Inspiration has been abundant lately, fully loaded in punk fanzines, 90’s hip-hop and groundbreaking books about forward-thinking scientists (i.e. Stephen Hawking, Nikola Tesla and Charles Darwin). Thus, I have been doing a lot of writing, drawing and playing around with photoshop. I am continually finding myself amazed in the small details of everyday life, a happiness in the banal. We have been given such a fortunate “winter” here in San Francisco where the sun abundantly glows, the fog has kept itself in hibernation and the scent of lilacs drifts around every corner. I still am in complete awe of this snowless “winter”, it being my first of the kind. When temperatures hit 70 degrees in February I can’t help but stand, nomadically, my face scrunched up toward the sky to feel the heat. It’s an incredible pocket of life out here, where asparagus appears in the farmers markets in late February and the grape vines are already beginning their cycle of life. With all of this “life” surrounding us, it’s hard not to believe that anything is possible and all can be accomplished. Whereas back in Chicago, we live in the world of the dead for at least 8 months, bone-chilling weather ties us to the comfort of our homes, and the energy of the city sleeps – though this too has it’s creative moments. So, in this new “winter”, here are just a few things that have inspired me this month and a few things that have come from that inspiration.
In honor of National Drink Wine Day, yes apparently this is a thing…anyways, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite winemakers: Sean Thackery.
I like on the table, when we’re speaking, the light of a bottle of intelligent wine. – Pablo Neruda
With the understanding that the traditions of the past influence the push forward the future, I am happily humbled with the number of winemakers also being guided by this same light. It’s not just adhering to the traditions, but understanding them and using them to create new ways of working, for better or worse. I love hearing about Nihonshu breweries that still use traditions 55-generations old, but I also love the idea that somebody is taking those ancient tradition and applying their philosophy, utility or what-have-you to create something better. I first found this delivered through the wines of Sean Thackery, an incendiary winemaker. His heart races not for the temptress of terroir, but sits at the foot of civilization, the history of human culture. To find someone as poetic about the passing down of knowledge as he in California, is to truly find the needle in the haystack. That train of thought is left to those in much older parts of the world. Here in California where good land flows, lakes of winemakers must focus on their terroir, cling to their green Earth. Thackery is a self-proclaimed terroir agnostic and therefore has slippery fingers. He is much more concerned with anthropology than geology when it comes to his wines. It is a reason why he leaves his grapes to ferment under the stars for the first 24-hours after picking, why he names his wines after mythological star clusters, or why he has no idea what grapes are in his Orion field-blend. For most modern wine-makers some of this is madness, for others it’s a philosophy.
While his wine gain praise from heavy-hitters like Robert Parker, he is quite humble about his accolades, though his wines have grown a cult-like following. Yes, they’re big, but these wines are not to be drunk as fervently as possible. Like their maker, they are poetic and intelligent. One thing I can say consistently about his wines is that they change elaborately given the time. If you ever come across a Thackery wine, give it its due time, in the bottle and in the glass, and allow yourself to see its art unravel from more than just a place, but from a mind.
To continue reading about Sean and his philosophical view on wine check out this interview by Tim Gaiser, M.S. from 1992 – truly inspiring.
For the last five or so years, there has been a strange mystery lingering in the back of my mind. One that I’ve always been intrigued by, but have never had the time or know how to figure it out. When I was 19, away at college, a book was sent to my parents house for me, the sender was anonymous. The book: Histoire d’O. Now, I have no idea who would send me an old French romance novel from the 1950’s, or who would know my paramour for old French Romance novels/poems (at a later date I would change my major to 19th Century French Poetry). I had never read the book or even heard of it, but there was a strangely erotic picture on the cover: a woman’s wrists clasped by furry black handcuffs. Yes, I was somewhat freaked out, but my intrigue of the book was stronger. I’ve read it over and over, briefly and whimsically, or deep and deciphering. I could never figure out who sent it or why it came to me. But t’is the season for erotic romance, aka Valentine’s Day, so I am re-opening the case. More so, I just wanted to read it again, in its original french text.
So on the eve of Valentine’s Day, while Mark worked long into the night preparing for tonight’s dining marathon, I curled up in my bed with a glass of red wine and this tantalizing read. I tell you what, Fifty Shades of Grey is children’s play compared to this.
Recently I’ve been infatuated with the aging capabilities of white wines. While it is no surprise that certain white wines can age, we’ve all seen or at least heard of Chardonnay from Burgundy having aging potential as well as the superb distance aging Rieslings have. These are almost givens in the white wine world, but what caught me off guard was Melon de Bourgogne from the western Loire Valley in France. I don’t know why I was so in awe of its potential, I mean it definitely has enough acidity to preserve it for decades. My first experience was with the 2004 vintage, and I’ve been on an obsessive hunt for these pale gold beauties ever since. Muscadet is found on the west coast of France in the Nantes region, sitting on rolling hills of granite and gneiss (rock that has undergone significant chemical/physical changes due to high temperatures and pressures). The proximity of the Atlantic Ocean gives it its signature saline flavor which is why it is often regarded as the perfect pairing with shellfish, and particularly oysters (my favorite pairing ever!). The majority of the wine from this region comes from a white grape, Melon de Bourgogne. Although it does have a distant relation to the dominant white grape of Burgundy, and contrary to what the name implies, Melon de Bourgogne is not from Burgundy.
Muscadet is exclusively white wine, however, there are a handful of producers making red wines here that excitingly adhering to that same brininess as the MdB – one of my favorites is Domaine de L’Ecu. Very Awesome. Their typical acidity and salinity are usually always complimented by the soft aroma of fresh citrus juice – lemon is most abundant with beautiful white flowers. Traditionally, Muscadet is aged sur lie, or with the sediment (dead yeast cells, pulp, stems, seeds, tartrates etc.) that settles at the bottom of the barrel during fermentation. Doing this can add a complexity of flavor and a reduction of malic acid (think reducing that green apple tartness), which in Muscadet can be very helpful. Most often, the wines are aged sur lie in small oak barrels, and in a few cases with the old school amphora – again love Domaine de L’Ecu for this. A winemaker can invigorate and incorporate more lees-y notes by battonage, a process of stirring or agitating the lees during barrel fermentation. Other wines you can find that use the sur lie process are white Burgundies and Champagne.
Ok, enough with the science talk, just find an older Muscadet, go ahead and decant it, because why not, and enjoy its complex language. It’s a special wine of great character and many possible lives. More on the area and the grape: What Is Muscadet? What is Melon de Bourgogne?
Laying here, with my curtains drawn, muffled from the world outside, I am overcome by intense bodily pain. Though such has always been natural for me as my sensitivity extends itself past my emotional persona. I am constantly fraught with headaches, stomach pain, joint malfunctions etc. I have always been keenly aware of this and have in every case put myself and my wellbeing above all else. So with my curtains whispering shadows of the street, I find comfort in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and writing out my solemn thoughts.
I continuously yearn for the country, for solitude, for the openness with chosen socialism. In a room enrobed in books and an old window, if only there just to reflect moods. I have never been a dweller of the morning dew, but here I would watch the sun rise with the first bread and sip a fragrant cup of coffee in the dawn’s early shadows. I would gain peace in the large garden and dry herbs and flowers for tea. The blackberry and raspberry bushes would grow lush, and pies would be made from their succulent fruit – an ode to my grandmother. My best writing happens during the magnificent changes in sunlight, the hazy grey-blue of dawn, the poetic burning amber of the late afternoon to the incredible rainbows of dusk. These are times for great reflection. The white light of midday has always, for me, been kept for exploration, when it is the warmest on the skin.
Now, in this small shared studio, life is crunched up, like discarded papers, every space filled and abused. Technology is loud inside and out masking any sense of real nature and I am bound to it with illusory tethers. If only I could supplement the glowing city sky for one that bends toward a horizon, filled with cosmic distortion. For now, I will satisfy myself on the few stars viewed between municipal wires. My dreams shall continue on.
It’s incredible to think that just over a year ago I was wandering the cobbled streets of Rome with my eyes so wide the lids were barely visible. It was a trip I promised to both my sister and myself. She was there to continue her architectural studies and having her first experience outside of the U.S., and I obviously seized that as an opportunity to make my first trip to Italy. Having spent a good amount of time roaming around France, I’d been itching to visit the Land of Wine. It is hopefully the first of many visits to this historic city.
I used AirBnb and stayed in the most quaint and romantic (although I was staying by myself) apartment in old Trastevere, in the 13th rione of Rome. In the common area of the building there was a small pool surrounded by citrus trees ripe for the picking. The roads, comprised of all old cobblestones, are almost undriveable, but incredibly photogenic. Actually the whole city is photogenic. The sun blankets the city with flecks of gold and bronze, illuminating the ancient buildings. Coming from Chicago, I was used to a small sky. The abundance of skyscrapers accounted for all the small geographic cutouts of the celestial ceiling above. In Rome, the absence of those great buildings allowed for a breathtaking expanse, a big sky. It gives Rome its soft, rolling blankets of light rather than the stiff, angular rays of a tall city.
Since my sister was in classes during the day, I would let myself be lost in The Eternal City. With an old manual Canon in hand, I followed the light down small side streets, opening on to grand piazzas and quiet monastic squares. I found my way into the most beautifully small leather shops where I tried on a multiplicity of gloves from every hunted animal imaginable with furs in just as many varieties. I’m sorry PETA, but I get weak in the knees over a buttery leather glove. The vintage shops were absolutely to-die-for. Small and compact but they packed quite the punch. I could spend hours on end sifting through vintage Italian goods, both designer (like the Fendi oversized clutch I bought) and artisanally hand-crafted (like the handmade cowboy hat I also bought).
The street art in Rome was some of the best I’ve seen, so much so that I took to photographing a lot of it. The modern touch of graffiti against the old walls created such a beautiful juxtaposition that it almost felt as if it was all supposed to be there, created together.
The food! The wine! Working in the restaurant industry it should have played a central role in my trip. However, even the lower-tier eateries and wines produce such quality at such inexpensive prices that it could be left as an after thought because you were guaranteed to dine well. I walked enough that I was eating almost every two hours, and consequently was drinking as well, aperitifs, wine, digestifs, whatever my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants whims wanted.
If you have never been to Rome, it is a must for any art enthusiast, photography lover, history buff, wino, foodie and fashionista. It is truly a cultural overload, and I LOVE it!
So last Sunday I dabbled in sake’s true elixir, H20. While water is important in sake production and ultimately has an affect on final flavor and aroma, there are obviously other components to the Japanese beverage that make it what it is. The most unmistakeable ingredient is rice. There are more than 80 different sake rice varietals which have their own results on the end product. This rice is much different than your everyday rice that you eat. Sake rice is called Sakamai and is a bigger grain than everyday rice.
Rice is comprised of three components: starch, fat and protein. The starch lies in the center and the fats and proteins form the husk layer around the outside. In the case of Sakamai, the starch is much larger and harder, with the proteins and fats forming a thinner husk than other rice. There is a process in sake production called milling which grinds off part of that outer protein/fat layer, maximizing the total amount of starch in the rice. Before the rice is milled it is brown rice, the milling (or polishing) process is what can reveal the bright white starch underneath. The starch is what eventually is converted to sugar and then into alcohol. The amount that is milled off determines the different sake distinctions. When the Sakamai is milled 30% (leaving 70% of the grain) it is called Junmai. If you take this same milling ratio (30%) and add some distilled alcohol, which some breweries do to control flavor and aroma, it is referred to as Honjozo. So it essentially breaks into two categories, sakes that are 100% natural and sakes with added distilled alcohol. Moving on to the next degree of milling, there is Junmai Gingo and Gingo milled at 40% (60% left), again the Gingo has added alcohol. Then at the top with 50+% (50% or less is left) milled is the Junmai Daigingo and Daigingo, and as you could’ve guessed, the Daigingo has alcohol added. Of course these are the basic breakdowns and as with any production, the brewers may take liberties with their designations.
The Daigingos are considered to be higher in grade because they have less fats and proteins to cause potential sediments and possible off flavors and have more starch content which is essential to the conversion of sugars to alcohol. The less and less the rice is milled the lower the grade of sake. Anything below Junmai and Honjozo is considered Futsu-shu or “regular sake”.
Personally I can’t say any grade is better than another because there is so much weighing on the personal styles of each brew master with the combination of the type of water being used. Just like with wine, there is a place for all types.
For the next few Sundays, I’ll be immersing myself into the Sake culture and sharing it all with you!
The world of Sake has always had this mysteriousness around it like an ancient language. It’s rooted deep in tradition, I mean really deep, like 1100’s deep – 55th Generation deep (just to touch on one sake brewery), which for us in the U.S. is pretty unfathomable to think about. I find that the beverage industry here just scratches the surface of sake, when there is so, so much more. There is one man who has really plunged into this Japanese tradition head first and I had the pleasure to sit in on a tasting with him recently. His name is Stuart Morris and he is one of the few Master Sake Sommeliers outside of Japan. He runs the sake programs at both San Francisco restaurants Hana and Michael Mina’s PABU, and his wealth of knowledge is inspiring to say the least.
To begin, he made it clear that sake is a Japanese term for any alcoholic beverage, whereas Nihonshu directly refers to the fermented rice drink we commonly associate with sake. However, for the purpose of easy reading I will continue to use the term sake. Now, though it is usually thought of as rice wine, it is not a wine at all. Its fermentation process is in a category all of its own. There are four necessary ingredients for brewing sake: steamed rice, water, koji mold and yeast. Though, there are some styles that also add distilled alcohol to their sake more for consistency reasons than anything.
The water used in sake is one of the most important parts in the production. Think of it as terroir for sake. It determines everything from length of time for fermentation to the body of the end product. As we all know, water can be very different throughout the U.S., not only between major cities but also counties. I became very aware of the difference of water when I lived in Chicago and the city changed from using harder well water to softer Lake Michigan water. It went from a metallic taste to something less pungent but slightly saline and chlorinated. The same is true for the water in Japan spanning through the broad spectrum of soft to hard. When rain falls it is naturally soft containing mostly sodium, giving it that almost saline character. However, as the water moves through the Earth’s rivers, oceans, streams etc. the water picks up harder minerals like magnesium, iron and calcium – making it hard water and tasting rocky and metallic.
Sake breweries high up in the Japanese Alps, in prefectures like Fukushima, Hiroshima and Tochigi, have softer water. The softer minerals give their sakes a more feminine, rounder body. As the water runs down the Alps, it picks up these harder minerals giving sakes from Gunma, Nada or Kanto, their characteristically masculine and linear sakes.
As I mentioned before the mineral content in water plays a major role in the fermentation process and thats why you may hear “such and such area has great water”. Minerals like iron and manganese are adverse to sake production because they can create off colors and flavors. On the other hand, magnesium and potassium create a positive environment for the yeast, adding necessary nutrients that speed up fermentation time.
Stuart said that the water is so important and the obsession is so abundant that some breweries go as far as to not allow any water from sources other than their own inside the premise of the brewery – not even water bottles. They fear any contamination of their precious water. They drink, bathe and even cook exclusively with the same water they use in their sake. It doesn’t stop there either. Restaurants have gone as far as to serve each sake along side a bottle of their given water supply. Stuart’s connections with some of these breweries are so strong they they exclusively sell him their water to serve with some of the sakes on his list. Pretty freakin’ cool. There is a total sake geek-out moment waiting for me at Hana and PABU.
We tasted sakes across the spectrum and the variation in water became very obvious to all of us. Below are two, of many, we tasted that had distinct notes directly related to their differing water types.
Next week we take on mold, rice and yeast and begin to talk about the process!
So I made this post a few months ago in my now deceased blog Wine Yogi. At work we’ve been getting silly over some really excellent Cru Beaujolais, and I felt compelled to revive one of my favorite posts. I’m sure there will be more posts to come covering one of my favorite grapes in one of the hottest regions right now. Enjoy!!
Beaujolais, situated just northwest of Lyon, France’s second largest city, is often synonymous with the cheap, quaffing wine, Beaujolais Nouveau. Not that they don’t still produce this in buckets, but most people don’t see past this entrance wine to the gems that are truly worthwhile. Admittedly, I have somewhat of a biased opinion having spent a good amount of time in Lyon and visiting its closest vineyards. Beaujolais reaches up to Mâcon at the southern end of Burgundy down to Lyon, sitting on clay soil in the south (Bas Beaujolais) and granite in the north (Haut Beaujolais). In the Bas, this flatter land produces much of the wine of Beaujolais, and the majority of it is unimpressive, unable to reach higher than the status of Beaujolais Superieur, which is designated, for the most part, by a degree of alcohol.
Now, moving north, into those beautiful granite soils, creating a more vigorous life for the vines, challenging their every being, making them stronger – we find wines of superb quality. The vines living in this more mountainous region are awarded Beaujolais-Village status, sitting at almost 1,500ft above sea level. This is still much more of a mediocre bottling, only adding a bit more concentration to the wine. Most of the wines are blended by merchants to fit a particular taste of the majority.
Where things become interesting and even possibly mind-blowing, is this next level of classification, the Cru Beaujolais. This is truly where my heart lies, where I find a seriousness in the Beaujolais frivolity. They are always estate bottled by individual growers and use the name of their given village: St-Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-A-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly, and Cote de Brouilly (from north to south). The grape throughout Beaujolais is Gamay. It’s juicy, lighthearted, with signs of cherry soda and wild strawberries. This juiciness is obtained by full or semi-carbonic maceration, a method where the entire bunch of grapes are placed into a sealed vat, uncrushed, and they begin to internally ferment due to the presence of carbon dioxide, at a rather quick rate. Carbonic maceration is known for its ability to keep the fruit profile intact while limiting tannins and malic acid (think of a green apple). However, the Crus are much more complex and expressive of their terroir and their production methods are becoming more reminiscent of Burgundy, like using French barriques for aging.
These wines can be age worthy and almost necessarily so, showing much more character after several years – my thoughts gather to the brooding wines of Moulin-A-Vent. However, like those from Fleurie, they are perfect when drunk young. This is my go-to red when I don’t want to really worry about what I’m drinking and whether it pairs. Gamay is usually light enough and has enough fruit to brighten up most dishes from salads highlighted with red fruits, to lighter meats like chicken and turkey to even something a little gamey, such as duck.
Drink well my friends!
When I was younger I was absolutely not a fan of art exhibits/shows/museums. They were so incredibly dull and quiet, that as a kid, I dreaded when my mom dragged my sister and I to the Art Institute of Chicago. We would literally scout out the best benches to “nap” while my mom browsed the famed halls (though can I say museum benches are the least comfortable of them all). This all changed, however, on my first visit to The Louvre in Paris. Something clicked that day and I have been so completely in love with art every since. I think a friend and I spent almost 6 hours in there and made our group miss the next excursion at The Catacombs.
Fast forward to today – here in San Francisco, rotates some of the best art and artists in the world. Recently, I made my first, and definitely not last, visit to the De Young Museum for the Keith Haring exhibit The Political Line. It was more than fantastic. Walls and walls of his brightly painted pop art tarps and canvases and loads of phalic pieces tell the story of the times. New York in the 80’s was not a place so readily adapted still to race or sexuality, and Haring was there to forcefully fight against those ignorances.
We all know Keith Haring’s work, we’ve seen it on t-shirts, posters, recreated in other art. His commercial success matches that of Andy Warhol. Though, I never really knew the name Keith Haring until I really started to get into Jean-Michel Basquiat. Friends and artists against the current state of our world, they both had a very unapologetic style that drew me in immediately. I could connect with their art and their message unlike any artist I had come across before. It is in-your-face and child like, but at the same time deeply meaningful with many layers.
Needless to say this is an exhibit I could return to time and time again. It will never get old, though it’s only here in the Bay Area until February. I strongly urge anyone and everyone to go! What exhibits have you seen that you have been completely captured by?