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Brix = the amount of sweetness in a given solution measured in degrees expressing the porportion of sugar to each 100 gr. of total fluid; Used in winemaking by growers to measure the amount of sugar in the grapes.

Chicks = We're girls of a certain age with a sense of adventure, a passion for wine, a vibrant curiousity to learn more and a drive to exchange ideas, share tips and find out what you have to say about how wine flavors your experience.

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21 March, 2016

Washoku: An Armchair trip to Japan via Sake and Bento Pairing

Toshio Ueno: Sake Sommelier 
If there is one place that makes learning delicious, it is the Napa Valley Wine Academy.  I was lucky enough to be a guest last November when the WSET Sake candidates were getting a special lesson on Sake pairing  from Instructor Toshio Ueno, Master Sake Sommelier and Executive Instructor at Sake School of America. Toshio made the most wonderful ambassador of taste for Japan as his love of his subject matter really shone through in both his depth of knowledge and enthusiasm.  This special event on the culture of Japan via food and wine pairing was sponsored by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and delivered in conjunction with Sake School of America and Morimoto Napa.  
is defined as the traditional food of Japan, but Toshio walked us through the deeper meaning showing us how seasonality, focus on nutrition and presentation combine to make it a gestalt of nurturing with respect for the environment

The four elements of Washoku are:

  • Food Ingredients: Seasonal produce and seafood
  • Dishes: Both cooking utensils and serving dishes 
  • Nutrition: low calorie high nutrition designed to use seasonal items in a way that builds family relationship as it nourishes
  • Hospitality: Motenashi or appreciation of service nature and seasonality.  Each season has a special pattern and texture to enhance sensation of that season

The food of Japan focuses on seafood and seasonal vegetables.  With lots of rain, cold winters and hot summers, Japan gets four distinct seasons.  Japan is located between 50 and 30 degrees latitude so fits into the same geography band as many great wine regions.  Flavors have the same hot (spicy), sweet, salty , bitter and sour flavors with added emphasis on umami, which is found in soy sauce as well as dashi.  Compared the Western cooking, Japan has quick, uncomplicated food preparation techniques, although many ingredients have long preparation times as they include fermenting, drying and aging to deliver their traditional tastes.  Things like miso, kombu, and the rich umami filled flavors of dashi, a carefully prepared broth, are elements that have entered the Western repertoire of cooking and are used effectively in many fusion dishes.  

Ichiro Tsuji, Morimoto, Napa
Chef Ichiro Tsuji, from Morimoto Napa was on hand as well to introduce us to Wabosho or Japanese knives. Ichiro's knives and his skill were impressive.  He explained that some are like swords , each with a purpose.  While he himself has many knives, he has some that have seen so much use that  over a period of 15 years, the handle wore down to shape of his hand.
Gorgeous precise cuts make it tastier
The knives are a special steel that sharpen to a terrifying (to me) degree.  Ichiro explains that  sharper is safer as you can cut with minimum pressure.  Equipment matters for freshness and flavor.  Sharp knives expertly wielded make quick precise cuts with less effort.  Also important to kill fish silently without struggle to avoid suffering and make it taste better.  Every year, at New Years,  Ichiro sprinkles sake on knives to show appreciation.

Toshi and Ichiro worked together to present and decode a spectacular Bento box to us as well as walk us through the sake pairings.

Creating a Bento box has a special rubric.  When designing  bento box, care is taken to delight the five senses, honor the season and the occasion. A bento should align with all three.  You should have white and red at a celebration,  black and white at funereal Top of box is starter. Middle is main course. Bottom is salad and dessert.  The diner is meant to start at top and work over and down.

We were able to dig in and appreciate the flavors, which were bursting with exotic elements of peppers, fermented tastes, fresh briny fish and savory pickled elements.  Not only were each of the compartments delicious, but they built on each other and delivered a very satisfying whole.  Some of the courses had familiar anchors, like fried chicken and cheesecake. Some were very exotic like fish tripe and yuzu pepper.

Then we had the four intriguing sakes to pair:
1) Born Junmai Daiginjo "Gold
2)Hakkaisan Honjozo
3)Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai
4) Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi

Of the sakes, my favorites were #1 and 4.  The Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi is made in a way that

enhances its acidity and yields a more oxidative style.
However the floral plushy smoothness of the Born Junmai Daiginjo Gold was surprising especially with the salted plum.  It was almost shocking how delicious that pairing was.  My favorite pair was the blue cheese with junmai daiginjo and dried currants, although it was hard to pick a favorite.  

#4 had a slight nuttiness that paired with almost everything and enhanced the flavors, both as a contrast and as a match.  

Sake is in general not my favorite thing.  But this event really opened my eyes to different flavors and tastes and I came away wanting to learn more and try more sakes. 

Many thanks to  Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Sake School of America, Morimoto Napa and the wonderful folks at Balzac Communications for the armchair trip to Japan!

16 November, 2015

#Franciacorta - Let the festivities begin

Franciacorta is a Denominazione di Origine Controllate e Garantita (DOCG) in Italy's Lombardy region.  Famous for delicious sparkling wine, the grapes used are primarily Chardonnay and Pinot nero, which we know better as Pinot Noir.  Some examples will also include pinot bianco  or Pinot Blanc
Franciacorta produces sparkling wine using the traditional method, which is similar to the one used in Champagne, France. The result is sparkling wine with a taste of place as well as a stylish flair.  Enotourism is a focus here.  To make your region a tourist destination, you need gorgeous landscapes, great wine and friendly people.  Franciacorta scores the trifecta here.  With the Alps in the background and delightful producers in the foreground, Franciacorta is definitely on my travel bucket list.  However, closer and easier armchair travel is almost as enjoyable with these complex and yummy wines in my ice bucket. 

As the holiday season starts in earnest, be prepared with some Franciacorta on hand.  Sparkling wine is always the best way to start a meal, fancy or homey.  What hostess wouldn't be delighted by a gift of versatile wine?  My tip is to bring it chilled already as the ultimate incentive to get your hosts to serve it right away.  I can never wait

Check out this video of dancing bubbles:Franciacorta Barone Pizzini perlage

November 16th at 4 pm Pacific, @BrixChick_Liza (me) will be participating in a Twitter tasting.   Join us on Twitter to read the notes at #Franciacorta

1) Franciacorta Brut, Barone Pizzini Animante (SRP $35)
2) Franciacorta Brut, Le Marchesine (SRP $27)
3) Franciacorta Rose, Contadi Castaldi (SRP $25)
4) Franciacorta Rose Vintage,  Villa Franciacorta Boke ($25)

These wine were provided as samples, but the unbridled enthusiasm is all mine

08 September, 2015

From the Ashes of Deliciousness - DOC Etna and Planeta Wines

Alessio Planeta has as light a touch with his presentation style as he does with his delicious wines.  He kept us laughing and furiously taking notes when he visited San Francisco and hosted an informative lunch at SPQR, as perfect a spot for Planeta's interesting wines as you could ask for.

Alessio became Planeta's chief winemaker in 1998.  Since then he has been creating and marketing Planeta's wines.  I could hear his passion for the land:
"Sicily is special.  Dotted with places with varieties of soil and of culture.  The jewel is the volcano."

He means Etna. Volcanic soils exhibit much diversity, despite common ideas that all volcanic soil is lava.  He told us that  Etna is more like an island, since it  rose from the sea like mushroom 700,000 years ago.  Its land was formed by matter escaping from up from bottom border and rising above the sea, rather than by a blowing top and cascade of lava.
Credit: Planeta

It's still an active volcano today.  Every few years ash blows out to fall on existing land, which continually transforms the lava stones. After all these  years, ash is now a main component of the soils. Vineyard sites must be flat as soils are powdery, so man made terraces are a common feature.  The soil ranges from ancient to younger more organic soils.

Much as the conversation fascinated me, the best thing about  DOC Etna is that it's a place where history, geology and viticulture combine to produce delicious wines.

Alessio wins more awards and says the whites in general are of better quality.  This is especially true of the Eruzione 1614 Carricante.  Carricante is the leading white grape Planeta produces in Etna.  It pulls from the soil a fresh and lively mineral quality underpinned by a floral note.  Alessio's  "secret ingredient"  10% Riesling, makes all the difference,  Riesling grown surrounded by the Carricante, blends and reinforces floral notes and acidity.   As much as Alessio is skilled with the white wines, he roots for his reds

Photo Credit Planeta: Nerollo Mascalese
My favorite wine from the lunch was the Eruzione 1614, which was made from the area's  leading red grape: Nerello Mascalese.  Nerello in the name comes from the grape's dark, almost black, color.  Vinification includes aging with a touch of wood to fix color and flavor.  Used French oak and a careful barrel protocol are used to be gentle with the grapes, preserving that sense of place. This results in a lighter, fresher ready to drink wine laden with exotic spices and autumnal red fruit.  It has bright splashes of cherry, anise cookies, balsam and sap in the aromas.  A blast of cherry with a hint of postage stamp are also in the flavors and finish. You may still be wondering why in the fullness of time of 700,000 years,  did Planeta land on 1614 as a name for their wines?  That was the year a 10 year eruption and lava flow started which stopped nearly at the border of the Sciara Nuova vineyard

Photo Credit Planeta:Feudo di Mezzo Vnyd
These wines came from a lovely winery in the middle of vineyards nearly 10km square on each side.  The winery itself is in the middle of natural stone garden which gives the place a unique appeal.

Sicily is an area that delivers a diverse range of wine from Marsala to Nero d'Avola.  Lots of influences that contribute including culture, grapes and climate.

I love ordering wines from Etna when I see them on wine lists because I have found them to be an excellent value, delicious with many foods and exotic.  I think about all the inherent challenges in viticulture and wine making, and then throw in an active volcano.

If you see Planeta wines on your wine list, please do try them.  You won't be disappointed.

Many thanks to Bethany Burke of  Palm Bay International who hosted me at this lunch