Thursday, July 18, 2013

The new and vastly inferioir Canadian Passport offering

The politics of travel are often bewildering, and always incomprehensible, but the latest move by the Canadian government to change the validity and structure of their passport system is simply beyond the pale.

After years of prodding by the industry and the travelling public, Canada has now announced that they will offer passports valid for ten years, and not just the customary five. However, there is a very difficult and significant catch attached to this apparent magnanimity

Passports will only have 32 pages, with no possibility to extend, as most other countries allow, by the addition of extra pages. Currently, there are 48 page passports available for frequent travellers, and as a result, many (of us) who regularly fill these within the five-year period will now have to get new passports every two years or so.
When questioned, an extremely disinterested passport official told me that “there was insufficient demand to warrant the cost of providing the 48 page documents”.

There is little additional cost attached to adding twelve blank pages, and in any case, if coast was an issue, charge me $500 for a bumper ten-year passport. The UK offers 98 pagers, and the ability to add additional should one’s travels so determine; American passport-holders can add pages as can most other European and Middle Eastern nations.

Why are Canadian business travellers being so penalised by having these ridiculous toy passports as the only option? Passports adorned with multiple-entry visas that will also now need frequent renewal, should have a viable manner to extend their validity.
Come on Ottawa, think about it, and offer a passport that is suited to the many, many business travellers that are out on the road every single day.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The wonderful face of Natural Wines

Life can be oddly circular. Even for those of us mildly irritated by the overuse of such adages as “what comes around goes around” and “well, life is just a circle”, from time to time it works like that.
Not trying to seek a completion of a six-week sojourn in Europe, sorry, Gruelling Business Travel, that has taken me from Khaketi in Eastern Georgia to Lairg in the Scottish Highlands, and from Stanley Gibbons stamp auction house in London’s Strand to the Pyrenees and finally to the hills of northern Tuscany and the final departure point of Bologna.

And it is of Bologna and Tbilisi that I speak.

The purpose of my trip to Georgia was to join the Second Qvevri Symposium, a fascinating week of education liberally illustrated with an extraordinary supply of these marvellous “natural wines”, made entirely in the Old Fashioned Way.
Stomped grapes, fermentation in an earthenware pot (an Amphora or Qvevri) and finally settlement in another of these pots; it is a technique that is over 10,000 years old and the wine produced thus is marvellous and most eminently drinkable. Unfortunately all too little ever reaches North America, although there are a couple of importers and restaurants that do carry these wines.

The food of Georgia (as you can imagine, we did not only drink), was exceptional; fresh, flavourful and a daily treat. The trip was an insight, a vital lesson and an awe-inspiring insight to the possibilities for food, culture and wine exploration of this mostly unknown corner of the world.
Which leads me to Bologna.

Everybody goes to Florence, and I am sure that it is very pleasant indeed, and is stuffed full of astonishment. It is, however, also stuffed full of tourist in July, and not wanting to line up behind hundreds of yards of earnest folks clutching Let’s Go Europe, I decided to head to Bologna instead.

For years I have heard and believed that Bologna has very much to offer. It is close to Florence, and if one wants the “medieval Italian city experience”, there is little to differentiate the two. Sure Florence has the brand-name sights, and is a little bigger, but Bologna is truly gorgeous and has no queues.
Stunning towers, piazzas, medieval lanes and delightful architecture; museums and galleries, and even for those with a more contemporary bent, the Ferrari factory.

And food; Bologna is a food lovers delight, and for reasons that had something to do with Trip Advisor, and a lot to do with serendipity (there are a lot of restaurants listed in TA), I dined at the unprepossessing Trattoria di via Serra last night.
Frankly, you would not be walking past by chance, and if you were, you would probably not give it a second glance; however, once through the unsightly door, one is transported into a home. The owners, Flavio Benassi and  Tomasso Maio offer a truly superb and simple product.

They learned to cook in the mountain villages between Bologna and Modeno where, Flavio said “You can’t fool people about your pasta”; so from these beginnings to opening their restaurant in Bologna a year ago that have concentrated in preparing simple, local and organic food.
And it is quite simply delicious. From their cheese and ham or local mushrooms on home-style bread antipasti through the most exquisite pasta one can imagine to their secondi of rabbit or other local delicacies, one could taste the care. Tomasso, the chef, prepares wonderfully and is perfectly complemented by Flavio’s terrific personality, so vital for a successful front-of-house.

And the wine; interestingly, they offer only red and white on the menu, although there are other bottles available upon demand.

The house wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and the white Pignoletto are both produced by the Vigneto San Vito, and are completely fresh and natural; and, I have to say, utterly delicious.
I sat, complete after far too much food, contemplating on the concept of “natural wines” and why such an ancient concept seemed so new and fresh. Perhaps it is because we live in a world so dominated by brands that we have lost sight of where the ideas came from in the first place.

However, fortunately for us, vintners in Georgia and Italy, among other places, are beginning to catch on to the fact that there is a market who is keen to embrace the fresh and clean ideas of wines made without resort to chemicals.