WBW #59: some sake for you!

sushi & sake

I sat drinking and did not notice the dusk,
Till falling petals filled the folds of my dress.
Drunken I rose and walked to the moonlit stream;
The birds were gone, and men also few.
–Li Po, “the wandering poet”

This blog post for Wine Blogging Wednesday has taken a long and windy road. It includes some tasting stories from my nephew Kyle who just returned from three months living in Japan where he developed a taste for sake,  some notes on two sakes that I’ve tried before and tried again, “Wandering Poet” and an organic one, plus two that I tasted last night with sushi and fish and chips with ketchup!

This, the 59th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, and hosted by The Passionate Foodie, is an homage to Kushi no Kami, the ancient name for the god of Saké. Host Richard says that “Saké was once referred to as “kushi” which translates as “something mysterious or strange. To many people, Saké still is mysterious and strange but I hope to unveil some of that mystRalph's 89 birthdaySMery and reveal its wonders.”

Well, wonders about these rice wines have been revealed! On Tuesday, July 7, for my father in law’s 89th birthday, we went to the Ojai Fish Market for fish and chips, one of his favorites. They also serve sushi and have three sakes on their wine list. I ordered the two “cold” ones: Sho Chiku Bai Nigori unfiltered sake, our waiters recommendation, and Sho Chiku Bai filtered sake, both made by Takara Sake.

I studiously compared the two with my dinner: miso soup, salmon nigiri, a rainbow roll, and a salmon roll which featured smoked salmon.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell if one or the other was much better with any of the dishes I had; I even tried them with fish and chips with ketchup. Both sakes had crisp light flavors of pear, with not much of  a finish. Chilled, the 15% alcohol wasn’t too overpowering. However, the unfiltered Nigori, which is cloudy in the bottle and in teh glass–if you remember to shake it– was much sweeter, and possibly paired better with the ketchup. Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with either one; dinner was not too impressive either.2 sakes

My nephew Kyle says he’s ridden his bike by the Takara facility where these two sakes were produced many times on his way to his job at the Cal sailing club in the Berkeley Marina, but he admitted he’d never stopped to taste or check out the facility, but his housemate, Alfred, an MBA candidate, went regularly tot he free tastings there. So it seems like these two are domestic USA products.

This same nephew returned a month ago from an extended stay in Japan where sake was a regular part of his day. His girlfriend Ashlyn is in a masters program in Osaka University where she’s studying linguistics. They’d often go out to dinner for sushi which they’d enjoy with plenty of hot sake, but he doesn’t know what kind they served because Ashlyn was the expert and she’d pick the sake.

Since he has more expertise at this point than I do, I invited him over to try what was left of the two from the sushi dinner in Ojai plus Rihaku “Wandering Poet” by Shuzo, imported from Japan and which I found a while ago at Cost Plus for under $15 and an organic Ginjo Jumai from Mumokawa which my friend Helen had recommended after she tasted it at the Mutineer’s Launch Party last month. This last one, like the first two, are a domestic product, made in Forest Grove, and which is certified organic by Oregon tilth.

Kyle and I lined usea fresh market Ojai sakesmp the bottles and a collection of sake glasses and went through the sakes a few times, taking notes and comparing them, with the Momokawa first, Wandering Poet second, the Takara ginjo third, and the Takara Nigori unfiltered last.

The organic ginjo’s label, according to Kyle, is a sillouette of a Tori gate which you would walk through to get to a shrine or another important place. The gates are massive, some of them as large as a two story house.  Ashlyn’s professor, who studies the foundations of Japanese society, said that these structures are a cornerstone of Japanese society and that’s where executions took place. They’re painted red now, but back in the day, they were smeared red with blood. Most people don’t know this history, according to the professor; the gates indicate society, community, law and order. You could say they had a zero tolerance policy. Kyle says they’re all over the palce and they’re very cool–simple and beautiful.Organic Sake Momokawa

Regardless of the art on the label, we found the organic ginjo to be very artful indeed; it was our favorite of the four–full of character, complexity, body, flavors of fuji apple, pungent, upfront, not subtle, and with a lingering finish. Would stand up to food well–salmon, salads.

Helen says, “Momokawa organic ginjo (junmai) Sake. Ohhhh. This takes Sake to a new level. We all know the usual floral, sweet
taste of sake that us gringos drink in restaurants, heated by the galleon. This, yes this is different. Smokey earthly with a WAYYY longer finish. Junmai means “pure rice” thus the sake is made with only rice, water, koji, and yeast. Drink it cold pinche pagano.”

The Wandering Poet was our second favorite: flavors of banana, sweeter than the organic ginjo, vague tropical fruits, pineapple. Mild, some body, enough to pair with light food or even a teriyaki chicken or salmon.

Overall? At $15 for a full sized bottle, I’d seek out the organic Momokawa to have in my cellar or when out for sushi, Japanese, Chinese or Thai food.  I’d even select the Wandering Poet in that environment or if I was at home with a stirfry or teriyaki, but for the same price for half the size bottle, I wasn’t twice as impressed. Maybe as my palate progresses, the more subtle Wandering Poet will speak to me.

And speaking of the Wandering Poet, Li Po, I leave you with some of his words from two more of his poems:

Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day by Li Po

“Life in the World is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labour or care.”
So saying, I was drunk all day,
Lying helpless by the door.
When I woke up, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
A lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
The spring wind was telling the mango-bird.
Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
And as wine was there I filled my own cup.
Wildly singing I wated for the moon to rise;
When my song was over, all my senses has gone.

In the Mountains on a Summer Day by Li Po

Gently I stir a white feather fan,
With open shirt sitting in a green wood.
I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone;
A wind from the pine-trees trickles on my bare head.

Clearing at Dawn by Li Po

The fields are chill; the sparse rain has stopped;
The colours of Spring teem on every side.
With leaping fish the blue pond is full;
With singing thrushes the green boughs droop.
The flowers of the field have dabbled their powdered cheeks;
The mountain grasses are bent level at the waist.
By the bamboo stream the last fragment of cloud
Blown by the wind slowly scatters away.


Wine Blogging Wednesday #59: Sake to you July 8

Lenn Thompson writes that the 59th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by The Passionate Foodie, is an homage to Kushi no Kami, the ancient name for the god of Saké, and that the theme is perfect:  “it’s just the kind of WBW theme that inspired the event in the first place — a forced exploration of a region or type of wine that is new or unknown…”

Host Richard, the Passionate Foodie says that “Saké was once referred to as “kushi” which translates as “something mysterious or strange.” To many people, Saké still is mysterious and strange but I hope to unveil some of that mystery and reveal its wonders.” Read Richard’s full post to get all the details and for links to more information on Saké.

Sounds to me like a great excuse to go have some sushi!


Green Drinks & Green Wine –biodynamic, organic & sustainable practices explained

shapeimage_3Whenever I bring up Green Drinks, the national green monthly networking event, people always assume I am talking about “green” as in sustainable drinks.

Uh no, but that’s a good topic too and one that confuses people as well. Since I just happen to have some info on it and a desire to let you in on some wonderful “green” wines including the Vino V Pinot Noir I want to feature for tomorrow’s Wine Blogging Wednesday #58 hosted by Katie at Gonzo Gastronomy, I figured I’d take on a intro to both Green Drinks and “Green” Drinks especially green wines in this post.

First, Green Drinks–the event. Then Green Drinks, the beverage with particular attention to wine, my favorite drink of all and possibly one of the most easily available green drink (after water and likely most non-alcoholic beverages!)

Green Drinks is a networking event for people who are “environmentally minded.” Casual gatherings, held monthly in 400 cities around the world, bring like-minded people together to eat, drink, socialize, problem solve, network, find jobs, learn, and make jobs better. Locally we meet on the second Wednesday of the month and it appears to be sponsored by GreenLiving Magazine; I’ve gone twice now.shapeimage_7

In April, we met at the new Red Cross headquarters in Camarillo where officials showed off how they are pursuing LEEDS certification and described the many ways the Red Cross is trying to go green. About 30 people attended, and I saw familiar as well as new faces. Some wine and appetizers were available, but they weren’t necessarily “green”–either by being locally produced or organically grown.

In May, I rode my bike over to the Crown Plaza on the promenade near the ocean. The restaurant served excellent fried calamari and a tuna appetizer as well. People paid for their own drinks; I had a house special using locally made Limoncello that was really yummy–not too sweet and not too sour. Over the course of the evening, about 30 people passed through.

This month, on Wednesday June 10 from 5:30pm-7:30pm, we meet at Sheila’s Place Wine Bar and Restaurant, 302 N. Lantana,  Camarillo. Maybe I’ll see you at our local green drinks or in spirit at yours!

So what about this other “green drinks”? What makes an alcoholic beverage “green”? And I don’t mean St Paddy’s Day green beer or other artificially green drinks.

Typically it means a beverage made from organic, biodynamic, or sustainably grown grapes, grains etc and/or produced using sustainable practices. For some examples of organic beers, go here.

According to an article by Heather Stober Fleming, a wine professional who lives in Fairhaven MA ( http://tinyurl.com/dbzakd), “As the green movement gains momentum, more wine drinkers are seeking out wines that are made from producers that are using Earth-friendly farming practices.”

If a wine is made from certified organic grapes, the label will read “organically grown,” “organically farmed,” or “made with organically grown grapes.” The fundamental idea behind organic farming is to harvest grapes that have been grown without pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or any other synthetic chemicals.

Methods like crop rotation, tillage, and composting are used to maintain the health of the soil. Other natural methods are also used to control weeds, insects and other pests that can damage the vineyard or the fruit.

It is important to know that most wines made from organically grown grapes will not be labeled as “organic wine.” In order for a wine to be labeled as “organic wine,” it must be made from certified organic grapes and contain no added sulfites.

Biodynamic is the highest form of organic farming. It goes beyond the elimination of all chemicals. It incorporates the environment in and around the vineyard and works with nature to apply the knowledge of life forces to bring about balance and healing in the soil. No artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides may be used. Farmers achieve pest control through soil management and the use of biodynamic sprays and teas. Crop rotation, natural vineyard compost, and manure are employed to promote a healthy crop. Biodynamic farmers nurture a diverse animal, bird, and insect population to promote natural control of predators. The vineyard must be free of all synthetic components for 36 months and under biodynamic farming for 24 months before it can be certified. Weeds are controlled by using cover crops and other mechanical or by-hand methods. The majority of composting material used is generated by the vineyard itself. What is taken out of the land is put back in.

The Demeter Association, an independent certifier, is the organization that certifies a vineyard as biodynamic. The certification is extremely difficult to achieve, must be renewed every year and is the ultimate guarantee of purity in agricultural products. Sustainable agriculture produces crops without depleting the earth’s resources or polluting the environment. It is agriculture that follows the principles of nature to develop systems for the best crop possible.

As far as I know, there are no certifications or legal guidelines for sustainability. It is more of a way of life and a commitment that the farmer has made to the land to produce the best product possible, without stripping the land of what nature has given it. All organic and biodynamic growers practice sustainable agriculture, but not all sustainable agriculturists are certified organic or biodynamic. The wine industry is not only green in the vineyard, but the wineries as well.

There are more than 75 wineries in California that have switched to solar power to supply electricity for their winery and other facilities on their property such as tasting rooms, office buildings, and residences.

The article also mentions these widely available wines:

* Bonterra, one of the first wineries in California to commit to organic and sustainable agriculture. All of their wines are made with certified organically grown grapes. They also make one red wine, The McNabb, which is certified biodynamic.

* Benziger — The Benziger family is an industry leader in organic, biodynamic, and sustainable grape growing. They are going through the certification process so the wines that are distributed across the country do not have the organic certification on the label yet but have been grown in sustainable vineyards. The certified organic wines are currently only available at the winery. Benziger Tribute is a Bordeaux blend that is biodynamic certified. It’s hard to find, but well worth it if you do.

* Cono Sur from Chile produces a Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere made with organically grown grapes.

* Öko from France produces a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend made with organically grown grapes.

* All the following wineries are solar powered — Cline, Domaine Carneros, Saintbury, Fetzer, Far Niente, Frog’s Leap, Grgich Hills, Long Meadow Ranch, Merryvale, Robert Mondavi, Robert Sinskey, Shafer, Silverado, Spottswoode, Eos, Clos du Bois, Rodney Strong, J. Lohr, and St. Francis.

Usually, information on the front and back label can inform the consumer of earth-friendly practices that were used to produce a specific wine.

WBW #57: share the story of an inspiring California wine

Lenn Thompson announces Wine Blogging Wednesday #57: California Inspiration here.

Wbw-new Due May 13, host Jeff at Good Grape prompts us to write about a California wine which inspired us:

Thematically, this month is intended to be broad while acting as homage to Robert Mondavi, the 1-year anniversary of his passing on Saturday, May 16.

Because Mondavi was such an inspiration physically, spiritually and philosophically to so many – both in the industry and to consumers, while acting as the forefather of the modern California wine movement, I would like for WBW participants to revisit a California wine that they have enjoyed, or have a particular fond memory of, and tell a story.

Simply, Mondavi promoted an air of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, conducting many of his business practices around a philosophy of aiding other wineries in knowledge and practices to create a profile for California wine that would rival the world’s finest wines.

The easy route for this theme would be to taste a Mondavi wine, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Mondavi would have preferred an air of openness.  No good is accomplished by a singularity of purpose that acts as an exclusionary barrier for others.

Please go buy or pull from your stash, a bottle of whatever that California wine was that created a memorable chapter in your life, revisit the bottle, and share your story.

Lynn says, “Join us on May 13 as we celebrate the life of Robert Mondavi and the wines and wine industry he helped create.”

This prompt is a no brainer for me: today I am off to find an amazing bottle of Ridge, the winery where I worked in my early 20s and which shaped my palate as surely as working for Mr Peet!

Unfortunately, there’s nothing left from that time in the cellar; I really should have bought more when I left to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, especially since I have a cellar to keep it in. I enjoyed the last bottle in 2003–a 1980 Monte Bello Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon on New Years at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite.

And since this weekend is Mother’s Day, I have the perfect excuse to splurge!! What a great prompt! Watch for a report by next Wednesday!

WBW #56: Fine Kosher Wine This Time–here I come, Herzog!

wbw-new

Here it is, Wine Blogging Wednesday time again!

And what is the prompt for the post due by next Wednesday April 15, you ask? Fine Kosher wine, just in time for Passover! Fortunately for me, I love a quick drive down the 101 highway to Herzog, purveyors of fine kosher wine. Now all I need to do is find some folks who want to head over there and taste with me. If we go tomorrow, Weds. April 8, we can also go to Green Drinks in nearby Camarillo. And if we don’t go tomorrow, we won’t go at all because Herzog Wine Cellars will be closed April 9-17 in observance of Passover. The winery will reopen on Sunday, April 19th.

According to the official prompt from WBW #56 host The Cork Dork, this month’s theme of Fine Kosher Wine was inspired by an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa that The Cork Dork was later informed to be Kosher.

“I was aware that there were some quality wines out there that were labeled Kosher, but I had no idea what that really meant. I was shocked and amazed,” he writes.  “The wine was the 2006 Covenant, by winemaker Jeff Morgan. I have since been fascinated by a world of Kosher wine out there that I had no idea existed.  I urge those of you close to a Kosher winery to visit and you’ll be very surprised about what it really takes. Jeff’s site has tons of great information on it as well to get you started on what makes wine Kosher.”

WBW #55 syrah/shiraz showdown: CA Vino V 05 & AUS hazyblur 03

wbw-newI’m fortunate to live in the prime grape growing and wine producing region of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties–and, until just recently, just a few miles away from the Grateful Palate warehouse facility in Oxnard (it’s now in Fairfield near Napa).

I’ve long been a fan of Adam Tolmach’s Ojai Vineyard from back in the day when I had a print column “The Art Predator” for a weekly where I reviewed art shows, restaurants and whatever took my fancy, and was paid primarily in trade, mostly food and drink  (I could never say I was a starving artist.)

We had lots of trade at an Ojai restaurant which carried Adam Tolmach’s wines and I was thrilled to get to know many of them by the glass. It seemed that wine maker Tolmach often dropped off the odd bottle or two of wine that wouldn’t find its way onto a typical list or store. In particular, I remember being floored by one of his syrahs back in 1998.

So when I learned that Michael Meagher was a disciple of Adam Tolmach and was making his own wines under the Vino V label (V as in Ventura), that his limited edition wines (600 cases) are carried by restaurants like Campanile, and that his daughter was in my son’s kindergarten class, I wanted to get my hands on some and try it!tn

With this Wine Blogging Wednesday hosted by Remy Charest, pitting north vs south, here was a perfect opportunity to put a tasting together using a Vino V wine. Continue reading

WBW #55: Rack of Lamb with Mushroom & Artichoke Risotto & Que Syrah/Shiraz

Green Globe artichokes

They say artichokes are brutal when it comes to pairing with wine.

But as I discovered with this risotto last night, that if you braise the artichokes in bacon grease (along with the onion, mushrooms, and garlic) syrah is an awesome match.

I wanted to make something special for my husband to lure him into participating with me for this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday’s North vs South challenge, with Vino V’s 2005 White Hawk Vineyard Santa Barbara California syrah from the Northern hemisphere going up against a hazyblur Adelaide Plains 2003.

I found a lovely rack of already frenched lamb which he dolled up with a nice rub: kosher salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary and a few twists of Italian seasonings with sea salt.

For a side dish, I decided to make the artichoke risotto I’d been promising him. I had no official recipe but this is what I came up with and it tasted great! Here’s the recipe: In a large preheated iron skillet, Continue reading