time place taste memory

Taste and memory are tricky, shape-shifting things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a bottle of wine that I thought was stunningly good, only to drink the same wine at a later point in time and be completely underwhelmed. Of course, wine is a living, natural product that changes and morphs and develops, but there is a reasonable expectation that with any given vintage (assuming proper storage), variations won’t be too drastic from one bottle to the next.

I often wonder how much of a factor external circumstances are to how much food or wine is enjoyed. I believe the experiences tied up with consuming a bottle of wine at a given point in time- company, atmosphere, mood, etc.- can clearly skew one’s perceptions for better or worse. My friend J just got back from a two-week trip to France which he spent touring vineyards and meeting winemakers; I can’t help but think that those wines will taste better to him than someone who didn’t have that experience, because of the positive associations they’ll call to mind.

mas p'alla

Recently I decided to open up two bottles of wine that I brought back from a trip to Spain, where I was lucky enough to meet the winemaker and tour his winery and vineyards. I remember being really taken with these wines at the time, and the whole story of how we met Antonio made the three bottles we were able to fit in our luggage seem precious. The trip to Spain wasn’t just any old trip though; it was our honeymoon. We had been saving the bottles to open on occasions like anniversaries, which we did for bottle #1. It tasted every bit as good that night as it did in the bar in Granada where we first sipped it, if not better, and we marveled over how great it was and how lucky we were as we enjoyed a beautiful dinner at home.

Sadly, by the time our second anniversary rolled around, things were not so rosy and we weren’t in such a celebratory frame of mind. By the following summer, M and I were separated. What to do with these two remaining bottles, symbols of our failed happiness? I feared they would taste acrid in my mouth. In the first months after our separation part of me wanted to open them at home alone, drinking to get drunk and wallowing in regret and self-pity, but fortunately I suppressed that urge and just kept them in a pantry out of sight. Continue reading

bodega naranjuez: the natural wines of antonio vílchez

This is a re-post from my old blog, originally published on May 12, 2012, and has been slightly edited from its original version. I wanted to re-post not only because it fits the theme of this new blog, but because I have recently revisited Antonio’s wines and wanted to give some context.

antonio vilchez natural wine vineyards

Wandering Granada’s Albaicín neighborhood on a rainy April afternoon, M and I decided to take shelter in a tiny café called Bar Kiki. We were leery that it would be a tourist trap, as we were adjacent to the mirador San Nicolas (a popular vantage point from which to view the city and Alhambra), but we entered anyway to warm up with a glass of wine and some rabo de toro (oxtail stew). It turned out to be a great little spot, with a friendly bartender who was happy to answer our questions about different drinks and menu items. My chatty inquisitiveness paid off; when a local winemaker came into the bar to make a delivery, the bartender offered to sell us a bottle at their cost. We started talking to the winemaker, Antonio Vílchez, and before we knew it he had invited us to come to his bodega, about 45 minutes away, for a tasting and tour of his vineyards.

wine tasting bodega Spain

The next day we were heading for Córdoba (the exact opposite direction), but decided to take a detour to the east to visit Antonio’s winery. After all, when would we get another chance to have a personal guided tour with a Spanish winemaker? We drove towards Guadix and found our way toward the tiny (300 inhabitants) town of Marchal. On the way into town, we spotted a gypsy caravan on the side of the road, as well as cave dwellings in the surrounding cliff side. After pulling up in front of the tiny ayuntamiento (town hall) and getting some curious looks from the townspeople, we located Antonio and he showed us into his place. The operation was small and unglamorous- he produces a mere 8,000 bottles per year- but it was great to get an inside look at how a small winery operates. Continue reading

a traveling life

Back when I was in my twenties and the dollar was fairly strong against the euro, I tried to get a group of friends together to go to the south of Spain. You could rent beautiful villas in the mountains with infinity pools that overlooked the ocean, huge beautiful rustic kitchens, fireplaces, and patios with outdoor stone ovens, all for about $100 per person per week. Flights were maybe around $700, and food and wine are dirt cheap there, so the whole thing could have been under a thousand bucks. But all of my friends claimed they “couldn’t afford to” go. How was it that I, who was working in a bookstore at the time making $9 an hour, had the cash to make a trip like that but no one else did?

spain landscape A traveling life (assuming you’re not independently wealthy) obviously requires you to make certain budgetary choices. I got really tired of hearing friends say things like “Oh, you’re so lucky” in regards to my various trips. Luck had nothing to do with it- it’s just about priorities. While my peers were busy racking up credit card debt shopping for clothes or going out to eat all the time, I was shopping in thrift stores and bringing my lunch from home as often as possible, then jetting off to Japan or Italy or France or the Pacific Northwest. My friend P is even more extreme than I in his dedication to experiential pursuits. He loves to drink good wine and eat good food (I consider these to also fall under the category of experiences in that they’re transient pleasures), and to that end, he forgoes owning a car, among other things. I’m not passing judgment on anyone who makes different choices than I do, but please don’t attribute my lifestyle to luck. Incidentally, science is on our side: studies have shown that people who spend money on experiences over material possessions are generally happier.

My favorite way to travel on the cheap these days is to troll Kayak’s explore function. You just put in your departure city, and it produces a map of the world with the cheapest ticket prices that people have purchased within the last 48 hours. It’s great if you don’t necessarily have a destination in mind. Detroit doesn’t always have the most attractive international fares, so one day last July I was fooling around and thought I’d put Toronto as a departure city, just to see what came up. Lo and behold, I see this little speck in the middle of the Atlantic that says “$283”. I zoom in, and discover it’s an island chain called the Azores lighthouse on the northern coast of san miguel island, azores, portugalthat are part of Portugal. Less than 24 hours later, I had convinced my friend A to join me, and we booked tickets for a week in October. My favorite part about this story is that I took a screenshot of the ticket price and posted it to Facebook, which resulted in a chain reaction of sharing, and something like 15 people ended up going to the Azores from Detroit in October and November! I’ve also seen flights to Istanbul and Marrakesh for around $500 that I had to pass up because it was bad timing with work (those places are both on the short list though for my next big trip). But the point being, if you have a flexible schedule and are open to seeing what’s out there, you can get some great deals.My latest travel purchase was a flight to New Orleans for $70 round trip. I mean, that’s less than the price of a pair of jeans. I’ll be there in just a few weeks with my business partner, who is like-minded enough that she agreed we should consider this a “business retreat” and pay for it on the company card. (It’s still my money, but at least it’ll be a tax write-off!)

I never got to rent that villa with friends in Andalusia, but I did go there in 2012 and fell head over heels in love with the region. I’m not giving up on the villa dream! It’s certainly more expensive now, but I still think deals can be had if you share a big house with 6-8 people. Alternate locations could include a seaside house in Turkey, Morocco or the south of France. Who’s in?

P.S. As of this writing, you can still get ultracheap tickets to the Azores from Toronto on Sata Airlines. Tickets for April are even cheaper than the ones I bought!