spirit possession

Adventures in Sabrage.

Two out of three ain't bad.


At least one of these bottles undeniably deserved a better fate than it was dealt. Indeed, I would under different circumstances than the 11 ½th hour of the New Year’s Eve probably choose not to sabre a bottle of crémant du Jura, because it is typically a wine with enough charm and complexity to merit saving / savouring any and all drops. Mind you, it is not a particularly expensive wine, but on its merits it can stand up to many a Champagne several income brackets above it, and certainly any of its peers. At a Christmas party not long ago a friend commented that he has never been much interested in sparkling wines, and views them as little more than a toasting prop. The usual response to this sort of sentiment is “Ah, but you have probably never had a truly good Champagne!”, which is both probably true and equally probably irrelevant, because there is really no predicting what kind of wine, at what price point or level of quality, in what circumstances, will speak to someone intimately enough to catch their ear and confound their prejudices, honestly acquired or otherwise. Also it makes you sound like an ass.

For my own part, I have probably tasted a good champagne, never a great one, but the comment made me realize how thoroughly turned-around on the topic I have become in a relatively short time. I had a place in my heart already for sparkling wines, but tended to favour cavas (Spanish sparkling wines made using a method similar to that of Champagne), because at the lower end of the price range, they tend to deliver the driest, cleanest, most satisfying and vigorously sparkling product. Such wines are ideal party wines, and the image they evoke of lusty and quarrelsome Catalan fishermen only adds to their appeal. Somewhere along the line, however, this changed, and sparkling wines went from a fun diversion or handy refresher while I decided what I really wanted to drink at a restaurant, to being a wine of avid interest for me. It happens, somewhat uncharacteristically, that I actually recall what was responsible for this change, and it was in fact a crémant du Jura. Crémant simply refers to a sparkling wine of a particular quality from a given region in France (crémant de Loire, crémant de Bourgogne, crémant de Die, etc.), Jura is a region in the east of France, sandwiched between Burgundy and the Swiss border, just a little north of where Geneva juts, Lance of Longinus-style, into France’s side. It is a relatively small wine-producing region, one of the oldest in France, and for weirdos one of the most exciting, because it produces truly singular expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and downright weird, wonderful shit with its main indigenous varieties, Poulsard, Trousseau, and Savagnin. But another thing they do is crémant du Jura, made (as far as I know) in the méthode traditionnelle of Champagne. So it figures that this was my point of entry; however strait the gate, I inevitably find for myself the side way.

And this crémant I had smelled like bread. Like, more like bread than anything that is not itself freshly-baked bread – or more specifically, unbaked bread just punched-down from a first rise – could ever be expected to smell. Astonishingly, intoxicatingly so. Bone-dry in the mouth, but with a lingering baked apple effect, although some of that apple quality I must admit may be as much an interpretive overlay as a genuine memory. Having since tasted four or five other wines from the producer – Michel Gahier – I have been struck by how fresh and vital is the expression of fruit in his wines. In discussing it with a friend who has roughly a lifetime more wine-drinking experience over me, he remarked that this, what he called the “bell-like clarity of the fruit”, is for him the hallmark of Gahier’s wines. Filtered thus through my subsequent experiences with the wines and the articulation of this theme, I cannot help but hear, when conjuring the memory of Gahier’s crémant, that bell pealing somewhere off in the distance. So sue me. The tension of memory, ephemerality, and the flesh is what wine is about (NB: also getting drunk).

So that was the first sparkling wine that truly got me. After which two things could have happened, and I am happy that it was the latter that did: I could have spent the rest of my days seeking out a reiteration of that experience, trying to recapture the taste of that wine in that moment, and perpetually dissatisfied because nothing quite satisfied, or I could have used the opening created by that experience as a space for the evaluation and appreciation of other things that had heretofore escaped my attention. You know, like wines. Like liking wines. I could use it to like more wines, more. And I have. It has turned sparkling wines into a matter of interest for me, sure, a great number of those I encounter are serviceable and uninspired/uninspiring, but some have really kicked my ass. Most recently, a crew of us got together to take advantage of the holiday swell in available sparkling wines at the SAQ to do a side-by-side tasting. There are currently five crémants du Jura available through the SAQ (none of them the Gahier, alas) and all cost less than $26. I won’t go into full detail on all five, suffice to say that the Baud Brut Sauvage was the driest and yeastiest, and perhaps my favourite, if not that of the group. The Baud Blanc de Blancs and the Rolet were unremarkable, and both the Domaine Labet and the André & Mireille Tissot were excellent. This last was (I believe) the only that I had tasted prior, and was for me the most exciting. Indeed, I was shocked by how complex it was, given that it had made only a favourable if not particularly memorable impression on me the first time. Now it opened with a bready quality, but far more restrained than either the Baud or Gahier. Like baguette or something with a sheer crust, not freshly-baked but cooled and not overwhelmingly fragrant, and along with it bruised apples and poppers, with a long, tonic (like tonic water and like anything healing for the brain), dry finish that betrayed none of the just-oxidizing apple sugar on the nose. It occurs to me only now that the former tasting was not only the wine of a different year, but also occurred before the Gahier-mediated sensitization of the Spring that had as it were opened up this space for the tasting of sparkling wines.

So it is sort of a shame that the other one got exploded, but it is simply a matter of fact that as the hammer of revelry falls, one sabres what one has on hand.


Forced, False, Fraught*

well, that was certainly a New Years Eve of a Nuit Blanche, if ever so ignominious a comparison could be made. given our failure to plan any specific activities/itinerary, it may be tempting to charge us with responsibility for the night being (oblique pun intended) a total washout, but given that my stated standards leaving the house this evening were “go to the old port and see some touristy shit,” and, “eat a sausage,” and that so meagre demands were not met, despite the substantial historical and experiential weight that suggested that if nothing else, those were the precisely, perhaps the only, desires that one might reasonably expect to satisfy on a typical Nuit Blanche, i feel perfectly at ease placing the blame, nay, plopping the blame, squarely in the lap of the city of Montréal.

mind you, and this may not be immediately clear, i say the city of Montréal, and not the City of Montréal, because i mean to implicate not solely the Powers That Be, but The People themselves, for so tamely settling into mediocrity.

perhaps i need to take a step back. the germs, or at least the catalysts, of this discontent, lie in part in my arrival in the Old Port around 2:30am only to find the area cloaked in shadows, fast in the grip of Wrapping Things Up At A Respectable Hour. no sausage cookouts, no ice-rave, no mysterious orb (well, there was a mysterious orb, but it appeared to be closed). in my mind, this represents a fundamental misconstrual of not only the spirit but the “literal” (ie: figurative) meaning of a nuit blanche (ie: all-nighter). at the time, however, i was in inexplicably high spirits, and decided that if i was already out and about, and the metros were running all night, i may as well grab a bowl of pho in order to end things on a hight note. as it turns out, there is not a goddamn pho restaurant to be found open in Chinatown on goddamn Nuit Blanche, night of all nights. Continue reading


Take That, Me.

the satisfaction of having one’s curmudgeonly, nigh-principled opposition to “going out” for new year’s eve buttressed not only by achieving nothing in the process, but still further, somehow losing one’s bank card, metro pass, and driver’s license (thanks,Ontario, btw, for your draconian booze laws that render even a borderline thirty-something uncertain of their goddamn god-given right to acquire drink without being 3rd-7th degrees for the privilege), is, well… duh. fuck it, right?

pyrrhic victory, etc.

i cannot heap effusive enough praise upon the folk, the meal, the setting and the jams that constituted the former portion, and let’s just say that whatever “I Told You So”s i might muster could only be flung against the indifferent muck-wall of my already insensate Bad Attitude. like someone (some genius, probably with a useful degree) devised a catherine wheel that, while rotating, just spits its fire inward, the cardboard cylinder and lack of oxygen doing as good a job as any social context to entomb such conflagration to  an ineffectual, pathetically restricted and banal darkness.

well, there’s always hope for the inevitable hangover, i suppose.

2011 or bust.

rant, Uncategorized

Lessons Not So Much Learned As Accumulated, Like Stretch-Marks of the Spirit.

* * *

if ever we took seriously our new years resolutions, at least those uttered with the greatest frequency and conviction in the first 48 hours of the New Year, we would none of us ever go to a new years party again, i am convinced.

again this year, as the day approaches (the night of the day), i find myself looking forward to it with a sense of sad inevitability, holding out some hope that i will find myself in some company that can content itself with merely eating All The Cheese and drinking All The Wine, and will not at the 11th hour fall prey to a predictable and ill-fated urge to go “do something” for the ringing in of the new year itself. i fear, with an idle and bland fear, that this is a vain hope.

attempting to excavate the trash heap of my memory in order to turn up some examples of truly satisfying new year’s eves, two out of the only three that suggest themselves fittingly have to do with food (the odd one out involved spending the night with my partner alone, neither leaving my room, nor turning on the lights). the first, only last year, was unfortunately only a preamble to the eventual mistake of party-hopping, and so is more firmly impressed upon my memory not only because of the warmth of the conversation, bouillabaisse, and brussel sprouts, but because of how starkly that contrasted with the bustle, chill, and frustration which enveloped me as soon as i left that living room. as this event returns to me as a but a peppering of recollections, i won’t attempt to reconstruct the meal. i remember pestling garlic, cayenne, olive oil and bread into a rouille that afternoon, thinking hard about maple syrup + bacon as an alternative to butter + white wine for brussel sprouts, and being very conscious of the birth of my adult appreciation for seafood (which, in realizing we are now nigh upon the 1-year anniversary thereof, feel comfortable insisting to an irrational and perhaps irritating degree upon seafood being part of this year’s festivities).

mussels, who knew?

the second i cannot assign a particular year, but it must have been prior to my entering adolescence and the public sphere of new year’s revelry; i could call it any or every new year’s of my childhood, when my parents had some people over (friends? family? it remains indistinct), and we all just ate and were merry and i was excited to stay up. the food was ‘special’ i guess more in the sense that it was declared so, or made so by the occasion itself in a satisfying circularity, than that it was in itself something particularly noteworthy. i remember chili, certainly, some version of swedish meatballs, and possibly those assorted ‘asian’ finger-foods that one could get pre-made and bakeable at the local grocery store. there is an age at which the exoticism of a miniature egg roll is not lessened by it being oven-baked, and however much one might balk now at the thought, its passing cannot but be mourned.*

i could also add the first time i had a wheel of brie stuffed with apricot confit and baked in phyllo pastry, then proceeded to leave the house in order to get in a streetcar accident at 11:45pm, if the pattern constituting my wariness re: leaving the Warm Food Place needs to be further impressed. i trust it needn’t.

so. the clock ticks, the hammer falls. show me what you got, Toronto.

* i believe i also stayed up late watching Predator with my brother, and am considering just bringing a copy along this year, because in a pinch i’m convinced it could win the day.