sounds much better in person than on the records. Not many artists can do that. Bravo! Personal favorite song of the night: Praying for Time.

Some pictures from the concert (a bit grainy due to camera set at ISO 1600):

Also spotted within a stone's throw from us were comedian Kathy Griffin and the oh-so-very-sensual Dita Von Teese, the famous burlesque artist (she's the ex-wife of the oh-so-very-freaky Marylin Manson).

In the glass: 2004 Kahurangi Estate Pinot Noir, Nelson, New Zealand. Lots of stewed strawberries, graphite, lively acidity. Another satisfying Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where is Hobbes?

(click to enlarge picture)

Funny Bumper Stickers

I think most bumper stickers say stupid things. But once in a while I see some funny and witty ones, like this one that I saw this morning on the 405 FWY on my way to work -- stuck on the butt of a beat up Toyota.

[Update] Which reminds me (in fairness to both parties) of another one that I saw quite a while ago:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is the Story Behind This Tea?

(Click picture to enlarge. L - R: Dry leaves ; Dry -- close up; Wet leaves)

What could you tell me about this tea...its origin, its original name, its tradition, its production method, its brewing method, etc.? The only information I have is where this tea was grown (Mirik, India) and that it is classified as a white tea. I would very much love to know more beyond the mere basics.

For now, all I know is not only the leaves look immaculate, but it also tastes pure and simply beautiful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

California Girls and a Malibu Merlot

(Santa Monica Beach, about 5:45pm)

Yeah, we went to the beach again to cool down. Lots of people today.

Afterwards, we rented The Golden Compass, the one with Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and other big names in it. I decided to uncork the 2004 Semler Merlot from Malibu to go with the movie. This is one of the bottles that I purchased while visiting Malibu Family Wines' tasting bar a few weeks ago.

TN: A pleasant, if simple, everyday merlot made from grapes grown in the Saddle Rock – Malibu AVA. There is a certain indistinctiveness on the nose. I think “muddled” is the word that wine critics often use to describe such indecisiveness of aromas. In the mouth, low acidity makes the wine feel rather flat. Primarily of blue and black berries, and secondarily of pleasant earthy tones. The tannins started out coarse and sandy, and improved into a fine, dusty feel with some airing. Medium to long finish.

Overall: A simple-tasting merlot that is quite pleasant and mellow, but unremarkable. It’s a nice everyday wine to enjoy with red-sauced pasta dishes or pizzas (maybe popcorn, too). For $24/bottle, however, there are better Merlot alternatives in this price range to be had from Napa Valley or the Washington State.

2 stars (quite good) -- for both the wine and the movie, coincidentally.

Weekend Dim Sum & 2 Indian Teas

Going to a dim sum usually means a time out with the family, lots of dumplings, chicken feet (love 'em!), and light conversation over many cups of tea. Whenever we do that, I prefer to bring my own tea leaves from home to be brewed in lieu of the restaurant's, which is more often than not lower in quality (passable, but...).

This morning, I brought along 2 tea samples that I received from The Simple Leaf (thanks Nikhil!). One is a single estate green tea from Darjeeling that is sold under the code name "Chloe". The other is called "Black Frost", a black tea from the Nilgiri Mountains in the Tamil Nadu state, South India.

I simply asked a waiter to bring two pots of hot water. Pre-rinsing the leaves, however, was a challenge without a lidded bowl, so I skipped that part and just tossed a handful of leaves straight into the pots. Now and then, I asked for more hot water to be added into the half-full teapots when I saw that the teas were getting too concentrated and starting to taste bitter.

Chloe, the green tea, is a rather different and interesting sort of Darjeeling for me. As far as I can remember, it's the first green tea I've had from Darjeeling. It’s subtle with spicy, minty qualities. An introverted sort, if you must, for one who has a sexy French name. The Black Frost, which I am partial of, is smooth and slightly malty with a bit of natural sweetness. In contrast, Black Frost is the extroverted masculine type. Of the two, I thought Black Frost was the more versatile one with the foods today.

(click to enlarge pictures)

In fairness, 1st and 2nd flushes Darjeeling teas do have pleasant acidity that makes them great companions of foods, especially spicy ones. Chloe, being a green Darjeeling, however, has completely different characteristics than its 1st and 2nd-flush relatives.

Reviewing the restaurant bill at home, I wonder why they still charged me $3.20 for my own teas!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"From Garden to Gaiwan" -- U.C. Berkeley Pu'er Tea Event

News and accounts of the U.C. Berkeley Pu'er Tea Event held on Thursday, June 19th have started to trickle in. Regretfully I couldn't make the journey, but my tea tray and one of my Yixing pots were there. Lucky them.

(Brian S. Kirbis, the researcher - host of the event. Photo by Will Yardley, posted with permission.)

Blogs that have chronicled the event:

Tea Nerd -- by Brent Hughes

LJ Puerh Community -- posted by Davelcorp

...still awaiting for Jason's version of the day in his blog.

2007 Winter Dancong "Huang Jing"

This is a Dancong oolong that is different -- in appearance and taste -- than all Dancong's that I have tried in the past. If I didn't regard Guang, the proprietor of Houde Fine Tea, as trustworthy, I would have thought that he is trying to profit from the fallen leaves in his yard. Such is the appearance of the leaves as you can see in the pictures below (with 25¢ coin as a rough scale). They are bold, open and unrolled with different shapes, sizes and colors. Quite a fascinating appearance, actually.

This tea yields a medium-yellow to light-orange liquor color, depending on the water temperature and steeping time. The aromatics is subtle and pleasant when brewed carefully, which reminded me of various yellow fruits (peach, mango, pineapple). It's also a touch floral and honey-like in the nose. All these pleasant aromas can become overwhelmingly concentrated, however, when the tea is over brewed, though it hardly ever gets bitter.

Light to medium-bodied, with sateen-y smooth astringency. For a medium - light roasted tea, it does not exhibit much of any roasty characteristics.

Very good and delicious. Pure and precise in taste.

Details from Houde's online store:
2007 Winter Dancong "Huang Jing"
Origin: Wu Dong, Feng Huang County, Guang Dong Province, China
Fermentation: 35%
Roast: Medium-light wood roasting

Product page (while still available)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Refuge From The Heat

The heat today during the daytime was incapacitating. The digital thermometer inside my car clocked in at 113' F (45' C)! As I'm writing this (11pm), the has my area at 91'F (33' C). Too much of a good thing.... And there is going to be more of it since today is the first official day of summer season for Southern California.

There was no mood whatsoever for any tea or red wine (I ran out of white wine at home...need to replenish the wine fridge). So I took refuge from the heat by staying mostly at home and with some beers.

One of my all-around favorites is the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s nicely malty, hoppy, with a full body taste. Pretty excellent.

Grolsch is an occasional favorite of mine. It’s a rather light lager from Holland. It's got a good toastiness to it and also a bit of hoppy-ness that's refreshing. Good for a hot sizzling day such as today. It's not as good as Pilsner-Urquell, another favorite, but certainly better than most mass-produced domestic beers.

TN: 2001 Muga Reserva, Rioja

Purchased when released (~2004, $21). Cellared at constant 57' F (offsite).

Muted, almost absent of any nose, and acidic tasting immediately after being uncorked. Suspected that wine was defective or dead, but decided to decant. Improved over 3+ hours of time in the decanter and in the glass through airing. Looks like it was "sleeping" or going through an awkward period. Black and blue berries emerged over time, with soft and judicious oak as its frame. However, the wine remained disjointed and angular. Will leave half of a bottle in the decanter for a re-tasting in 24 hours. Will update tasting note.

[Update]: A day later...the wine remained out of balance and acidic. I'm attributing this to bottle-to-bottle variance. Will try another bottle in the near future and compare tasting notes.

("Muga, 2001, Haro - Rioja, España")

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It Hurts to Laugh

My stomach and sides have been hurting lately. It's from laughing too much, thanks to David Sedaris and his new book "When You Are Engulfed in Flames". I'm still reading it...and enjoying it tremendously.

Here's a joke in a Russian gazetta, translated for me by my bro-in-law. A lesson in optimism.

A man came into an E.R. with a big knife stuck in his bloody back. Everyone gasped in horror and rushed to help him.
Doctor: "You must be in a lot of pain!" (panic)
Man: "Only when I laugh."

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Great Cup of Black Coffee

Had a pleasant lunch today with a couple of friends at the Coast, one of the restaurants inside the charming Shutters on the Beach Hotel in Santa Monica. The weather was perfect! I ordered the fish and chips, probably because I've been rambling about everything British ad nauseam in my previous post. Since we had to return to our respective offices rather shortly, we didn't drink any alcohol.

Towards the end of our meal, I asked for a cup of black coffee as the mood striked. The coffee was very fresh and delicious and I kept telling my friends to get some, too. It came with a crystallized sugar-on-a-stick that can be sucked like a candy lollipop or stirred in the cup. A nice touch. There was something relaxing about that coffee's taste and smell which complemented the charm of the place, the conversation and the view of the sandy beach right outside.

I never was one who would encourage others to switch from coffee to tea. Those who do tend to have an agenda along the line of promoting or selling tea. And I think today I was reminded of how a good cup of coffee can give a very pleasant gastronomic experience. As Cookie Monster said, though, coffee is only a "sometime" drink for me.

U.C. Berkeley Pu'er Tea Event

A few tea friends I know (some from the L.A. Tea Affair group) will be at tomorrow's Pu'er event at the U.C. Berkeley's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. Too bad the event is happening on a week-day and I can't leave work and family. Hopefully we will get to read the account of the day, the people, the teas and the overall reception from one or more participants. Some pictures would be nice, too. If any participant is willing to share your stories and / or pictures from the event, you are more than welcome to post it here.


From Garden to Gaiwan:
the Journey of Pu'er Tea
June 19, 2008, 6:00pm

After centuries of travel along the "Ancient Tea-Horse Route", pu'er tea is undergoing a renaissance that is enlivening the palates and the imaginations of tea aficionados within China and abroad. From 'natural' landscapes of cultivation, to 'cultural' practices of consumption, what are the issues that inform our understanding of this commodity?

Brian S. Kirbis, a researcher who has spent the last two years examining the biological and cultural transformations taking place within Yunnan's tea industry, will present a multimedia event centered on a Bulang village in southwestern Yunnan. Following the presentation will be a gongfu-style tea tasting, allowing participants to experience a variety of pu'er teas.

As space is limited, a reservation is required.

Date: June 19, 2008
Time: 6:00pm
Location: The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology
103 Kroeber Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720
Nearest cross street: College Ave.
Admission: $3 for Museum Members, UCB Faculty, Staff, Students and Seniors (55+)
$5 for General

Photo by Kap Cris on Flickr

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An Outdated Wine Menu and a Snobby Fromager

My wife and I were at the Patina restaurant again at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, and we were reasonably disappointed with the wine selections and the cheese service. (Patina was awarded Michelin 1-star and it is a member of Relais & Châteaux).

With the wine, it’s not that they don't have an expansive list. They do. In fact, their Bordeaux and Burgundy selections are in the hundreds or more. But we were in the mood for a bottle of great German Riesling to go with our light fish entrees. The German selections, consisting of only a few names, some of which are respected producers, occupy at most 1/4 of a page in their very extensive wine menu.

Our first choice was the 2004 Dr. Robert Weil Kiedricher Grafenberg Riesling, but they could not find it in the cellar. The same thing happened with our second choice, a Zeltinger Sonnenurh Riesling from a producer that I can't recall. The polite sommelier apologized and gave us a rather perplexing excuse: the German wines were selected by the previous Sommelier when they were still at the old location on Melrose Avenue, and that section has not been updated since.

Didn’t they move from the old location and into the Walt Disney Concert Hall 5 years ago? And isn’t the current Sommelier supposed to be responsible for what’s in the wine menu – and in the cellar – today?

The sommelier, however, graciously offered us a 2006 Gunderloch Kabinett as a replacement for the first two that they did not have. This wine would have been fine, but we were in the mood for something classier than Gunderloch’s bottom-of-the-line bottling. I declined the bottle.

So I chose an Alsatian Riesling by Zind-Humbretch from his Brand vineyard, instead. When the sommelier came back to the table to show me the label before uncorking the bottle, lo and behold it’s not what I have ordered! Wait a second here, I told him, I ordered Humbrecth’s Brand, not his Rangen de Thann. So again, he apologized and said the Brand was not available, too. Tired of probably sounding like a wine snob to the neighboring patrons, I told him that we’d go with this bottle. It’s a phenomenal and excellent wine by all account, but Alsatian Rieslings were never one I’d prefer with fish dishes. It’s too heavy and overwhelming with the lighter fares.

Fast forward to dessert, it was time for some of Patina’s well-regarded cheese selections. My wife and I love cheeses, but we are ones who never pay any attention to their names, types, where from, what from, etc. But we remembered one name that we liked from when we visited Patina the last time: Humbolt Fog, a California cheese.

The lady Fromager arrived at our table with her cart full of the day's cheese offerings. For some reason, we found her to be extremely snooty, as if the fact that we did not know what cheeses to choose was her license to be snobby. When we mentioned Humbolt Fog, she replied with an air of disdain that she did not carry any mass-produced cheeses. Only small production cheeses, she said. Well, she must not be the same Fromager who attended to us last time. Fine.

So I ordered 2 blue cheeses, one from Spain and the other from Italy (don’t remember the names and don’t really care), 2 soft goat cheeses and a hard French cheese. They were all delicious, despite the service.

All in all, though the foods were good, we left the restaurant feeling rather disappointed with the overall dining experience. A $400 dinner-for-two should not have felt like this. Seems like the talk out there about Patina no longer being a leading L.A. restaurant is true.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bottle Shock, The Movie

Got this news off of Jamie Goode's excellent wine blog.

It looks like Chateau Montelena, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and probably the California wine industry in general is about to be in the limelight with the upcoming release of a wine-themed movie titled "
Bottle Shock". It's based on the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" taste-off that brought Californian wines head-to-head with the heavyweights of the French wine world. "Bottle Shock" got mixed reviews at the Sundance Festival, and its existence is not without controversy. Steven Spurrier, the mastermind behind the 1976 event, is apparently threatening to sue the people behind the making of Bottle Shock.

I wonder what positive and/or negative impact this movie will bring to the California wine industry (and French's, too, for that matter). The last time Hollywood came up with "Sideways", that movie did two great things: it placed Pinot Noir and Santa Barbara wine country in the conscious mind of the general public, and it helped push Merlot out of trend (thanks to Miles' opinion of it).

What is bottle shock as a wine term?

What is the 1976 Judgment of Paris?

(Thank God for Wikipedia!)

Fishy Mud, Anyone? 2006 Menghai Dayi V93 Shupu

I remember thinking what a nice shu pu'er the 2005 Menghai Dayi V93 was. That was about a year ago. As of this morning, I only had about 10gr of it left, and now it's all gone. The precursor that lead to the finishing of that last bit was the arrival of several tuo's of its younger sibling, the 2006 Dayi V93 (batch # 602).

It was a harsh lesson learned once more. Never assume just because last year's version was excellent, the same should be expected of the next attempt.

Drinking the 2006 V93 was like downing mud in which dead fish had been preserved before. It's probably subtler than my description, but definitely in the same ballpark. For discovery's sake, I endured 6 torturous infusions before giving up. That's when I started to doubt my opinion of the 2005. Maybe fishy mud was something that I liked last year?

(Pictured: 2006 Menghai Dayi V93 Shu Pu'er)

So I brewed that last 10gr of the 2005 V93 after I had had enough of the disgusting sludge. The difference was nectar compared to, well, mud! The 2005 was woody, fresh, clean, creamy and had a slightly sweet aftertaste (huigan). I kept brewing it until all that was left was thinly colored water. I enjoyed every infusion that I could get out of it. The smell of the wet leaves reminded me of root-beer, as it did last year. My stomach felt soothed and cooled, and my mouth was rid of any bad taste.

So what is wrong with the 2006 V93? Is it only with batch # 602? Will time transform it into a swan? I have a sinking feeling that it's crap and forevermore will be so.

I wonder where I can get more of the 2005 vintage from.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Meeting of Teaheads in L.A.


It's been a rather long time since I last met my LA tea friends and MarshalN. My nearly year-long absence from the tea (and wine) blogospheres and various tea meetings placed me in a role of one who tries to catch up. There were news and events of personal and tea-related nature that I only learned from these folks last Sunday. I felt a certain sense of reconnection from seeing them again. So to say that it was a special day for me is an understatement.

In attendance were: Will and Louise (our generous and gracious hosts), MarshalN (our guest of honor), Danica, Jason (aka: Bears), Davin, Nick and myself.

After the ice breakers and introductions, we dived straight into the teas. I tried my best to pay attention to the teas being tasted, but I must admit that the company and conversations were the highlight of this meeting, at least for me. The camaraderie was instantaneous and kept getting better as we exchanged stories, jokes, and news over sips of fine teas. We may not come from the same culture and background, but tea brought us all together in friendships. This was what I've been missing for nearly a year.


(Danica taking the helm with the green teas. Davin, on the left, and Jason observed)

The teas: fresh Anji Baicha, fresh Long Jing, 20+ years old Taiwanese oolong, 1980's Baozhong, Wuyi Gu Shu Cha ("wild tea tree"), and Wuyi Da Hong Pao (that I missed because I had to leave early).

The 20+ years old Taiwanese oolong and the Wuyi Gu Shu Cha were quite special. The former, brought by MarshalN, was special in a way that it allows me to learn a characteristic of old oolong's that I never knew before. The smell of the dry leaves reminded me of dried plums or berries that have been dried up for Chinese medicinal purposes. MarshalN mentioned chenpi, or dried tangerine peel. I guess it could be that, too. The taste of the tea itself was decidedly medicinal (oriental) to me. The term "Chinese herbal chest" comes to mind. As expected of such an old and highly roasted tea, it kept giving and giving. The herbal aromas were much stronger in its first 4 or 5 infustions. As we went on brewing it, the tea did not lose much of its full body, though the aromas became subtler. Most of us seemed to prefer the subtler, later brews.


(MarshalN, the guest of honor, in-charge. Nick, right, sports badass sideburns -- totally cool, dude!)

Unexpectedly, however, this old tea was highly astringent. I asked if astringency (rough, pucker-y texture in the mouth and on the tongue) is commonly found in aged oolongs. Apparently, yes. I have always assumed that the older a tea gets, the smoother it should be. My expectation for a silky-smooth mouthfeel was clearly misplaced. This was an education for me.

The Wuyi Gu Shu Cha was decidedly delicious, although unfortunately, I had to leave the party after the second or third brew in order to tend to my daughter, who suddenly developed a fever. This is a tea brought over by Will and Louise from their trip to Wuyi Shan, China, last year. This sample was sourced from a vendor whose teas Corax (of Chadao blog) was so impressed with during his visit to the same locale (
click here to read Corax's account of meeting the vendor, Ms. Yu). By the time I had to leave, we had (only) been drinking for about three and a half hours.

Also worth noting was the use of a certain mineral (volcanic?) rocks placed in the fairness cup. Danica and Will swore by the rocks' potent contribution in softening the water, and thus the tea. MarshalN was skeptical at first, but later on admitted to a certain softening of the old oolong he was brewing when the rocks were involved. I remain largely a skeptic, but willing to be open minded about it.


(Will, the host, hosting. Jason and Davin conversing.)

Before I left, MarshalN generously gifted everyone a small earthen Japanese tea cup, each with a unique shape and design in earthy tones. In return, I gave MarshalN a box of
Jawa Oolong made from tea leaves grown and harvested near my hometown.

We, LA Teaheads, seem to get the grace of meeting MarshalN only when he is in town on some family occasion. That, unfortunately, does not happen often enough (the last time he visited our metropolis was more than 2 years ago). We tried, though unsuccesfully, to convince MarshalN to move to LA permanently. No way, he said, he won't and can't stand the driving in LA. Oh c'mon, MarshalN, the first two weeks may be tough! After that, you wouldn't think much about being stuck on the 405 freeway for 2 hours, each way.

This meeting was also chronicled on
MarshalN's blog and on Bear's Blog.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Some Sugar With Your Tea, Papa?

The two greatest natural assets that Southern California has are, to me, its weather and the Pacific coast. And today was a great day to enjoy them with my wife and our princess. To combat the slight late afternoon wind chill, I brought along my tea set and a canister of high-fired Taiwanese Dong Ding oolong1.

The romantic notion of having a peaceful and enjoyable tea session at the beach, however, did not quite come true. Being a loving parent sometimes mean knowing not to be an idealist (fortunately, maybe, I have never been one) and knowing which battle to choose. Today the princess had the upper hand and she relished her triumph fully.

My girl: Papa, can I play sand with your teacup, please?
Me: Nooo! (too late)...oh well, I guess papa and mama will have to share a cup now.

(a little later)

My girl: Do you want some sugar (sand), Papa?
Me: Please nooo! (too late, again)

1The tea was a highly aromatic and excellent Spring 2007 Fenghuang Dong Ding oolong purchased from M. Stéphane Erler. We did manage to have a few infusions before she courteously sprinkled some "sugar" into the tea. Must be grandma who taught her that!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Say What?

I had a business phone call this morning with someone in Worcester, Massachusetts. Throughout our 15-minute conversation, I kept pronouncing the name of the city as wor-chess-ter (the business entity we were discussing about adopted the name of the city as part of its name, and so it had to be mentioned many times). Towards the end of the call, the guy on the other side sheepishly told me: "Well, just to let you know, but the correct way to pronounce the name of our town is woss-ter, as in woss-ter-sheer sauce." Feeling silly, I thanked him for correcting me, and I mentioned that I have had to learn the hard way to pronounce some US cities the way the locals do.

So I learned today how to correctly pronounce Worcester and Worcestershire. I feel like a better cook already. Some others that I had to learn directly from the locals:

Lodi, CA (low-die. Previously pronounced by me as low-dee)

New Orleans, LA (naw'lins or new'awlins. Previously pronounced new-or-leens...made sense, right? Europeans should refrain from pronouncing it as new-or-lay-yon or new-or-lay-ans if they want to avoid voodoo curses.)

Newark, NJ (noork or nyoo-rk. Previously pronounced new-ark)

Buttzville, NJ (beau-ville. Previously pronounced butts-ville...who would have thought otherwise?!)

On the other hand, no one from New Jersey would say new-joi-see, except for my law professor and jerks from New York.

Any more tricky city names in the USA or other English-speaking countries that I should know how to pronounce like the locals do?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Summer 2006 Guei Fei (Concubine) Dong Ding Oolong

I've been finding myself in the mood for Taiwanese Dong Ding oolongs these past few days. Rummaging through my tea canisters at home, I found a few Dong Ding oolongs from Stéphane Erler of Tea Masters that are long overdue for revisitations. Tonight, I decided to brew the Summer 2006 Guei Fei (Concubine) oolong from Fenghuang, Dong Ding, Taiwan, which I have never noted before in this blog.

Tasting Note: The tea soup was medium amber in color and it has crystal clear clarity. The base perfume was of deep floral notes, accompanied by a fruity and acidic high notes that are commonly found in Oriental Beauty oolong. I thought the high notes reminded me of an unripe green mango or, to borrow Stéphane's accurate description, "sour pineapple." The mouthfeel was rather thin. This tea left a fruity and acidic aftertaste long after it's swallowed.

As noted in Stéphane's blog, this tea was still in the experimental stages, and therefore, its quality may be inconsistent from one vintage to another. I thought that given the amount of high oxidation that this tea received during its manufacture, it was worth comparing it to the 2006 Dong Ding "Hong Shui" (Red Water), which I noted quite some time ago. So I brewed the two teas one after another (with an hour of rest in between sessions). I found the Hong Shui to have a deeper and heavier overall perfume while lacking the high notes found in the Concubine tea. The Hong Shui, however, had a certain sweet, gingery warmth to its characters, which reminded me of entering a cozy home when gingerbread cookies are baking in the oven.

Notice the side-by-side picture of the wet leaves (left side is the Hong Shui): they are quite similar in appearances and colors. The green part of the Hong Shui's leaves is a bit greener than the Gue Fei's, which is closer to being black-green. I wonder if it's caused by varietal/clonal difference, the degree of sunlight exposure or human factors such as processing techniques.

Congratulations, The Half-Dipper!

Hobbes -- Tea Blogger of Note
June 2, 2008

Congratulations to Hobbes on earning a well-deserved recognition in the Hall of Blogs of Note for his The Half-Dipper! Those of us who follow Hobbes' blog know too well that he pens a tea blog extraordinaire (and that it's not about a cartoon tiger who likes to dip itself halfway in a bathtub full of tea). Hobbes...I salute you and thank you for your continued excellence.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Malibu Wines

The weather was glorious this past weekend. I spent Sunday morning and afternoon in the Malibu / Santa Monica Mountains with my wife and daughter attending a company picnic at a huge ranch. As we drove near the ranch’s entrance, I noticed trellises of grape vines strewn about the surrounding hills. I asked some of the ranch employees about the vineyards and the possible existence of a winery nearby. Apparently, not farther than a quarter of a mile from the ranch’s entrance is a wine tasting room. So I made it a mission to visit the tasting room after the picnic.

(View of the Malibu / Santa Monica Mountains and one of the vineyards)

Malibu is better known for its beautiful beaches and as the coastal neighborhood where the rich and famous live. It is, however, not exactly well known (yet) as a wine growing region. Perhaps Malibu has a cult status among some wine enthusiasts, although I’m not sure. I think it was a few years ago that someone told me about the vineyards there. It wasn’t until last summer, though, that I tasted a Malibu wine for the first time when a friend brought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to a picnic. I can’t remember the label or the vintage, but I thought it was drinking decently. So only by coincidence that today I found the opportunity to taste the wines made from grapes grown locally.

The tasting room that I visited is run by a company called Malibu Family Wines, which owns about 65 acres of the surrounding vineyards. It's useful to note that Malibu Family Wines is not a winery, but rather a company that owns vineyards. They employ a third party or parties to make their wines and they also buy some grapes from others. As far as I got from Kevin, the knowledgeable and friendly wine steward, they have two labels under which they bottle their wines: Saddle Rock and Semler. The Semler label is used for wines made with locally grown grapes. And the Saddle Rock collection, very strangely, are wines that are made with grapes grown in the California Central Coast region.

(The very busy tasting bar @ Malibu Family Wines)

I said “very strangely” because Saddle Rock – Malibu is itself a legally designated American Viticultural Area (AVA) within which the tasting room is located (or nearby). Central Coast, on the other hand, is an area encompassing the mid-section of California, spanning from Santa Cruz County on the north-end and going south until it reaches the Santa Barbara County. Monterey Bay, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez Valley and other AVA's in between fall within the “Central Coast” region as well. The label, therefore, is rather deceiving, don’t you think? It’s as if they are trying to build the reputation of Saddle Rock - Malibu AVA by using the more well-established quality of Central Coast grapes.

In fairness, though, the
Saddle Rock – Malibu AVA was only established in 2006, so if the Saddle Rock brand was established before the AVA was, it would be a rather costly business decision to re-brand their products. But still, couldn't they just switch to use the Semler brand for the Central Californian wines and use the Saddle Rock brand for the -- you guessed it -- Saddle Rock - Malibu wines? In any case, the vines in Saddle-Rock Malibu AVA are relatively young. I was told that their oldest vines were planted in 1996, and their first vintage was 2001.

Interested only in the wines made from grapes harvested in and around Malibu, Kevin poured for me a flight of the Semler label. The tasting fee was $12. Included in the flight were the 2004 Merlot ($24), 2002 Merlot ($?), 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($27), 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($?), and the 2002 Syrah ($24). As a bonus (maybe because I was asking too many questions), Kevin also poured for me the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($75), which is their first “reserve” (read: more expensive) bottling that had received some aging in 100% brand-spanking-new French oak barrels.

My humble verdict on the Semler wines: not bad…the 2004 Merlot had some good tannins and depth (rather chewy…reminded me of a red zinfandel), while the 2002 Merlot has mellowed out considerably and with lots of nice red fruits on the nose. The 2004 Cab (non-reserve) has plenty of oak and tannins still, and the 2002 Cab Sav was predictably softer, fruitier and almost floral. Kevin said it’s drinking very “French”, St. Estephe to be exact, but I thought it lacked the commonly found cedar note and it’s not as dry as most Bordeaux I’ve had. The Syrah is blended with a Bordeaux variety (I can’t remember if Kevin said Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Verdot). Anyways, I liked the Syrah the least.

And the 2004 Cabernet Reserve…it has too much oak! It’s a “muscle wine.” Everything else that the wine possesses was drowned in the oak. It sure is meant to be laid down for a few years, but I am not sure if such an overly oaky wine will ever age gracefully. I thought this was a clichéd effort at making an expensive bottling with brand new oaks à la Opus One.

(The picnic area and my daughter posing in front of an olde automobile on the grounds of the Malibu Family Wines)

Overall, though, the Semler line is just alright. The wines should make a nice accompaniment at an outdoor picnic or with everyday casual meal. The prices, relative to their quality and the available alternatives, were a bit much. Maybe it’s expensive because they come from Malibu.

(I ended up going home with a Semler 2004 Merlot and a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon)