Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Four New World Reds

Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir, 2009
Willamette Valley, Oregon
This wine was definitely a treat.  It's tough to get here because it doesn't always make it to the LCBO, and when it does, it flies off the shelves.  I was really excited to get it, and it did not disappoint.  This wine was ruby coloured with a pale pink rim, and had all the classic Pinot flavours with a new world twist.  Cherry, cranberry, and orange rind took centre stage, with orange pekoe tea and dark earth in the wings.  The wine was energetic and light, and was a great match for Drew's home-made orange-ginger-soya chicken wings.  Holy yum! 
Chip pairing: Kettle Chips Red Thai Curry     Verdict: Lovely

Ring Bolt Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011
Margaret River, Australia
In the interests of full disclosure, I'll readily admit that I love wine from the Margaret River appellation.  This was a particularly nice example of the non-new-world-y kind of Cabs that can come from that area.  While definitely appearing to be bright fuscia with a zippy pink rim, this wine had a touch of welcome backwardness, with white mushroom, dark earth, and mocha coming through alongside ripe cherries and a touch of green bell pepper that wasn't off-putting.  It was well-balanced, angular, and all-around delicious with the BBQ short ribs in a slightly sweet and tangy sauce. 
Chip pairing:  Kettle Brand Backyard Barbeque      Verdict: Delicious

Terra Noble Reserve Terroir Carmenere, 2011
Maule Valley, Chile
Is anyone else here a fan of Carmenere?  Just me?  This one might change the minds of Carmenere-haters and disbelievers everywhere.  This beautiful, deep ruby wine was rich with fresh ripe cherries, cassis, and mocha, with just a touch of green pepper on the nose (but not so much on the palate).  It was round and plush, but had enough acidity to pair well with the fois gras on paris toast and black bread that we ate with it.  The herbaceousness of the fois gras was a great match for the slightly-earthy, rich wine.  It was a real crowd-pleaser.
Chip pairing: Pringles Ranch     Verdict: Yum!

Starry Night Old Vine Zinfandel, 2007
Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley, California
Holy Zin Batman!  I love me some old vines - the older the better!  This wine blew me away, and I'm sad that it was a limited release at the LCBO.  Again, I'm very glad that I had a chance to scoop some up.  This wine was so dark it was almost opaque - the deepest of rubies - and was brimming over with ripe field berries.  Blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry - all were present, along with freshly turned earth, black pepper, and white mushrooms.  My mouth is watering again writing this.  The wine was full bodied, smooth and powerful.  We paired it with shaved marinated flank steak with horseradish mayo on fresh slices of baguette.  The two were clearly made for each other.  I don't know if I'll ever get the change to drink this again, but I certainly hope so.
Chip pairing: Ruffles Loaded Baked Potato Skins
Verdict: Wonderful!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Employment Purgatory

I decided to write this post because for a number of weeks now, I've been talking with different friends about their career aspirations, current work situations, and life-long dreams.  We're all speeding up to or hovering around the 30-year-mark, and none of us are satisfied with our positions.  These conversations have lead me to wonder aloud and to myself, 'why are there so many intelligent, talented, valuable people who are being totally wasted by their employers, or can't even find work?'  I know that this is a question for the economists, and all we seem to hear about in the Careers section of the newspapers is that university graduates are increasingly indebted and unemployed.  That's by the numbers, and it's depressing.  But let me examine this question from a different angle, because the economists' bleak outlook doesn't help me any.

By and large, my friends and my friends' friends are all intelligent, educated, gregarious, and creative.  They're insightful and thoughtful.  They're critical and ambitious.  So why do so many employers put them in positions that don't take full advantage of what they've got to offer?  We're told that we have to ask for what we want in our careers, but there are so many barriers to doing this - including corporate culture, loss of jobs around us, and the inability to find another better position.  The places that we work for are chock-a-block with people who are contented in their positions; they're sitting low in their saddles, riding out the last miles toward the sunset of retirement.  They're not interested in changing horses any more, the way we are, and so those saddles that we want to have remain full, often by people who have lost more than just their ambitions for new jobs.  They've lost the drive to get things done quickly, they've lost creativity, and they've especially lost the outsider's perspective on the job they do and the company they work for.  They're entrenched in the corporate culture of the place, and nothing kills innovation or ambition faster than people dedicated to the status quo.

It's frustrating for us, the not-so-young, not-so-old, not-complete-idealists, not-yet-cynical employees who still have hopes and dreams for bigger things.  We can sit in our jobs - that underpay us and under-utilize our talents - or we can start looking around outside the company.  But this is really bad talent management on the part of our employers.  If you have ambitious, smart young people who actually *want* to do more work and use their talents to the maximum, so that they can grow as people and employees, then you're an idiot as an employer to not take advantage of this.  This is where I am, and many of my friends are in this position too, just hoping and waiting for either the next better job outside, or some radical shift inside.  I've thought seriously about changing my LinkedIn profile blurb to something like, "My career goal is to gain a position that energizes, excites, challenges, and values me, so that I can continue to develop my skills and talents, and as a person."  I wonder if that would catch anyone's eye?

However, my perspective is actually incredibly privileged because I actually have a pretty good job, despite my dissatisfaction; I have another group of friends who are unemployed or radically underemployed.  These are people with university degrees and an incredible amount of smarts and life experiences.  They are writing wine blogs, translating German literature, contract-teaching at massage colleges, waitressing, executive assisting, and generally trying to cobble together a living with piecemeal hourly wages or contract work.  They know the work they want to do, but the leap from knowing it and doing it is massive and uncertain - especially the part about getting paid for it.

My friend told me last night about a German immigrant who lives in the Okanagan, and who noticed upon arrival there that there were bushels and bushels of apples lying on the ground in the orchards that apple farmers weren't using, for a variety of reasons that include the fickleness of produce purchasers.  Aghast at the waste he was observing, he decided to start collecting these apples from the farmers, and opened an apple brandy distillery (now called Okanagan Spirits).  He sold that, and decided to start creating mobile juicing machines, to take to orchards across Canada to collect the fallen apples and juice them, right on the spot, and to then give the juice back to the farmers to do what they like with it.  He needs a bit of a different business model (like maybe keeping that juice and branding it), but still I have so much respect and admiration for this man and all the people who are like him; all the people who are out there without jobs of any specific description, who say to themselves "here's something I could do, and I think I'll just do it."

My friends are like that - the friend who has a wine blog, the friend who is a swimsuit designer, the friend who's translating German literature - and I admire them so much.  But they struggle nonetheless, and they have other jobs that they depend on to get by from month-to-month, and sometimes these other jobs have to come first, and that labour of love takes the back seat for a while.  All of them wonder when their break is going to come, when the thing they're doing will finally spill over from 'just making it work' to 'making it'.  And I wonder that too, because this risk-taking group of determined individuals should be rewarded by the universe, I think, for their innovation and dedication.  The other group, sitting undervalued at their desks, should be likewise rewarded for their abilities and ambitions.

My overall sense is that we're all in the same place, sitting together in a kind of employment purgatory, waiting for something to happen.  We keep working - we're not sitting idle.  We apply for jobs, we network, push for promotions or projects, advertise ourselves, and keep our eyes on the horizon.  We are striving, ever striving, for the thing that we want that we know we can do.  Economists be damned, we're all just waiting for our big break, and we won't be satisfied with a comfy saddle riding toward the sunset.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Patti's Camera Solo

On Thursday night, Drew and I had the magnificent good fortune of being able to see Patti Smith in concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  It was the opening of her photography exhibit, called Camera Solo - doubly meaning 'a room of one's own' and 'a single camera show'.

The exhibit showcases Patti's tiny photos, all black and white, which she took with an old Polaroid.  The photos are created by some kind of gelatinous silver tracking the light exposure.  Aside from a few photos of family and friends, Patti's collection focuses on famous dead people, giving the strong impression that you're looking at an exhibition about death - or alternatively, about love.  The photos are of the relics of dead people who did remarkable things.  For example, there is a photo of the River Ouse, in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself, along with a huge round rock sitting on a table, like the ones she filled her pockets with.  There is a photo of Frieda Khalo's bed, a reproduction of the litter that carried Rimbaud across Egypt, and numerous headstones from famous graves around Europe.  There's a sense through the exhibit that Patti wants us to focus on the ways that the dead live through us long after they're gone; about the legacy of a chair or a wooden cane.  Love is what carries the memories of these people and pulls the threads of their lives through the eye of the present.  Love will keep us alive long after we have died.

To complement the photos this night, Patti gave a short performance in the central rotunda of the Gallery.  The glass ceiling and high arching walls provided incredible acoustics for her voice, guitar, and grand piano.  Patti's songs, too, were about death and love.  She sang Redondo Beach, about a lover looking for her girlfriend who has killed herself, This is The Girl, written in tribute to Amy Winehouse, and Because the Night, about the passion of lovers and the safety they feel in their own world in the dark.  She dedicated her songs to various people along the way, and the last song, the People Have the Power, was dedicated to Stompin' Tom Connors who passed away on Wednesday.  He is a Canadian folk music hero, and Patti put it right when she said "a guy like that doesn't die, he's just walking along in another place right now, but he doesn't die.  He never leaves us."

Patti ensured her legacy with us that night.  The crowd was ecstatic.  There were so few of us, she was so honest and genuine, and the music was so big and full.  The Waterloo Choir, who had bought tickets to come and see her, unexpectedly - to them as well - ended up backing her on the last two songs, and killing it, I might add.  The entire evening was deep with meaning, richly celebrating life, and death, and love.

Camera Solo runs from February 9th to May 19th, 2013, at the AGO, in Toronto.