Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Istanbul, Turkey

We had to bust out of Alex from the impeding EID holiday...we saw all the animals shuffled into makeshift pens on the streets surrounding our school. The future looked bleak for sheep, cows, goats and camels. Istanbul was our short escape route to where we wouldn't get caught in rivers of blood. We piled into the plane and off we went...the 5 of us.

Instead of staying in Sultanahmet, we ventured over to the antique district below Taksim. While the vibe was slightly more local, it reeked of trendiness. It will be a matter of a short few years before the area totally flips. Tourists have overrun Istanbul, it might be one of last times going there.

X getting ready.  

Ana's parents first trip out of Alex.

We played the casual tourist this round by not snapping many photos. The Blue Mosque
Outside the Aya Sophia.
Inside the Aya Sophia.
Upstairs in the Aya Sophia.
Guess where this is?
From a window inside of the  A _ _    S_ p_ _a.
Instead of riding a boat up the Bosphorus, we decided on one of the Prince Islands, Heybeloada to be exact.

Demonstrating Heybeliada's past and present architecture. The Prince Islands have a history of being a homeland for exiled royalty. An added bonus is the no private motorcars allowed on the islands rule. Bring or rent a bike. 
Need to experience Turkey's greatest hits on a small scale in about an hour with the bonus of saving weeks of travel time and thousands of dollars? Don't fret. Minaturk to the rescue.  
Minaturk verges on cheesy complete with tacky tourists who roam over obvious fences meant to keep people out. leave your manners at home and don't forget a selfie stick.   
It's all about the selfie. 
Need a backyard idea for the kids? 
The mini airport was one of the best attractions.  
Insert a Turkish lira, a push a button, and hear the fan of a football match. 
Meow. Even the kittens interacted with attractions.
Three wives, three camera phones, one husband next to an attraction. 
In all seriousness, if you've never given up building models or train sets, Minaturk is a must see.
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art was participating in the 14th Istanbul Biennial. 
Ana and had a tough time deciding if this would better in the bedroom or dining room.
Bullet holes through glass makes-another great decorating idea. 
A police brutality scene over the love seat really ties the room together.
If you've ever visited the Middle East or even a developing country you might just know how prominent this image is. 
All that clothes you donated to Goodwill...
Living below the earth's surface kept alive by hydroponic lights while deer, tires, and bullet riddled walls clutter the surface. Modern art. Dig it. 
Perhaps a better use for self-help books. 
Near our apartment and according to Facebook, the world famous "Objects of Desire" exhibit. This might not be suitable viewing for people suffering with a need to desire objects disorder.  
The object are separated in themes categories. 
Someone was ready to go home. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Tasting Egyptian Red Wine-an almost complete guide

It was an evening of 17 people versus 11 bottles of red Egyptian wine. Many thanks to our director and his wife for hosting the event. It was a blind taste test. Wines were tasted in order and served at between 17-19 degrees Celsius. Participants were given pencil and paper and asked to jot down tasting notes. Below are their responses. The author has opted not to comment other than providing the wine’s research and introduction. 

1. Omar Khayyam 2013 (56 EGP)

Gianaclis Vineyards
Grape: Bobal
12.5% ABV 

Omar Khayyam is the name synonymous with Egyptian Wine. It is the default party favorite. The quality along with the label has improved since first tasting in 2009. While it has a stigma for being a low quality wine it surprised many of the tasters.

Tasting notes: Medium bodied with silky tannins, short finish, fruity, cherries and black currant, earthy, alcohol-y, tart, leather, ruby red, clear, young, light, acetone, nail polish remover

2. Shahrazade 2013 (55 EGP)
Kouroum of the Nile
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
12.5% ABV 

Where there were Romans, there was wine. Countries along the Med are dotted with grape growing regions. Egypt is no exception despite the somewhat challenging climate. The partners of Kouroum of the Nile with a wealth of experience hit Egyptian’s wine scene this decade and host 3 growing regions for their certified organic types of grapes. While Gianaclis Vineyards set the initial standard for Egyptian wines, Kouroum of the Nile has made wine producing interesting with a promising future. While somewhat hard to find, gocheers.com can deliver it to your door.   

Tasting notes: Very dry, long finish, ruby red, smells woody, black olives, skittles finish, tobacco, black currant, strong tannins, puckery, soft, strawberry smoky aroma, slight pepper.

3. Grand Marquis 2013 (70 EGP)
Gianaclis Vineyards
Grapes: Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon
12% ABV 

Since the redesigning of the label, the bottle seems less prominent on the shelves of Drinkies. My first impression of Grand Marquis came at a party before the Egyptian Revolution; a friend said it was a good Egyptian wine. I was polite, nodded, and finished my glass. Having a more serious look at it now, my opinion has changed. Their website claims the wine is fermented with oak, vanilla, and spicy flavors. What that exactly means is unclear, does that imply they added ingredients to the wine? 

Tasting notes: Sweet, smooth, easy, middle of the road, clear, vanilla, silky, short finish, well integrated, diluted like a Crystal Light packet, blackberry jam, Egyptian version of table wine, low sugar, low tannins      

4. Obelisk 2012 (70 EGP)
Gianaclis Vineyards
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
12.5% ABV

The label attempts to tie art and wine together and goes a little overboard and crosses into tacky souvenir territory. One would hope that the act of fine art and the craftsmanship of wine making would go hand-to-hand. After tasting several bottles over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion the taste isn’t from the poor conditioning or improper storage of the bottle. It is clearly the wine.

Tasting notes: wood, short finish, tasteless, strong alcohol, like sucking stale jam off of a nickel, plastic, rough, metallic, rusty, rotten smelling, a really meaty and robust scarlet lady, yech, dirty sponge, dark bitter fruits, lemon velvet texture, perfume, smoke  

5. Beausoleil 2013 (65 EGP) 
Kouroum of the Nile
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
12.5% ABV

Beausoleil is the older sibling of Shahrazade for an additional 10 EGP. Before the price exploded with Chateau Des Reves, it was its rival in terms of cost and quality. Like the other wine from Kouroum of the Nile, it is made with certified organic grapes. Beausoleil has continued to grow on me over the years as it has developed. It is complex, full bodied, and overall interesting in terms of structure.

Tasting notes: Spicy, woodland, earthy, needs to breath, smooth, full bodied, heavy, long dry finish, anise, strong tannins, chocolate, pairs well with blue cheese, chalky finish, Egyptian lamb on its final EID, old cheese finish, acidic, nose: crayon, deep throating a chalkboard eraser.   

6. Cape Bay Merlot 2013 (95 EGP)
Gianaclis Vineyards
Grape: Merlot from South Africa
13% ABV

Made with South Africa grapes, Cape Bay tends to be a favorite with both expats and locals alike. Produced during one of the three Egyptian wine seasons. Cape Bay also makes a limited edition: “Woody” meaning, aged in barrels that is nearly impossible to locate.

Tasting notes: Grape ape, smooth, spicy, full body, slight bitterness finish, classy, earthy, elegant, the real thing, ruby red, big, black currant, drinks well without food, short finish, vanilla, comforting

7. Chateau Des Reves 2012 (90 EGP)
Gianaclis Vineyards
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carignan from Lebanon
12% ABV

Hailed once as the best Egyptian wine. Made with grapes from Lebanon during one of the other seasons not taken up by Cape Bay or Egyptian grapes. Complex in both character and structure. Appeals to those with a discriminating palate. Bottles with the older label tends to possess more flavor while the newer  lack that special character. Proceed with caution.

Tasting notes: Acidic, floral, cherry, depth, vanilla, bitter back pepper taste, pairs well with a steak, dry, olives, Miracle Grow/malathion, hint of turpentine 

8. Ayam 2013 (90 EGP)
Gianaclis Vineyards
Grapes: Syrah and Carignan
12.5% ABV

This was once the crown jewel of Egyptian wine price point and taste wise only to rival Cape Bay in terms of serving only the best. It has since disappeared into the background. Ayam doesn’t go for glitter-it has a graceful aesthetic with the nose and flavor to back it up. It is what you bring to an elegant dinner.  

Tasting notes: smooth, chocolate, winter, full, heavy, mature, tannins, dry licorice, spicy strawberry, skunky, smoke, petrol, rough finish, fruity, short finish

9. Jardin du Nil 2012 (90 EGP) 
Kouroum of the Nile
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah
12.5% ABV

Coming at you with four different grape varieties, Jardin du Nil is nicely packaged in a curvy bottle. It is the top shelf bottle in the Kouroum of the Nile family and of course like the other two it’s certified organic. Complex and full bodied to be taken with red meats, kofta, and aged cheese.

Tasting notes: Heavy tannins, earthy, tart, leather, slight garden hose, bitter, tobacco, wood, black pepper, overpowering, 

10. Zaman 2008 (90 EGP)
Gianaclis Vineyards
Grapes: Tempranillo and Grenache
12% ABV

The bride of Ayam. Perhaps an attempt at a Spanish Tempranillo styled wine that can't quite shake the ever present Egyptian finish. Zaman appears to be out of production at the time of writing this. I have fond memories of liking it better than Ayam many years ago. Perhaps if stored properly and not on the shelf of a forgotten liquor shop, it might have fared better.

Tasting notes: Sweet ruby lips, peppery, flavorful, plums, well integrated, spicy, harsh finish, crisp, sadness left out in the sun, cloudy, vomit

11. Chateau de Granville 2013 (140 EGP)
Gianaclis Vineyards
Grapes: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon-oaked 6 months French grapes
13% ABV

Chateau de Granville debuted in 2013 just months before we departed Egypt. It was all the talk when we took a tour of Gianaclis Vineyards. We drooled when we spotted the first barrels sitting in the cellar. The release date finally arrived and looked and tasted like an honest attempt at a Bordeaux wine (meritage), grapes and all. Chateau de Granville is made well, but lacks originality and grit to give it distinction. You’ll get props for bringing it to a party, but in the end it is just another meritage lost in the crowd. Buy two bottles of Shahrazade or a bottle of Ayan or Jardin du Nil and Shahrazade instead.

Tasting notes: Sharp but sweet, fruity, acidic, tart, sour, not worth 140 EGP  

The Tasters: a photo essay by Tom Baker: 

Overall verdict:
Best in show: Cape Bay, Ayam, Grand Marquis
To be avoided: Obelisk