December 14, 2011
Drink it with Asian cuisine, drink it with light European dishes—just don't drink it hot.
by Nick Passmore for Four Seasons Magazine, Issue Four 2011
"If you go to a restaurant and see 'Sake, hot or cold' and that's it, don't order. Have a beer."
This is the blunt advice of Rick Smith, founder of New York City's only premium sake shop, Sakaya, and it reflects the quality of the sake one too often encounters in Japanese restaurants outstide Japan. "It's the low-grade sake, what I refer to as hot jet fuel because it's served hot, and it's high in alcohol," continues Smith. This type of sake is mass-produced as cheaply as possible and is often jacked up by adding sugar, alcohol and sometimes even flavoring agents such as MSG. The Japanese call it, along with other non-premium sake, futsu-shu.
Artisanal sake, or jizake, which is made by small breweries in limited amounts, couldn't be more different. It conforms to the strict government quality standards of premium sake, which means it is produced by brewing just four ingredients: special highly milled sake rice, yeast, water and mold-infused rice called koji that converts rice starch into sugar. (The process is similar to that used in making beer, which is why the oft-heard moniker for sake, "rice wine," is inaccurate.)
Jizake sakes are subtle, refined and complex, comparable to a fine estate-produced wine, single-malt Scotch and, yes, a craft beer. Premium sake comes in a range of distinctive styles, the result of the sake brewmaster deftly combining a multitude of elements: the type of rice used, the degree to which it is polished, and the yeast strain used, the type of koji mold used, the source of the water, and the duration and temperature of the fermentation, to name the major ones. (The growth of artisanal sakes has led to speculation that style also reflects local terroir, as in wine, though this link is far from clear.)
Unlike wine, sake it not intended to be aged: It should be drunk young, while still fresh. Serve it at room temperature or slightly cooler, but not ice cold—that deadens the subtleties of flavor—and never boiling hot. Premium sakes work well with all Japanese food, other Asian dishes as long as they're not too spicy, and lighter European dishes.
A favorite is the Sato No Homare 'Pride of the Village.' From the oldest active brewery in Japan (founded in 1141) and marked by liquorice, mint and lemon sherbet flavors followed by an impossibly long finish.
December 12, 2011
Domaine des Roches Neuves
Brothers Thierry and Philippe Germain left Bordeaux behind to cooperate and compete in the Loire
Article written by Ben O'Donnell for Wine Spectator 12/15/2011
Philippe (left) and Thierry (right) - photo from Wine Spectator
Quite a few of Thierry Germain's friends are vines. Today, he's milling around one of his top plots in Saumur-Champigny, in France's Loire Valley, checking in on some of them. It is August, and they look good, with a summer dapple on their leaves and hardy grape bunches on their branches.
"Here," says Thierry, examining vines that will eventually produce La Marginale, his top Cabernet Franc cuvée, "you have life, la vie, in the vine, in the soil. For me, the vine is similar to a person. One vine is similar to me or you. I speak with different parcels," listening for what each of his 35 parcels needs to thrive. He proceeds with an example: "Here, I don't cut the apex of the plant. The apex of the vine is similar to the legs of a person, and the roots are similar to the brain." Thierry finds the leaves provide support, and the roots, personality.
You might not guess it, but Thierry is from Bordeaux. His father made wine there, as did his father's father and three further forebears of the family. But he and his younger brother, Philippe, decamped, and among the windmills and steeples of the central Loire Valley, they are a world away from wine's big-top. The Germain brothers didn't leave to live out the days as sleepy wine farmers, though. At his Château de la Roulerie, Philippe is trying hard to make the best dry white wine, and Thierry, at his Domaine des Roches Neuves, the best red wine, in all of the long Loire Valley.
Thierry focuses on Cabernet Franc at Roches Neuves, though he also dabbles in Chenin Blanc, these being the grapes most favored by the middle stretch of the main Loire Valley winegrowing region, which runs 240 miles from Muscadet near the Atlantic mouth of the river to Sancerre, in the heart of France. Thierry's La Marginale has twice earned 93 points from Wine Spectator and easily qualifies among the benchmarks for the varietal. The wine Philipppe is proudest of is called Les Terrasses; a dry white made from Chenin Blanc in a region where full-on dessert Chenin Blanc has long been considered the terroir's mandate, it has earned very good to outstanding scores from Wine Spectator in recent vintages.
The oldest of four siblings, Thierry, 43, relocated in 1991 after a "conflict of generations" with his father, Bernard. "He is le patriarche," says Thierry, adding diplomatically, "My father has a big personality." Nevertheless, it was Bernard who set 23-year-old Thierry up at Roches Neuves, after Thierry weighed settling in Burgundy or the Rhône. "Why here? Because you have the history-the kings of France came to the Loire Valley-and the climate, which is very good. And Cabernet Franc and Chenin are two very good grapes."
While Thierry pursued Cabernet Franc, Philippe, 37, hardened himself in the crucible of Bordeaux distribution, selling his family's wines all over the world as export manager. After 11 years, he sought a sabbatical and, like Thierry, found his way to the Loire. Germain père by then had his own estate in the Loire as well, Château des Fesles, in Anjou, which he had purchased in 1996. In 2001, Bernard asked Philippe to look after it.
Originally, Philippe planned to stay just five years. But a picture-postcard maison overlooking the hillocky vineyards of St.-Aubin-de-Luigne seemed an ideal place to raise a family. When Bernard offered to sell the chunk of Fesles called Roulerie to Philippe in 2004, he bit. In the complex schist soils of the site, Philippe saw the potential for the spice, tang and minerality needed for a great dry Chenin.
Over at Roches Neuves, Thierry has returned from an afternoon jaunt through his 54 acres of scattered holdings, and parks his Land Rover at an unprepossessing modern building. He descends into the catacumbal cellar beneath it, hewn 600 years ago from of the same tufa that enriches his vines. Today, amid the old oak casks and two brand-new 25-hl foudres (so big they had to be built on site, and in which he will ferment and age his top cuvée), Thierry is tasting the past and future of Roches Neuves. He tries his '93 La Marginale, born in the same year as his son Louis, who is upstairs working the bottling line. It is a rustic, brambly wine, but "completely different from today's," he proclaims-a wine made by his 20-something self, "a dangerous man with big extraction" who clobbered the tender Loire grape with Bordeaux methods. "I was not a winemaker," he jokes. "I was Bordelais." Nevertheless, Thierry calls claims that Cab Franc can't age nonsense; he has drunk century-old Saumurs, he says.
Thierry took his vineyards biodynamic early, receiving certification in 2000. He plants trees to encourage biodiversity in his vineyards (some 100 species of flora coexist with his vines), crushes grapes by foot, withholds sulfur as much possible and dismisses enology as chemistry-set winemaking. His practices were at first wholly without champions in the area. The appellation syndicate ridiculed him, he recalls. "Thierry, a tomate belongs on your face. You are stupid."
Unlike some, Thierry does not shrug off the zodiacal aura that hovers around the organic farming core of biodynamics. "In this philosophy, you have different keys to understand the position of man and vine in the cosmos," he says. At one of his properties, there are no vines, just a big pile of dirt; Thierry has been making his own compost for nine years. "It's harder to do this well than to make a great wine," he says, cupping the wet dirt and taking a long sniff. "C'est parfait. The beginning of my wine is here." Like his vineyards, Thierry's compost pile is an ecosystem unto itself. Local kids plunder it in search of worms for fishing.
On a summer day in 2010, Thierry has just bottled his 2008 Marginale, which spent 18 months in big oak barrels. He tastes it. "Like the baby Jesus in silk velour!" he declares. "My dream is that when I taste my red wine, I think it's a white wine, on the fruit, on the pleasure, on the minerality." The Côte de Nuits of Burgundy inspires the sort of delicacy and purity he seeks in his own reds.
Thierry has the swagger of a man who blew off conventional wisdom and turned out just fine. But though he retains the mien of a cowboy garagiste, Roches Neuves today is more the rule than the rebel. Its healthy vines zip to maturity so that he typically harvests a week to 10 days before his neighbors. The Saumur syndicate hectored him on that, so he became head of its technical commission; now he picks when he likes. In this small area, 11 producers have followed him into organic or biodynamic practices. Thierry counts eight or nine "collaborators"; he gives them vines, helps them make and sell wine, and returns the profits. "In biodynamie, the philosophy is to share," he says, and he has benefited from this as well; he is to star in a documentary on biodynamics in France, by Luc Jacquet, who directed March of the Penguins.
The brothers' homes are separated by a 50-minute drive. While Thierry's enthusiasm is rangy and breathless, Philippe is meticulous, a cartographer and chronicler of his expedition in winemaking. At his 104-acre estate, he knows his vineyards nearly to the meter and his volumes to the hectoliter.
From a ridge buttressing his front yard, Philippe looks down on his top parcel for dry wine, Les Terrasses, rising like a staircase up the terraces it is named for. Comprising 100 percent Chenin Blanc, Les Terrasses is aged on the lees for nine months, as many fine whites of the region are. The 6 acres of Terrasses vines yield only 750 cases annually, but its microclimate is key. "The sun exposure on the vines is south-southwest, and it's very windy. It makes a big difference," he says, raising his voice above the gusts.
To Philippe's 12 o'clock is Les Aunis, a source for his top dessert Chenin, made only in the most robust vintages, at a trickle of .4 tons per acre. He's been plying red and rosé as well. Thierry, as mentor and partner, remains a presence in Philippe's vineyards. "What I learned from him is really about the relationship between plant and soil, to really look at the plant like a fruit tree," says Philippe. But for the past two vintages, Philippe has commanded the winery, and with each harvest, he becomes more confident in the fields.
Striding past his rows of stainless steel tanks, Philippe points out the improvements he has made at Roulerie. "When we arrived in 2004, we had nothing at all. No tanks, nothing." With Thierry's help, he began to wean the Roulerie plots off chemicals, to harvest more selectively and nudge biodiversity. In 2008, he restored the Comte Raoul's 18th-century manor to stateliness.
When Philippe was still at university studying economics, Thierry used to tease that one day his younger brother would be hawking his wines. Today, the combined Germain venture in the Loire is called Thierry Germain Selections, and the brothers hope its neatly complementing strengths will help them lead the surge in quality and recognition they foresee for the central Loire. "This is two brothers, Thierry and Philippe Germain," Philippe recites the pitch. "We create Roches Neuves in Saumur-Champigny, in the top class of red, the top Cab Franc from the Loire, and you have Roulerie that will be, or should be I hope, one of the best dry white properties from the Loire Valley. Thierry is very strong in the French market; I have a background in export. And that makes a superb combination."
December 08, 2011
Mutineer's Interview with Randall Grahm
From issue #8 11/2009 by Alan Kropf
After leaving college, Randall Grahm got a job cleaning up around a wine shop. It wasn't a glorious position, but it put him in contact with some ethereal french wines. Exposure to those wines drove him to the University of California at Davis and then to the Santa Cruz Mountains where he founded Bonny Doon Estate Vineyards.
Mutineer Mag: What's the difference between starting a winery when you did versus starting a winery today?
Randall Graham: Well superficially, it was way easier back then, way easier. The world was more forgiving. There was also more of a multiplicity of styles; things hadn't sort of gelled like there is one correct way of making wine. It's like, "okay, if you make wine this way, you get a 91. If you make it this way, you get a 93; if you just change this thing a little bit." It wasn't business. You did it because you wanted to o it. You liked making wine.
Mutineer Mag: Your early obsession with Pinot Noir in Santa Cruz is well documented. Talk about the pursuit of that obsession and the experience of it not working out.
Randall Graham: I was young. I didn't understand; I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't grasp how complex the problem was. I thought I had a handle on it. I had no concept-no clue- at how profoundly difficult the problem was, so I just blindly tried to do it, made a couple of mistakes and sort of gave up. I mean, basically, I gave up because the Rhone varieties seemed so much more promising and more appropriate. It beat me, and I just said, "You know what? I'll retreat. I'll fight another day. I'll do it later."
Mutineer Mag: Was that hard to accept?
Randall Graham: All the time, I think it was a little hard, but the Rhone thing was kind of exciting. I was starting to get mentioned, and I guess I was a little intoxicated by the recognition I was getting. There was an article in Wine Spectator, which in those days was a big deal. And then I was on the cover of Wine Spectator, which was silly. Silliness.
December 08, 2011
Absinthe for the Holidays!
We started with the Tenneyson Absinthe. Immediately, Joe perceived the nose of freshly crushed juniper berries. I then told him that the profile most certainly contained these potent fruits. The Tenneyson Absinthe smells like a nice balance between the sweet anise seeds, crushed between your fingers and freshly cut French herbs. There is a powerful Juniper nose right from the get/go. Slowly and with silent reverence the flavors of cardamom, coriander, black pepper and a bedtime mystery story reveal themselves. I taste my sample with cool, unsweetened coconut water. Teeny tiny Italian licorice candies from Italy, you know the ones, wrapped in waxed paper. The flavors imprint themselves into your mind. An instant memory, then a burst of cool menthol. This aromatic, cooling burn rounds the flavor out. The coconut water changes the mouth feel entirely- the mouth feel becomes creamy. Then a burst of the tropics. Plenty sharp from the brooding alcohol with just a splash of spring water. The anise finish keeps on going forever. Suddenly there is this new flavor entering the scene. The finish is morphing into those little bowls of cardamom and sugar candies that grace the entrance and exit of an Indian restaurant.
How do you slap basil? Put a nice soft leaf in one hand and slap the other one like you’re clapping. This action releases the sensual aromas and flavor oils.
To a cocktail shaker add two shots of the Tenneyson Absinthe, add some plain ice, just a couple of cubes. Add a piece of slapped basil. Chill by stirring with a non metallic stirrer. Strain into a coupe’ glass where one Glace ice cube sits. Top with Q-Tonic Water and a lime twirl. Sip to the Left Bank in Paris while the canal boats slip by.
December 01, 2011
Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum Voted #1 out of 51 Spiced Rums!
Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum beat out Captain Morgan as the best overall spiced rum by Pikimal, an online review site for products and services.
View the award listings on Pikimal's site.