Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wildlife In A Vineyard Without Poison

Last September I was in Grusse in the southeastern corner of the Jura, not much more than 40 miles from Geneva International Airport. The tiny commune inhabited by less than 200 people is easily lost in the map. There my friends and I visited two of the most unlikely inhabitants Kenjiro Kagami and his wife, Mayumi, of Domaine des Miroirs. Since being transplanted in this remote village about six years ago, Kenji has been working on a small vineyard he purchased that is situated up on a steep hill overlooking the town. For many years the previous owner had poisoned the soil with chemicals from herbicides and fertilizers. Kenji has been undoing the damage all by himself these past years. It's backbreaking work and, frankly, I don't know how he does it. But he buzzes along and the results are almost miraculous.

Above is a neighbor's vineyard adjacent to Kenji's vineyard separated only by the narrow trail that runs up the hill. This is how his vineyard looked when he started. There is hardly any vegetation and almost nothing else aside from the vines thrives.

 And above is the vineyard of de Miroirs today...

Shaggy mane mushrooms (coprin chevelu) sprout between rows of vines.

Cover crops are allowed to grow thick and lush, and the variety is astonishing.

Wildflowers in assorted colors stand out amidst the greenery. The vineyard is never boring to gaze at.

We brought back our catch of the day from the vineyard, a few shaggy manes. None of us have tasted this mushroom before but Kenji assured us that they're good and edible.

Back at the gîte, my friend, a renaissance guy, who's not only a toji, but a collector of fine pottery and an excellent cook. He commanded the kitchen and sauteed the sliced shaggy manes, which, interestingly, turned inky.

Back in the cellar before we left, Kenji took a botttle of his latest unreleased Chardonnay, slapped on a label and gave it to us to enjoy with the mushrooms. It made for a memorable pairing at the gîte.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

One of My Favorite Reds From Arbois

One of my favorite reds from Arbois is that little box of chocolates from Hirsinger. I always take one home with me filled with an assortment of squares that they have that day. I really can't leave Arbois without it. But only one little box, as Hirsinger is about as expensive as vin jaune.

During a recent stop at Hirsinger I encountered the man himself, Chef Edouard Hirsinger, fourth generation head of his family's pâtisserie, in the flesh wearing his MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) tricolor striped collar. He looked jolly, and was happy to shake my hand and to put his arm around my shoulder like a long-time friend. Then, of course, he offered me a sample. Oui, Chef!

Resistance is futile at Hirsinger. A treat for the senses. The colors explode, the scents allure, and my mouth waters. Chocolat vivant!

Being in the center of Arbois the wine capital of Jura, Hirsinger is big on pairing chocolate and wine. Here, Hirsinger recommends Banyuls with their chocolates. Chocolat vivant!

However, Banyuls could be a bit hard to find, so a half-bottle of LBV Port such as from Niepoort is just as excellent with chocolates. And if you still can't find an LBV an overripe California Pinot Noir would do, especially one that I just sipped the other night, a 16% alcohol 2004 Aubert Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir--a special, if not spendy, Valentine's treat.

Hirsinger Chocolatier
38 Place de la Liberté
F-39600 Arbois

A second store location is in Tokyo in The Ginza.

Friday, February 7, 2014

In the Raw, J. Brix Petillant Riesling (no sulfite) From Santa Barbara

The sweet house-made tamago was still warm. So with my bottle opener I popped the crown of J. Brix's newly released Santa Barbara Riesling petillant. Out gushed the frothy liquid, like an angry genie kept captive in the bottle too long. The table and the floor tasted it before I did.

I've never drank a Riesling like this--bubbly or still--possessing such raw substance and texture. The color is muddy and opaque from the deposits being shaken. It's undisgorged, unfiltered, and unsulfited. Like milk fresh from the cow, without pasteurization, you get all the flavor. A wine like this might not like traveling too far, nor to be stored too long. 17 cases were made. It's only sold in California and J. Brix has sold out anyway. Every bottle is now out there, released to an unsuspecting public.

Santa Barbara County White Wine Sparkling Riesling "Cobolorum", J. Brix 2013

"the Goblin can be so mischievous - handle with care! More shall indeed be made this year." J. Brix

Sunday, February 2, 2014

At My Uncle Shohei's Sake Dojo

With one-man sake dojo proprietor, suppon master, ramen master, and tampopo star Shohei Matsumoto. Background picture is his family's sake brewery in Kyoto.

The  night I arrived in Yokohama my friend surprised me by taking me straight to Shohei Matsumoto's izakaya or, more appropriately, "sake dojo." He knew I'm a big fan of Tampopo, and Matsumoto was the inspiration for the Shohei character in that ramen western made by the late Juzo Itami, who was an avid patron of Matsumoto's place.

Shohei's family has been sake brewers in Kyoto for centuries so, of course, Matsumoto is the house sake. We drank two big bottles of special Matsumoto sake, a one year-old and a fresh unpasteurized release. Best cure for jet lag! The two tasted different but both showed good depth and finish. I thought the fresh version would also be great served warm.

Shohei operates his sake dojo all by himself as there's no space for staff! The place is smaller than a typical American garage. The L-shaped counter-seating and two cramped tables could fit at the most a dozen Asian-sized clients.

Ah, Shohei's set of small plates, a sumptuous treat for a hungry traveler and, of course, perfect with the sake. Slices of karasumi--cured roe like botargo. Preserved seaweed. Suppon (fresh-water turtle) eggs and liver. Fresh ika livers. Fatty kamo (duck) breast. Wow, great start!

Best saba sashimi I've ever had. Tender, delicate, and sweet. With Champagne or sake, great drinking food.

Shohei's specialty, suppon. First up is the karaage. In the film Tampopo, that was actually him making quick work of the suppon with the knife. Crunchy, gelatinous, mild flavors marry well with the sake.

Suppon soup. I'm starting to feel warm now. Jet lag is gone or maybe just forgotten. A bit unctuous, rich and deeply flavored. I can't think of anything else to pair this with but sake.

Japanese drink culture is filled with fascinating flavor pairings. Here, tangy concentrated ume (plum) paste with a sip of sake. Balances like yin and yang or heaven and hell, incendiary on the palate.

More suppon. This is like congee, rice cooked with the broth and bits of suppon meat. Comfort food. Delicious! I'm getting really full, though.

Finally, Shohei's legendary chicken ramen, prepared with chicken and fish broth, the same one the shohei character in the film Tampopo prepared. Pure, clean flavors, without any fatty pork taste. I feel so lucky to slurp this.

One thing's for sure, Shohei has happy clients every night! We stayed there till around midnight closing time. I haven't slept for 24 hours. I hope to be back.

Shohei Matsumoto's Sake Dojo
Somewhere in Yokohama-shi