Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ode to the Wine Sensei

My friend hit a big round 4-"Oh oh" date yesterday. This friend is special to me - years ago as my wine class teacher he opened my eyes to the world of wine beyond California. And so he was instrumental in all that came later. This poem was my toast and my thanks:

Ode to the Sensei

Seasons come and seasons go
Vintages: some great and some amiss
In 40 seasons the world has never known
Vintage as good as this

This vintage is mysterious
So critics disagree
Some say it's overly complex.
To some, but not to me!

Some say it is ethereal
Fleeting and seductive like a dream
Some say it is imperial
Reserved, and commanding esteem

Some find it inaccessible
Worthy only of DRC
I find it infinitely addressable
Why is it so kind me?

This vintage has so many layers
Not easy to peel away
But hear this, naysayers,
For underneath that pinot skin
I see the purity that lies within

The vintage of the man
Whom every day
So proudly I call my friend and my "sensei"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Health benefits of wine - is wine good for you?

Lots of stir the last couple of days about the France's Ministry of Health conviction of alcohol as cause of cancer. I will be attempting to consolidate the most relevant information from the web to provide a balanced view of this development, and how it relates to moderate wine drinking.

If anyone is seriously considering this seriously, what comes packaged with the same research is this: apart from wine, the dangerous stuff is red meat, charcuterie and salt. “The risk of colon-rectal cancer rises by 29 per cent per 100-gramme portion of red meat per day and 21 per cent per 50-gramme portion of charcuterie.” Are people going to stop eating those? - not a chance! Are people going to be moderate about those? Yes, people who care, already are.

It's about balance and common sense. Wine has been shown to have positive impact on some aspects of our health, especially the heart. However, it also appears to increase chances of certain types of cancer. Like pretty much all drugs, it has positives and negatives.

When I asked a doctor about it, she pointed out that how you consume wine depends on your genetics. If you have family history of certain types of cancer, then you should be more moderate in your alcohol (not specifically wine) consumption. On the other hand, if you have a genetic pre-disposition to heart problems or dementia, then you should drink wine as the French do.

But some may think - is wine as sinister as smoking? Wasn't smoking as accepted a few decades ago as wine is today? And when the first studies came out, the tabacco industry were up in arms just like the wine industry is reacting now to the pronouncement by the French government. Well, I submit to you that comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Smoking has been overwhelmingly and conclusively proven to do vastly more harm than good, and not just to the smoker, but also to others who are exposed to the smoke.

I will be posting additional thoughts and facts to this blog as the situation evolves.

References to previous studies - both pro and cons:

1. Summary of variety of wine/health research in the last 30 years: and

2. July 2008: Wine Spectator:,1197,4519,00.html

3. May 2008: Cancer Institute of New South Wales, Australia:
Quote 1: According to published evidence from eight studies, moderate alcohol consumption corresponding to approximately two drinks of alcohol per day does not increase the risk of cancer in general. However, the average intake of approximately four drinks per day increases the risk of cancer by 22%. High alcohol consumption averaging approximately eight drinks per day increases the risk of cancer at any site by 90%.
Quote 2: In conclusion, alcohol is one of the most well established causes of cancer and causes a considerable burden of disease in terms of both mortality and morbidity. While the mechanisms of action of alcohol-related risks and benefits await further clarification, the overwhelming public health message is that high daily alcohol intake can have an adverse affect on health and for those who do drink alcohol, it is important to do so in moderation. While the total elimination of alcohol consumption is not realistic, there should be increased community awareness and understanding of the extent and impacts of ‘risk drinking behaviour’.

4. Nov 1991: "60 Minutes" segment on the "French Paradox" explaining why despite eating high-fat diet, the French remain free of heart disease:

Morley Safer found, in 1991, that the French may have lower rates of heart attacks because their diet is high in cheese and wine. Within weeks of this program, sales of red wine in the United States shot up 40%

The Jan 2009 follow-up video segment by "60 Minutes", re-affirming the validity of the 1991 segment, and claiming red wine extends lifespan. CBS News 60 Minutes explaining the substance called Resveratrol:

5. Feb 2009: the France's Ministry of Health releases the anti-alcohol warning, causing a storm. Here are the most interesting and active comment threads from the web:

Favorite quotes from comments around the web:

I think therefore I think I'll have another drink...
- André, Cranves-Sales, France, 18/2/2009 4:09

I will be totally ignoring this thread, in every way, on every day and for eternity as well.
- RICHARD.JONES | 19 FEB 2009 16:18:06

The cheese is next! High Cholesterol you know and then the country will simply cease to exist.
- ROCKET | 19 FEB 2009 18:03:56

Man should behave with moderation on everything including moderation...
- Mark Twain

The best way to avoid cancer: commit suicide.
- JOHN | 19 FEB 2009 18:59:41

I drink wine. To save jobs.
- Fripouille, at 02:14 on February 20th, 2009

Is life worth living? It's a question of the liver.
- French proverb/pun

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 4

...continued from Episode 3. If you are new to this series, start here.

This is an awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

Episode 4

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Episode 5 is posted here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chablis vs Kistler - the judgment at Ross Bott

From the mailer by Ross Bott, the organizer:
French Chablis are grown in the northernmost and among the coolest premium wine regions in the world. They bring out the minerally / flinty nature of Chardonnay, and most of them are still unoaked, allowing the essence of the varietal to shine through. The best can age effortlessly for 20 years or more.

Kistler Chardonnays are grown in much warmer California, although in some of the cooler microclimates in the state (Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Carneros). The additional sunshine allows the grapes to be harvested at higher sugar levels, and the resultant wines are listed at 14.1% and are sometimes slightly higher. Kistler Chardonnays are barrel fermented and aged in at least 50% new French oak.

In a comparative tasting of the two, it would seem that the differences will be patently obvious. And they probably will be ... but I still think it will prove to be an interesting, instructive tasting showing two very different sides of the same varietal. Kistlers are more French-styled than many California Chardonnays -- hardly the toasty, buttery, tropical wines typical of some of the warmer California regions. And some of the best Chablis are starting to see a bit of oak, and can sometimes fool one as they age into believing there is oak even when there is none. So the Kistlers and Chablis may even be a bit closer than they first appear.

Tuesday night, we'll try four highly regarded Chablis from two outstanding vintages: two each from 2002 and 2005, against four Kistler Chardonnays, also from 2002 and 2005.

Impressive line-up of cult California Chardonnays and Premiere Cru Chablis.
Chardonnay from Kistler Vineyards winery - $80-90/bottle - expectation: rich, creamy, buttery, toasty oak. Chablis - $40-50/bottle - expectation: minerally, leaner, greener, cleaner. 4 Kistlers, 4 Chablis. What a treat. Who cares if the challenge to tell them apart was a waste of time - anyone could, right? Not!

On Tuesday night, February 17, 2009, I got three Kistlers right, one wrong, and learned a lesson in the process!

For those who have read my previous posts on Ross Bott tastings know that I strive for the smallest deviation from the average. Well, last night I was quite off - 18 points off! 2002 William Fevre Fourchaume vineyard really fooled me - it tasted EXACTLY like creamy sour yogurt (from Red Mango on University Ave in Palo Alto!) Such creaminess from Chablis? No way! The room was split. 3 people, including me, marked it as their best wine, and 7 marked it as their worst, with one person claiming that the wine clearly had a "technical" fault. It WAS a Chablis!

The final ranking via blind tasting. Click on the photos to see more detail.

The room clearly preferred Kistler wines. Respect them I did, prefer them - did not. All that butter and oak made me feel like I had just eaten an overload of butter popcorn toasted with a head-on incursion of cedar shavings. But what really impressed me about Kistlers was their great acidity that cut through the butter and oak, reminding me of a Spatlese Riesling's acid cutting through sugar. The balance that I so look for in California wines, that many claim they have but I hardly ever agree, it was there in the Kistlers. After scoring the wines, I finally relaxed, and while munching on some fine cheese and warm baguette, did more sipping and actually enjoying the wines in a more natural mode of consumption. The opinionated words of Kermit Lynch who hates blind tasting kept popping in my head - "blind tastings...They seemed such tomfoolery... The method is misguided, the results spurious and misleading" (p.13, Kermit Lynch. Adventures on the Wine Route.) - the wines I had marked highly were not the ones I was enjoying with the cheese. And the poor William Fevre - my highest ranked wine of the night - was the last one left in the glass as it overpowered any attempt at pairing.

Turns out Chablis can be rich and creamy, and even a young Kistler a little dusty. And, on this day, a crusty group of winos overwhelmingly preferred Kistler Chardonnay to Chablis. The mystery of wine. Grape, me, humbled. Go figure!

For reference, here is the final ranking, from best to worst, based on the aggregate opinions of the room, along with my quick tasting notes designed to help rank rather than necessarily describe the wines:
  • 1. Kistler Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley, 2005 - My rank: 2. Nose: toast pineapple, butter. Taste: butter, oak, pineapple, good.
  • 2. Kistler Chardonnay, Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, 2005 - My rank: 4. Nose: bathroom, some greeness. Taste: pineapple + light butter, nice balance, not bad (I thought this could be a rich Chablis, but it turned out to be a Kistler).
  • 3. Kistler Chardonnay, Vine Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2002 - My rank: 6. Nose: medium toast. Taste: slightly bitter, average, not very good.
  • 4. Chablis Premiere Cru, Daniel Dampt & Fils, Les Vaillons, 2005 - My rank: 3. Nose: dusty attic. Taste: nice mouthfeel, nice acidity, pretty good.
  • 5. Chablis Premiere Cru, Jean-Marc Brocard "Cuvee Extrême", 2002 - My rank: 5. Nose: clean, pretty closed. Taste: clean, classic, not too interesting, not bad.
  • 6. Kistler Chardonnay, Kistler Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, 2002 - My rank: 8. Nose: heavy toast. Taste: heavy toast + viscous + butter, so so.
  • 7. Chablis Premiere Cru, Domaine William Fevre, "Fourchaume", 2002 - My rank: 1. Nose: sour yogurt, butter (gorgeous). Taste: amazing creamy sour yogurt from Red Mango, great balance.
  • 8. Chablis Premiere Cru, Jean-Marc Brocard "Montée De Tonnerre", 2005 - My rank: 7. Nose: green, a little attic. Taste: green apple + butter, kinda too green.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Imperfect Cluster

This brief post is my counter to Alder Yarrow's "The Perfect Cluster" post on his Vinography blog (one of the top wine blogs on the internet).

Alder Yarrow's "the perfect cluster":

Click through on the above photo - you can see the slender threads of spider webs and the moisture particles on the skins of the grapes. Inspiring. Dreamy. Magnificent! Professionally taken by Andy Katz.

Iron Chevsky's "the imperfect cluster":

The shot above I took with my point-and-shoot camera on the way to Minervois appellation in Languedoc -- semi-frozen grapes left to die on the vine in the midst of December. You can't help but feel sorry for them...

Does the imperfection make you cringe or love? Does it make you want to throw it away or blanket it with your warmth?

The struggling little imperfection, it is indeed dear to my heart, for it is about life not wine.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 3

...continued from Episode 2. If you are new to this series, start here.

This is an awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

Episode 3

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

To learn more about the 2nd apostle wine from this episode, read my post here (don't click until you've watched episode 3).

Episode 4 is posted here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The joy of wine dinners

The content for this blog post was provided by a friend, Alex Bernardo, the owner of the Vineyardgate wine shop in Millbrae - who has graciously agreed to let me republish it here from his Vineyardgate blog. Photography by Andrew Chan.

Written by Alex Bernardo

Until 3 to 4 years ago, Vineyardgate Wine Sellers used to host themed wine dinners in various San Francisco and Peninsula restaurants about four to six times a year. The first one was ten years ago in 1999 at then newly renovated 231 Ellsworth Restaurant in San Mateo, CA, where we featured a vertical of Cabernet Sauvignons from 1983 to 1997, including Cain Five, Pride, Dalla Valle, Shafer Hillside Select, Lokoya, and Laurel Glen. The inspired kitchen of 231 came up with a spectacular multi-course pairing involving foie gras, black truffles, beef cheeks, roast duck, and lamb—many of the dishes were unexpected pairings but worked perfectly. Working with restaurants to come up with special menus involving unusual pairings is something I look forward to in wine dinners.

Perhaps the most memorable wine dinner in terms of food/wine pairings that we ever did was with Cantonese cuisine and Bordeaux. Sixteen people attended the dinner at the now-defunct Parc Hong Kong in Geary Boulevard, San Francisco. Drinking good Bordeaux and eating Cantonese food are one thing, but pairing the two together is another; I mean people just never consider drinking their favorite Bordeaux with Chinese food. But this East meets West affair shattered that notion.

We started with crispy deep-fried crab claws washed down with magnums of Krug Grand Cuvée Champagne, and we followed that up with double-boiled soup with white Bordeaux from Laville Haut-Brion. The main courses were an array of seafood clay-pot, duck, braised beef, noodles, and steamed vegetable dishes paired with '82 Montrose, '86 Sociando-Mallet, '89 Haut-Brion, '90 Latour, '90 Leoville-Las-Cases, '90 Sassicaia, and '96 Gaja Darmagi. Against their will, I instructed the kitchen and restaurant staff to serve the dishes one by one, western-style, so the wines can be paired in flights. The pairings were a hit and the dinner an eye-opener for everyone. Some even asked me for a copy of the menu and the list of wines so they can replicate the dinner with their friends.

Wine dinners are very magical when done with care. Casual dinners with friends are always pleasurable, but the more disciplined and formal wine dinner, with its themed and structured flights and carefully matched food pairings, is the ultimate in food and wine enjoyment. When you have a serious collaboration between wine people and restaurants the results are bound to be memorable.

Last night I found myself leading another wine dinner. I've stopped producing wine dinners, as interest seemed to have waned over the past few years. We make no money in wine dinners and oftentimes have to subsidize it to keep the costs down or to pay for someone who canceled last-minute. And the effort it takes to organize one is draining. Yet, I find it irresistible to do. As a foodie, first and foremost, and then a wino, I love sharing my passion with fellow foodies and winos.

2004 Barolo is an extraordinary vintage. I've never had young Barolos that are so enjoyable young as their finesse is remarkable. I decided early on to set aside a bottle each of the 2004 Barolos that we offered on pre-arrival for a tasting or better yet a wine dinner.

We had the dinner at one of my favorite new places to go, the Green Hills Country Club in Millbrae, CA, where the new chef has a knack for finding the right dishes to pair with the wines. Our starter of Bressaula (thinly sliced balsamic marinated, air-dried beef) was a profound pairing with the 2004 Barolos. The beef and wine sang in unison—leather, wood, sour cherries, and sweet red licorice. It has to be one of the most perfect food/wine matches!

The next dish that followed was the classic dish with Barolo: risotto. Only, the chef gave it a fresh twist by mixing in mussels and roasted eggplant and lacing it with a sweet vinaigrette. It was another stunner.

And finally the piece de resistance, which was the fork-tender veal shank osso bucco with bone marrow intact and rosemary polenta. The hint of orange peel and pungent rosemary married so harmoniously with the leathery cherry liqueur and herbal flavors that emanated from the Barolos. What a finish!

But wait, there's more! A cheese cart was wheeled in cradling a mouthwatering selection of Italian cheeses. At this point I started retasting the Barolos, noting how they've evolved over the past three hours—the flavors have remained fresh but have intensified, with the new oak showing more on the Viettis, the lavender and red fruits deepening on the Mascarello, Brovia's Villero getting rounder and more floral, and the Brovia normale maintaining its harmonious balance.

At the end of the dinner, I was absolutely certain that there is no other red wine, not even Burgundy, that is a more perfect foil for food than Barolo. I easily imagined myself as A.J. Liebling, who, when asked by the waiter at the end of an enormous multi-course dinner if there was anything else he wanted, replied: "let's do it all over again."

For reference, here are Alex's tasting notes for the 8 Barolos:

Barolo DOCG, Fratelli Brovia 2004
This is made from mid-aged vines of all four crus (Garblet Sue, Rocche, Ca' Mia, and Villero), plus juice left over from each of those crus. What a blend! A terrific value in this vintage. Complex mineral, fruit scents. Very much evokes the vintage's ripe, powerful character. Lovely richness and firm structure. Very pure. Vinified in cement vats like the crus, but aged in larger 10,000-liter casks. Outstanding quality!

Barolo "Garblet Sue", Fratelli Brovia 2004
This comes from the upper part of the hill in the Garbelletto area of Castiglione Falleto. Over 35-year-old vines. Very fragrant, rose-scented. Very upfront, richness, as it should be in this vintage, coating the fine, long tannins underneath. A very seductive, powerful Barolo!

Barolo "Rocche", Fratelli Brovia 2004
From 42-year-old vines planted in 1966 in the Rocche vineyard of Castiglione Falletto. The southeast exposure that gets the morning sun combined with the sandy, light soils produced this powerful Barolo with finesse and elegance. Still tight and brooding, but already expressive. Very refined palate that offers little resistance; showing ripe cherries, minerals, and spice in generous quantity. As in all the crus, this was vinified in cement and aged in 3,000 liter casks for four years before bottling. Excellent class. The other crus are all about power, but of all the crus this is the most refined.

Barolo "Ca' Mia", Fratelli Brovia 2004
This comes from Brovia's vineyard outside Castiglione Falletto in Serralunga d'Alba. A one-hectare parcel planted with 53-year-old vines. This is definitely the crowd-pleaser among the crus. The spicy, fruity bouquet; its powerful, rich, fresh, sweet, spicy seductive fruit never fails to charm. Plus the finish is very long.

Barolo "Villero", Fratelli Brovia 2004
Here’s the most powerful cru in Brovia's lineup. The vineyard, planted with 47-year-old vines, is situated next to Rocche but with a southwest exposure that gets the warm afternoon sun. Thus, this is powerful and potent, clearly evident in the fragrant exotic, fruity, intense nose. Very ripe, sweet fruit, and mouthcoating on the attack. Lush, very powerful, but graceful and not overpowering. This is like a wild, powerful animal that needs patience to be tamed. The Brovia family regards this as the riserva out of all the crus.

Barolo DOCG, Bartolo Mascarello 2004
Outstanding classic vintage from this most venerable traditional Barolo producer. A solid track record for producing long-lived Barolos that is second to none. At first firm and tannic with a spicy licorice nose and muscular fruit. As it opens up the the nose reveal fragrant lavender blossom and deeper sweet red fruits with velvety tannins. Amazingly lovely with now with airing, and it will age beautifully for decades.

Barolo DOCG Brunate, Cantina Vietti 2004
From very low-yielding vines over 45 years-old. Vinified for about two weeks in stainless steel vats and aged initially in barrique for 12 months and then in Slovenian oak casks for 24 months. A great vintage for this seductive Brunate. Brambly, earthy blackberry scents with noticeable but unobtrusive oak. A sexy Barolo for its fleshy, ripe, concentrated fruit accompanied by fine, velvety tannins. Very lovely finish! No more than 300 cases produced.

Barolo DOCG Rocche, Cantina Vietti 2004
Vinified in stainless steel tanks and aged in Slovenian oak cask for over two years and then transferred to stainless steel tanks for six months to rest before bottling unfiltered. One of the greatest vintages for this famous Barolo from Vietti. Starts out tannic and oaky on the nose, but the wine integrates beautifully with airing. Big, muscular, powerful Barolo done in a brilliant modern style. No more than 600 cases produced.

Vineyardgate carries all of them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How many frogs must Gary Vaynerchuk kiss?

Watch this video. It's the latest in the string of increasingly popular wine celebrity Gary Vaynerchuk's appearances in mainstream media TV programs. This one is the Feb 13 Valentine's Day episode of the MSNBC's Today Show. Gary is great - he holds his own against the professional TV hosts, but that is not the point I want to focus on here. The point of this post is to make you think about the average American lay-person, and how the mass media attempt to reflect that lay-person's outlook on wine through the types of content they deliver on a program like this. Was it entertaining? Yes! Was it stupid? YES!!! Why? Read on.

In order to understand my irritation with this program, it helps to appreciate that I have watched every single TV appearance that Gary Vaynerchuk posted via his website or his facebook page (he and I are connected on facebook). They all share the tone - a wine-ignorant (or pretending to be ignorant) host, and a super entertaining wine geek ("Gary Vee") seemingly revealing the mysteries of wine flavors and food & wine pairing to the hosts and the audience. Gary does his shtick - using all-time favorite expressions like "let's give it a *sniffy sniff*", "this wine for $12 US *bones* brings serious thunder", and so forth - those are a lot of fun! And the suits on TV always have the same response - "this smells like rubberball? why would I want THAT in my drink?!". They grab the wines, dumbfounded expressions on their faces, weak attempt at contemplation, no time to smell, no time to think... let's keep it moving... "oh this Riesling is sweet - I don't like it", "this Sauternes is thick - I don't like it".

The whole thing actually ends up being kind of insulting to anyone (I would think) who actually gives a rat's ass about what wine tastes like, what thoughts it could provoke, what pleasure it could give. Why is it so shocking that this drink may insist that you slow down for a few seconds and actually *think* about what it is you are smelling, tasting, sensing?! Why is that so strange to the talk show hosts?

Gary Vaynerchuk makes his slogan abundantly clear when he does events like this, that growing one's brand through mainstream media is the way of the past. Today one must use the internet to grow faster and reach wider than ever before. Looking at the quality of content he delivers via his "alternative" media, i.e. his online videos vs the "performances" on the national TV, it's clear to see the shallowness and bafoonishness of the latter, yet Gary is proudly growing his brand through whatever means he can - indeed, it would be crazy to turn down the lay-user bits on national TV in favor of something more meaningful and dare I say - serious. Perhaps the more meaningful appearances will come later ("60 minutes"?). But for now, I get the distinct feeling that Gary acts like a business person #1, entertainer #2, and wino #3 (in that order, though I imagine his natural tendency is to be the reverse).

Him aside, the way MSNBC (and other) hosts treat wine is a mirror on the audience that watch these shows. Gary Vaynerchuk is used for entertainment of what almost seems like a circus. The audience are laughing, Gary gets national exposure so he can grow ever closer to the Martha Stewart-dom of wine - everyone wins, right? Maybe. But I sure wish wine were presented with more respect than that. This mass media coverage is 180-degree opposite of the way wine is portrayed in the over-dramatised yet somehow inspiring Japanese drama Kami no Shizuku that I blogged about previously or Sideways. Those TV show hosts remind me of the dumb-ass Jack character - Miles' friend. Hilarious and stupid. Those movies though obviously skewed in some ways, give us deeper appreciation for wine, they inspire us, raise our emotional and intellectual curiosity about this amazing drink. The big network TV shows really seem to achieve quite the opposite.

Well, Gary Vee's popularity is growing, and he is getting more serious treatment by the mainstream media. Drilling down into this dichotomy between the condencending way they present wine to lay-drinkers that I think just seems plain ridiculous to even moderately thoughtful drinkers, the key point Gary should make, IMHO, is that people should take 2 seconds to think about what it is they are drinking. Just a little bit of pause-and-think will teach people a lot, and ultimately give them more pleasure. It would be great to see the talk shows actually act just a tad more knowledgeable about wine, rather than bafoonish.

That said, Gary is clearly on his way up, seemingly unstoppable, a brilliant 33-year-old, born in Russia, delivering a fabulous video series through his Wine Library TV video blog, and driving one of the internet's highest grossing wine businesses (if not *the* highest, based on my estimates). But one does wonder - how many frogs will he have to kiss before the mainstream media present him and wine with some respect, and not just respect for him, but respect to all of us - the lay people in the audience and the not-so-lay people who do hopefully stop and think about what they drink.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 2

...continued from Episode 1 in my last post.

Pointed out by a friend who happens to know a lot about Japanese, French, and American cultures and wine, comes this awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

Episode 2

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Episode 3 is posted here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 1

No ads. Pointed out by a friend who happens to know a lot about Japanese, French, and American cultures and wine, comes this awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

After a world-famous wine critic Kanzaki Yutaka dies leaving his huge fortune up for contest between his biological son Shizuku Kanzaki (who hates wine) and his adopted son Toumine Issei (who is a talented wine critic), the two face off to win the inheritance. In the process, Shizuku discovers more about himself and about wine than he ever imagined.

Episode 1

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

The show is currently airing in Japan. Apparently it's been quite a phenomenon in Asia.

Let me know what you think...
Episode 2 is coming up in the next post...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Answer: fun at Domaine du Pegau

In the previous blog post, we posed a fun question-puzzle. If you don't want to spoil the surprise, make sure you read that first before returning here.

But first, a little bit about the setting...
At 5:30pm on Dec 29, 2008, at the end of a busy day of wine exploration in Southern Rhone, surrounded by total darkness at the outer edge of the town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, we slowly drove up along the dirt road to Domaine du Pegau. It was dead quiet, we knocked on the front door of a house. We were supposed to be expected. But an elderly man we saw through the window seemed surprised by our visit. Briskly he came out and unable to speak English, gestured for us to follow him to what from outside looked like half garage half barn. It was the cellar. A helper inside luckily spoke English, and explained that Laurence (pronounced "Law-runs") Feraud, the older man's daughter, who had scheduled the appointment with us, had car trouble returning from a wine tip to Burgundy, and so we would begin tasting without her. Being the last appointment of the day, it was also the most anticipated one, as in the recent years Domaine du Pegau had become one of the most prized Chateauneuf-du-Pape's, garnering classic ratings from wine critics and attention of wine collectors. This mom-and-pop production having developed a loyal following now commands prices well north of $100/bottle. Below are some of their recent ratings from Wine Spectator. Knowing that definitely added to our sense of anticipation and excitement as we began the tasting.

Domaine du Pegau produces three high-end Chateauneuf-du-Pape cuvées: Cuvée Reservée, Cuvée Laurence, and the highest-end Cuvée da Capo (made from the best grapes in the best years). These wines are aged in large old oak foudres for at least 18 months for Reservée, and much longer for Laurence and Capo.

We tried 2007 Cuvée Reservée and 2007 Cuvée Capo from the casks - and they were huge brooding wines (especially the Capo). In addition, we had 2003, 2005 and 2006 Reservées. Even the oldest - the 2003 - which had mellowed a bit compared to the younger wines, still caused a nuclear explosion in my mouth and needed more time. These wines are definitely not for the faint of heart, and have the backbone to age for 15-25 years. The wines tasted of extremely ripe concentrated black fruit, bitter sweet spices, dry herbs and charcoal, with plush texture and long tannic finish. For me, they were a bit overpowering, even the 2003. To quote a wine importer Dan Kravitz: "It is like drinking a liquified, rare grilled steak mixed with ground pepper, roasted herbs, and spice." I can see others enjoying these wines tremendously with a robust pepper steak, or roasted leg of lamb, grilled venison, or wild boar with mushrooms (I could go on, but you get the idea.)

Laurence had finally arrived from her Burgundy wine touring and joined us for a sip, and with Burgundian grand crus still fresh on her tongue and mind, she exclaimed: "My god, my wines are so WILD and SPICY!" I suppose I find those words befitting the type of food one might want to pair with them. I loved her straightforwardness and vivaciousness!

Oh, and let us finally get back to the question at hand...

What's wrong with this picture?

1. Look at the legs.

2. Why are those bottles upside down?

3. What have I got in that jacket?

And now - the reveal...This is the original photo. Enjoy!

To the left, the Wine Spectator Top 10 of 2006: Tasting #5 from Domaine du Pegau. The #5 wine is from Domaine du Pégaü in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Meet winemaker Laurence Feraud as she describes her personal approach to winemaking.

Despite recent acclaim, the father-daughter winemaking tag-team of Paul and Laurence remain friendly and accessible to wine explorers, and childishly excited about "this whole wine thing", seemingly unaffected by the good fame and fortune.
Thanks to Laurence for letting me have a little fun in her cellar - it was a bit like being a kid in a candy store. But you must forgive me - one does not often get to play with a Pegau, let alone one of Methuselah proportions! And no, she didn't let me hold the 6L bottle.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Question: fun at Domaine du Pegau?

On a recent visit to Domaine du Pegau in Chateauneuf-du-Pape on Dec 29, 2008, I had this memorable picture taken. What's wrong with it? Can you figure it out?

The answer will be revealed in the next blog post.

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