Wednesday, November 30, 2011

so how much alcohol is there?


I swear I wasn't that drunk. So which one is it? Or do we split it down the middle and take it as 12.5% abv? And this is why North American liqour laws have to be completely torn up and rewritten because current labelling regulations don't make any sense. Labels are supposed to give the consumer information right? As in, clarify exactly what's in the bottle? Remember a certain Niagara winery having to white out words on their labels by hand because the rules say local wines can't have the name of another wine region on it?


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

unsolicited (wine) advice


Talking about wine is great; shit, I fucking love talking wine. I'm just puzzled, not with the fact that everyone seems to have an opinion, but that everyone wants to give you advice, solicited or otherwise. And it's not just wine . . . you can't just talk about things anymore, everyone has to prove how knowledgable, how insightful they are by telling you what you should be drinking, what you should be reading, what you should be doing. Chafes me like nothing else.

Just leave it alone. My goodness, please, unsolicited advice is the worst kind. I'm a bit of a crank, but the woman who was rattling off wines I should be drinking halfway through our conversation was really talking out her ass; I mean she finishes her tasting notes with and it goes well with beef fajitas. If anything, I should be going out of my way to avoid the wines you've suggested, never mind the fact that we were just talking casually about the next Vintages tasting.

I've adopted a few strategies when people start recommending shit that I should do/drink whatever. A few things that always seems to work - just don't plan on, you know, staying friends.

Silently staring, without expression, is effective albeit a bit subtle (and most blowhards are anything but). It also doesn't work unless you're speaking in person with someone. In those situations, a simple I don't recall asking for any advice can be enough. But in my opinion, the most eloquent (and elegant) way to stop someone from spewing unsolicited advice is demonstrated by the great Ron Swanson in 5 crushing words: I know more than you.


Monday, November 28, 2011

holiday drinking

DF Profile

Sigh. The holidays are almost here again. I start preparing for holiday drinking in November, pulling some things out the cellar, deciding which bottles I want to serve with what. In hindsight, I had it good last year. Burgundy as I always do for Christmas and New Year, but a few bottles of 2005 Barolo and old vintage Ports as well. This year will hardly be as satisfying. Downgrading to say the least. Niagara/German/Chilean pinot noirs, some Chianti Classico, simple Spanish wines. Maybe the single bottle of Champagne and Sauternes. Sad. If I can't drink well, then I suppose I'll (cheaply) drink more then.

What are you drinking for the holidays?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

well-packaged 铁观音 tea

It's simply really. All tea, with the exception of the grand Pu'er, needs to be consumed fresh. Critical as well, to be stored in a reductive environment. And not in silly single-serve packaging, because it's wasteful and pointless and doesn't make any sense in actually preserving the tea. This is the last of this year's TieGuanYin tea that was sent to us . . . that is, tea from the 2011 harvest. Packaged the proper way, in a brick. Preserving aroma, freshness, whilst minimizing waste.

I haven't had a drop of it yet. But already feeling good about this producer.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

2008 Maipo Valley Syrah


2008 Viña Chocalan Syrah Reserva | Maipo Valley | Chile

We just got some bad news from home, in Shanghai. A little out of it at the moment, still getting my mind straight. Things get instantly put into perspective, especially when health issues come up.

The last bottle of dinner, a Chilean syrah. I was skeptical of how good this wine was going to be. Good meaning a wine with authentic syrah character, of course. Maybe going by that definition was a bit of a lost cause, but I did enjoy it. Full of that ripe character, big and plushy tannins, some sweetness on the palate. Oak, certainly. But it was fresh, it was structured, and it remained in balance. If only, if only, there was more of that syrah spiciness, but we can't get too greedy now.


Friday, November 25, 2011

2009 Niagara Peninsula White Meritage

2009 Jackson Triggs Gold White Meritage

2009 Jackson Triggs Niagara Estates Gold Series White Meritage | VQA Niagara Peninsula

The second wine of our dinner, and after that Napa chardonnay, big glasses to fill. Funny how snobbery works, especially reverse snobbery. A lot of my guests refused a glass of this. They automatically assumed that the Napa wine was the expensive one, and therefore more worth drinking. Silly. The chardonnay was delicious, and a fabulous surprise, but this was the exciting one, with the most impact.

A friend brought this over. He had relatives visiting from overseas, and wanted to take them out to wine country. Guess where they went. He was kind enough to bring this over. I don't normally care much for J-T. But a sauvignon blanc/semillon wine always gets me going. Meritage, however you pronounce it, is a Bordeaux imitation. The whole concept behind calling a non-Bordeaux wine a Meritage is idiotic, but at least we're somewhat clear on what it means. I'm a big believer of sauvignon blanc based wines in Niagara, especially in the dry white Bordeaux style. Oak and sauvignon do so well together, one of the few wines that truly benefits from a blast of new oak. This one was good, not great. Some sauvignon character, some intensity, some dry extract on the palate. But just lacks more of it, more of everything. Always count on J-T to do just enough, not a bit more.

The ones who wouldn't have a drop of this bottle missed out. Would have been interesting to see the different kinds of white wines coming out of Niagara - there's certainly promise here outside of chardonnay/riesling/vidal. The acidity in the wine made it a good fit with some of the seafood we started serving - the clams, the mussels, the fish. Really need that bit of acid on the palate to clean it all out. And then we moved onto the reds . . .


Thursday, November 24, 2011

2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay

2007 SKN Napa Chardonnay

2007 S|K|N Chardonnay | Napa Valley

Screw | Kappa | Napa. So charming. And Napa often sorely lacks in charm. Is the stereotype/reputation of Americans only making bombastic nukes that are simply utterly undrinkable fair, or is it uncomfortable for the yanks because it's true? Is the high alcohol, passively-aggressive sweetness of the wines simply a product of the Californian landscape or, more self-consciously (for you Americans), simply the red white and blue palate?

Americans have a lot to be proud of, but these turgid $100+ Napa franken-wine makers ought to be ashamed of themselves. It's a shame that so many Californian producers feel that the only way to be successful is to make the wine taste like nothing - not of the grape, not of the land, not of the vintage. But we're compelled to come back. Even ditzes have appeal, at times. Don't lie...shy and delicate is nice and all, but who doesn't turn their head for a second look at the voluptuous brunette with, as Yeezy says, an ass that would swallow up a . . . . .

This was not one of those.

We were hosting dinner, so I was a bit nervous with the wines I was serving. I don't believe in serving the same things over and over - too boring. So I pick out some interesting looking bottles and hope for the best. Dinner turned out great; so happy that the wines performed as well. Our first one of the night. Napa Chardonnay under screw cap, young. Sometimes going for the blockbusters will bite you in the ass, hard. The wieners who charge you $75 get too ambitious you see . . . all designer yeasts and new oak and calisthenics in the cellars. This was a refreshing (figuratively and literally) example of what Napa can do with this varietal if the paople making it humble themselves and take a step back. Wine that doesn't drink well with meals simply does not belong on the table, and it's as if an entire generation of New World producers lacks that basic fundamental understanding.

The wine was fresh, with great varietal character. Ripe fruit, with a creaminess, but the acidity and moderate alcohol made it a joy to drink. And you know it was a good wine when everyone around the table, even the neophyte drinkers, wanted a second (and third) glass. Great start to the meal.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2001 Rioja Reserva


2001 Señorío De P. Peciña Reserva | DOCa Rioja

I'm drinking old Rioja again. Those things you leave for a while and come back . . . all of a sudden, a rush of feeling. The euphoria, the joy of it all. Rioja was getting a bit boring - all good wines, make no doubt, but it was getting almost predictable. Tempranillo was turning into the mindless go-to wine; I needed a timeout from Spain.

I had left piano for a while, the performance part of it anyway. Everyone asks if I practice on my own, and I say yes, but I really don't. So the times I do go back to it, it brings me a lot of happiness because there's no pressure, no expectation of anything; I can do it for the sheer sake of doing something I love. I teach on the weekends, mostly beginners, and while it satisfies my pedagogic tendencies, there's nothing that compares to stepping on stage, audience at your fingertips, ego at full tilt. It's good to leave things for a while - reminds you how special they are.

Tempranillo starts showing its character at 10 years of age. This particular bottling fulfilled all the aging requirements to be classified as a gran reserva, but the producer made the decision to take it a step down to reserva. Whatever the reason, I respect the humility that shows, because the wine is extraordinary. Approaching maturity, singing of minerals and earth and beautiful rusticity. A hallmark of top Rioja is freshness and structure, even after extensive oxidative and reductive aging. After a full 24 hours after it was open, the wine was still focused, fragrant, and full of life. Stunning.

It took a few months away from drinking any Spanish wine for me to realize how special old Rioja is. Truly singular, grand wines of the world.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

glutinous rice balls

rice ballsrice balls

rice ballsrice balls

This is a fabulous Shanghainese dessert, properly known as 桂花酒酿汤圆. We make a sweet soup of glutinous rice balls, a fermented rice wine (making it slightly alcoholic), a certain yellow flower that I don't the English of, and a certain red herb I also don't know the English of. Like all great things, it has to be all done by hand. Glutinous rice flour, rolled out by hand. My mother does four at a time . . . I barely manage two, but get the job done. Of course, the key is to keep size and shape consistent. It seems tricky, but the flour reacts in an amazing way to the heat from your hand, and never sticks together after the balls have been rolled. Into the freezer, where it keeps until you're ready to cook them.

It's sweet, slightly sour, and absolutely delicious. Soft, squishy texture, like little plushy balls in your mouth.


Monday, November 21, 2011

2009 Chinon

2009 Domaine Rene Couly Chinon

2009 Couly-Dutheil Domaine René Couly | AC Chinon

So how many cuvées does Couly-Dutheil actually make? A lot. I bought a bunch of their 2005's; won't that be fun to taste in a few years. This is a fabulous producer of cabernet franc - earthy wines that sing of the Loire and in the best years, show impressive density and concentration. Lots of potential indeed, and as terroir-specific as a wine can be.

I like wines that challenge you a bit. Often, it means wines that aren't necessarily pleasurable. But they make you think a bit, challenge your understanding of a region, a varietal, a vintage. Even if they make your palate wince a bit . . . it's worth the great leap it may yield in experience. This wine is just correct. Correct in specificity, both in varietal and region character. Fabulous aromas, finely structured. But Chinon is an acquired taste, to say the least. I like drinking Chinon very much, but I have to be in that frame of mind to enjoy it. Fruit (or at least obvious fruit) is always in the background, with acidity bringing austerity. Not cuddly, but sincere - and in wine and all else, honesty and authenticity trumps cuddly every time, all the time.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

1999 Vinsanto del Chianti Classico

1999 Lornano Vinsanto del Chianti Classico

1999 Lornano | DOC Vin Santo del Chianti Classico

I like to be in control.

I actually enjoy a little chaos too, but not on the dinner table. Winos can be so tyrannical about these kinds of things. What to drink. When to drink. How to drink. As in I planned for this wine to drink with these dishes, so don't even think about drinking out of order. All for good reasons, and besides, as long as I'm paying for the wines, we do it my way. I don't know how proper Italians drink vinsanto, but I had a chunk of the most amazing firm cheese - Niagara Gold - that only a sweet wine seemed appropriate. After dinner, and my father started prattling on about his church study group, so I needed something to occupy his mouth with. A bite of creamy cheese, a sip of sweet . . . vinsanto after all does mean holy wine, no?

Odd, really, that an oxidized wine apparently made by drying out grapes on rooftop straw mats could be so spectacularly complex. With a good amount of bottle age too, this remains fresh, showing lots of minerality and what reminds me of a certain dried date that the Shanghainese adore. And that nuttiness from the oxidation; a divine wine indeed.

Bossy and all, but it's for your own good.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

1997 Grand Cru Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs Champagne

1997 Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Noirs

1997 Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Noirs | Grand Cru Ambonnay | AC Champagne

We passed by Nicolas Feuillatte when we were in Reims this May, driving out to lunch at Le Grand Cerf. They're the largest cooperative in Champagne, and are also known as Centre Vinicole de la Champagne, comprising about 85 members. Despite that, they do produce 4 grand cru bottlings under their own name. I had bought a few bottles of the 1997's a few years ago when they were released - both blanc de blancs (Chouilly) and blanc de noirs (Ambonnay).

The vintage declaration process is quite interesting in Champagne, as there really is no regulation, in the strictest sense. It really comes down to the cellar-master's decision, often with input from the house's marketing people. It is, after all, a business. I'm reminded of a story I heard from a very well-known Champagne house, during our visit. They're known as the wine drinker's Champagne . . . you really have to baby the wines as they're made in a very reductive style and demand a good 15 years of bottle age after disgorgement to really open up. I was told that the cellar-master had a drawn out argument with the company's dollars and cents people over whether a certain vintage should be declared. It was back in Y2K . . . the millennium meant big money, especially with the right vintage. But, the man stood his ground and said that there was no way in fuck that he would produce a vintage Champagne that year - the harvest just was not up to his standards. Very inspiring, but how many houses in Champagne are willing to sacrifice potential business to stay true to their principles of quality?

Vintage Champagnes present an interesting interpretation of what a wine is. The vast majority of Champagne is a nonvintage blend, with the point being to create a house style of wine that remains consistent. So is vintage Champagne truly an act of vintage expression? There still has to be an adherence to style . . . vintage or not, the wine still has to be recognizable as coming from a certain house. Or is vintage Champagne simply an indication of a particularly successful harvest, allowing producers to price the wines at a premium, with the understanding that they're made with from the best parcels?

In any case, 1997 is an interesting vintage. I've been trying to taste more of them over the past year or so, and in some cases, they're just starting to approach maturity. You're starting to get past that initial blast of yeastiness, with the autolysis character developing into a creamy richness, revealing minerality and depth. The Brochet-Hervieux I drank a few months ago was delicious. I've been sitting on this bottle for a few years now, pulling one to celebrate my father's birthday a few weeks ago. Beginning to turn gold, it's still reaching for its peak. Beginning to open up, rich autolytic aromas, roasted apples, cream. Fragrant, almost like caramelized butter. Follows on palate, rich yet very linear, with the pinot noir showing such a wonderfully structured acidity. Very fine indeed; destined for a long life.

Someone said that the premium on vintage Champagne was one of the great wine values of the world. As a forever lover of Champagne, I'm inclined to believe so, but this issue of terroir specificity in the big houses remains a question mark.

For Champagne Charlie is my name.
Champagne drinking is my game.
There's no drink as good as fizz! fizz! fizz!
I'll drink ev'ry drop there is, is, is!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fermentations! Wine Smackdown

Fermentations WineSmackdownFermentations WineSmackdown

Fermentations WineSmackdownFermentations WineSmackdown

Fermentations WineSmackdownFermentations WineSmackdown

I was invited to a very interesting tasting last week, hosted by Fermentations! at Globe Bistro. The company lets consumers brew and make their own beers and wine. Great. But here's what sets them apart - they buy whole grapes. Yes, unlike other wine kits, customers are able to make wine from freshly harvested grapes (from Niagara, California, and even Italy) without skipping that step and just starting with juice.

Charles Fajgenbaum, the owner, hosted this tasting. A total of 30 wines, in 6 flights of 5 wines each. Out of each flight, one wine was a Fermentations wine . . . the other four were commercial wines he picked up from the Queens Quay LCBO location. The question was . . . could the judges (presumably, the professional tasters) pick out which was which? It turns out we can. I can't say I was surprised, but the tasting did reveal a few similarities between non-commercial and low-end commercial wines.

The flights were single blind, meaning we were told what the varietal, region, and vintage was. After tasting, we were instructed to score each out of 20, and identify which one was Fermentations. The exercise proved one thing right away . . . Charles was certainly confident in the quality of his wines. He bought some pretty decent wines to taste alongside; an average price of $18, with 4 Niagara flights, as well as an Italian, and a Californian flight. Top wines included 2008 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay ($30), and 2008 Inniskillin Two Vineyards Cabernet Franc ($22.95). My favourite wines of the tasting.

So, what did we learn? The results showed that of the three Niagara white wine flights (riesling, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay), the judges were easily able to identify the non-commercial wine. With the red wines (Niagara cabernet franc, Italian merlot, Californian merlot), it was a bit tougher. No matter. I still guessed 2 out of 3 red wines correct. In the last two merlot flights, it was a matter of best of the worst. None of the wines were good - let's be honest here. No character, no typicity, just cheap tasting wines. The cabernet franc, especially the Inniskillin, showed much better. In general, the difference between the top and bottom wines was quite obvious. What was more interesting was the fact that the judges confused the cheapest commercial wines with Fermentation wines.

The tasting proved that the wine drinkers who like red wines under $10 (the sort of industrialized goop I bitch and moan about here) will probably be just as happy with the $7 or so it costs for a bottle of Fermentations. It's just red wine right - there's no difference if you get a cabernet franc or merlot or whatever the hell varietal they choose to label the wines with. There's so little character in these mass-produced wines that it just doesn't matter. Just does not matter. The moral of it all? It's an interesting experiment, but to say that these self-made wines can compete with anything more than your typical industrialized bottle is a bit of a stretch. But hey, it's already better than all the other kits out there, them buying in whole grapes and all. Try it out if you just must have your name on a wine label - might make a charming Christmas gift. Oh right, I did pretty well in the tasting. Guessed 3 out of 6 wines right, and scored the other three Fermentations wines the lowest.

Many thanks to Charles and the organizers for putting this tasting together. Certainly an illuminating look at all the alternatives for wine drinkers out there.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Royal Teahouse

After hosting dinner on Saturday, we were exhausted. So it was so wonderful for our friends to invite us out to dinner Sunday, at Royal Teahouse in Markham. We don't eat out often, and at least when it comes to Cantonese food, we still struggle with understanding how to order. We eat too differently, you see. So it's always good to eat out with Hong Kong natives, who can show us authentic Cantonese cuisine.

The meal was stunning. Heavy in seafood, we started with the most amazing fried fish - what they call bamboo skewer fish, in reference to the single bone running through it. Then, eel prepared two ways: steamed with a citrus/green onion dipping sauce, and deep-fried. Greens to cleanse the palate, before we continued on to lobster in Magi sauce. Finishing with fried glutinous rice. Amazing all the way through, reminding me once again that I've got love for the food we cook in Shanghai, but the finest Chinese cuisine belongs to the Cantonese.

My friend brought a few bottles of 2008 Groth Chardonnay, a great Napa Valley producer. Complex, beautifully integrated oak, austere and well extracted. Lots of intensity and impact, perfectly balanced; it would be fabulous to taste it again in 10 years. The restaurant owner joined us halfway for a drink. The man loves wine - a shame that I have yet to eat at a Chinese restaurant who provides the correct stemware. He graciously stepped into the kitchen himself to prepare us fresh egg tarts for dessert. They were extraordinary . . . piping hot, so tender, perfect in flavour and texture. Dim sum king indeed. Many thanks for dinner.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

shattered before its time

My father was rustling around in the cupboard when he found this. He used to travel often on business trips, around the Pacific Rim. One of his hobbies was bringing home utterly useless items; see above. He's the only business traveler I know who returns with more luggage than at departure. So we have a glass teapot that hasn't been used in years. A suggestion is made that it be washed, to use for our next brew.

As these things go . . . before it ever came into the slightest contact with any tea, before any hint of hot water being poured, it broke. My mother has butterfingers and the top squirted out of her hands, half of it shearing off. Oops. The greatest glass pot of tea never brewed.


Monday, November 14, 2011

dinner at the Fang's


We hosted dinner for the five families this past Saturday. Lots of mad dashing around getting groceries and doing prep-work, but we only do it about once a year, so no complaining. It does create a bit more pressure to do something impressive though. Nothing ridiculous, mind you . . . we do want to leave future hosts a little breathing room. So, everything was washed and chopped, wine was selected and ready. Put the white jacket on, lit the candles, and we were off.

As was mentioned, we started with cold dishes. To start the meal. You have to understand, in Shanghainese home cooking, cold dishes aren't actually cold. They're just the dishes to get the appetite going. Things like cucumber and seaweed salad, cold cuts of beef in a chili/vinegar sauce, and tossed bean curds. Things like that. An hour or so in, I went in to start on the hot dishes. Began with mussels in white wine and a tomato sauce. Simple. Then the most amazing savoury clams, in wine, green onion, and ginger. Fish of course, a traditional Shanghainese croaker dish in a sweet/sour sauce. Some cured pork hocks, some greens, and of course, a beef stew to end the meal. Forgetting some things, but we kept it simple and kept it a proper Shanghainese dinner.

The wines. I'll explain in detail a bit later, but we started with a young Napa chardonnay. It was delicious, especially so as I had low expectations. One of my uncles brought a Niagara sauvignon blanc/semillon blend. And we finished with a big, powerful Chilean syrah. All winners, all very satisfying. It's been a while since I've been so pleased with how sub-$20 wines have shown. Very satisfying indeed.

Good. Everyone left happy, well-fed. We went seafood-heavy, which may not seem substantial at first, until you begin to appreciate its digestibility. Meat dishes are great and all, but one or two good bites is all you really need. Everything went according to plan - no cuts, no blisters, no surprises. And the wines were shining.

When the bottle is empty, you know it was a good night.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

ding ding

We had a big dinner last night with family friends. Finally, after many months, our turn to host. Shanghainese home cooking, so dishes were split into hot and cold dishes - one to start the meal, with the rest being cooked as we ate. I was in charge of the hot dishes, so I went out grocery shopping in the morning, shellfish and all that. Prep work started around 4 pm, and what perfect timing . . . a knife sharpening truck was making its rounds in our neighbourhood, ringing a tiny bell by the window.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Post No. 2401

Profile - Colour

I have this horrible feeling that my life is going nowhere. Wheels are spinning a bit; lots of smoke, little action. We're in the shit right now, in a big way. I'm becoming more prone to lashing out. Maybe punching something (or someone) might not be a bad thing.

Just no energy, for real. All I want to do sometimes is sleep. Not healthy right? And the thing that's suffered the most is the drinking. Look at some of the wines I had on the table last year. All winners. 2005 Barolo, old vintage Ports, some Burgundy. And I was beginning to put together a stash of bottles for the holidays. Now I'm getting depressed. So before I get too ridiculously self-loathing, that's where things are at the moment. Oh yeah, and the NBA lockout is still raging on with no end in sight.

It's been a rough autumn so far. Weather's been ok. Just bored. I haven't been punctual in writing lately, and I'm thinking of abandoning this one piece a day schedule. I've been prepping wines for holiday drinking. Cheaper bottles, yes, and so far no heavy hitters (Barolo, Burgundy, Bordeaux). I don't know why, but I haven't had my friends over for dinner in many many months now. Working on it. 2400 in, still have no clue what I'm doing.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

jerusalem artichoke

jerusalem artichokejerusalem artichoke

jerusalem artichokejerusalem artichoke

So yes, I did figure out what these things are. Jerusalem artichokes. I heard that every kilogram you plant into the ground yields about 50 kilos. What a nightmare. No wonder this friend gave us a big bag of it. Covered in mud, she said to throw it out if we didn't want to eat it. She suggested pickling it.

That's gross. So I decided to clean it up and serve it with some greens in a salad. Some were already turning mushy. But when they're fresh, they have this amazing crispy, crunchy texture. Pure white in colour too. I shaved off the skin and ran some through a mandolin, julienne-ing the others. With a really strong vinaigrette, it's not unpleasant. Earthy and not unlike ginseng. Health benefits are a bit dubious, but at least I learned something new. Now, what do I do with the other half bagful.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Okunomatsu Ginjo

Okunomatsu Ginjo

Okunomatsu Ginjo Sake | Fukushima Prefecture

There was a thing going around in certain American wine writer circles over the summer, about supporting Japanese sake producers (many of whom were crippled as well by the tsunami) by buying and drinking sake on this one Friday. It didn't take off, mainly because it was silly, and because no one cares about high grade sake. There's very little fine sake available (in Ontario at least). Of course, the cheap, American-made examples in the big green bottles are always available, and always very cheap. But it's as close to true sake as my neighbour's tub of fermented seedless grapes is to the glass of 2001 Señorío de P. Peciña Rioja Reserva I'm drinking right now. At best, it's a cheap imitation; at it's worst, an insult.

I wanted to taste this sake for the sake of understanding a good ginjo, not some stupid American sentimentality. If I'm reading it correctly, the lot number says 1106. So, is it safe to assume that this sake was bottled in June 2011? Should we seriously be worried about nuclear fallout affecting the sake being produced in Fukushima? In any case, the sake was spicy, with fruit character, round and more subdued. Alcohol does come up, as expected.

So, the question remains . . . does it do anyone good to just say drink more sake? I don't think so. A suggestion that people should try sake and learn about its nuances is a good one, but the idea that having people drink it on a certain day does nothing for these producers. As always, education is key. You have to find ways to inspire people to stop buying cheap, factory-made bottles and try finer examples. That's the key to help these producers in the long run; a following of well-informed, knowledgable sake drinkers is infinitely more useful than one day a year where people end up buying cheap American-made sake anyways.

I half-expected the bottle to glow in the dark. Or give me the ability to fly. Sadly, it was just a well-made Ginjo-shu.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Godo Shusei Yamadanishiki Komedakenoreishu Junmai

Godo Shusei Yamadanishiki Komedakenoreishu Junmai

Godo Shusei Yamadanishiki Kome Dake No Reishu Junmai | Hyogo Prefecture

I was so preoccupied with trying to understand the difference between the levels of rice polishing that I was forgetting a fundamental difference in sake type. Of course it matters whether it's Junmai or Ginjo. Of course the addition of alcohol makes a difference.

Yamadanishiki is the name of the mountain where, presumably, the spring water comes from. The hanzi on the label reads, literally, cold wine. What it refers to is a mystery, but it's clear that it's a Junmai sake, with all its ingredients sourced from this particular place in Hyogo Prefecture. The language of sake is so complicated, as complicated as understanding what all the classifications and ripeness levels of a German riesling is. But learning that language is key to developing an appreciation of sake. It's far too easy to say let's just see what it tastes like. That's a cop-out. Especially since sake is so diverse . . . for myself at least, understanding all those nuances that each type of sake has is key.

So, in these 30 cL format bottles again. I still don't know how I feel about paying so much for a rice wine. This, however, was brilliant. The sheer purity, the fragrance, and the complexity on the palate made every sip a lesson in how great sake can be. Structured in the mouth, very dry, spicy as well. Dinner was simple Chinese home cooking, fish and greens. Extraordinary how fresh and pure the sake is, complementing the food, but also remaining assertive against some of the stronger flavours. Very impressive indeed.

All because this is a Junmai. Any addition of alcohol would have thrown off the balance, and its delicacy. So pure, as pure as any alcoholic drink can be . . . those must be some incredible spring waters. I understand why sake with higher alcohol might be more appealing to people. Japanese drinkers like that slow burn of the alcohol as it goes down the throat. But to have a fine sake of finesse and precision, only low alcohol and 100% rice works.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Shanghai-style rolled noodles

Shanghai pulled noodlesShanghai pulled noodlesShanghai pulled noodles

You stupid. You never dust your hands with flour. How you gonna roll them out now?

Me trying to be a smartass, and my mother putting me in my place. Of course you don't dust your hands with flour when you get to rolling out these noodles. They need a bit of moisture to grip the chopping board - otherwise you're just tugging and dragging. Rolling noodles is different than pulling noodles, like they do in Northern China.

This style of noodle dish is native to Shanghai - very simple, very humble. But as with all these things, the key is the work you have to put into it. My mother tells me how great my grandmother used to make this dish. She was able to roll the noodles perfectly, all to the identical length, girth, and texture. So, after my rough start, we settled into a nice rhythm, rolling out about 2 pounds of flour. It's a simple enough motion, but the key was to maintain a consistency in every noodle. You have to roll and pull out at the same time . . . I struggled. Not badly, but just enough to be humbled.

The broth is with finely chopped preserved cabbage, also a Shanghainese thing. Dried shrimp to give some punch and savoury flavour, and like all fresh noodles, everything is cooked in 3 minutes. So simple, such a humble dish, yet so fulfilling. I remember eating these as a child. There's a certain warmth I feel eating this again, especially now that I made it myself. It's a great shame that we live so far from my grandmother . . . but learning these dishes reinforces to me how important it is that I not only learn, but document as well. A family souvenir, definitely, but also a truly authentic Shanghainese dish.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

the mystery tuber

jerusalem artichoke

A friend gave us a bag of these. Covered in dirt and mud, but that's how things are grown right? All great and fresh, except I have no clue what these are. Tubers, but what? Looks exactly like ginger root. Pure white flesh, incredibly crispy, not much in way of flavour. Sort of a very subtle earthiness, quite similar to ginseng in fact.

For some reason, I'm thinking Jerusalem artichoke. I don't know why - it's not like I've ever seen one, or tasted one. Can someone confirm/correct me? And let me know how these are eaten?


Saturday, November 5, 2011

birthdays and keeping the head up

Today is my father's birthday. Since they're going out with their church friends for dinner, the 3 of us had a big meal last night. I wanted to get a geoduck, have it two ways, but the fishmonger wasn't cooperating. The geoducks they had clearly were half-dead, limp and completely flaccid. And with geoducks, there's no little blue pill to stiffen things up.

Quite disappointed, but what do you do. Think fast. I picked up some live striped bass, some fresh squid, and the most amazing live west coast prawn. Hotpot, to keep things simple, because sometimes with the freshest seafood, a savoury broth is all you need. Extraordinary. Prawns so sweet, perfect in texture, as was the bass. Lots of greens as well, sprouts and tofu and all that.

Wine too. Some old bottles, and a Vinsanto. Great, and for an evening at least, forgot about all the bullshit going on.