Jun 3, 2009

Some Musings Over a Cabernet

It's great to be back in the US. The scent of newly cut grass, long afternoons capped by a Napa table red, some home baked crackers (rosemary, parmesan and oregano, crusted with sea salt), a selection of reasonably priced cheese, and home canned heirloom tomatoes (courtesy of my Tuscany-loving friend).

Not that you can't have these in Tokyo (well, except for newly cut grass, since my compatriots thought it necessary to cement over every open patch of land), but it would have been more a grand affair than a pleasant afternoon at home, not to mention, far less affordable. And the scent of woodlands with actual songbirds all around would be hard to replicate.

After considerable thought (and unquaffable Japanese wine), I've decided to submit to the immutable and wiser laws of winemaking, and go to where the grapes grow best. We are debating if that is southern France, Tuscany, or some undiscovered part of Eastern Europe bordering the Adriatic Sea. (Australia and So. America are on the list as well, but we are draw to the lifestyle in Europe that has been cultivated over centuries of slow and decadent decline.)

One of the silver linings of this great credit crisis, and now multi-year economic malaise a la Japan, is that the first growths of Bordeaux and Napa are slashing their prices, some by almost 50%. It is not a bad time to be researching the best.

On the Oregon Trail

Apologies for the long, long absence. Work, intermittent family crisis, etc. Well - back to wines, my favorite subject.

I have been reading up these long weeks on the wine business, in an effort to see if it is actually doable. There are businesses, like Crushpad or City Winery, which allow you to make your own wines, with all of the logistics - from getting the grapes, bottling, etc. - taken care of by the business. It does sound like a good way to start if you are a city dweller, but if you are in search of the Good Life, it's like drinking a bottle of Barolo in Tokyo to try to relive Tuscany. Not the same thing.

Then there is the idea of wholesale moving to southern Europe, to find a small patch of dirt, preferably with a ruin to renovate, and eke out a vineyard from which to grow grapes. (This, btw, is the premise of A Vineyard in Tuscany, which I had the pleasure of reading last weekend.) Not only is that a time sink, but you need a small fortune to back you up for the 5-10 yrs that you won't make a dime.

Still, this Armchair Vintner is enjoying her research into the wide world of winemaking.

On the business: This BBG article on a billionaire who is buying third and fourth growth wineries in France is interesting. The idea of making award winning wines without a vineyard or winery is also possible, as this American discovered in Portugal. I am also reading up on the Mondavi chronicles - The House of Mondavi, and Robert Mondavi's autobiography, Harvests of Joy.

On traveling: Oregon has some lovely wineries to bike through, as well as forests lined with chanterelle mushrooms. Not exactly Provence with truffles, but lovely nevertheless.

On Tuscany: I've never heard of the Antorini family, but apparently they are the oldest winemaking family business.

Feb 6, 2009

An American Vintner in Japan

From the WSJ -- an interesting story of a SF vintner in Japan. Btw Cakebread produces a fantastic cab. I look forward to visiting this winery.

Jan 31, 2009

The Trials - Take Two

I tried the white a few days ago, but not having the sushi I wanted, I ended up trying it with a Japanese dessert. It was a green tea and cherry blossom youkan, usually enjoyed with matcha (traditional green tea). It would be a bit sweet for the match, but it was worth a try.

The nose was a pleasant, somewhat strong mineraly bouquet, with a hint of buttery vanilla. Not unlike a chardonnay or some of the more expressive sauvignon blancs. It smells sweet. (I'm not surprised -- our nation has a big sweet tooth, although how the women here keep their waifish physique is beyond me.)

The body is medium to light, with a rich aftertaste and medium finish. It's got personality; a rather piquant elegance to begin with, easy on the finish. And not surprisingly, it reminds me of sake. All in all, not a slam dunk favorite, but definitely would not complain if we could make this kind of wine.

Unfortunately, I do not generally drink whites. The good news is, I will now have a lot of time to rectify this.

Today, I bought a sashimi plate (very local -- Tsukiji is only minutes away!). If I may digress, the plate was ¥800 (~$8.80) at the local fish shop, and it was far better than any sashimi I've had in the US, except perhaps the ultra-high end in NYC. That is one of the benefits of living so close to the center of the fish world. It makes me more than a bit worried that this may end soon.

Back to the wine. It was lovely with the salmon. A bit too strong for the hamachi. Sublime with squid. But the maguro (tuna) was too hearty for it, and it flattened out in protest. I suggest it with lighter fish, not too delicate and not too robust. It is hearty enough to have with light, non-chocolate desserts. Lemon chiffon or custard pudding, for instance.

Jan 30, 2009

How To Make Wine

The first of the books arrive.

Jan 22, 2009


So I felt really bad, trashing my first Japanese red. I mean, I'd been brought up on big Californian and Oregon wines, where the have everything going for them - climate, economy, lots of thirsty wineaholics. These Japanese grapes, they struggled. Not the California "my owner planted me in rocks and didn't water me for a while for the flavor", but really struggled for survival - against the tsuyu in June, the typhoons in September, all sorts of mold in between, and, worst of all - against the much higher prices that table grapes (i.e. those sold as fruit) command. (Remember, this is the land of $100 melons.) Pure economics - farmers prefer to sell their best grapes as fruit, not as wine; ergo the egregious practice of leaving the spoiled / unsellable ones for winemaking. Thankfully, this practice has been slowly changing as the Japanese drink more wine.

Plus I opened it with a great deal of prejudice; twasn't fair. I decided to retest the red with what it's made for - sushi. A few slices of salmon and crab, my favorites.

And it bombs. Once again.

That's it - we're going back and getting the best full-bodied Japanese red they have, and if that still bites, we're calling the red winemaking off.

Public Service Annoucement

From my friend Laura:

I got this PSA and thought it my duty to share with you.
To my friends who enjoy a glass of wine. . . and those who don't.
Valuable information even if you are not a wine or beer drinker.
Pass it on and share the wisdom.
As Ben Franklin said:"In wine there is wisdom, in beer
there is freedom, in water there is bacteria."

In a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have
demonstrated that if we drink 1 liter of water each day, at
the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo
of Escherichia coli, (E. coli) - bacteria found in feces. In
other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop
(that's over 2 pounds). However, we do NOT run that
risk when drinking wine & beer (or tequila, rum,
whiskey, or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through
a purification process of boiling, filtering and/or fermenting.
Remember: Water = Poop Wine = Health
Therefore, it's better to drink wine and talk stupid,
than to drink water and be full of shit.

There is no need to thank me for this valuable information:
I'm doing it as a public service.