Saluti! I am not going to pretend with you that 2017 was a great year… as it certainly was not. And I am not talking about some Bordeaux or Burgundy vintage here, I am talking about life. Our lives. For sure, a slight improvement on 2016 but as ever, of course, I only have myself to blame for this, as in any year that leads to misfortune, illness and some bad luck, normal stuff, the end and beginning of a new year is not easy on any of us. We tend to forget that the burden of improvement can only lead to a bubble of unsustainabilty. On the upside of all this I am not broke, my health is now good and ‘lady luck’ will always play her hand the way she feels she should. How we react to her is our learning curve. But as you all know the paradigm(s) are shifting quicker than ever, even on a daily basis. For sure I am writing this on a wonderful machine, keyboard attached. But I do still use pen and ink, daily, and also a pencil and crayon when needed.
So to break my melancholic paradigm and get over the last 12 months, and kick start 2018 into first gear, I decided to go and visit the Ecuator (a little north of Quito) and taste some wines whilst standing with one foot in the northern hemisphere and then the other foot (so to speak) in the southern hemisphere, to see what difference that the polar opposites would make on my palate and the said wine in-hand, and on the same day. Now, for any of you familiar with south and central American countries that do not produce wine of any commercial quantity or value, we are left in the hands of our dear Chilean friends. Or more precisely Viña Concha y Toro and other labels like Casillero del Diablo, which I believe also comes under the rather large umbrella of Viña C y T. Are they really the largest wine producers in the world? If so, the quality is actually not so bad, but with shipping and local transportation costs and also local taxes added on to the restaurants’ markup, one ends up spending above 25-35 U$D on a seriously ordinary bottle of wine. Ummm not great! and really not for me.
However, like all good wine merchants with a penchant for good wine and a nose to go with it. I managed, by chance, to sniff out a local Wine Merchant (and maybe the only one in the whole of Ecuador) in the province of Pinchincha, who not only introduced me to Ecuadorian red wine, but also had a few other, more or less known, Chilean labels that I recognized, thank goodness, and were worth every extra dollar spent on them.
Up until this first day of the year, 2018, I had no clue that Ecuador had even one vineyard to boast of, let alone four. There are around 400 hectares under vine, since the early 1980s, and with a small percentage tucked away, a little inland, over by the Pacific coastline. Can you believe this, but they have two or three coastal grape harvests a year. Poor vines! So some clever clogs took pity on those abused vines and decided to plant Nacional Negra (the native? grape), some Merlot and some Cabernet Sauvignon amongst others that we are all to familiar with, much further inland, in the cooler climate provinces of Imbabura, Cotopaxi and Tungurahua. Where the dear plants actually get a rest, enjoy the benefits of 100% volcanic soil and the fruits can be harvested just once a year.
New Year’s evening was spent in downtown Quito (the capital), where I managed to share a delicious bottle of 2011 Quinta (5th) Generacion white, Casa Silva (Colchagua) with the one I adore. A blend of Sauvignon Gris, Viognier and Chardonnay to wash down the festive Ecuadorian dinner, that included a plate of ‘Cuy’. (**so as not put any of you off, there is a footnote below on this)
The result of my first ever Hemispherical-Polar wine tasting looks like this:
The first two reds were from Bodega Dos Hemisferios to be found in Playas, Guayaquil (by the coast)
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon: Intense red ruby with violet hues. On the nose, black pepper, red fruits and a touch of cinnamon and toasted walnut. Round and delicate with a powerful impact in mouth.
2016 Merlot: Red ruby tones with bright and medium intensity. High aromatic density that reminds of cherries, raspberries, peppers and chocolate and vanilla as well. Acertain amount of complexity. Round, elegant, and delicate with a taste of red fruits. A quaffer.
The third red came from Bodega Conde de la Cruz (inland near Cuenca, where they make the famous Panama Hat)
2013 Merlot Reserva (18 months in oak)
Intense ruby red wine. A more or less complex nose, good concentration, dried plum and cassis, combined with aromas of coffee and black pepper. In the mouth it was structured and elegant, with sweet tannins.
The fourth red was another inland Merlot, with a great label by the local artist Oswaldo Guayasamin, alas totally ‘corked’.
Well what a surprise eh! I am not going to rush back and drink more Ecuadorian wine this week, but I have to tell you that I was impressed. Now all they have to do is take care of the cuisine. Less Cuy please? As for the cross-Ecuator wine tasting, well they all tasted the same to me. However, the glasses were considerably heavier in the southern hemisphere than the north, but that has little to do with the quantity of wine available in the glass, it is what Zalto would call a question of stemware.
So, maybe 2018 will be a year full of surprises for all of us. I do hope so, good ones only please and can I take this opportunity to wish you, the dear reader of this bloggy blogblog, all the very best indeed!!
By the way, if you are looking for wines to drink, or dare I say invest-in (ouch!), forget about the above and concentrate on three names this year, before the prices get so out of control, that you may wish that you had taken my advice: Henri Bonneau (Ch 9 du Pape), Giacomo Conterno (the ‘M’ word) and Tua Rita (Tuscan Merlot heaven, & others from the same estate). And by the way if you are a Sauternes freak on a budget, 2009 Ch.de Fargues (d’Yquem’s neighbour) looks like an unbelievably good bet, and as I have been following 1960’s vintages of ‘Unico’ from Vega Sicilia for the last thirty years, the time has come to really enjoy them, now. The younger vintages? well that’s up to you as ever.
**i don`t care, you can call it Cuy (Ecuador & Peru) or you can call it Viscacha (Argentina) and I am not really signifintaly up to full petcare as I did not get passed the goldfish stage. However, Guinea pig or Chinchilla resonate with my sister`s generation of petcare. Fury, nibbly (on lettice leaf), kind of harmless and rather cuddly. So why on earth these little beasts suddenly became a gastronomic delight is beyond me. Okay, I must tell you, that being interested in all things edible, I have now tried both, and both once only.
Besides the genuinely reasonable excuses for wanting to hunt this rodent (Cuy), hunger maybe?, it is now sold as being surprisingly tasty. Viscacha (Argentina) meat is tender and much less intense than other game. It’s flavour is to rabbit what turkey is to chicken, unless you’re told what you’re eating, you wouldn’t really notice the difference, except for it’s chewiness. Cuy I found less chewy than Viscacha, more porky in flavor and as it is barbecued and presented on the bone, fingers are needed. The color of the Cuy skin is orangey-yellow, so they tend to paint it, at the last minute, with a sauce made from Achiote seeds. This darkens it’s appearance to a redy-orange. Personally, I found the whole thing quite indigestible, and if it were not for some rather good Ceviche, later on, I could have entered the new year feeling pretty hungry.
Now back in the office, at more or less sea-level I am thirsty for something to go with 30 degrees of heat and 80% humidity.
Dammit !! another power cut!