Saturday, December 17, 2011

New Kid In Town

I've been living in Merida now for five years and I've been drinking wine in Merida now for five years. 

Until recently the best access to wine that I knew about was either Costco, Sam's, or Covi.  Yes, there were some smaller neighborhood stores but they don't carry much of a selection. 

Merida is an infant in the wine scene.  Don't get me wrong, there are wine drinkers here and some with discerning tastes but for the most part they drank red or white.  Ok, what others are there besides roses?  None, without getting technical!  But there was little concern to the varietal (type of grape) that the red or white wine was made from. 
Over time the wine culture here has changed and is still changing and I hope it continues.......forever!
I see three main things that have made these changes come about.  One, the influx of people moving here to live from the northern parts of the country.  They bring with them a better level of knowledge and a more discerning palate.  Two, more and more gringos moving here also with a broader base of knowledge and desires for wines they want to have access to.  Three, the locals growing knowledge of wines and with that the desire to try other varietals. 
I think this is great for numerous reasons with the two biggies being a much wider variety and lower costs. 

Things are changing here and not only in regards to wine but many other things associated like food items and restaurants.  Go Merida Go!!!!

For a couple of years I have heard about and then came to know people that would drive to Cancun and/or Playa del Carmen to access a liquor store called La Europea.  Seems that they are a big chain in MX and they have a variety of wines, liquors, deli items, oils and nuts that puts all other similar stores to shame.

Well guess what?  Yep we have one!  It just recently opened at City Center.

You may remember my last post about going there but it being closed.  It did have a bit of a rough start and even though it is open now it isn't functioning at full capacity.
There is still some construction going on.............

and there is construction dust every where and there are prices missing..........

but it is a work in progress and it will be a great addition when it is finished!
These next two pictures are of the yet to be finished deli area.  From the looks of it it'll be quite large.  Who doesn't like a big deli!

It really gives me the feel of the large liquor stores in the states. 

They have all sorts of gift baskets and gift sets for sale too!

Plus they have oils, and nuts and all sorts of stuff!

So go, browse, snoop, check it out!  Who knows what you might find!

I can't wait to see it when it's running on all cylinders.  They do have wines I've never seen here before and they have some of the old reliable ones too.  However, I was impressed by them not being inundated with the wines you see very where else.  Ye they have some bu not shelf after shelf of things like Concha y Toro.  Ok, don't anyone get their knickers in a twist!  I like some of C yT's wines but I don't need to see them dominating the aisles and shelves. 
Give something new a chance.

Last, the prices were disappointing overall.  I thought when a big chain store came in that the competition would get a kick in the pants.  Not so much.  Of course I had to go on the same-o same-o and they seemed to be priced the same as other places. 
But, the variety was better than anywhere else in the city so I guess I'll  be learning about some new wines!  I love it!

Now I have been led to believe that there are case discounts but I failed to ask when I was there.  But you'll be going in to see the place I'm sure, so you can ask when you get there.  FYI: Roberto's name has been dropped as the go to guy for his knowledge and recommendations.  

Regardless, it's worth the trip just to see the place.  Kinda' gives you the feeling that Merida is growing up!

PS: I might mention that Cavit Italian Pinot Noir at 150p per bottle is a good wine at a decent price!

Monday, December 12, 2011

No wine-ing!

Friends have said that I should write about wines and associated things like costs, availability and restaurants that have wine here in Merida

I have hesitated as I have had no formal training in these areas. However I like to drink good wine and I like to eat good food and I’m pretty darn good at both. These are skills that I have been honing for a very long time and I like to do both at a reasonable cost.

I've also been reluctant but not that I don't have anything to say about these things but I was worried that I'd become famous. Worried that people would start saying things like...."well Tom says", you know, like they do with "Robert", you know, that Parker dude from Wine Advocate! Yea, right!

Ok if you don't know him or publications like Wine Spectator but like wine then I guess I've got at least four or five folks that might read what I talk about. So with encouragement like that I'll continue! Can you tell I'm easy!

First and foremost I am not a wine snob. My lovely wife will not agree with that statement but then, when has she ever really known me in the thirty nine years we have been together! Now I openly admit I have certain likes and dislikes when it comes to wines and restaurants but I certainly do not think that those things would ever place the moniker of "snob" on me. Regardless you'll get to know them over time and you can be the judge. I'm sure you have some too!

So I'll give this a go!I'm sure I'll improve as time goes on and I'll remember to take not only more but better pictures to accompany my revues.

Many of us have been anticipating the opening of the “La Europea” liquor store at City Center here in Merida. Yes, It is a chain of sorts, found all over MX. For whatever reason and as with most things Merida it took a long time to get it here.

I had heard that it was supposed to have opened about a week earlier but another friend reported that it didn’t. TIM! Then it was supposed to open the beginning of this week, it didn’t. TIM! So now another friend reported that a mutual friend bought two cases of wine there a couple of days ago so it was open.

So my amigo John and I loaded our wallets and headed out to see the new store on Thursday the 8th. We were to meet our friend Reg there at 2PM and we were all going to experience La Europea together.

Upon arrival we knew something was wrong because there were more people walking away from the store with empty arms than there were people going in.

We passed Laureen and Shawn, other friends, coming towards us and they asked “going to La Europea, we said yes, and they said it’s not open!” We discussed briefly the things heard about when it was supposed to have opened, etc, etc.

So John and I continued on and saw Reg talking to a few people. Reg informed us that the door guard said that they didn’t have all their papers in order so they couldn’t open. Reg has also talked to the owner and he said that he, the owner, was sure that if they were not open by 5PM that day that they would be open for sure by 10 AM the next morning Yea! Right!

Regardless we did some window shopping and did managed to get an abundant amount of nose smears on the glass. It is a fairly large store and certainly larger than any other liquor store in Merida.

Oh, and you might be curious about the other friend buying the two cases of wine……well, let me just say that it is always good to know somebody!

Ok, La Europea was a bust but how can it be totally bad if there is but another oasis of wine and food set before us. Yep, in City Center is the “winebar”.

The winebar is a restaurant, wine bar and deli. The sandwich board on the left had their lunch special listed and that's what we thought we'd get. 160p for the lunch special that included two glasses of wine! Que Bueno! More on that later!

Upon walking in the place had a nice feel, very modern. There was a tall rack of wine on your right….

......that separates the entry way from the front dining area.

On the left as you walk in are the main counter and a small chilled cabinet with cheese and meats. I guess it is what gives the place the designation as a deli. Ok, a small deli!

They have another wine rack just past the bar on the left side as you walk back to the rear dining area. All the wines are available by the bottle for carry out and also off the menu.

Both the front and back dining areas have a lot of glass so they are well lit with ambient light as long as it is sunny. At this time of day, 2:30, the rear area was very bright and since it was that way the floor was very well lit. I was surprised at the lack of cleanliness of the floor. Now don’t get me wrong, there were not hunks of pasta or meat stuck to the floor but you could tell that it hadn’t been swept since at least dinner the night before. And yes, I know that I wasn’t eating off the floor.

The waiter was right there as soon as we sat and we asked for a wine list. He left and immediately returned with the list.

I always like to look at the wine list at every restaurant I go in no matter if I am ordering wine or not. It tells me what wines they have and what the costs are. I can usually find a few that I know what my cost is and then I can tell what kind of mark up the restaurant has; My experience here in Merida is that almost all restaurants are pretty outrageous on their mark ups for wine!

Anyway, as we looked at the list we started asking a few questions about the lunch special. You could choose four out of the five salads on the menu. You had a choice of either a pasta or an arrachera dish. With either dish you got papas cambray or fritas, a small bowl of guac and a garnish of lettuce and tomato plus two glasses of wine.

We then asked about the wine and the waiter told us we could have either blanco o tinto. We asked about the wines as to what varietal they were, where they were from, etc. He told us they were from Chile and pointed them out to us on the wine list. I’m sorry but I can’t remember the winery but you’ll soon see why it didn’t matter.

All three of us also ordered the arrachera special and the vino tinto which was a malbec. The waiter had problems with all of our Spanish but after repeating things a few times he understood.

As the ordering was going on Reg looks at the only other table with people and said to me, “Tom, look at their wine glasses. I looked and there was a lot of condensation on the glasses. So much so that it was rising above the wine level on the sides of the glass. This meant that the wine was very cold.

Ok, one of my biggest dislikes is cold red wine. I don’t care for cold red wine. It’s just not right. The chill closes down the flavors of the wine. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy all that the vintner intended you to enjoy when he/she made the wine. I feel the same way about most white wines as well. However living in Merida I have learned in the hot months to enjoy a few whites chilled but never, ever a red!

Ok, so we engage the waiter in checking to see if we can get our wine poured out of a bottle that hasn’t been chilled. He leaves and comes back with the right answer, “yes.   

The three glasses of wine arrived  and we swirled and sniffed and sipped. We all thought it was a bit closed but we figured that with the bottle just being opened that it was fine for a lunch special wine. I commented that I got a small amount of a salty taste which is somewhat typical of Mexican wines but not usually Chilean reds. We all commented that the color was more of a garnet than a bright ruby or red which can mean an older wine so we got curious and asked to see the bottle.

The waiter brought the bottle and we gazed upon a non vintage Mexican wine, not a wine from Chile. It was not a malbec either but a cabernet sauvignon/malbec blend.

We gave a brief thought to asking the waiter about it but we figured it wasn’t worth the time or effort we’d need to put into it so we just drank the wine we had and continued to talk.

John and I got ceasar salads and as usual for here they were not true ceasar salads. They were dressed with bottled dressing. Reg got a deli salad and he said it was good. Next we got our second glasses of wine which were brought in new glasses and the old glasses were taken away. Then the meals came and the presentation was nice. The arrachera was very good as were the potatoes. The guac was decent.

We all were a bit surprised at the use of a wooden board with trim as the plate. But hey, TIM!

I also take issue, yes another dislike of mine,with the state of the "wine" glasses that a restaurant or "wine" bar serves their "wine" in!

Since "wine" is one of their main themes then the glasses should at the very least sparkle. They should never have water spots on them especially if the dining area has large glass windows with a ton of bright light! If they want to mark up their wines to the extent they do they certainly can afford to have clean glasses in which to serve their wines. After all, part of the wine experience is presentation!

Another one of my issues with glasses are chips. Yes, my second glass of "wine" had a chip in it. I'm sorry but this should never be in an upscale restaurant. Again especially in a "wine" bar! I mean they stepped up and brought us new glasses of wine when we ordered our second glasses and they certainly didn't need to do that since it was the same wine. They could have just brought the bottle and refilled our glasses and I expected that to happen at lunch.

I hate to repeat myself but if "wine" is one of, if not, the main theme that a restaurant is hanging its hat on then they should not serve their "wine" in glasses with water spots or chips! Ever! Well, during a full blown hurricane would be acceptable!

Now if this glass "thang" puts me into the "snob" catagory on your "snob" meter then so be it. Call it the way you see it. I have fairly broad shoulders and I can handle it! LOL!  But I will remind you that I didn't have lunch at a "wine" bar economica!

Overall the experience was ok and I would go back to see if they were possibly just having an off day.

On the wine cost comparison side of things at the "winebar" I saw a wine that I’m very familiar with on the rack and on the wine list at the “winebar". Yellow Tail Shiraz from Australia was my house shiraz in the states because it was consistently good and inexpensive costing around seven dollars a bottle. I see it here in Costco, Walmart, and other places frequently at 110p a bottle +/-. I consider it a fairly good deal here!

The “winebar” sells it from their rack for 340p a bottle. If you order it off the wine list with a meal then it is 460p a bottle. That is outrageous even at 14p to one dollar exchange rate. That makes it $24.00 US off the rack and just under $39.00 US off the wine list. Or comparing pesos to pesos that’s three times as much off the rack and four times as much off the wine list that you can buy it for.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there is expense in having to do all the things necessary that goes with serving a bottle of wine but there never has been and never will be a justifiable position for an over 400% mark up!

Until next time

Pick me, squeeze me, make me wine!