Friday, December 31, 2010

New Effing Website

In a few days, y'all be able to follow my ramblings at:

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Luggage Weight Limits, Job Dissatisfaction and Footballer Fantasies

Christmas always comes early chez nous. Yet, by Christmas, I do not mean the turkey, the wine, the family and the joie de vivre that surrounds the holiday; Christmas for modern consumption-driven households like ours is defined by the time-honored tradition of exchanging gifts. You see, we have never spent a Christmas on the island, opting instead to meet up with my parents, Mr. Flog and Mrs. Broken Record, wherever the hell they may happen to be that given time of the year: the US, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, England, Brazil, etc. So instead of lugging around encyclopedic books or bread-making contraptions or expensive handbags that are treated like a first-born on a round-trip journey just to unwrap them on Christmas' Eve, we push the event up a week or so. This also frees up luggage space for the kilos upon kilos of coffee (Hi, we are Mateo and The Wife, Ph.D., and we admit we are addicts...) required to jump-start our lives once we realize that we have returned to The Rock.

A few nights ago, we exchanged gifts and opened a bottle of 2008 Aes Ambelis Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate our consumerism. Let me just say that The Wife, Ph.D., cheated me out of a Christmas this year. First, she bought me a work-related gift. A copy of Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson's The Concise World Atlas of Wine. A good rule of thumb is to never give people something that will remind them of their job. Specially when their job is oh-so-despised. Second, she really went out of her way to get me Cesc Fabregas' number 4 Arsenal F.C. home jersey, my footballing role model along with Barca's Xavi. However, as I have mentioned previously, The Wife, Ph.D., is madly in-love with the Spaniard footballer. So now I expect her to force me to don the jersey around the house just so that she can fantasize a bit about being with another man. Talk about emasculation.

2008 Aes Ambelis Cabernet Sauvignon - At first, relatively tight bouquet. Eventually it opened up and we picked up notes of red berries, some spice (cinnamon and pepper), dark chocolate and vanilla. Full-bodied wine with noticeable tannins yet quite balanced. Fruit-driven (cherries) to the palate with a nice vegetable (green peppers), chocolaty finish. A unanimous 88/100.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wino Ref Nicosia: Battle 2007 Cyprus Shiraz

[In James Earl Jones' bass voice]

Cyprus is the birthplace of Aphrodite, ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. Will today's valiant contestants be impotent to the demanding palates of our venerable panel of refs or will they bring plenty of heat to Dyonisus' Bedroom?

[Cue theme song: Merle Haggard's The Bottle Let Me Down]

Welcome to Wino Ref Nicosia, The Rock's spunkiest wine tasting show, where egos are set aside, tender love is made to Riedel crystal glasses, and boxed wine is used as bath water. Allow me now to introduce our illustrious referees! From left to right, the French Connoisseur, Our Divorce Lawyer, the Boy Who Married the Enemy, The Wife, Ph.D., the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child, Minnie Mouse, and the Fat Ecuadorian Immigrant. I am your host, the Man Who Lost His Sense Of Taste, and, boy, do we have a quasi-orgasmic show in store for you today.

So, without further ado, today's secret ingredient is...

[Crimson velvety curtains part, revealing three scantily-clad sirens merrily jumping inside an old wooden wine vat while pelting each other with red grapes]...


Syrah, or Shiraz as it's known in the New World, sprung to life in the Northern Rhone region of France not long after the Dureza (Daddy) and Mondeuse Blanche (Mommy) grapes defrocked in a remote field and did the nasty. Today, this prized varietal makes powerful, full-bodied wines with aromas of dark berries, pepper, chocolate and coffee, and is revered the world over.

Our sommeliers have selected five 2007 Shiraz produced by some of The Rock's top wineries (Hadjiantonas, Vlassides, Aes Ambelis, Makkas and Kyperounda.) Each bottle will be judged blindly by our pantheon of referees and assigned a score out of 25 points, 5 points each for appearance, aroma, body, taste and finish. So put on your blindfolds, unbuckle your belts and slip a Viagra; it's about to get de-bau-che-rous in here!

Wine 1 Tasting Notes: Plums, forest berries and some animal notes on the nose. Full-bodied, low on tannins, a bit oxidized according to the French Connoisseur. Short to medium length with a peppery finish. The Disney-Obsessed Man-Child found the wine completely uninteresting; "like Paris Hilton," he adjudicated. 

Wine 2 Tasting Notes: Very subtle bouquet, some floral, coffee and pomegranate notes. Very smooth wine with low tannins and a touch of sweetness. Finishes off with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon. Again, the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child was unimpressed: "'s like covering your wife's nude body in chocolate, eventually you forget about the chocolate..."

Wine 3 Tasting Notes: Nose is similar to Wine 2, a bit more floral. Rich, full-bodied, very smooth with a longer peppery finish. Approved by most, particularly the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child who compared the wine to a Playboy Bunny.

Wine 4 Tasting Notes: Aroma of red fruit with some leather and gaminess. Full-bodied, no tannins, balanced wine with a short finish. Spicier than Wine 3 and a bit marked by The Rock's heat according to the French Connoisseur.

Wine 5 Tasting Notes: Bouquet dominated by red fruit with hints of earth and game. Very jammy wine, full bodied ("like Mateo or Beyonce," quipped the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child) and round. Short finish and little tannins. Second best of the lot, ranked first by Minnie Mouse, The Wife, Ph.D., and the Fat Ecuadorian Immigrant.

Final Results (Out of a Max Score of 175 Points)

5th Place: Wine #1 - 2007 Kyperounda Shiraz (95/175)
4th Place: Wine #4 - 2007 Domaine Vlassides Shiraz (99/175)
3rd Place: Wine #2 - 2007 Makkas Shiraz (108/175)
2nd Place: Wine #5 - 2007 Aes Ambelis Shiraz (125/175)

And the winner, in a squeaker, is Wine #3 - 2007 Domaine Hadjiantonas Shiraz! (126/175)

Even though The Boy Who Married The Enemy disliked our selection and claimed he "wouldn't buy any of them," us here at Wino Ref Nicosia stand one-hundred percent behind The Rock's product. Granted, while some wines failed to tickle our priva...I mean palates, a few certainly made Dionysus blush with pride. Until the next time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bringing The Funk

Many nights I find Nicosia bereft of funk. Usually, when our busy lives as Ph.D. Do-All and slacker permit, The Wife, Ph.D., and I pay a visit to the same handful of bars, restaurants and coffee shops that at least add a small degree of funkiness to the capital. Whenever we want something new and different and toss ideas around, more often than not, we end up at home watching Love Actually or several Sex in the City episodes for the two thousandth time, The Wife, Ph.D., gladly welcoming shuteye within the first thirty minutes, me desperately hunting down my manhood in a bottle of red wine. One does find decadent Greek and Cypriot taverns in town but beyond that there are very few options for those in search of novelty.

So a few weekends ago, on one of those rare times of productive brainstorming, The Wife, Ph.D, Mike Demo, The Godmother and I headed to Academy 32, a newish wine bar-cum-art gallery just above the Venetian walls that encircle the old city. An inconspicuous sign marks its entrance and a long descent of stairs takes you into an indoor patio crowded with white candlelit tables and wooden chairs designated for smokers. Two small rooms, both sparsely decorated, seat a few more customers, while a third, detached from the rest of the space by a glass door and tall window that opens into the patio, resembles a grandmother's sitting room with its antique sofas and armchairs, browning sheet music as centerpiece to a varnished table, and large porcelain vase brimful of flowers. The jazz booming from the establishment's speakers ranges from lively to soulful to avant-garde, and the walls throughout exhibit local artists' works, in this particular occasion black and white travel photography by Petros Charalambous. The exhibit's highlight was a large piece, stylistically reminiscent of Robert Doisneau's iconic Le baiser de l'hotel de ville, of a couple kissing outside a metro station in either (?) Rome or Barcelona. Overall, Academy 32 reminds you of the offspring of a 19th century Latin American hacienda and a serene tavern on a remote Greek island. And, yes, that's a very good thing.

What drew my attention to Academy 32  in the first place was their Cyprus-only wine list. In a city where Spanish, Greek, Italian, French and Californian are preferred by any wine bar's would-be clientele, such a move takes cojones and, in my humble opinion, deserves to be lauded: it's a fantastic way of promoting The Rock's wines, introducing wine lovers to new wineries and grape varieties, and serving up something unique and cool in Nicosia. The wine list itself includes a selection (red, white, rose and sweet) from the best and most important wineries on the island (Zambartas, Vlassides, Tsiakkas, Argyrides, Kyperounda, etc.) One oversight, however, is the omission of Vlassides' Shiraz, a wine of important stature among local connoisseurs. Our waiter did inform us that their sommelier was reworking the list so I hope to see some changes or improvements on my next visit.

We ordered a cheese and cold-cut platter (only edible option on the menu) and a couple bottles of the 2008 Makkas Shiraz, a very well made full-bodied wine with a lively bouquet of peppers, red fruit and honeydew that pleasantly lingers in your palate. Albeit, my one caveat with the place was the food. The Wife, Ph.D., and I went on an empty stomach and we were hoping to get a well-stocked platter with cheeses, charcuterie, fruit, and bread, enough to tie us down for the evening. Instead, we got a tray in which fruit (pineapples, apples, pear and melon) and cheese predominated. There were maybe four pieces of local prosciutto, two tiny rolls of bread spread with caviar, some carob syrup to accompany the cheese and a small banana charlotte, plenty as dessert but not quite right for a meal. Maybe living on The Rock for so long has shifted my attention away from quality and towards quantity but, alas, shit (and grilled cheese sandwiches at one thirty a.m. chez nous to stave off the hunger) happens. In any case, I see ourselves revisiting Academy 32 to share a bottle of The Rock's finest, tap our feet to the cry of a trumpet or bang of a cymbal and stumble back home, gleeful that night for having given Carrie Bradshaw the middle finger.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All That Glitters Is Rock

The Wife, Ph.D., and I spent nearly ten years in the United States of Their America. During our time across the pond, The Wife, Ph.D., slowly but surely fell victim to capitalism, consumerism, marketing, advertising and all of their treacherous relatives: Crate & Barrel, DSW, Starbucks, the GAP, Arden B., Bebe, Whole Foods, BCBG, Godiva Chocolatier, Hallmark, Target, Marshalls, Macy's, Barnes & Noble, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, World Market, Victoria's Secret, Nordstrom, the Container Store, People Magazine, US Weekly, The Today Show, yadda, yadda, and (damn) yadda. She didn't care much for Banana Republic but that's only because she ended up sharing a bed with one of its fine citizens and realized there's not much there to prey upon. In any case, she took to shopping like a newborn sucks on a tit. Little by little, from all the credit card swiping and fondling of greenbacks, a fondness passion for the All-American holidays sprouted.

So now we are on The Rock and every last weekend in November we throw a belated Thanksgiving dinner soiree. I spend hours upon hours in the kitchen roasting an apricot-glazed ham and a citrus turkey, mashing potatoes, boiling rice for a Middle Eastern-inspired stuffing and steaming Brussels sprouts or broccoli or asparagus or green beans. The Wife, Ph.D., prepares cheddar biscuits and fresh cranberry sauce. My Zolpidem Supplier and Ms. Wella The Greek (who we fly in each year from Athens) repeatedly fail in their attempt to make a decent pumpkin or pecan pie. We say grace in Greek and listen to a Pottery Barn's Christmas CD and drink Moscato d'Asti (at 4.5% alcohol a Godsend) and smoke Cuban Montecristo cigarrillos and put up a fake plastic tree with run-of-the-mill ornaments and a scraggly stream of unevenly blinking lights. Yes, "transculturalism" is a bitch.

This year, lost in thought somewhere between my fifth glass of Moscato' d'Asti, my fourth glass of Maratheftiko and a glass of Cazadores tequila neat, I decided to give thanks to The Rock. For what, you ask? Well, so it goes.

...halloumi and wine-soaked sausages, flaounes and savouries, seafood, Xynisteri, Maratheftiko and Commandaria wines, reckless and inconsiderate drivers who keep your instincts sharp, construction workers belting songs of melancholy while plastering walls, blue skies and waters and the heat that follows them around, the painted churches of Troodos, loud yet supportive family, fancy friends, the inability to go on a diet, immigrants enlivening the capital's homogeneous streets, winding mountain roads and picturesque villages, Limassol's nightlife and restaurants, deliciously wasteful taverns, football and tennis galore, an exciting proximity to the Middle East, leftist and conservative political parties duking it out in soccer stadiums like immature children, the "border" as an anthropologist's dream, a peasant dialect of Greek, zeibekiko, Plato's Bar, a different kind of coffee culture, my students, the fact that the Cypriot thinks he or she is always right, The Rock as the center of the universe, religious syncretism, not taking water for granted, posh girls wearing make-up to the beach, Cat Stevens and Marcos Baghdatis, Easter Sunday, feral cats of all shades and sizes, the moufflon, low levels of crime, the Protaras beach house, reading on my balcony beer in hand, not really fitting in, the pool of money that exchanges hands every weekend via multitudinous weddings and baptisms, long bike rides led by amateur triathletes, neighborhood gossip, the paparazzi chasing around people who (when push comes to shove) aren't really famous,...and The Wife, Ph.D.

2008 Aes Ambelis "Omiros" Maratheftiko - Deep crimson/purple color exactly like one coat of Tbisili Is My Capital's nail polish or Ms. Wella The Greek's hair. Very promising bouquet of dark forest fruits, blackberries, dried figs, vanilla, dark chocolate and a touch of oak. Flabby as it first hits your mouth with a plummy and peppery mid-palate and a quite sour (like unripened fruit) and off-putting finish. Double Trouble, a consummate red wine drinker, took a sip, made a face and switched back to the Moscato d'Asti. The wine did soften up as it sat in the decanter and was consumed with the feast. 85/100.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

La Migra! La Migra!

It's been a while. But I have a valid excuse for my absence: La Migra came a-knockin'. Actually, they rang me up. Nevertheless, the trauma was the same as if they had busted down my door and dragged me from my collar into a police car, sirens a-blazin'.

A few weeks ago, an unidentified two-two number popped up on my cell phone. It was La Migra and they wanted to verify whether I had in fact married The Wife, Ph.D., out of love and not as a one-way ticket bound for a life of economic "bliss" on The Rock. You see, there's a serious issue with sham marriages on the island. Many men from the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia in search of better opportunities marry Eastern European women for a hefty one-time fee. At the same time, they agree to support their pseudo-wives through their hard work as construction workers, busboys, food deliverers, and any other sort of position rejected by the middle and upper echelons of society. The men are desperate for legality in The ShamRock, the lazy women vie for an easy way out of having to ply a trade. As an Ecuadorian nomad temporarily settled here, I will always fight for the fellow immigrant. But in this case I thought it'd be wise to obey La Migra and set aside my poorly-masked revolutionary tendencies. What La Migra wants, La Migra gets, specially when love, (inherited) land and liberty are at stake.

When my fancy friends heard about our rendezvous with La Migra, they couldn't help but mock us. The Man Who Lost His Sense of Taste wanted to picket outside the interview's location and yell out slightly racist slogans such as "Back On The Boat!" or "Deportation For The Ecuadorian!" The Enemy, also an immigrant, said she would set up shop on the opposite end and defend me to the death, vowing to pelt the xenophobes with rotten eggs, Cyprus potatoes and chunks of burnt lamb if they got too rowdy. The French Connoisseur reassured me that us immigrants are of vital importance to the improvement of The Rock's genetic makeup, while his wife, Our Divorce Lawyer, asked that we call her if La Migra forced us to do anything "sketchy" to prove our undying love for one another. The Disney-Obsessed Man-Child, who (to the chagrin of Minnie Mouse) has a somewhat erotic and illicit relationship with his digital camera, offered to document the event for posterity.

We agreed to meet La Migra early on a Sunday, the socially-anointed day off for immigrants on The Rock. Ironically enough, the interview took place in an undistinguished office building immediately across the posh five-star hotel where The Wife, Ph.D, and I ate, drank and danced the night away following our Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony almost four years ago. The waiting room was an unlit narrow corridor with several mismatched, raggedy chairs leaning up against one of its dirty white walls. A sign pointed to the door for asylum seekers yet there was no sign directing those immigrants who married out of love. We waited for thirty minutes before La Migra finally asked us in.

The Wife, Ph.D., and I were prepared for the worst. Separate windowless rooms occupied by a metallic table and a couple chairs. Lit bulbs swaying from the ceiling. Bulky shadows traipsing among a cloud of cigarette smoke. Scratched and bloodied floors. Ridiculous questions: "What's your wife's stance on pleated pants?" "Does your husband find Lady Gaga sexy? Would he [pause] get it on with her for a thousand Euros? How about a Booker Prize?" "Fast...What's your wife's favorite brand of organic cereal? Australian biodynamic wine? Nail polish remover? Panty liners? Bathroom reading?" "Even faster... what's your husband's preferred Trappist beer? Diet regimen? Shaving cream? Publishing house? Alt-country single released the same year you first reached second base?" And so on for hours without even a whiff of a grilled halloumi sandwich or a glass of water...

Lo and behold, the interview paled in comparison to what we had anticipated. I think the fact that I bore an olive branch to the meeting by speaking to La Migra in my rudimentary Greek helped. I answered several straightforward questions about my job, my family and our living arrangement. The highlight certainly was when La Migra asked me about my brothers. I told her that the youngest is a US citizen ("Through marriage to an American?" La Migra wondered; "No," I curtly replied) and the middle one is a Scot living in Australia with his Aussie girlfriend and son. A puzzled La Migra stared at me and probably thought, "Latinazo definitely got married for the goddamn papers. One brother is gringo, the other European. No way he'd opt to be the black sheep of the family." In the end, though, he let us saunter out unharmed and suggested that we submit the paperwork for me to become a Cypriot citizen. God help me.

So that evening, in honor of La Migra's validation of our marriage, The Wife, Ph.D., and I cracked open a bottle of The Rock's finest to accompany our "transcultural" tsipoura a la veracruzana.

2008 Kyperounda Cabernet Sauvignon - Enjoyable bouquet of red berries, dark chocolate, vanilla, coffee and a bit of pepper. Starts off with red berries and sour cherries in the palate and finishes off with a hint of vanilla and dark chocolate. Medium length and body with balanced tannins. The Grandparents gifted us this bottle so we saw fit to imbibe it as a celebration of our escape from La Migra. 89/100.