Archive for September 16th, 2010

September 16, 2010

Lost in Translation? Try Oban 14 Single Malt Scotch Whisky


“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

Like Bill Murray playing the character Bob Harris in the movie “Lost in Translation,” I found myself sitting alone at a hotel bar in Tokyo tonight listening to the cacophony of foreign voices having unintelligible conversations. Chipper tones and drawn out vowels danced like bird song at an aviary. Indecipherable words fell like silk curtains separating me from the people around me. The ghostlike haze of jetlag further distanced me from my surroundings. I’ve been gone for a week and I miss Beautiful Wife, my darling kidlets, my friends and the comforts of home. I could completely relate to Bob feeling adrift in a distant land. If you haven’t seen the movie, go get it.

What’s a man to do? Visit a dear old friend: whisky. I couldn’t get a Suntory, the whisky Bob pitched in the movie, so I ordered a 14 year old Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Ah, there you are. Oban is a good friend with that familiar lilting hello breaking through the fog of strangers’ meaningless conversations. She’s a gentle reminder that I’m not completely alone despite being 6,500 miles from home and 14 hours ahead in the day.

Oban a west highland whisky distillery, now owned by mega company Diageo, was founded in 1794 and is situated on the western coast of Scotland. The town of Oban grew up around the distillery and is also known as the “Gateway to the Isles”.  Diageo started a movement to designate “Classic Malts” in 1985, and Oban represents the West Coast in that designation. Oban is easily one of the most famous of the western highlands and is known for its easy drinking style.

Look Amber as intriguing as it is dangerous to the tiny insect.
Smell Smoked honeyed oranges with sea salt and spice.
Taste Alcoholic flirt with a rose petal, carameled pear at the front followed by smoky peat with a long, sweet oak finish.
Price 1,900 ¥ per glass or about $22  

 Even if you aren’t sitting alone in a hotel bar in a foreign country, Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky makes a good friend.

 Bob: “You want more mysterious? I’ll just try and think, ‘Where the hell’s the whiskey?’”

 What are you drinking?

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September 16, 2010

Red Wine from Red China: Grace Vineyard


Wine is made in most countries in the world that can sustain grape vines. Those gnarly creepers are pretty hardy, so there aren’t many places that can’t produce wine. I’ve never seen Chinese wine in the shops in the U.S., but in fact there are about 400 wineries there. The Chinese like their drink as much as anyone, so of course there is a market for fine wine. Some estimates suggest that China is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with the vast majority of it consumed in the country.

I had the opportunity to go to Beijing this week and of course I had to try the local wine. I ordered a couple glasses of 2008 Grace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany my lunch.

Grace Vineyard is a family-owned winery, based in Shanxi province, south of Beijing. It was started by Chan Chun Keung with the first plantings in 1997 in 168 acre vineyards and the first vintage was 2001. It is now run by Chun Keung’s oldest daughter, Judy Leissner, who studied at the University of Michigan – and I hold that against her. The winery produces Bordeaux style wines which are aided by its location in spirit at least as its situated approximately on the same latitude as Bordeaux.  OK, so they don’t speak French to the grapes, the climate is cold in the winter and hot and wet in the summer, and the soil is more loamy, but they at least grow some of the same grapes that are prominent in that famed French region including Cabernet Franc (24%), Merlot (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (38%), oh and also Chardonnay (8%).   

Grace bottles nine wines categorized in three quality levels: Flower Series, aka Vineyard Series (Rosé, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon); Bronze Series (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Winemakers Selection – a Bordeaux blend); Gold Series (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot). They produce about 700,000 bottles a year. I tasted the ’08 Vineyard Series Cab, which is made to be drunk young. Hmm, young and drunk. Rings a bell.

Look Dark ruby with a tinge of age at the edge like the smoggy midnight sky in Beijing.  
Smell A box of raisins left in the sun a lunch box for a few days: warm with aged sweetness.
Taste A front of soft plum, quickly followed by prune on the mid-palette and slipping away in a fast finish with mild insinuations of oak.  
Price 45.00 RMB/ glass or about $6. Bottles go for about $28 retail.

Did I buy a few bottles to bring home with me? Nope. Would I drink it again in my next visit to China? Yep.

What are you drinking?