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Facing Facebook November 2, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

November 2, 2016

 

 

 

   Yeah, yeah, yeah…it finally happened.

   As most Cyrano friends know, I’d been telling you for years that Facebook was not my cup of tea, being the kind of writer that I am. FB just isn’t the sort of venue that appeals to the sense of rhythm that I have when it comes to writing about the things I like to write about.

   “Alex,” folks would excitedly ask me in person. “Please send me a friend request on Facebook!”

   “Facebook?” I would say to burst their bubbles. “I’ve heard of Facebook. I’ve also heard of Twitter. I’ve even heard of Instagram…”

   But after years of repeatedly making it clear to all Cyrano friends that I would NEVER be pressured by you into getting on Facebook…well, the day you’ve long been waiting for has arrived. Here I am. Yuck.

   Here is the barrage of FB responses that arrived from Cyrano friends after you folks got notifications that I had signed up.

 

    Jonathan Co:
    Alex is it really you?

    Alex:
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s me…our Cyrano manager insisted that I get on Facebook…grrr…hate this Facebook thing. But it’s for the good of the wine shop.

     

    Fatima Tee:
    You’re on Facebook?!?! xD xD xD

    Alex:
    Ugh, yes…I’m now on FB. Yuck, yuck, yuck. My biz consultant forced me to get an account so I can better promote Cyrano. I guess it’s justified…

     

    Gail Sotelo:
    Wow. You’re on Facebook. O_O

    Alex: Ugh…don’t rub it in…I was required by my biz consultant to open an account with this social media provider…

     

    Joel Fabonan:
    OMG! YOU ARE HERE!🙂

    Alex:
    Yes…I am finally here on this ubiquitous social media provider, not by choice but due to pressure from my business consultant. I miss the old days, boohoo-hoo…

     

    Angela Navato:
    Finally getting social media savvy huh? Facebook and now Viber! Wow!

    Alex:
    Ugh, please don’t call me social media savvy…it gives me a headache just being on this thing. Wait. What do you mean I’m on Viber? I’m on Viber? Who put me on Viber???

 

   Ah, whaddaya know…it turns out the shop’s manager put me on something called Viber. How the heck do I use that? Hahaha…

   For the record, I decided to get on FB after an internal discussion at the wine shop made it obvious that I needed to manage Cyrano’s presence on social media. As the saying goes, if you want something different to happen, you have to do something different. With your favorite neighborhood wine shop getting ready for its official re-launch this November in a new place (we’re in the cellar level of Madison Galeries in the Alabang area, located amongst the cool residential communities of Alabang Hills and Hillsborough villages), embracing Facebook was easily the sensible thing to do.

   “Welcome to FB hehe,” was the teasing message I got from my cousin, Charlene, who was one of the first responders on my new Facebook page.

   Sigh. There’s no turning back.

 

 

 

 

The End is the Beginning… May 19, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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Guest post written by Gail Sotelo

Reposted from 2shotsandapint.com

May 18, 2016

 

 

“Here I sit halfway to somewhere, thinking about
what’s in front of me and what I left behind.”

Mr. Big, Goin’ Where the Wind Blows

 

 

…is not the end😉

 

   This song, perhaps, sums up the melancholy I felt when we hung out one last time in Cyrano’s old location.

   I know I’m breaking one of my old rules by talking about an establishment instead of the drinks, but I think I’ve covered that in a previous entry.

   It’s just that I realized, as I looked at all the old familiar faces of the bar’s regulars, that no other place has been such a part of my “wine life” than Cyrano.

   Just to give readers an idea on how the place is to regulars like myself, think Cheers… Everybody literally knows your name.

   I started going to Cyrano in the middle of 2008, when I was working for a wine company. My then landlord and I decided to hang out, and since his office was in Legaspi Village, he took me to Cyrano.

   It was then that I met Cyrano’s resident snarky bartender, Alex, who introduced me to the art of wine. See, I knew a little bit about wine before I met Alex, but he was instrumental in changing my perspective. I would have never perceived wine as a lifestyle without him. To this day, I owe coming up with the conclusion that wine involves gastronomy, culture, geography, and science to him.

   Since then, Alex has become such a part of our lives; we even got him to attend our wedding (in his Wallace and Grommet tie).

   Here are other things I will never forget from the ultimate neighborhood wine bar:

 

    Imogen Heap – I’ve never heard of Imogen Heap before I started hanging out in Cyrano… Alex’s sister was playing it during one of my visits around October/November 2008. Heap’s album Speak for Yourself was still in my head when I met Chad in December 2008, so I will always equate Imogen with good memories (Alex, since then, has disallowed Imogen Heap to be played in the bar).

    Wine Books – One of the proprietors loaned me a wine encyclopedia when I started to study wine. Unfortunately, the books (along with about 75% of my stuff) were damaged by “Ondoy” in 2009. The books, however, started me on the path of collecting wine literature (admittedly one of my favorite guilty pleasures).

    Appreciation for Live Music – We got to watch Nino Alejandro and Lee Grane in Cyrano as they got really famous. It was also great to hear one of our friends, Aia De Leon, play in Cyrano’s “smoking lounge” (which is where Curator is now).

    Victoria’s Secret – I theoretically knew about Victoria’s Secret’s legendary fashion shows, but Alex started a tradition of watching it in Cyrano since 2012. It then became our equivalent of the Super Bowl.

    Eurovision – It’s so campy, it’s good. As with Victoria’s Secret, Alex held “public screenings” in the bar for a couple of years.

    Anthony Bourdain – People reading this blog know about my “hero worship” of Bourdain for his no-nonsense take on food, drink, people, culture, and travel. I actually discovered him during one of Alex’s “film showing” evenings… I remember the first episode I ever saw: It was No Reservations in Naples (still one of my all time favorites).

    Cyrano’s Grassy Patch – People have smoked there, passed out drunk on it (and were woken up by the barangay police in the morning), thrown up on it, and even brought dogs there (yep, Schrumpf was there!).

    The Glassware – Here’s a bit of trivia: Alex gets so anal about his glasses that he refuses to use them without extensively wiping off the watermarks. I can honestly say that he has some of the cleanest glassware in Makati.

    The Back of the Bar – I felt so at home that I actually served drinks on occasion, and even helped myself to the wines in the refrigerator when Alex got too busy (before they hired Fiona, Alex’s equally catty bartender).

    The PEOPLE – The moment guests walk in the door, they get introduced to everyone. I’ve met a German wino with a penchant for sweet wines, a woman who loaned me her glass with “Bitch” engraved on it (because it totally suited me), law students studying for the bar exams (yes, over wine), runners, musicians, comedians, businessmen, radio personalities, and Mr. S (a Japanese regular who, unfortunately, drowned earlier this year, RIP).

 

   Old regulars marveling at how much our lives have changed made Cyrano’s last night in Legaspi Village particularly sentimental. We realized we don’t hang out until 4am anymore, we don’t drink like fish the way we used to, and we’re in bed by 12 midnight… Totally titos and titas of Manila.

   To further drive home our age, we decided to play power ballads of the 90s (which is the reason why Mr. Big is stuck in my head). After all, is there a better way to end an era than with lots of food, wine, friends, and belting out songs we grew up to?

   Much as we titos and titas will miss the old place, we are also very excited to see it re-open in a different location: Cordova Building along Valero street in Salcedo Village. This should happen in a couple of months, so hey… We are totally looking forward to that.😉

   Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Honest Food for Real Wine Drinkers May 12, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

May 12, 2016

 

 

A simple charcuterie platter of paté, rillettes, saucisson, and chorizo…yum!!!

 

   In preparation for Cyrano’s move to its new location, I’ve been freely listening to the suggestions of different friends who are culinary professionals, asking for ideas on how best to update our food menu.

   One chef friend, Ian Padilla, who trained in France at the famed Taillevent restaurant, eventually got around to saying that in spirit Cyrano reminded him of a famous wine bar in Paris called Le Baron Rouge (“The Red Baron”).  It’s a tiny wine bar (about the same size as Cyrano) that has been described as a “blue collar bar” that doesn’t have time for pretentious wine snobs.

 

Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.

 

   Interestingly, their original menu was famously simple: cheese boards and charcuterie platters (check the top picture of a typical charcuterie combo of paté/terrine, rillettes, saucisson, and chorizo), plus fresh oysters on the shell on weekends.  That was it.

   My friend Ian says it was only when foreign tourists started crowding the place all the time and ignorantly asking for “other stuff” that the Baron expanded the menu to accommodate their untrained palates. At Le Baron Rouge, the original food concept was to keep things authentic and simple, nothing fussy or fancy, and it worked.

 

Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.

 

   “This is the kind of place I like,” e-mailed my business partner and Cyrano friend Joco, after seeing the e-mail reference I sent him about Le Baron Rouge and recognizing the similarities. As every Cyrano friend already knows, we’ve never had a kitchen, yet we still managed behind the bar counter to cook tasty treats for you to enjoy with your wine. And we’ve always kept our menu simple.

   “Yeah, my thoughts too,” I e-mailed in reply. “It was Ian who pointed this place to me, because Baron Rouge doesn’t even have a real kitchen, just a bar set-up.  Their charcuterie platters don’t require cooking, but these are their signature menu items that customers love.  It’s old school and simple, yet a lot of customers in our new location have never been introduced to this fun style of eating while drinking.”

 

Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.

 

   “Also,” I continued. “When the place gets too crowded and customers have to stay outside, notice that they stack plastic crates and top them with serving trays to make a makeshift high table. And they get away with the look because they’re “Parisians”.  I wonder if we’d be able to get away with doing that…haha!”

   “I think we can,” Joco e-mailed back with a smiley face.

   Thumbs up. More than that, I look forward to getting away with keeping it nice and simple at our new place – just tweaking our menu with more of the honest, uncomplicated food that always gives comfort to real wine drinkers (aka Cyrano friends).

 

 

 

 

Parable of the Starfish March 28, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

March 28, 2016

 

 

 

   Perhaps you’ve already heard the Parable of the Starfish.

   It’s a parable that I tell from time to time at Cyrano whenever the occasion of wine and friendship allows. It is a story that says what I believe about life, making it a story that I wish for all true friends of our little neighborhood wine shop to believe in too. As we say at Cyrano, we don’t have customers. We just have friends. And we like to make a difference in their lives, one friend at a time.

   I first encountered this story a long time ago. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to tell it properly. Just yesterday, I read a different version of it on the web, and it is such a poor version that it squanders the power of the parable’s message. So I will re-tell the parable here and be as faithful as possible to the story that I remember.

   Here goes…

 

 

    [ SPOILER ALERT – The moral is that you should do what is good because it is good; you do what you can, then you let it go. Thus, even if you can’t make a difference for everyone, you can still choose to make a difference for anyone. ]

 

 

   A man was walking on the beach.

   It was a sunny day but just the day before, the beach had been battered by a freak storm. As the man kept walking on his path, he was confronted by the constant sight of marine debris strewn in front of him, all of which had been violently churned up by the raging winds and waves. What struck the man was the realization that most of the debris was actually made of hundreds upon hundreds of starfishes, which littered the length of the beach. Having been carried far away from the water by the storm, these starfishes were now stranded, doomed to perish under the blazing sun.

   It was then that the man noticed that in the distance ahead, a stranger was busy at work along the seashore. As the man continued walking, his every step drawing him closer, he observed the stranger going back and forth from the beach into the shallow water, each time returning to the shallows with something in his hands. Eventually the man arrived there and he walked up to the stranger to ask what was happening.

   “I’m returning the starfishes to the water,” said the stranger politely as he picked up yet another stranded starfish. “Otherwise, they’ll be dead in a few hours.”

   The man was astonished by the stranger’s answer. “But there are hundreds of them,” said the man to the stranger. “Maybe thousands.”

   “I know,” said the stranger as he carried the starfish with him towards the water.

   “But there’s no way you can save them all,” said the man with resignation. “Even at best, you can only save a few of them. How can what you’re doing possibly make a difference?”

   The stranger simply stood in the shallows, displaying the starfish in the palm of his hand as he gave his reply.

   “It makes a difference to this one,” said the stranger before placing it safely beneath the tide.

 

 

 

 

Neighborhood Jewel February 28, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

February 28, 2016

 

 

Cyrano’s new location? Nah, this was one of our design references, illustrating
how steel shipping containers can be used as the basis for elegant architecture.
But scratch the shipping containers. We’re building a jewel box instead.

 

   I once heard the great architect I.M. Pei say in an interview that architecture is the purest form of art there is (before I proceed, I need to say that I am not a fan of that colossal, view-hogging glass pyramid of his at the Louvre, which Pei recycled from an old design that was disapproved from a previous project but which he stubbornly stayed infatuated with; I am, however, a fan of his brilliant space plan for the same museum, a masterstroke that connected all the main buildings via a central underground access point, transforming the Louvre’s expansive and previously deserted main court into a bustling haven for both Parisians and tourists).

   Pei’s belief was that unlike a masterpiece painted on canvass or sculpted in stone, a building naturally derives its aesthetics from the beauty of its functionality. Paintings and sculptures aren’t meant to be practical; they can be made as frivolously, as ostentatiously, as pretentiously as the artist desires. Not so with a building. No matter how pretty it is, if the structure doesn’t physically work – if it’s a permanent inferno even with the air-conditioning at full blast or if the leaking roof regularly floods the floor like a tsunami or if the whole thing collapses under its own weight on the day it’s finished – then it’s a dumb design.

   Making it functional in a way that is beautiful is where the art is.

   That’s why I love the work that our architect, Tisha de Borja, is doing for the new location of Cyrano. She understands the beauty of having a “Big Idea”.

   “I want to do a glass box in the middle of the plant box,” said the text message I recently received from Tisha. “Scrap the container. A jewel box.”

   This was surprising news. Scrap the container-based structure? For weeks, Tisha had been planning a new design for the wine shop based on the proposal of building it with shipping containers, which we all agreed would make for a cost-effective solution. But although the news was unexpected, I wasn’t alarmed.

   I texted back, telling our architect that if in her judgement this was the way forward, then so be it. But out of curiosity, I cheerfully asked what made her decide to abandon using containers.

   “Don’t laugh…,” she texted, “a dream!”

   “I’ve done about 6 iterations with the container,” she continued texting, “and it just didn’t seem right. Then I added a glass portion, which was almost right, but not quite. At that point, I was ready to just accept it already. But last night, I realized that you guys talk about Cyrano in a very specific way, like it is this precious neighborhood jewel. And then it hit me – it should just be all glass.”

   I understood what she was saying. It turned out that, as much as we all fell in love in the beginning with the idea of using ready-made shipping containers, these cheap and versatile steel structures had now become their own worst enemy due to the limited footprint of the new location. They were getting in each other’s way and after six different configurations, it just wasn’t working.

   But no problem, because our awesome architect came up with a new idea that was just as functional and much more beautiful. A jewel box? What a wonderful concept, I told her. Plus, it was nice to hear our original Cyrano friend, Tisha, expressing an honest, artistic understanding of Cyrano as a precious gem of the community (although she isn’t our first neighbor to come to that conclusion; that honor goes to our neighbor Waise Azimi, who gladly tells people that Cyrano is a neighborhood “treasure”). It further reassured me that we got the right architect for the job.

   I also told her that it was a good sign that her Big Idea came from a dream, because I too believe in the power of dreams.

   “Haha…well,” she clarified, “not exactly a dream…but that just before sleep state when it turns out, I do my best thinking!”

   Good thinking anyway, Tisha. A jewel box it is.

 

 

 

 

Appealing February 13, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

February 13, 2016

Unlike Ueno’s version at The Curator, the standard Negroni is made with equal
parts of gin, vermouth rosso and Campari, garnished with an orange peel.

 

   This is too good not to mention.

   Some nights ago, I slid open the dark wooden door at the back of Cyrano and crossed into The Curator, the cocktail bar that recently featured Japanese legend Hidetsugu Ueno as its celebrity bartender. As I often do when interacting with their staff (our two bars coordinate for a lot of shared needs that happen during the course of an evening, from tap water to extra chairs for additional guests), I paid them a visit behind the counter, where they are shielded from customer view by thick, black curtains.

   “Faye,” I asked their pretty, olive-complexioned bartender and cashier, “do you remember how many lemon peels Ueno put in his Black Negroni?”

   Faye, together with her fellow bartenders, had previously discussed with me their surprise about how Ueno chose to use lemon to make his version of the classic Negroni cocktail, which is typically garnished with an orange peel. She promptly answered my question in earshot of Vito, her fellow bartender and Curator’s resident pop balladeer at closing time, who was over by the sink washing dishes.

   “Sir,” Faye replied, “Ueno used one lemon peel per drink.”

   “Just one? Are you sure he used only one?”

   “Yes, sir, just one.”

   “So when you make a Negroni now, you also use only one peel?”

   “Yes sir.”

   “Are you sure you don’t want to use six?”

   “Huh? But sir…,” she asked, her pretty features suddenly looking perplexed. “Why naman are we going to use six?

   “So that way, you have six apeel.”

   We all cracked up, including Vito all the way over at the sink, with Faye doubling over in mock embarrassment.

   Yeah, haha, I’ve always wanted to say that.

 

 

 

 

An Educated Taste for Drink January 31, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

January 31, 2016

 

 

The maestro of mixology, Hidetsugu Ueno, at his Bar High Five in Tokyo.

 

   Truth: all drinkers drink, but not equally. The great British drinks writer Michael Jackson (in my opinion, the most eloquent whisky writer who ever lived) used to say that any drinker who claims to possess a cultivated palate ought to drink first and foremost for the taste of it. “In the end, there are only two kinds of drinker,” he wrote. “The discriminating and the indiscriminate.”

   Let’s be honest. Not everyone really cares to have an educated taste for drink. At any given bar on any given night in any given country, you won’t have trouble finding indiscriminate drinkers – the boozers if you will. Boozers are fairly easy to spot; they’re the ones who tell you that all they want is to get a “good buzz” while appearing to drink fashionably, throwing their money at whatever expensive horse piss the bartender is passing off as chic. I apologize for the unkindness, but I just want to be emphatic. Spend all you want on expensive drinks; that doesn’t make you a better drinker.

   I find it more rewarding to drink at a bar with genuine people who know how to taste what they’re drinking and care about sharing that appreciation. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy such company when The Curator – that no-nonsense cocktail bar hidden by that dark sliding door at the back of Cyrano – invited the great Hidetsugu Ueno to serve as its celebrity guest bartender for one special night last December.

   “I have the world’s greatest bartender in my bar!” cheered a beaming Jericson, The Curator’s founder, happy with disbelief that he was able to bring this living legend of Bar High Five in Tokyo for a gig in the Philippines.

   “He wasn’t bothering to measure the drinks,” admiringly commented Poch, The Curator’s senior bartender, about their celebrated Japanese guest. “He was doing it by eye, making adjustments with each drink based on how he felt each glass needed it.”

   Now, I’m not the world’s most ardent fan of cocktails. Offer me a good whisky or a nice wine and most of the time I’ll choose either of those over a mixed drink. Having said that, this doesn’t preclude me from favoring three classics: the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Negroni.

   Invented by the Italians, who possess an enviable wealth of experience when it comes to making beautiful drinks, the Negroni properly made can be a sublime experience – lusciously smooth in the mouth, with a refined interplay of sweetness, richness, and sharpness over ice, making it one of the rare cocktails that can be perfect either as a casual treat over lunch on a sunny day, or as a suave gesture in the presence of evening companions. Unfortunately, local bartenders usually make this cocktail by applying a typically Pinoy sweet tooth, resulting in a syrupy slop that overwhelms the possibility of yummy subtleties. Hence, leading up to this night at The Curator, I had never previously at a local bar had a Negroni that was worth remembering.

   This night, however, our celebrity Japanese bartender offered guests his version, labelled a Black Negroni, which Ueno-san crafted with intuitive proportions of Tanqueray, Carpano Antica Formula, and Fernet Branca.

   “Here, try it,” said Joco, my Cyrano business partner, after he placed a glass on the counter. I took one sip and was immediately quieted. I wasn’t expecting Ueno-san’s interpretation to taste like this. Having been acclimatized to how local bartenders make the Negroni, I felt compelled to pause in silent reflection. I took another sip just to be sure about how I felt.

   It was exquisite. It was perfect.

   “This is an outstanding Negroni,” was all I could manage to say to Joco in that humbling moment. Joco, who is the first genuine Negroni aficionado I ever met and whose influence is the reason I acquired a liking for this classic drink, wholeheartedly agreed with my pronouncement.

   “I know,” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s so perfectly balanced!”

   As if on cue, our mixologist hostess Tiff entered the scene and happily parked at the bar counter next to me.

   “Tiff,” I told her sincerely, “that is an outstanding Negroni.”

   “Yes!” she gushed with a big smile, unable to hide how awesomely she felt about it. “That’s an outstanding Negroni!”

   Tiff, who is one of the co-owners of The Curator and who holds the distinction as the mixologist who made the best Martini I’ve ever had anywhere, then compared notes with me about Ueno-san’s skills.

   “He used a larger than normal sized peel for the Negroni,” she said, fully aware that Ueno chose to use lemon instead of the usual orange peel to create a signature twist.

   “What amazes me,” I observed, hinting at the effect of that chunky lemon peel, “is that he figured a way to keep it balanced even as the ice continues to melt. The taste gets milder and milder as the drink gets watered down, but all the flavors still meld and beautifully come through.”

   If only boozers could understand this about drinking.

   There were other cocktails on Ueno-san’s guest menu at The Curator, but the fact that I was able to share drinks that evening with good folks like Joco and Tiff, who understood how I felt and whom I understood in return, only made tonight’s bar experience that much more fulfilling. Without folks like these at the familial heart of any bar, a bar becomes a soul-less community.

   And oh, there were plenty of boozers that night too, mindlessly downing Ueno-san’s superlative creations one after another as if they were popping pills for a fix. Whether they were just faking that they could taste the difference in Ueno’s drinks or whether they only understood the “cool factor” of being served $15 cocktails by the world’s most famous bartender, they still got the good buzz that they came for.

   Sigh…ignorance is bliss.

 

 

 

 

Our Awesome Lambanog January 14, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

January 14, 2016

 

 

Photo originally posted by FlipTrip founder April Cuenca on Instagram.

 

   “Lambanog tasting at Cyrano tonight!” happily announced the Instagram post of Ms. April Cuenca, founder of acclaimed Pinoy travel gateway FlipTrip, when she uploaded a photo last Saturday. “Say goodbye to rocket fuel-type lambanog. Blended lambanog from Quezon and Batangas will change how you see our awesome local alcohol!”

   Believe it or not, Cyrano friends, lambanog tasting nights are now one of my favorite things at the wine shop. Yes, we now offer lambanog in a wine establishment!

   Sometimes referred to as coconut “moonshine” in the Philippines, lambanog is a traditional distilled spirit of the islands, made from the sap of the coconut tree’s unopened flower pods. What makes it so rewarding to serve this at the wine shop is that we now have our very own “house lambanog”, which we ourselves crafted according to our uniquely original style. It’s even more rewarding when we get to serve it to appreciative guests who know how to taste with discerning palates, which was exactly the case at last Saturday’s exclusive tasting event for Ms. Cuenca and her artist friend, Ms. Ina Jardiolin.

   I started the tasting session by explaining to my two special guests that consistency is a problem in this Pinoy cottage industry. Lambanog-making families typically resist suggestions to modernize their backyard production methods, which hinders the evolution of a better-quality product that can capture the imaginations of both local and foreign connoisseurs.

   “This made me think about how scotch whisky developed in Britain as a modern consumer product,” I said while I carefully arranged bottles and glasses on the counter in front of the two young ladies, who were seated at the bar.

   “In the old days, booze merchants needed a way to supply the British market with whisky of consistent quality and in large volumes. The problem was that even though whisky distilleries were plentiful in Scotland, each could only produce relatively limited quantities. The solution was for each merchant house to bottle its own “house” blend – selecting different whiskies from different Scottish regions from as many suppliers as necessary, then blending these whiskies with other grain spirits into a single product of consistent style and quality. That’s how blended scotch started, and that’s how Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Chivas Regal, and all the others became the successful global brands that they are today.”

   “So I thought,” I continued, after pouring some lamabanog for April and Ina, “why not do the same with lambanog?”

   That’s how I told my guests that Cyrano Wine Shop is the first in the market to innovate the concept of blended lambanog.

   “The first one you’re tasting,” I said as the girls tried the clear spirit that I poured from the heavy, impressively square-shaped bottle, “is a blend of Quezon and Batangas lambanog, which uses a very high proportion of the Batangas variety to give the blend a beautiful, floral softness.”

   “The second one,” I continued when the girls moved to the next offering, which was poured from the big, stocky, rounded-looking bottle, “has a higher proportion of Quezon lambanog, which gives the blend a more intensely flavored finish. The recipes for both blends are a trade secret, of course.”

   “Ours is the kind of lambanog that deserves to be leisurely sipped and savored in a bar,” I said, concluding my presentation. “Serve it chilled and neat or with a little ice…have it as your first drink of the night or as your nightcap…make a lambanog martini…just enjoy it as you please.”

   When the girls compared notes, April professed her preference for the more floral blend and Ina went for the one with a more intense finish. Regardless, the girls were visibly excited about both Cyrano blends, which they found so delicious and classy that the experience has changed the way they look at lambanog.

   My gratitude to both of you, April and Ina, not only for the valuable insights you offered about our new branded product and but also for your genuine appreciation of it. And yeah, thanks for calling it awesome!

 

 

 

 

Vicky’s Class of 2015 December 28, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

December 28, 2015

 

 

 

   What is it that they say in America…if you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk? Or as they prefer to say in England, don’t be all talk and no trousers?

   After last year’s running in London of this most spectacular lingerie show on earth, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2015 in New York was something of a letdown for audiences here at Cyrano Wine Shop, where it is a tradition to screen the show immediately after its televised broadcast in the U.S. (the American primetime broadcast was on the morning of Dec. 9 Philippine time; the moment it became available via torrent, we finished downloading it in just over three hours and then screened it four hours later at the shop, beating the regional cable TV telecast that evening on Star World).

   “Hindi ko masyadong gusto yung Victoria’s Secret ngayong taon kaysa noong nakaraan,” commented my senior steward, Feona, who echoed my disappointment that this year’s show didn’t have enough going on to make it anywhere close to being as iconic as last year’s.

   There are two reasons for that. First, the song performances by the Weeknd, Ellie Goulding, and Selena Gomez just didn’t gel with each other in succession. Despite the presence of Goulding, who was the best vocalist among this year’s performers and whose Love Me Like You Do was the standout song of the show, the overall lack of soul in this year’s music was quite noticeable. It’s no surprise, considering that the Weeknd has never pretended that his music is anything more than fluff, and Selena Gomez…well, post-show critics accused her of lip-synching, but rightly or wrongly that only underscores the challenges she has in the area of voice projection.

 

Selena Gomez partied with Me & My Girls and the lip-sync accusations poured in.

 

   “But nobody watches Selena Gomez because of how she sings,” charitably pointed Bernice, one of the owners of The Curator at the back of Cyrano, after the screening. “They watch her because she’s hot!”

   Speaking of hot, this brings us to the second reason. The star power on the runway diminished significantly this year with the retirements from the show of two of their most beloved endorsers, Doutzen Kroes and Karlie Kloss; both were released due to increasing schedule conflicts with Victoria’s Secret (Doutzen has major commitments to other brands, while Karlie is now studying at NYU). Even the highly anticipated addition of rising stars like Kendall Jenner, who is unused to this kind of runway event, couldn’t make up for the shortfall, at least not for this year’s show.

   “She’s still nervous,” commented Cyrano’s music director, Kristine, as she watched Kendall walk during the show’s opening segment, explaining that the stunning brunette will eventually acquire a more curvaceous walking style once she gets used to it. “Pero and ganda ng mukha nito. I like this girl’s face. She’s beautiful and she gets her looks from her mom (Kristen Mary Houghton).”

   The VS newbie who generated the most buzz at the shop, however, was Kendall’s close friend and fellow VS star-on-the-rise, Gigi Hadid.

   “Sir, ‘yan si Gigi Hadid!” blurted Feona.

   My reaction was, in one word, “kaboom”.

 

The stunning Kendall Jenner…

 

…and that bombshell Gigi Hadid…kaboom!

 

   Who would have guessed that a girl wearing baggy, full-length firefighter’s pants with work boots as a costume would prove to be the most arresting sight on a night teeming with skimpier-clad ladies everywhere? The fact that the telecast included a special segment introducing audiences to a bubbly Gigi should serve as a clue that VS has big plans for this young woman. Let’s just hope VS won’t quibble about promoting both Kendall and Gigi as official brand endorsers as soon as possible, especially since the word is out that a few more Angels may be retiring from the show next year (thankfully, Candice Swanepoel with her mind-blowing hips is staying for the foreseeable future).

   Yeah, I can forgive the letdown. I’ll be replaying the 2015 show for Cyrano friends till the end of the year (and as often as requested beyond that), mindful that in Gigi they’ve found a diamond in the rough who will be polished to perfection by next year’s screening at the shop. With vivacious speech and a bombshell hip-sway in her stride, this is one sassy girl who can talk the talk and walk the walk – in this case, literally in trousers.

 

 

[ To read last year’s post about the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, go to Vicky’s Class of 2014 ]

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Asian Holocaust – part 2 December 7, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in In My Opinion.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

By Alex Sawit

December 7, 2015

 

 

[ This is Part 2 of a two-part series. To read the start, go to Part 1. ]

 

 

   Ordinarily, a wine blog should not serve as a venue for matters unrelated to the subject of wine. Yet wine is ultimately the ally of honesty and truth, as expressed through the timeless saying, “in vino veritas” (“in drinking wine, truth emerges”). So when the world presents an occasion of such gravity that it gives dispensation to voice ourselves regardless of venue, we owe it to honestly speak the truth for all to hear.

   Seventy years ago, on September 2, 1945, government and military representatives of the Emperor of Japan signed the instrument of Japan’s surrender to Allied Forces, bringing a formal end to hostilities in the Second World War.

   This December 7 – the day on which we remember the Japanese surprise attack that plunged Asia into that world war – we owe it to further reflect on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender and give remembrance to the victims of Japanese wartime occupation, not least of all to the millions who perished from the atrocities committed against them. It is only through such memorial by both the people of Japan and the peoples of Asia that genuine forgiveness and lasting reconciliation are achieved, giving our nations hope that those who faithfully remember the past need not be condemned to repeat it.

   – the Editor

 

 

The “Rising Sun Flag”, once used in World War 2 by the Imperial Army and Navy,
welcomes Prime Minister Abe at an inspection of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

 

 

   Can we now trust Japan to revive itself as a military power – now that it has been seventy years since the end of the Asian Holocaust?

   It is a legitimate question and it needs to be answered.

   Under the present leadership of its ultra-nationalist Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, Japan is moving toward the full reinstatement of its military services, which will give it the ability to wage war overseas for the first time since World War 2. Currently, Japan’s post-war constitution only allows the country to keep self-defense forces that are non-aggressive in principle. Over the past decade, however, security threats from North Korea and territorial disputes with China have given right-wing politicians the pretext to attempt legislative changes that will pave the way for Japanese militarization. And since the United States, Japan’s former wartime adversary, is pushing for a strong Japanese military presence to counterbalance China’s ambitions in the region, it seems inevitable that Japan will once again possess a war machine to be reckoned with.

   But should I trust Japan as a revived military power in Asia?

   There was a time, not too long ago, when I wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. Even though I was well-versed in the stories of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines and had familiarized myself with Japan’s wartime actions in the rest of Asia, at the time I felt very secure about the idea of Japan regaining its full military services.

   “Japan is a responsible First World country now,” I used to tell myself. “The war is long over and they’ve learned their lesson. Everything is okay. Surely by now, they’ve fixed their wartime problem.”

   Then a funny thing happened. After years of feeling comfortable with the idea of Japan reviving its military strength, I had a startling realization: that the first step to fixing your problem and learning your lesson is to admit you have a problem to begin with. After all, that’s what we tell our friends as individual people when we want to help them change for the better, right? Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to our friends as nations?

   So it hit me: Japan still hasn’t fixed its problem. And it hasn’t fixed it because Japan continues to deny that the problem ever existed. It’s been seventy long years since the end of the Asian Holocaust, yet to this day there endures a stubborn political culture of denial in Japan concerning Japanese wartime atrocities.

   Despite the overwhelming historical record of the holocaust, Japanese politicians continue to promote a domestic policy of lying about the full extent of their country’s guilt. Astonishingly, most of them feel it is irrelevant to acknowledge the truth to the Japanese people, believing all that matters is to preserve Japan’s honor by avoiding anything that brings shame to the country. These holocaust denialists have resorted to revising history itself, distorting and misrepresenting what happened to the point of portraying Japan as the innocent victim of the war. The most insidious propaganda device in their arsenal is the country’s education system; textbooks unscrupulously whitewash Japan’s wartime behavior, teaching generations of schoolchildren to be ignorant of Japanese atrocities and leading them to grow up believing that Japan was unfairly victimized by the victorious Allies (read any history book used in any Japanese high school, and the simplified narrative will say this: “During the war, Japan was bravely trying to defend its way of life against the people of Asia who were fighting against it. Then, for no good reason at all, their American allies started dropping atomic bombs on us.”).

   And now, under Prime Minister Abe, the holocaust denialists are stronger than ever.

   Abe has long been a controversial leader in Japanese politics. As Prime Minister, he has in the past publicly disputed the wartime rape and slavery of the Comfort Women (for years he insisted these were almost all prostitutes hired by the Japanese military), and has tried to suppress the admission of other Japanese atrocities. Further, Abe is closely affiliated with Nippon Kaigi, a highly influential right-wing organization which not only denies the Asian Holocaust, but which dreams of reviving Japan as a military superpower. In other words, Abe is Japan’s holocaust denialist No. 1.

   Still, it wasn’t until only recently that Abe and his political allies demonstrated how brazen they have become with their denialist agenda. On August 14, 2015, on the eve of Memorial Day in Japan, Abe addressed the nation and the world with a speech to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War 2. I have read and re-read the translation of that speech, which was released to the English language press immediately after the address. Based on that translation, I can say that Abe’s speech was a carefully crafted, flowery wording of revisionist history hogwash.

   I don’t want to waste reading space by reprinting that garbage here in its entirety. So instead, I’ve taken the liberty to concisely paraphrase what he said. Here is a “simplified” rewording of the speech Abe delivered to the world in his official capacity as Prime Minister of Japan:

 

    “A long time ago, it was trendy for Western powers to be colonial rulers in Asia. So when Japan grew up to be as tough as any of them, it wanted to become a colonial ruler too. But by then, colonial rule was going out of fashion with the Western powers, and they rejected Japan as the new kid on the block. Japan felt this was unfair, to be penalized just for arriving late to the game, and that it deserved its turn to play. This caused Japan to make the mistake of trying to have its way by going to war with the them. Unfortunately, bad things tend to happen in war, and in the Asian countries that fought against Japan there were plenty of innocent people who died due to hunger and disease and as collateral damage. And yeah, our boys were allowed R&R with women in those countries. That’s just the way war is. And then we lost. Naturally, as the loser, Japan has apologized over and over again for what happened. These apologies are more than enough so that Japan should not be expected in the future to keep apologizing for its past. So I won’t bother to offer any new apology now on behalf of my country. We’ve learned our lesson, so thank you, have a nice day, and stop trying to make us feel guilty all the time.”

 

   What an asshole.

   It is important to be aware that, in his real statement, Abe only ever refers to civilian deaths by saying that, “innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food.” Nowhere in his actual speech does Abe directly say or even imply that millions of civilians in occupied countries died as victims of atrocities committed by Japanese imperial forces. And in addressing the sensitive issue of Comfort Women, he states with calculated ambiguity that, “there were women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured,” allowing room for Abe to maintain his position that these were women who lost their way due to wartime economic difficulties, causing them to fall into prostitution (they fell and “injured” themselves, so to speak).

   Prime Minister Abe and his holocaust denialists may think themselves clever at propaganda in Japan, but they are answerable before the inquiries of the world. How can they claim to have fixed their wartime problem and learned their lesson when they deny that Japan had a problem to begin with? How can they say they’ve changed for the better when they insist that Japan didn’t exactly commit the atrocities it is accused of? How can we trust Japan to be a “benevolent” military power in Asia in the foreseeable future when it is still in denial of its merciless past?

   Sadly, it has become a renewable source of nationalistic pride for Abe and his political allies to deny the Asian Holocaust, which they indulge in as a victorious form of defiance against the judgement of world opinion. The great irony is, while they may think they are making a show of strength, these Japanese politicians are unaware that in the eyes of the international community their denial is looked down upon as a show of cowardice in the face of a shameful truth.

   My answer therefore must be no. I will not trust the revival of Japan as a military power and neither should the rest of Asia – unless Japan has the courage to take that first step by admitting it has a problem with the way it sees its past wartime behavior.

   Courage is the measure of a heroic nation, not denial. Until it chooses to bravely accept the truth, without distortion or misrepresentation, Japan will always lack the complete trust of those neighbors it once visited with the atrocities of war.

 

 

[ This is Part 2 of a two-part series. To read the start, go to Part 1. ]