Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sake and Wa-Shoku: The Art of Japanese Cuisine at Napa Valley Wine Academy

Back in November I was invited to a Sake tasting and introduction to WA-SHOKU, the art of Japanese cuisine at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. The event was sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and in conjunction with Sake School of America and Morimoto Napa. The Sake pairing seminar was part of the core instruction curriculum for students and taking the WSET Level 3 Award in Sake certification intensive.

Instructor Toshio Uneo, Master Sake Sommelier and Executive Instructor at Sake School of America guided us thought the fine points of food preparation and the basic flavor profiles: salty, spicy, sweet, sour/bitter and umami--the savory element that adds depth to a dish.

As this was a pairing demonstration we did not got too deeply into the production of different Sakes as in the regular course of instruction. But the quick explanation on sake is that the more the rice is polished the higher the grade of the sake. Higher polished rice lends a lighter more fragrant less complex flavor profile, while lower polished sake gives a richer more umami flavor.

The art of WA-SHOKU is in tune to the bounty of nature and focuses on using distinct seasonal ingredients to reflect the four seasons.

Sushi Chef Ichiro Tsuji, from Morimoto Napa, was every entertaining and explained the importance of knives and technique in the preparation of sushi. Then we were presented with the most gorgeous bento box I’ve ever encountered.

Each section of the box was a different flavor adventure that Chef Ichiro created to pair with the sakes. It was like a treasure chest of little jewels. Below are some of my favorites from the box.

Daikon with ebkuro (fish stomach) was reminiscent of tripe but with a umami twist. Paired well with the Hakkaisan Honjozo.

This tomago custard had a unique flavor and very distinctive spicy sansho pepper on top. I found it also paired well with the Hakkaisan Honjozo.

The Fried Chicken with paper thin scallion and dried chili pepper was amazing and flavorful. The Colonel would surely love to know Ichiro’s secret recipe for this.

I thought the Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai was the most full flavored and balanced of the sakes to my palate and it paired great with everything. The Hakkaisan Honjozo was more aromatic and its subtle mango and tropical fruit flavors were also well suited to all the dishes.

Sakes presented:
Born Gold Junmai Daiginjo
Brewery: Katoukichibee Shouten
Perfecture: Fukui
Rice Variety: Yamadanishiki
Polish Ratio: 45%

Hakkaisan Honjozo
Brewery: Hakkai Jyozo
Perfecture: Niigata
Rice Variety: Gohyakumangoku & Todorokiwase
Polish Ratio: 55%

Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai
Brewery: Kikumasamune Shuzo
Perfecture: Hyogo
Rice Variety: Yamadanishiki
Polish Ratio: 73%

Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi
Brewery: Shata Shuzo
Perfecture: N/A
Rice Variety: Gohyakumangoku
Polish Ratio: 60%

If you’d like to learn more about the world of Sake, a course through the Napa Valley Wine Academy would be a great place to start. There you can pursue a WSET Level 3 Award in Sake for professional development or to simply deepen your experience for your own enjoyment.

Useful links:
Taste of Japan 
Napa Valley Wine Academy 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Annual Book Gift Guide for Wine Lovers 2015

Annual Wine Book Gift Guides and round ups have become as ubiquitous as Thanksgiving wine posts, but still, I think anything that involves books and wine and is a worthy pursuit at any time of year, not just the holidays. Here are my 2015 wine book selections for gifting or keeping. Note: All books mentioned in this post were sent to me as review copies except Hungry for Wine which I downloaded on my Kindle and paid for myself. Links are to Amazon, but please consider ordering or purchasing from your local independent bookstore.

Wine Folly The Essential Guide to Wine -- Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack  Whether you are new to wine or a seasoned pro, you’re bound to enjoy this new book that presents complex information in clear and engaging visuals. It’s fun, accessible, and essential. Based on the award winning website of the same name, Wine Folly covers everything from wine tasting basics to the style and characteristics of individual wines with detailed maps of wine regions. Indispensable for winning those wine related arguments that occur at mealtime. Or is that just in my household?  Regardless this book will make a great addition to your wine library.

The Wine Bible 2nd Edition -- Karen MacNeil
Anything that calls itself the Bible has got its work cut out, but this comprehensive tome takes a swing at it and scores a homer. I’m glad to see the Okanagan in BC, Canada is represented here and one of my favorite Viognier’s by Liquidity Wines is featured. So what’s that saying... Great Minds Think Alike? Well, in this case I’d say it’s Great Palates Drink Alike.

Wine Trails * 52 Perfect Weekends in Wine Country - Lonely Planet
I’ve been harping on about the need for dedicated travel guides to wine regions for many years now and glad to see Lonely Planet finally got my memo. It’s light on providing any in-depth regional information, but perfect to use as a guide for pre-trip planning. One glaring omission in my opinion is the Canada section only offers Ontario. Where is my beloved Okanagan??? Also, no Croatia?!? What’s up with that? But it hits the right notes in many other spots regarding winery recommendations and dining options. Nicely designed and laid out. Great for arm-chair travel and dreaming.

Hungry for Wine : Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Wine Glass- Cathy Huyghe
Not your typical wine book, by not your typical wine writer. Cathy Huyghe gathers the stories about her wine journey and the people and places that made her “hungry” to dig deeper, observe and explore. A blend of travelogue, how-to-guide, tasting note journal, and manifesto; Huyghe’s compelling narrative will leave you hungering to examine the threads of your own wine discovery and weave them into your own story.

Thirsty DragonChina’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines --Suzanne Mustacich
Ever since I watched the film Red Obsession, I’ve been rather obsessed myself with what’s going on in the world of ultra premium wine and the inherent drama of Old World Wine vs New Money of China. The book details how the wine merchants of Bordeaux hitched their wagon to the fortunes of China and the clash of cultures that ensue. It reads like every non-fiction book should, as if it were fiction--gripping and informative that at times borders on the unbelievable.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer Gift Idea--
DripTeez. See my post on them here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

UNCORKED -- The Series Starts November 10th

Next week on November 10th, UNCORKED, a new series about Sommeliers premiers on on the Esquire Network.

UNCORKED follows six people in New York as they prepare for the Court of Masters Sommelier exam. The show employs all the standard reality TV techniques and manufactured drama we’ve come to know in the Bachelor and Housewife franchises. Fortunately, UNCORKED is far less tawdry as we follow the individual eddies of triumph and disaster that ebb and flow in each persons back story.

I previewed the first three episodes back in September and it’s very similar to the documentary SOMM. (The directors of SOMM, Jason Wise, and Christina Wise, and Peter Goldwyn also serve as Executive Producers for the series.)

The six candidates range from the likable and compentent Jane, to the overly casual Dana. I suspect Dana’s too-cool for school attitude is really just his attempt to cover his introversion and social anxiety. Yannick is the wild-card, the set up is that it’s his last chance/attempt to pass the exam with the added burden that he is in a wheel-chair. Rounding out the group are Josh, Morgan and Jack each with their own personality quirks that emerge under pressure.

The best performance is by Geoff Kruth, MS, and President of who does his level best to be friendly and supportive to the candidates and soften the oft times harsh criticism of his colleagues. Kruth has an easy manner, a bloakish affability that’s revealed as he offers endless facial expressions of empathy to the harried, stressed out sommeliers when they botch their practice sessions. He’s like a silent and loyal emotional support dog looking after them.

Some scenes gave me the feeling that a Master Sommelier candidate’s success is hinged to a secret ballot that allows the guild to approve those they deem worthy of their exclusive ranks, and deny entry to those that may have the skills but perhaps not the right personality in their view. Much of the feedback given by a handful of gatekeepers make it feel more like a Fraternity/Sorority Rush Week or hazing than a professional development path.

Nonetheless, If you loved SOMM the film, you will probably enjoy UNCORKED too. As with the majority of reality series, the most entertaining parts are provided by the real-time chatter of viewers on twitter. So grab a glass of wine (or a bottle) and tweet your comments as you watch next Tuesday.

Oh, one more thing. I think the show could use a snappy theme song--here’s my suggestion:

All My Friends Are Somm’s
(sung to the tune of California Dreamin’*)

All my friends are Somms and they drink all day.
I love to taste their wine and hear what they have to say.
I'd be safe and warm if I had a magnum of Cabernet
California dreamin' on such a vintners day.
Stopped into a wine bar I passed along the way.
Well I sat down at a table and saw some bottles on a tray.
You know the Somm gave me the wine list;
She hopes I'm gonna pay.
California dreamin' on such a vintage day.

*California Dreamin’ actual lyrics. Click link for video of actual song.
All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I've been for a walk on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.
Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.
You know the preacher liked the cold;
He knows I'm gonna stay.
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Slow Lazy Circles

Friday, September 25, 2015

Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15 Finger Lakes Part III

Ageability of Finger Lakes Wines
I learned a lot in the session led by Brandon Seagar who was funny and engaging and the wines he selected for the tasting supported his points well. The best thing about WBC in recent years have been the educational sessions devoted to aspects of the wines from the particular region. Last year in Santa Barbara, the Syrah panel comes to mind, and in Finger Lakes this session was top notch.

Three Birds Cornerstone Dinner
I’m always honored to be invited to the Cornerstone dinner and Craig Camp’s Cornerstone wines are a pleasure no matter where in the world you are. This year the dinner was held at Three Birds in downtown Corning. The food was quite good and a well suited to showcase Craig’s wines.

Wine Blog Awards Corning Museum of Glass 
What is with the two Allan’s/Alan’s -- Alan Kropf and Allan Wright? They have a special kind of bromance for sure for Allan to get Alan to delay his honeymoon to present the Wine Blog Awards.

Alan Krop pulls out all the stops for his annual awards show

I find the Wine Blog categories are still a bit weird, but I’m sure if I ever won one I’d be knocking people aside to get mine and singing their praise in a heartbeat. Plus that handmade glass trophy??? Whoa, that beauty should win a wine blog award for best wine blog award.

WBC16 Announcement
Drum roll please for the worst kept secret ....

WBC16--We’re going to LODI!!!
Yay, We’re going to Lodi!

After the last two sessions we had, in my opinion, one of the best WBC meals by far: chicken spedinis, salt potatoes and fresh husked corn, a Hudson style repast prepared by Sommelier/Winemaker/Chef extraordinaire--Christopher Bates. Mr. Bates deserves some kind of medal for the work he put in over a hot grill keeping hundreds of hungry bloggers fed. What the heck was in that secret sauce? It was the best chicken, actually the best anything on a skewer, I’ve ever tasted. Yeah, it was way too hot outside, yeah, it was way too long a line to get food, but yeah, it was incredibly delicious.

Corning Museum of Glass Tour
You will need at least all day, if not two days, to explore this amazing collection. The new wing of the museum is a work of art in its own right with soaring spaces, undulating lines, and an abundance of natural light to showcase the exhibits.

Celestial Scat at the Corning Museum of Glass

By the way if you find yourself in front of this exhibit shown above at the Corning Museum of Glass and see the term “celestial scat” in a placard describing the work, you can thank me. Huge thanks to Kimberly Ford for the Museum tour and especially for taking the time to escort Regine Rousseau and me through the 100 Years of Pyrex exhibit. It was a true blast from the past.

Thanks Finger Lakes!
Big shout out to Ann Crook, Director of Aviation at Elmira Corning Regional Airport for coordinating blogger shuttles to the airport. That was greatly appreciated and of course enormous thanks to all the sponsors and especially to Laury Poland and her entire team at Finger Lakes Wine Tourism for hosting a memorable and engaging Wine Bloggers Conference.  I’ll be back!

But first I had to try and leave....

Last Chopper out of Corning
After all the flight delays, lost bags and missed connections; WBC15 may go down as the conference you check in to, but can never leave. Cue Hotel California... But if you have to get waylaid in an airport, getting stuck with fellow wine peeps makes it much more tolerable. And if those peeps include the Canadian Delegation...all the better.

After a two hour flight delay getting out of Corning, I was re-routed from ORD to PDX then to SFO the following day.

Last call for Peter Rabbit

While waiting In ORD with April Yap-Hennig for our (delayed, of course) flight to PDX I heard the announcement:

“Last call for Peter Rabbit, Peter Rabbit, gate 27 last call.”

I looked at April and said, “It’s a little early for Easter jokes don’t ya think?”
April gave me a long withering look -- “It’s last call for Cedar Rapids, Marcy, not Peter Rabbit!” Oh...well it sure sounded like Peter Rabbit to my exhausted ears.

Finally made it home, a DAY later!
I got home on Monday, 18 hours after I was originally scheduled to arrive.

I am so looking forward to DRIVING to Lodi! See you all in 2016.

Cornerstone Cellars
Corning Museum of Glass
Lodi -- WBC 2016

Related Links:
Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15 Part I
Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15 Part II

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Straight Outta Corning Part II--Highlights of #WBC15

Part II -- Highlights of #WBC15

WBC Keynote with Karen MacNeil
Karen was a hit. I’m not surprised her talk was rated one of the highest in WBC history. Her story of how she got her start writing and forged her career in wine was compelling and inspiring. I’m looking forward to the release of her revised and updated 2nd Edition of The Wine Bible in October.

Speed Tasting White Wines -- 
All the wines poured at speed tasting were from the Finger Lakes region and I was impressed with the majority of what was presented. My top three were the 2014 Keuka Springs Dynamite Vineyard Gewürztraminer; Dr. Konstantin Frank, 2014 Gruner Veltliner; and the hipster orange wine of the day--a skin fermented, unfiltered Chardonnay from Atwater Vineyards on Seneca Lake.


I was on Bus 4 to Keuka Lake with stops at Chateau Frank and Pleasant Valley Wine. We sampled a few of the Chateau Frank sparkling wines and admired the view of the lake and also tasted wines from Ravines and Heron Hill. Fred Frank of Dr. Frank Wines showed us around the cellar and we met Meaghan Frank, the fourth generation family member to carry on the Dr. Frank legacy, who lives in the home. We could have stayed here all evening as far as I was concerned, I was very happy with the wines and the view. But off we went to the next location.

After a short drive, we arrived at the first US bonded winery, Pleasant Valley Wine Company also known as Great Western Winery, where we had dinner in the vaulted cellar room and enjoyed more wines from Dr. Frank, Ravines, Heron Hill and Pleasant Valley Winery.

We had a 2013 Chardonnay and 2012 Pinot Noir from Ravines which I really liked. The Ravines Pinot had a light rose petal nose with flavors of tobacco, spice and dark berries with nice medium tannins. It seemed to be a hit all around the table.

The best part about the excursions is you get a chance to hang out with the winemakers and winery owners and hear first hand about the wine and their operations. I learned that Heron Hill has a very innovative approach to keeping labor costs down. For harvest they “raffle” off the chance for people to work the vines and pick grapes. They also have an interesting program for local homeschool kids to help keep the winery clean and shining. And don’t even ask about how the labels get attached to the bottles--but rumor has it they are hand applied by girl scouts working on their winemaking merit badge! The folks at Heron Hill are staffing geniuses. (I joke here of course, well sorta, kinda.) But no matter how the labels were attached--I really loved the Heron Hill Reserve Cab Franc, it was a standout of the evening for me.

Rockwell Museum Wine Reception 

I was knocked out by the collection in the Rockwell Museum, I’m a huge fan of Western American art and the sight of so many great works by American artists in one place was quite a sensory overload. Add to that the chance to sample a selection of NY State wines and I was practically overcome with Stendhal Syndrome, the condition of being overwhelmed by art.

Hand + Foot again for cocktails before the after-after parties. Word was out and the place was now the ALT WBC hangout.

Chateau Frank 
Dr. Konstantin Frank
Heron Hill Winery
Ravines Wine
Pleasant Valley Wine Company / Great Western Winery
Rockwell Museum

Related Link: Part I Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15

Next: Part III --Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Straight Outta Corning (NY)-- Highlights of #WBC15 Part I

As much as I love the camaraderie of WBC (see my post on that here), I don’t particularly love the noise and cacophony the event generates especially when it comes to wine tasting. I need some quiet time to contemplate the wines. I’ve even suggested WBC offer isolation booths for tasting in this post here.  But one thing I’ve learned over the years is even though the WBC hotel is convenient and the locus of all the after parties, I prefer to stay off site if possible just to maintain some sense of sanity.

This year I stayed at the Inn at the Gaffer Grille just above the Gaffer Grille and conveniently located just a few blocks from the conference hotel in downtown Corning, NY. My room was quite spacious with a small sitting area, galley kitchen, and a very comfortable bed. Oh and the rate I paid of all this was far, far, less than the Radisson. I highly recommend it.

I arrived on Wednesday and met up with Robert Larsen and Laura Fontana of Rodney Strong Vineyards and Regine Rousseau first time attendee and scholarship winner. We went to The Cellar for an opening glass of Riesling, then ended up at the Gaffer Grill for dinner. You know you are in the presence of fellow wine lovers when you spend more time looking at the wine list than the menu and select the second and third bottle of wine before your entrées arrive.

After dinner we strolled across the street to Hand + Foot for a nightcap. Over the next three days I would go toe-to-toe at Hand and Foot seven times. I guess you could say I had affection for the place or maybe it was an affliction. But I was instantly at ease there. I felt like Goldilocks, everything from the food, to the wine and cocktails, the music, and especially the welcoming vibe of the staff was just right. Hand and Foot became the ad hoc blogger hangout and Friday night the place was packed with badge wearing conference attendees.

I had the day to myself and took advantage of the time to wander about downtown Corning and visit many of the art galleries, shops, and a few of the restaurants including Pocoleum and Donna’s that had a great collection of vintage corning ware and pyrex on shelves above the tables. In addition to the many art galleries, hair salons seem to be plentiful in Corning, so if you arrive with your hair mussed you are in luck as the town had at least six hair salons that I passed on Market Street.

Galleries abound. One of the many works of glass art.

Center way Square Plaza was full of activity--on Thursday there was a farmers market and free music. Friday there was more live music, and on Saturday an Indian festival with music and a belly dancing demonstration was taking place.

The only weird thing about Corning is late at night it felt like a movie set, like it was a façade. At one point Regine and I both compared it to the Twilight Zone episode where a man gets off a train to find he is in a tiny town that turns out to be a kid’s doll house. Some of the storefronts seemed like they were not really open for business, just widow dressing. But the places that were open were more than welcoming and full of real life and hospitality. I walked back to my room at the Gaffer Inn many times late at night when I was the only person on the street and I felt perfectly safe.

Wines of Virginia Dinner--
I had the pleasure of attending the Early Mountain Vineyards dinner hosted by Frank Morgan at Hand + Foot. The last time I tasted through any wines of Virginia was in 2010 when I hosted a blogger tasting with Frank Morgan prior to WBC11. Dang, what a difference five years can make.

I was very impressed with the wines presented at the dinner, particularly the Veritas Viognier, Linden Chardonnay, and the Barboursville Cabaret Franc. I guess Virginia is not a region I can write off as being on the wrong coast anymore.

Sommelier Neal Wavra did an excellent job leading us through the wines and answering our (my)  questions about the region. And the dishes Hand + Foot matched with the wines were pitch perfect. Each course elevated the wines to their full potential and enjoyment from the fried buttermilk-brined poussin, to the country ham, hush puppies and boiled peanuts. The entire meal was a delight of Southern inspired flavors. Yes, there was kale, and it was divine with bacon and white beans.

Opening Reception Centennial Park -- 
Excellent set up with local Corning restaurants and winemakers pouring Finger Lakes wine. Ever since Penticton raised the bar on what makes a memorable event, subsequent locations have had their work cut out for them, but Finger Lakes set the tone for the weekend and delivered with grand style.

Len and Judy Wiltberger, Keuka Spring owners
One of my favorite wines at the reception was the Keuka Spring Gewürztraminer 2014, Dynamite Vineyard. Actually I liked all the Keuka Spring selections that owners Len and Judy Wiltberger poured, including the captivating Dry Rose that was a blend of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc; and the Vignoles, a hybrid grape that I’d never had before.

Canadian Wines After Party--
Canadians and Canadian wine. What more do you need for a great time? Add Jeff the Drunken Cyclist aka Sabering Fool into the mix and you get some drama (and blood) along with a decibel level approaching a jet take-off, and security knocking at the door.

Liquidity and Time

Inn at the Gaffer Grill 
Gaffer Grill
Keuka Spring Winery

Stay Tuned for:
Part II Straight Outta Corning WBC15
Part III Straight Outta Corning WBC15


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