Matching Japanese flavors with wine! It is the cooking and the sauce that matters.

Mami Whelehan of Pieroth, Japan

When wine was the new kid in Japan, questions always popped up with the question whether wine can go with Japanese food.  Now two decades later, people in Japan seem to have little problem drinking wine with all kinds of Japanese regional and international cuisine.

Yet, people still worry about matching wine and food so I asked Mami Whelehan, the P.R.Director of Pieroth, Japan for her expertise.

Whelehan has set up hundreds of elegant food and wine matching –meet the winemakers—dinners in Japan at some of Tokyo’s poshest restaurants. Her ability to match fine wines from around the world with a variety of cuisines inspires awe among picky wine and food writers in Tokyo.

Whelehan immediately noted that when people talk about Japanese food matching wine, most people are thinking about food that is eaten in a restaurant, not home food.

Visiting wine people are taken to restaurants and have their wines matched with exquisite dishes, but few have ever eaten in a Japanese household. “Sushi and Teppanyaki are restaurant foods, not home foods.”

How about Riesling?

According to Whelehan, German wine are great food wines, but their (Germany’s) promotion circle is conservative, which limits the number of people who can access their wines.

“That is why the tasting event ‘The Riesling Ring’ held each year in Tokyo is wonderful, because one fantastic grape which is made in many styles, by many wine regions and wine makers is showcased.”

German wines have the image of being too sweet, though they come in a variety of styles, are highly acidic, yet fruity to lusciously rich.

“However, young Japanese prefer soft, fruity and tender wines. They can’t cope with acidity as they are used to drinking Coke daily.”

German wines also have an advantage as Japanese women think of Germany as a romantic country with the Romantic road and famous composers. However, German names are almost impossible to pronounce.

WINE AND FOOD MATCHING—it is the cooking and the sauce that determines the wine.

Avocado,Kobosu, Soy Sauce & Wasabi

 

Mami Whelehan then led us through an experiment with little saucers of:

Avocado
Kobosu (citrus)
Soy sauce
Wasabi
&
Three glasses of winesfrom Argentina.
A white Torrentes
a rosé Malbec
a red Malbec

Whelehan said when matching food and wine the main key is to adjust the flavors and weight.

“For example, an avocado is fruity and creamy.  On its own, it goes with a nice medium Chardonnay or rosé. Both have similar body when matching food and wine.”

The best match in flavors and weight with plain, unadorned avocado was the rosé!

Next, we were asked to add some Kobosu juice to a small saucer containing avocado. The citrus gave the creamy avocado a citrus edge, which Whelehan said would demand a more acidic and edgy wine. The perfect match was the floral, but acidic Torrontes.

Our next experiement, we added some soy sauce to another saucer of avocado. Suddenly the best match was the Malbec.

Whelehan explained that the milky lactic acids in the Malbec from the secondary Malolactic fermentation matched the lactic acidity in the soy sauce.  Add a high quality wasabi to this mix, and the fruit in the Malbec cools and melds with the wasabi.

Whelehan’s next example was Shabu-Shabu, thin strips of tender pork swished through steaming water to cook it.

Serve the pork with a citrusy Ponzu sauce and the flavors become lighter, so a lighter wine would match.

Dip the cooked pork into an oiler & heavier Goma, creamy sesame sauce, and you hit the middle weight in wine.

Dip the pork in a spicy sauce and the matching wine would be a fruity red.

Whelehan said, “Also, think of what food tastes like when you cook it differently.  If you taste chicken, grilled without the skin and serve it with lemon juice, you can’t taste the chicken, only the lemon.”

Next she said, “The purpose of making wine was that it was to be drunk as a beverage with food. When we are drinking wine we are not just checking the wine, we are expecting a marriage, complimenting each other.”

“Sushi and Teppanyaki are restaurant foods, not home foods.  Something like Nikujaga ( Japanese stewed meat and vegetables) is traditional home cooked food and Malbec would suit it.   Malbec goes with a variety of food flavors and textures.  At my home we have tofu with olive oil, salt and Kobosu with Malbec.”

A few flavor changes, changes the wine.

WHELEHAN’S EXPERIMENTAL HOMECOOKED JAPANESE MENU

An experimental menu would be salmon as a starter with Malbec, as salmon is not a white fish.

Then have Goma Dofu (sesame seed tofu) with a good quality German white wine.

However, if you prefer Miso , of any color, with your food, then a red wine matches. For the salad, please–no pickled vegetables, instead use balsamic vinegar.

The next dish would be Tara (cod) and a heavy spicy sauce or a soy based sauce  which a Malbec would fit with the flavors and weight.

Then Malbec with Nikujaga as it has sugar and soy sauce . Or pork spareribs in soy sauce.

For dessert, so you think Japanese sweets only go with green tea?

Turns out that Daifuku, Omochi and Anko,  are terrific with German Kabinett level or Spatlese level wines! As the German wine grapes have been picked riper with fuller flavors, they still retain high acidity to cut through sweetness.

If Karinto, deep fried black sugar, is your kind of sweet, then a medium bodied red wine is your match, as in wine it is the fruit which provides the feeling of sweetness.

So basically a few wines have taken you through a whole Japanese home cooked  menu, complimenting and matching weight, acidity, spices and sweetness.  Gochi so sama deshita!

Copyright: Sandra Shoji 2011 サンドラ ショージ

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Valentine’s Day– a tale of blind dates, aphrodisiac wine, high heels, forks and ice cream.

Moscatel and strawberries laced with chocolate. (photo:Hiroshi Shoji)

Valentine’s Day in Japan used be shocking. Women giving ‘obligation chocolate’ to male bosses and co-workers.  Recently, the pendulum is swinging back to Valentine’s Day, as a day for ‘the ladies’. However, instead many Japanese women are giving not giving Valentine’s Day chocolate and wine to males, but instead their female friends.

Long ago, in the misty past February 15, was the Roman’s highly honored festival of Lupercalia. Luper means wolf, and rituals were held possibly honoring Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who legend says were suckled by a she-wolf.

The festival included a lottery where young men drew the names of unmarried women from jars. During the festival the blind dates got intimately acquainted over feasts of food and wine. Were these the origins of Valentine’s Day messages?  As Rome spread its empire to Gaul and Britain, so were its customs.

The patron saint of love, St. Valentine, true dentity unknown.
Was he a Christian martyr, executed on February 14, 269, who left friendship note for his jailer’s blind daughter, signed “Love from your Valentine”.

Or was he was a priest, sentenced to death on February 14th for secretly marrying soldiers banned from wedded bliss by the Emperor Claudius II who believed soldiers’ only love should be the Roman Empire.

The history of love has not been easy, as love was considered an out of control emotion and definitely not a sane feeling. For most of history, marriage was to gain land and wealth.

Our next patron of love was Catherine de’ Medici.
A wealthy 14 year old Florentine teenager, she was sent to marry the Duke of Orleans, France’s future king Henry II in 1533. Catherine decided to wow France’s medieval court with Italian graceful living.  It seemed that the French court’s idea of a glamorous banquet was baked boar preserved from spoilage with Asian spices and eaten with a dagger.

Catherine’s power-dowry included the best of Venice.  Glittering mirrors and glass wine goblets, along with gold cutlery including a shocking new instrument for carrying food to mouth, the fork.

Her entourage included poets spinning tales of romance and chefs bringing Italian fresh herbs and fruits, and full-bodied wines. The chefs also brought the secret of making a magical treat, ice cream.

Catherine, extremely plain and short, worked with an unknown shoemaker to enable her to tower seductively over her subjects, creating Europe’s first high-heels.

Until the late 1900’s a Parisian aphrodisiac rage was drinking Champagne from a high-heeled slipper. Today, the aphrodisiac of choice for most women is chocolate, and wines that just make a sensual match.

STAR PICKS- Sweets for my Sweet:

Gaspar Florido Jerez, Moscatel, Vine Dulce Natural Y Varietal, Pedro Romero, Spain, available at Nissin, Tokyo

Amber colored with a hint of pink, made from Muscat grapes, probably the first domesticated eating and wine grape, originally from the Middle East. The nose has hints of raisins, rose petal jam, maple syrup and brandied blood oranges.

Deviation, Quady, Madera, California, available at Nissin, Tokyo.

Andrew Quady is the master of unique dessert wines. He says Deviation is a love potion, as it includes Domiana, which was used since Mayan times in Central and South America as an aphrodisiac. Orange Muscat wine is infused with leaved from Scented Geranium leaves along with dried leaves and flowers from Damiana, (aromatized wines have flowers herbs or spices seeped in the wine to draw out their flavors, scents or medicinal properties)  Can be used in cocktails or as a dessert wine. Heavenly scents of carnations, lavender, sage, a bit of anise and plums.

 

 

Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre, Cline Cellars, Contra Costa County, 2008, N.California. available at Hotei Wines.


Mourvedre originally known as Mataro was from Spain before it crept up the Mediterranean coast to southern Rhone where is it is used in S.Rhone reds wines. In California it is one of the grapes used by wine makers near San Francisco, known as the ‘Rhone Rangers’. Fred Cline’s Oakley Ranch is 40 miles east of San Francisco and Cline has some of the oldest vines in California.

Old vines while producing few bunches of grapes, produce intensely rich flavors. Cline wines are value for money, and get high Parker Points.  A rich, but dry red wine with nuances of baked meats, black leather, raisins in chocolate, bitter cherries, and lush black fruit. Fantastically versatile with grilled meat or chocolate cake.  The Jarviar Bardem & Penelope Cruz of wines.

Banyuls Rouge ‘Cuvée Joseph Géraud’,  Banyuls, France. Berry Bros & Rudd, Japan.

Banyuls is France’s most southerly appellation near its border with Spain, right on the Mediterranean. Wines are traditionally made from red Grenache grapes. While the wine is still on its skins, grape spirits are added which kills of the yeast, and keeps a higher level of grape sugars in the wine. The wines are aged in older oak barrels left in the sun. This baking during the day, and cooling at night increases the wine’s capability to age and adds layers of complexity. A tawny beauty with a nose and palate of Black Okinawan Sugar, caramel, bitter chocolate, Chinese tea and Christmas pudding.

Dorrien Estate The Old Contemptibles Very Old Tawny, Barossa, South Australia, available at Village Cellars, Japan.

Barossa’s history is full of long aged dessert or sticky wines that have no problem aging 20-80 years. The name, ‘The Old Contemptibles’ comes from a story about the British Expeditionary Force, regular army group of soldiers serving under General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien. The soldiers stopped the German Army at Le Cateau in 1914, supposedly earning the wrath of Kaiser Wilhelm who called them a ‘contemptible little army’.

Dorrien Estate specializes in making wine in small batches, and is the only certified organic winery in the Barossa. This tawny port-style wine is a  blend of  Cabernet and Shiraz.  Aged in wood so that oxidization lets the wine breath while the color turns from red to a rich tawny-amber color. Excellent with walnuts dipped in chocolate.

Copyright: Sandra Shoji,  サンドラ ショージ

Naked Champagne for the New Year

Naked Champagne for the New Year!  

Jean Francois Clouet Tokyo (photo-Hiroshi Shoji)

Jean Francois Clouet is everything the ideal French man should be. Boyishly handsome, full of Gallic shrugs, heart-felt pronouncements, huge smiles, and hilariously witty with a passion for Champagne and fast cars. Also, Jean Francois Clouet likes his Champagne– on a fur rug in front of a fireplace, with the finest caviar, but Champagne with fish is a folly!
Naked Champagne is bare of dosage– the cane sugar and older wine mixture added to most Champagne before it is sealed with a Champagne cork. His preference for Champagne in its purest form began as a rebellion against being bullied.
Clouet’s story came out abruptly during an interview when I inquired about his ‘family’.  Mistakenly, he thought I said ‘ farmer’ which ruffled his feathers. Clouet explained, “I have bad memories of being bullied at my village school by children from the big Champagne houses. My family was a small Champagne producer, Andre Clouet. They teased me calling me ‘the farmer’.”
However, Clouet listened carefully to his tormentors, as they boasted about the secret recipes behind their families’ Champagne blend of different vintages of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes. Stubbornly, Clouet decided to create a totally unique style, using only the region’s most difficult grape, Pinot Noir. “For me, Pinot Noir is ‘an experience’. It is not easy. Our family vineyard in Bouzy is located extremely well and expresses the purity of Pinot Noir.”
While Clouet’s family may have been called ‘farmers’, their ancestors were wealthy printers for France’s kings. He proudly remarks that his family also printed France’s first wine label.
“My brother and I never had any pocket money, so we had to borrow money for sweets from the Champagne house children,” Clouet says.  “But my father never stinted on money for education or sports.” Clouet’s first passion was for to become a footballer (soccer), especially as the Champagne houses sponsored France’s champion team of Reims.
But Clouet’s vision to create a perfect Champagne led to making his first Champagne in 1996.  ‘Wine is like an artist building a fantastic building. My life is absolutely nothing compared to a vineyard’s history.” In his opinion, ” In the last 100 years there have been three top vintages in Champagne. In my lifetime of 34 years there may have been only one or two best vintages.”
Clouet’s dream is to be able to make wine from a top vintage, putting his signature on a bottle that people will still be able to drink in 100 years.
Although he worries that with global warming the Champagne region may become too warm to produce Champagne. Already many Champagne houses have bought vineyard land in Southwestern England, on same Kimmeridgian clay soil belt the Champagne region.
Clouet uses an antique wine press, but says, “Organic is a joke. It is impossible to work the same way your ancestors did two hundred years ago. We are not in the same environment.  Work with nature, but involve some technology.”
Silver Brut Nature without dosage is Clouet’s work of art. “My Brut Nature is like a car.  If you drive a car at 250 kilometers per hour, you can make no mistakes. A wine maker can’t make mistakes with a Brut Nature.”
” The true test when judging the best Champagnes is to taste them at the lowest amount of sugar, when there is no sugar to cover their mistakes. Besides, too much sugar kills a healthy wine,” says Clouet.
Pouring silver bubbles (photo-Hiroshi Shoji0
Clouet is passionately strict about how to drink Silver Brut Nature. “Pinot Noir is an animal, so when you taste Champagne, no shower! You will be disturbed by the smell of your shampoo, so stay within the same pH as the body.”  He continues, “The best environment for enjoying Champagne is a fur rug, a fireplace, a dish of the best caviar and a blonde with the silver blue eyes of the Scandinavian sky.”  While a girlfriend introduced him to caviar with Champagne, he declares, “Champagne with fish is a folly.”
Clouet often compares his wines to cars, “I have many cars. Once when I had finished working and I was dirty, the car salesman didn’t wait on me. So I told him I wanted the top BMW in his shop in my courtyard by the next morning.  Later when I got home my mother said I would be killed for owing a car like that.  Later when I had to fly to Cyprus the car was stolen from my driveway.”
Clouet say his family’s first break was conquering the Scandinavian market. Scandinavians drink more Andre Clouet than any other Champagne.  “Our price was perfect and soon we were in 600 shops in Scandinavia without doing any marketing.” Clouet was proud when his family’s Champagne went on the wine list at El Bulli’s in Spain, selected as the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine.
On his travels, Clouet discovered his Champagne tasted different in different countries. Recently, in while high humidity climates like Japan and Taiwan, He noted his Silver Brut Nature seemed sweeter.
Good news for Clouet is that his Champagnes are even more in demand, but harder for his Japanese importer to get allotments for.  Good news for wine lovers in Japan is that the prices tend to be lower for Clouet than abroad.

Star Picks to toast for New Year’s 2011:
Silver Brut Nature
Pale gold with a pinkish tinge, this wine’s tiny bubbles cavort endlessly in the glass. The nose is packed with freshly baked bread, dried fruit, lemons and ripe apples. The blend is Grand Cru vineyard 100% Pinot Noir grapes with no older vintages or cane sugar added. As thrilling as driving a Porsche.

Grande Reserve Brut NV
Basically, Silver Brut, but no longer naked.  A slight dosage intensifies the baked apples, lightly toasted honey cake and lemon flavors. It handles like vintage, black Jaguar.

Millesime 2002
To his beloved Pinot Noir, Clouet has added full-bodied Chardonnay. This style is intensely luscious with pear, nut and brioche flavors. Keep this wine in a cool place until New Year’s Day. Perfect for sipping in a chauffeured Rolls Royce.

(Copyright 2011, Sandra Shoji , サンドラ ショージ)

Holiday wine gifts for high-maintanence wine lovers

Deck the halls with Kracher, Lohr and Gruet, fa,la,la,la,la,la. (photo-Hiroshi Shoji)

Wine lovers aren’t easy to please when buying holiday gifts.  Their friends and loved ones live in terror that they will buy the wrong wine or the wrong vintage, upsetting the sensitivities of the demanding ‘connoisseur’.  So instead of wine, why not give something wine-related to satisfy a high maintenance wine geek.

Recently, I spied a visiting French wine maker wearing a tie sprinkled with frolicking images of bulldogs, grapes, wine glasses, wine bottles and the letters ‘RP100’.   Ah, the perfect gift for males who only drink wines rated 90 points and above by the world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker. Available at Parker’s website, the description says that 100% of the proceeds from tie sales goes to The Wine Advocate Fund of Philanthropy to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the AppleTree Institute.

Who says that wine lovers lack a sense of humor?   In “John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused” DVD, John Cleese, of ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ fame, wittily, but gently guides beginner wine lovers through the endless maze of grapes, regions and wine brands.
A wine enthusiasts must-see is Jonathan Nossiter’s long, long movie ‘Mondovino’. A fascinating and eye-opening series of interviews with of some of the international wine world’s main players, several who dig their own graves with their tongues.  Advanced warning, Nossiter speaks 7-8 languages fluently in the movie, so get a DVD with sub-titles you can read. It is also a good idea to split the movie into 40 minute segments, spread over a couple of nights.
For impatient wine buffs who can’t wait 30-50 minutes for white or sparkling wine to chill, there is a wide range of electric wine chillers. Some look like standing wine coolers, while others are horizontal.  Wine buffs obsessed with correct temperatures might fancy an Infrared Thermometer with Laser Targeting Wine Thermometer. Impressive for whipping out at a wine shop or restaurant to laser your about-to-be-purchased wine checking if it has been kept at the correct temperature.
Wine people who love games are in luck, as suddenly there is an explosion in wine tasting party games. Even a ‘Murder Mystery Party – A Taste for Wine and Murder’, a who-dun-it dinner party complete with instructions of pre-dinner shopping, secret clues and a murder to solve.
Wine traditionalists, snug in their beds, dreaming of joining a burgundy-colored, velvet-robed European wine tasting society might want the gangsta rapper Bling of a Silver Tastevin dangling from a chunky chain.  Used in French wine cellars to taste wine from the barrels, the tastevin’s shallow, silver saucer’s dimpled surface reflects a wine’s color by candlelight.  Being made from silver instead of glass insures no shattered shards flying through the air if it hits the stone floor of a wine cave.
Another traditionalist must-have is the antique-patterned Hanging Cork Bottle Accessory. Hung like a necklace around the neck of a wine bottle or a decanter, a silver plated chain links two silver grape clusters proudly clasping a cork like a crown jewel.
However, if you feel brave and do give wine, give something unique, bold and luscious, and definitely a cut above the rest. Our survey for December is, ‘What is your favorite Holiday wine?’
1998 Kracher from Austria (photo-Sandra Shoji)

 

(Copyright 2010, 2011-Sandra Shoji, ”サンドラ ショージ” )

Wine and Mushrooms, Japan’s Sensual Magic!

Autumn in Japan is mushroom heaven.

Rural biking expeditions on narrow Japanese foothill roads edged with maple trees lead into chilly pine forests. What seems to be stacks of neatly cut firewood are nurseries for  Shiitake mushrooms.

Wine and mushrooms are sensual magical friends. The key is pheromones, chemical equivalents to hormones. Pinot Noir’s earthy, forest floor, spice and musk odors are said to mimic male androstenone. Mushrooms have lots of protein and B vitamins.

 

In Japan they are the perfect antidote to steamy summers that wring the life out of people.Pinot Noir’s ancestral home of Burgundy is home to pricy pungent truffles sniffed out by truffle pigs and truffle dogs. Burgundy’s cuisine is packed with   soul-satisfying fungi dishes that put some meat on your bones in preparation for winter. Mushroom or truffle omelets, mushroom and chestnut stuffed roasted fowl or beef. Mushroom stews or large raviolis plump with duck stuffing floating in broth speckled with shaved truffles.
The natural wine match is Burgundy’s red wine grape, Pinot Noir, smelling of forest floor and wild things. However, Burgundy’s other red grape is Gamay, which in Japan is known for the loads of drink-up soon Beaujolais Nouveau that hit these shores each November like clock-work. However, some wine shops do carry Beaujolais from one of Beaujolais’s top ten villages from small wineries. These can be velvety rich with an edge of cherry, especially with a few years of maturity.
Mushroom & Wine Breakfast at Tasting Australia (photo-Hiroshi Shoji)
Autumn in Japan have restaurants celebrating the return of cool weather with mushroom tempura, Chawanmushi—a steamed egg custard and Matsutake Gohan, rice steamed with Matsutake (pine) mushrooms.
Tiny, earthenware or China teapots of fragrant Dobinmushi appear in restaurants and at home. The pale broth is served in a tiny teapot (dobin)and topped with an even tinier inverted cup holding an even tinier wedge of a citrus called yuzu. It is enough to make you feel like you are at Alice’s tea party with the Mad Hatter.
Floating in the dobin’s broth are usually two ginko nuts, a slice of fish cake, a shrimp, a smidgeon of skinless chicken and a dainty sprig of mitsuba a Japanese wild parsley. The crowning glory is a single slice of delicate Matsutake pine mushroom whose price of Y15,000 and up for three mushrooms at a local farmer’s market is enough to make you want to go into the business of Matsutake growing
For those who can afford to buy whole Matsutake mushrooms, the tradition is to cut them in half lengthwise and grill them over smokeless charcoal, and serve with a squeeze of the citrus Sudashi.
The key to matching Japanese mushroom dishes with wine is gauging the mushrooms’ meatiness and flavors. Delicate Dobinmushi would be overwhelmed by an oaky, buttery Chardonnay, but might work with an unoaked, dry Chablis. Yet, if your mushrooms are button type and in a creamy white sauce, then a buttery Chardonnay is a perfect choice.
However, dobinmuchi’s lemony yuzu and celeryleaf-like mitsuba (trefoil) better suits a young, cool-climate Riesling. Pale gold as late autumnal sunlight, Riesling’s citrus, apple or Asian peach flavors, low alcoholic content and higher acidity make it a terrific food wine. Cooler climate Rieslings have more citrus, stone and green apple flavors, while warmer climate Rieslings are rounder and with peach nuances.
German Kabinett (level of ripeness) Rieslings are off-dry with lower alcohol and zippy high acidity. Young Rieslings from Austria, Alsace and New Zealand are still crisp, but with higher levels of alcohol. Those from Australia and Washington State tend to be fuller flavored with more body.
Meatier mushroom dishes like Mushroom Risotto,Portobello or Shiitake mushrooms stuffed with bread crumbs and cheese find a nice match with a bold Barolo from Italy’s northwest Piedmont, made from the king of Italian grapes, Nebbiolo.
Tomato and mushroom dishes need wines that can handle the acidity in tomatoes. The classic match is the Sangiovese grape, whose most famous wine is Chianti Classico from Tuscany, Italy.  Recently, Sangiovese is also popping up in Australia and California.
Few white wines match tomato dishes. Yet, Austrian chefs and cooks often pair Austria’s elegantly robust grape, Gruner Veltliner with pasta or cutlet dishes made using tomatoes. Tasting of white pepper, lemon and floral honey, Gruner’s acidity matches tomatoes’ acidity. Also, Gruner’s slight green character matches the greenness found in more store-bought tomatoes.
For autumn days when the frost is on the pumpkin, cook up some brown mushroom soup or stew, a steak smothered in Shiitake mushrooms or sautéed Pierogies or Gyoza stuffed with potatoes and brown mushrooms. Or even pastry stuffed with smoked duck and mushrooms.

Duck and mushroom stuffed pastry (photo-Sandra Shoji)

 

Their richness and heavier weight suit subtly oaked red wines like a Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, South Australia, a New Zealand Pinot Noir or delicate Zinfandel like Ridge.
Another grape that can handle hearty dishes is Pinotage from South Africa. Pinotage is a cross between the delicate Pinot Noir and the sturdy Cinsault grapes. When made well with a few years of maturity, it is a very suave wine with essences of mushrooms, wild strawberries, violets, blueberries and smoke.
On a final note, while visiting Food-Ex 2010 in Japan, a huge food and beverage annual event that draws exhibitors and visitors worldwide, we discovered truffles are now being grown in Hokkaido. While they may not need pigs or dogs to sniff them out as they won’t be found in pungent forests, they still tasted sensually delicious.
(Copyright 2010: ( Sandra Shoji-サンドラ ショージ)

Cellaring Wine During Japan’s Sultry Summers

Wine in Japan’s humid, sultry summers, don’t sweat it.  Just use some creative thinking!

Akita seaside temple (Photo by-Sandra Shoji)

A common question is what to do with wines during Japan’s torrid summers. Well, if temperatures of 32 C plus have you wilting and sweating, how do you think your wines feel? Luckily, most wines are made for immediate consumption, so if you have some, “Drink up!”

For wines that get better with age, wine cellaring in Japan during sultry summer calls for creativity. When hunting around the house for some place to store your better wines remember the rules of wine storage.
First, wines need a constant temperature of about 13 C with 50 percent to 75 percent humidity to stay alive. Second, exposure to high temperatures dry out corks.  Meanwhile, as the wine heats it expands, and soon wine is dripping out of the bottle. As wine drips out, bacteria creeps in. Third, wine is like a vampire. It likes a dark, quiet place to rest with no disturbing vibrations.
Therefore, the enemies of wine are vibration, heat, sudden changes in temperature, and bright lights.  A lot of people store their wines on their kitchen counter. Yes, often when  you are watching a TV sit-com,  you see the stage set with wines stored in the kitchen next to a hot oven and above a rumbling, steaming dishwasher.  What a great way to murder wine!
If you  are worried about keeping only a few good wines during summer, roll them in newspaper and lay them in your refrigerator’s vegetable bin. Bottles which are closed with a Stelvin closure  can can be stored standing up.  (Stelvins are very expensive and high tech screw caps which are used more and more by whole wine regions.)
Refrigerators used to produce too much vibration to store wine, but Japanese refrigerators are silent and still.  My fridge has separate temp controls for each section or drawer, and even a place in the veggie bin to stand wines with Stelvin closures upright.
If the fridge is full, then place the bottles in big Styrofoam boxes taped shut for good insulation to minimize temperature swings and put them in the coolest part of your home.
Storing wine in wooden cabinets is not recommended, as processed wood made with flame-retardants can interact with wine corks, producing TBA (tribromoanisol), a variety of cork taint that makes wine smell and taste like moldy paper.
And if you are lucky enough to have a friend that lives in the countryside and has a stone storage house with a constant temperature, or a cooled warehouse for storing fruit, you might ask them if you can storage a case of wine. Make sure the wines are either reclining on their sides, or even on their heads, en point!  Your wine would probably appreciate a summer vacation in the quiet countryside.

 

Mt. Chokai, Akita, near sea, rice fields and fruit orchards. (photo-Hiroshi Shoji)

Storing wine in rental wine cellars is not easy in Japan.  Some importers do store or mature wines for you, but only the wines they sell and at a cost. When you store your wines with a dealer, make sure you get visiting rights. One wine lover was shocked to find his pricy wines sweltering in a wine storage warehouse where the staff forgot to check the thermostat during August vacation.
American sommelier, Yukari Pratt, says electric wine storage units are a must for serious wine lovers in Japan. However, smaller, pricier units sell best in Japan for home use, as most wine lovers don’t have the space for a large unit. The upside is that larger units get discounted at many big box and electrical goods stores in Japan.
However,  before you buy, check your house or apartment’s construction.  A large wine cellar filled with bottles of wine is a hefty load!  Often rental houses and condos in Japan have strict weight limits. (no water beds either)
Different brands of wine cellars have major differences.  Emmanuel Bia, a wine cellar specialist, entered the wine cellar business after he was constantly asked to store the Luxembourg wines which customers bought from him.
Bia says there are basically 3 wine cellar cooling technologies. A compressor type using refrigerant gas is similar to home refrigerators, is easy to service and powerful.
The almost noiseless absorption system uses ammonia gas, yet because it uses ammonia it is difficult to service. The thermoelectric or Peltier, cooling system , while also quiet, has less power, while consuming more electricity.
Bia says when buying a cellar to check that it has sparkling wine bottle storage space, and also humidity and air recycling functions. He prefers the easy to maintain compressor types, for example the Vineacave V-40, holding 40 bottles, either stand alone or built in at about 100.000 yen + tax.
For the temperature obsessed the Vintec V50DG2e, priced between 128.000-150.000 yen + tax, holds 50 bottles and has dual compartments.  One can be set at 12 C for maturing wines, the second can be used for chilling wines.
For those seriously into aging wine, the French-made Artevino will hold 100 to 280 bottles, selling between 420.000 and 520.000 yen + tax.
For DIYers on a budget, the book Cellaring Wine: do-it-yourself solutions by Australian wine man Tyson Stelzer, makes converting an old, working refrigerator to a climate-controlled wine cellar easy. Check out http://www.winepress.com.au/
Or just  drink up and then wait for summer temperatures to cool.  Wine importers  arrange for shipments to arrive in early autumn or mid-spring. This not only keeps their shipping and storage costs lower, but also is easier for their customers who can correctly store the wine. Then you can begin to store your wine in your entry  way, which is often the coolest part of the house or apartment from fall to spring.  Remember to keep the bottles horizontal so the corks don’t dry out.
Copyright 2010:  ( Sandra Shoji-サンドラ ショージ)

Wine tasting needs a library of wine smells.

Heirloom Tomatoes at a Farmers' Market, Fleurieu Pennisula, South Australia (photo by Hiroshi Shoji)

Do you smell?  If someone blindfolded you and then put 5 objects in front of your nose, could you identify them by smell alone?  Could you describe a smell to someone who may have never smelled it before?

Wine tasting is mostly wine smelling.  Wine makers put a lot of work into making their wines smell heavenly.  Yet, at the same time, wine lovers panic when asked what a specific wine smells or tastes like. “Well, it smells…like wine”, is often the safe reply.
Our ancestors used their sense of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell to survive.  However, recently most people seem to have lost their sense of smell.
Yet, one whiff of freshly cut grass, a car with real leather seats, or a musty school book and we suddenly are snapped back in time to our childhood.  What is it about smells?  Most of the time we can’t remember them, but we can’t forget the ones that meant most to us either.
When taste wine and even food, most of what we taste is what we smell.  Think of when you have a cold, and everything seems to lack flavor. To become a star at wine tasting you need to start developing a library of smells as you can only smell in wine, something you have experienced smelling before.
Japanese wine drinkers often smell soy sauce in Bordeaux’s red wines.  Wine consumers in Britain describe red Bordeaux wines as smelling like black currents and pencil shavings. While most British have smelled and tasted soy sauce, few Japanese have experienced black currents. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s classic description is smelling like cats’ pee on a gooseberry bush. If you grew up both cat-less and gooseberry-less, you might be clueless as to was that smell might be like.
Step one to building your library is to smell everything. Go to the local supermarket, or even better, farmers’ market.  Many farmers markets sell heirloom fruits and vegetables which should have more intense smells and flavors. Smell the different varieties of locally grown tomatoes, melons and peaches. Smell the differences between ripe and unripe pineapples. Grow some herbs in your kitchen window. Can you tell the difference between the smell of oregano and rosemary?
In the autumn find as many kinds of apples you can and memorize the nuances of their  particular smells.  Start hanging around gardens smelling flowers. Visit a lumber yard and smell the various types of wood.  Pop in at an Indian spice shop and inhale the magical herbs and spices. Tea and coffee stores are catalogued like libraries and their odors waft into your nose.
Spices, beans and more in Adelaide Market (photo by Hiroshi Shoji)
Step two is to relate those smells to wine. There are supposed to be around 500 chemical compounds in wine. Many of these share the same volatile components as fruits and vegetables. Not surprisingly as wine is made from grapes, a fruit. Other wine smells come fermentation and maturation. Pyrazines give a green pepper aroma to Cabernet Sauvignon. Ethyl caprylate gives Chardonnay a pineapple aroma.  American oak is said to give the wines matured in it a coconut nuance.  Secondary malolatic fermentation gives Chardonnays a buttery smell.
Discover which grapes give wines special smells. Gewurztraminer, no matter where it is made– smells like lychees, roses and ginger.  Grapes affected by botytis, or noble rot, a good kind of mold, which raisinates grapes to produce lusciously rich wines like Sauternes or late harvest Chenin Blancs,  smells like honey.  Champagne has a fresh baked bread nose that comes from the extra yeast in the bottle. Champagne and other fine traditionally made sparkling wines often have a whiff of sherry if they has been maturing for a long time in chalky caves.
Step three is to take an aromatherapy class. Learn to distinguish layers of scents, in terms of base notes, middle notes and high notes, as well as how to create a blend.  Learning the subtleties of scents facilitates building up the tiny corners of your olfactory library to increase the recognition of wine smells. It also reminds you which smells most people love, and are increasingly found in wine.
At a recent sumo tournament a friend said to me as a sumo wrestler passed, “I love how they smell. One whiff!  Vanilla and coconut.”  Vanilla and coconut are scents people love. Vanilla is associated with home baked cookies, breads and cakes.  Coconut is the dreamy smell of hot sunny days and turquoise clear seas at the beach, and long tropical drinks at night. With the rise of Starbucks and espresso machines, coffee is another comfort smell.  The queen of comfort smells must be chocolate, a smell which is increasingly found in rich, red wines.

Portuguese egg tarts with coconut--the smell of N.World Chardonnay

Wine aged in an American oak barrel with a heavy toast (heavily charred by fire) gives wine coffee and chocolate smells.  A lighter toast and we can smell vanilla and coconut. Wine makers know what smells push our buttons, and we keep finding more in our wines.  A whole fruit basket of fruit is in our glass recently, because we like intense smells and flavors.
Yet, even the difference between the smell of fresh fruit and dried fruit is to be noted. The younger the wine, the more it is like a teenager, with shirttails hanging out, fresh fruit personality all over the place. A few more years of maturation and experiences, and the wine mellows into a smoother, less bumpy ride of subtle dried fruits and nuts.
An elderly wine enthusiast remarked during a wine class in England, that a wine smelled like ‘ a maid’s bedroom’.  His wife looked startled, and asked how he would know!  The scent of the maturing Pinot Noir was the scent of lavender, face powder, roses, well-polished leather shoes and polished furniture. Exactly like an English maid’s bedroom when he was a small child.
So if you can’t identify a smell that you have never smelled before, then it is never too late to start your smell library.
(Copyright 2010 by Sandra Shoji at Tokyo Wine Matters- サンドラ ショージ)