Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mikkeller Mission Chinese Food

Mikkeller, based in Denmark, is one of the greatest brewers in the world. They constantly create bold new flavors that surprise and delight, as well as expand the notion of beer. For a wine lover like me this is totally exciting!

Here is one of Mikkeller's latest creations, a collaboration with the highly celebrated San Francisco pop-up restaurant, Mission Chinese Food. Brewed in Belgium, it is a pale pilsen flavored with Sichuan peppercorn! At 4.5 ABV, it is ight in body and alcohol but intense in taste. Not quite fire-breathing but gently spicy with subtle herbal notes that enhance its refreshing taste. A great beer with appetizers or small plates, perhaps with some fried garlic or a bowl of wok-tossed mussels with Thai chili.

Mikkeller Mission Chinese Food 330ml $5.85 (order here)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

La Grange Aux Belles (Anjou)

Young vignerons Marc Houtin and Julien Bresteau formed their small domaine La Grange Aux Belles near Angers in Anjou in 2008. Production is tiny and their wines sell out fast mainly in Paris natural wine bars, and in a few cities in Europe. The winery's motto is: Des vins de plaisir sans artifices. Their wines are made for pleasure, without additives or tricks. The grapes are grown organically and the wines are vinified with natural yeasts and made without additives and little, if any, addition of sulfites.

The "Fragile" is 100% Chenin Blanc from 20-40 year-old vines planted in clay-limestone and schist soils. The fruit for this cuvee is harvested late with 5%-10% botrytis. Of course, the wine is fully fermented, bone-dry with less than 2 g/l residual sugar. I've always believed that the best dry Chenins are harvested with a bit of botrytis, as the wines offer Chenin's full potential. The wine was barrel-fermented and aged in second and third-year barrels using native yeasts and without any additives and no addition of sulfites. The flavors are sharp and intense, well layered, and getting deeper and deeper on the palate.

An incredible Pineau d'Aunis is the Brise d'Aunis from La Grange Aux Belles. Aptly called "Brise" (breeze) for that's the sensation I feel drinking it. It's a clever tongue-in-cheek, of course, since it's a Vin de France, hence Marc and Julien can't put the varietal on the label, as well as the vintage. Kudos to their creativity and to the lusciousness of this wine! Bright, intense flavors. So good to pair with any food.

Vin de France (Anjou White) "Fragile", La Grange Aux Belles (2012) $25.00 (order here)

Vin de France "Brise d'Aunis", La Grange Aux Belles (2013) $22.00 (order here)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Milkman Cometh: Frédéric Cossard's Burgundy

A native of Burgundy, Frederic Cossard doesn't come from a family of winegrowers. Instead, his family background is the milk trade. He went to milk school and worked in the milk trade for ten years traveling around Burgundy where he met many vignerons and got interested in what they do. He decided to change jobs and established his domaine in Saint-Romain in 1996.

Today, Frederic Cossard is one of Burgundy's small generation of young winemakers bucking the modern, conventional way of winemaking that's dependent on intervention and chemicals. He goes way back to the roots of how wine was made in Burgundy before chemicals, additives and sulphur got introduced. To do this today is not easy because one has to almost re-learn winemaking, but Cossard's background in the milk trade has helped him a lot. He equates making unpasteurized raw-milk cheese to making sulphur free and chemical-free wines.

But what is Cossard's point to all of these efforts? Just like any true Burgundian, Cossard aims to make authentic wines that express their terroir as purely as possible. He starts, of course, with fruit from a great site farmed organically. His 2010 Nuits-St.-Georges Premeir Cru Les Damodes is a fine example.

Les Damodes is a very interesting terroir as it combines Nuits' power and generosity with the elegance of a Vosne. The Les Damodes vineyard lies at a high slope bordering Vosne-Romanee to the north and Boudots, Cras, and Richemone on the Nuits side. The terroir has a lot of Vosne in it and Cossard's 2010 shows that in its firmness and more upright character compared to other Nuits. The vintage offers very good richness and concentration, and all through the finish there is vibrant minerality and energy.

Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru Les Damodes, Frederic Cossard 2010 $105.00 (order here)

Les Caprices de l'Instant

I learned late last year that Les Caprices de l'Instant was sold by its longtime owners. Situated in the Bastille-Marais neighborhoods of Paris, I was taken there one afternoon three years ago by a good friend from Japan. There we found Roberto Petronio, photographer and writer for La Revue du Vin de France, sitting at an office desk in the corner of the cramped floor minding the shop. Perhaps he took me for a high-roller Japanese wine collector so he showed me the backroom and the basement, which were stacked floor to ceiling with cases of top labels of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Chateauneuf du Pape. He mentioned they stock more wines at a storage in Bordeaux. This made me wonder.

After the tour, Roberto attended to some customers, while I perused a thick catalog of reserve wines they stock. I noticed there's no cash register, computer or any electronic gadget in the store. Presumably, there's a telephone at least somewhere. But clearly, business here is conducted personally and concluded by handwritten receipts.

Now, I wonder how things would change at this shop with the new owners. I do wish they don't change the name.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Brews for Wine Lovers

Brews for wine lovers. I like this description for our growing selection of specialty beers. While the trend in craft beers right now is dominated by heavily hopped IPAs with high ABVs, I go the other way. I do like the complex and food friendly taste of bitter ales, but I favor maximum flavor power with minimum alcohol. I love beers that don't go much over 5 ABV but with a richness of funky infusions that produce layers of taste sensations, which I could only compare to wines. Not least of all, these kinds of beer scream for food.

I urge you to try out our unique beer selection. If you are a wine lover, then chances are you have an adventurous palate. You would love these creatively-made beers that I've selected, which are disruptive in the beer world. My credo is there's always a wealth of taste waiting to be discovered.

Mikkeller, based in Denmark, is widely praised as one of the greatest brewers in the world. In Denmark, with over 11,000 brewers, Mikkeller has been awarded best brewery, and routinelty many of its beers are rated best in the world. It owes its success for pushing the envelope on tastes, coming up with new and surprising flavor profiles. One of its latest beers is a collab with San Francisco's (though more like New York lately) Mission Chinese Food. It is a pale pilsen brewed in Belgium, flavored with Sichuan peppercorns! Not quite fire-breathing, but gently spicy with subtle herbal notes. 4.5 ABV. It is a great beer to start off a meal before imbibing wine, perhaps with a bowl of fried garlic or wok-fried mussels with Thai chilis.

Mikkeller "Mission Chinese Food" 330ml $5.85 (order here)

Baird Brewery is in Izu, right on the banks of Kano River not far from Mt. Fuji. The brewery has a small farm, where it grows its own hops, as well as fruits and vegetables. It crafts beer in small batches and always unfiltered and allowed to go through a secondary fermentation in bottle to produce a natural carbonation. The Rising Sun Pale Ale is 5.1 ABV made with dry hopping for a slightly bitter, hoppy taste that's exquisite combined with the spicy flavor extracts. Perfect with a bowl of edamame and pickled vegetables. Kanpai!

Baird Brewery "Rising Sun" Pale Ale 12oz $5.45 (order here)

Sansho Herbal Ale is wine lover's beer. It's not a big beer like an IPA, no, it's more delicate than that. Plus, it offers complex herbal and spicy flavors that have more similarity to wine, and that make it perfect to enjoy with many dishes, particularly seafood and spicy cuisine. The Sekinoichi Shuzo brewery uses only local ingredients (except for the hops) to produce this beer. The water they use is a source of local pride, coming from the mountains and gorges that surround the city of Ichinoseki in the Iwate Prefecture.

Iwate Kura Beer Sekinoichi Shuzo Japanese Herb Ale "Sansho" 11.5oz $7.00 (order here)

Among the geekiest beer enthusiasts Drie Fonteinen, along with Cantillon, are the cultiest of all. Based in Beersel in the outskirts of Brussels, Drie Fonteinen specializes in crafting blended lambics known as gueze. These sour beers are made with organically grown ingredients, using spontaneous (indigenous yeast) fermentation and are unfiltered and unpasteurized. The Beersel Lager is a pilsner made in the lambic style, using the same lambic ingredients. It is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and allowed to go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This has a deliciously slight bitterness and a really pure taste. Says brewer Armand Debelder, "Beer is our passion, Beersel is the result."

Drie Fonteinen Beersel Lager, Drie Fonteinen (Belgium) 330ml $5.40 (order here)

Brasserie de la Senne based in Brussels is one of Belgium's smallest breweries with a fierce dedication to tradition and quality. Its beers are unpasteurized, unfiltered, and free of any additives. One of its most celebrated beers is the Crushable, a collab with Tired Hands Brewing in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The latest version is this Crushable de Table, a true farmhouse ale. 4.2 ABV. Bright bitter flavors with a round refreshing body. A favorite of serious beer enthusiasts, scoring 97 points overall in But wine lovers would find this equally alluring for its freshness and bright herbal, bitter flavors. A stunning all-around beer.

De La Senne "Crushable de Table", Brasserie de la Senne (Belgium) 330ml $5.45 (order here)