Japan

0

Kyle Stewart of the Cultured Cup

Kyle Stewart of the Cultured Cup

Integral to Texsom International Wine Awards (TIWA) is the Sommelier Retreat. Top sommeliers from across North America are invited to help serve TIWA by preparing wines and glassware for blind tasting during the competition, writing tasting notes for award winning wines, and also doing clean up throughout the competition and after. Integral to their experience though is an educational and training component where they are able to work with mentors from the sommelier community to develop their writing skills, do tasting exams with Master Sommeliers, and take a series of seminars on aspects of the wine, beverage, food, and hospitality industry and experts in their field. Seminars range from the business side of restaurant wine programs to English Sparkling Wines (taught this year by the venerable Laura Rhys MS from Britain) to this year a seminar on Tea from a Certified Tea Specialist, Kyle Stewart. I led a seminar for the Sommelier Retreat this year as well on Arizona wines. As a result, I was invited to sit in and attend this year’s other sessions. The tea seminar was fascinating and fantastic. (I unfortunately arrived too late to attend Laura’s English sparkling wine course but I heard it was excellent as well.)

Kyle became excited by tea decades ago when he realized it helped focus his attention and he enjoyed the complexity of flavors. Soon after he pursued the Certified Tea Specialist designation from the Speciality Tea Institute and has since become an avid tea advocate running his own coffee and tea business, the Cultured Cup, and also leading seminars on tea, while staying up to date via trips to tea regions and regular tea tastings. He compares the process very much to what we do in wine and by the end of the seminar the parallels were obvious. Just as we study and research the fine tuned aspects of wine growing and production tea can be studied. The picking techniques, growing styles, and varietal complexity of the tea plant greatly resembles what we find in wine. It turns out tasting tea is rather similar as well.

Pu’er, a brick of Chinese tea

As Kyle explained, tea has a 5000 year history. In its origin the drink was used medicinally as a tonic. The early uses of the plant arose in China where people took and steeped pieces of it directly so that the beverage included a rather bitter element. In Burma the leaves were also used as food and the tradition continues today in a Burmese Tea Salad. Kyle said that the first time he enjoyed the dish he loved the flavors so much he ate two back to back and then did not sleep for two days. By eating the entire leaf in that way he absorbed higher levels of caffeine as well. Eventually when people began to process the leaves of the plant they were also able to hone its flavors and structure in the cup leading to it becoming a social beverage enjoyed for pleasure.

Once tea became a more popular drink it also became an exchange commodity. It grew only in certain parts of China however and also is rather delicate to transport so ways to make it safe for travel had to develop. The Pu’er (shown above) is an early form of such ingenuity. The leaves were compressed into a quite firm brick of tea that could then be broken into smaller pieces and steeped. The entire Pu’er can make around 150 cups, and the compressed leaves are even strong enough that they can be steeped multiple times (leading to far more cups than the standard). Such bricks were carried around the Tea and Horse Road (which essentially overlaid the more well-known Silk Road) and used for trade. The Tea and Horse Road gets its name from the quite literal trade of Chinese Tea bricks for Tibetan Horses. From what we know, 10 to 13 bricks of tea could fetch 1 Tibetan horse.

As Kyle clarified, tea is a type of infusion made from a very particular plant. Though the word is used rather loosely today, in actuality tea refers only to a drink infused from dried, crushed leaves of the camelia sinensis plant. Beverages infused from other plants such as rooibos, mint, ginger or other flowers, herbs, or spices properly speaking are infusions or, for the French, tiasne, but not tea.

Camelia sinensis has two major varieties. The Chinese variety is known as camelia sinensis sinensis, has a smaller leaf and does better when brewed at comparatively cooler temperatures. He brews any of these cultivars at 175 degrees F. Darjeeling, of course, is an example.

The Indian variety is known as camelia sinensis assamica and has impressively large elephant ear sized leaves. 1000 year old tea trees still exist today. They are considered a cultural treasure that are not used for producing tea today but would have served emperors in their prime.

Just like wine, tea plants adapt to their environment and, as a result, these two varieties have produced hundreds of different cultivars with unique flavor and structure. The differences also lead to very specific cultivation techniques as well as specific plucking methods for making the tea itself in various styles. As Kyle explained, the quality and flavor of specific teas depends on three key elements: the growing conditions of the plant with vintage variation even being a crucial aspect of fine teas, the care in how the leaves are plucked, and the way in which the plant is processed. Amazingly, the weather 1 to 2 weeks prior to the tree being plucked is the most critical time period for impacting flavor. Excessive rain in this time, for example, can overly dilute the flavors leading to imbalanced tea.

side by side tea tasting

There are five major categories of tea as well as one more utterly rare one. The very finest teas in the world can actually fetch as much as $30,000 per kilo. The five major categories include (progressing in order of intensity and processing complexity, loosely speaking) White, Green, Oolong, Black, and Dark, of which Pu’er (shown above) is a type. Additionally, Yellow tea is distinct from these five, however it is so uncommon it is rarely discussed. In his life Kyle said he’s only had Yellow tea once or twice. It has the most complex processing of the types of tea and is quite expensive.

White tea (shown at the top in the image above) has the simplest processing method. The leaves and leaf buds are gathered – White peony includes both leaves and buds, for example, while Ying Chen includes only leaf buds (which are essentially young leaves), not more developed leaves. It takes 4000 buds to create one pound of tea, and all must be hand plucked so it is quite expensive. How and what is plucked determines the style of white tea. Leaves or leaf buds are then air dried on a screen and no shaping of the leaves occurs. Without shaping there is no cellular breakage, which also prevents any oxidation from happening. As a result, white tea is the lightest in flavor with a tendency towards floral aromas, and the highest in anti-oxidants. Kyle recommends steeping white tea with 175 degree F water for about 3 minutes as the tea is delicate and one wants to capture the nuances of the leaf.

Green tea (shown left above) has specific leaf plucking patterns for different green tea types. The leaves from the variety behind green tea are very stiff and crackle readily so the leaves are set out to wilt after plucking to soften them up, much like the way lettuce leaves wilt when left to air after harvest. Once the leaves have softened they can be moved into shape without breakage. Once leaves are shaped into the appropriate form for the style of green tea the leaf is immediately heated to keep it from oxidizing. This step is crucial as oxidation is an important part of what distinguishes green from black tea. In the heating process, Chinese green tea is ironed or pressed to a hot surface while Japanese green tea is steamed. In comparison, Chinese green tea tends to show nuttier flavors while Japanese green tea is all about umami and vegetal notes. With the delicacy of green tea it should be steeped in a similar fashion to white tea – with 175 degree F water for around 3 minutes.

Oolong tea lets the tea leaves oxidize anywhere from 10 to 95%. The little bit not oxidized lends an additional flavor complexity to the tea in comparison to black tea, which is fully oxidized. The tea master determines when to stop oxidation by aroma and feel of the leaf in relation to the style desired. With the dance of oxidized and unoxidized notes Oolong tea can be quite floral. The intentional oxidation releases quite different aromas from the plant such that an Oolong can be full of natural fruits and flower notes, even tasting exactly like peaches, for example, without any added flavors. Oolong tea can be hot or cold brewed. For hot brewing (shown right above) Oolong he recommends using 195 degree F water for 4 minutes. Cold brewing (shown bottom above), he clarifies, requires more leaves but since the leaves are not extracted in the same way by heat they can be steeped repeatedly and reveal more pretty, uplifted flavors. Ultimately, then, cold brewed Oolong ends up being more economical as well.

Dark tea includes an additional step of fermentation. The method arose from the need to safely transport the beverage at a time when temperature and shelf controls were not possible as they are today. By fermenting the leaf the shelf quality remains consistent. Such teas are generally sold as bricks, such as the image above, or formed cake. Pu’er is one type of dark tea that originates from a specific area of the Yunnan province and is so recognized because it is aged in specific caves of its region, which impart characteristics to the tea much like the limestone caves of Roquefort inform the cheese of that region.

Kyle additionally recommends that filtered water is best used for making fine teas. The mineral content of tap water tends to overpower the more delicate flavors of a high quality tea so that even just a Brita filter improves the flavor. He cautions though that one should not use distilled water.

Interestingly, Kyle has worked with wine specialists to lead wine and tea tastings where in some cases wine and tea pairings are done such as green Kukicha stem tea paired alongside a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, for example. He also though suggests that teas can be an appropriate palate cleanser through serious wine tastings as they not only shift the palate but also refocus the mind.

Additionally he points out the playfulness and import of serving vessels. Cold brewed teas can be served in aperitif and cocktail glasses quite nicely to elevate the experience. Finer examples of Oolong teas do nicely in smaller porcelain. Part of the tea experience that he values is that power of being in the moment present with the full range of sensory experience as well as the steeping process.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

The Iron Chef Morimoto, Ruinart Champagne Cooking Demonstration

This recent weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a cooking demonstration with Master Chef Morimoto including perfect pairings with Ruinart Champagne and the house’s Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaiotis held at Pebble Beach Food & Wine.

Morimoto preparing

Master Chef Morimoto on stage alone, selecting his perfect tools in preparation for the demonstration

I was grateful to be included, knowing he is held in high regard for his sushi, good nature, and cooking talents. What hadn’t registered, however, was that he is held in high regard partially because he is on television showing these things. He is, in fact, one of the original Iron Chefs, and for many the favorite. The truth is, I haven’t had a television hook-up since 1996 (except for one brief stretch in 2000, when Jr. was only a year old and I watched all 10-years of Beverly Hills, 90210 (the original series), skipping the trashy season 8, in 4 months). Some of the heights of fame, as a result, allude me.

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

Master Chef Morimoto and Ruinart Chef de Caves Panaiotis prior to the demonstration

What hadn’t alluded me is Morimoto’s positive reputation. The fame part hit when at the start of the demonstration the audience curtain was opened, and a beautiful, very small, older woman ran across the room ahead of everyone to ensure she got her seat with the best view.

The scene in the mirror

Morimoto’s cooking area set up in advance of the demonstration, as seen in the demonstration mirror

The event, as they explained, was a marriage of two cultures–Japanese and French. The demonstration, then, brought together an account of Japanese sushi tradition, with insights into French wine culture, and advice on how to enjoy the two together in a meal.

The team preparing

the team works on final preparations prior to inviting in the audience

Ruinart’s Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis opened the event explaining, he is happy to give us the chance to enjoy champagne sitting down, with a meal so that it may be more closely appreciated. Also, by drinking bubbles in a wine glass, rather than a flute, the aromas are more accessible. In describing his own history with sparkling wine, Panaiotis explained he’s been drinking champagne pretty much all his life. In the region it is common to place a finger dipped in the wine on a baby’s lips after birth, the first offering to a new life. He also joked, “Champagne is what my grandmother used to drink when she was not so happy.” He went on, “but it is also a beverage we know is not just for special moments. It is for anytime. Champagne makes the moment special.”

Ruinart and Sushi

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and sushi pairing

In thinking about food and wine pairing, Morimoto offered insight in relation to how he also flavors the fish itself. When preparing sushi he has four different levels of tamari, four different densities of sauce. Seafood with no fat–octopus, shrimp, as examples–does well with lighter flavored sauce, lighter tamari. Fish with more fat, mackerel in winter, perhaps, take double the flavor needed as mackerel in summer when there is less fat in the meat. The more fat on the fish the more soy and wasabi you use. Similarly, when thinking about the wine, Panaiotis offers, a clear fish pairs with a really clear wine. The flavors accented on the fish, then, or added to a dish, can echo the flavors of the wine.

Morimoto explains fish quality

Chef Morimoto introduces the first course, explaining the differing cuts on a single fish

The Ruinart blanc de blanc is served to us alongside a Japanese white fish that is unique to the region but resembles an American Amber Jack. The Ruinart rosé, on the other hand, comes in a bit more savory, and is thus paired with preparations that have hardier flavors, such as fried dumpling in tomato, salmon, and uni. The team offers too that it would work with lighter meats, such as duck.

Big screen helps the audience see details

the demonstration included large screen close ups for the audience

Both wines, however, are delicate, all about subtle layers of rich flavor. It is here that Panaiotis gets excited about his wines with Japanese food. Morimoto’s preparations resemble a description of the wine–simple, clean food with rich flavors and freshness.

Panaiotis discusses the history of Ruinart w Morimoto's help

Morimoto and Panaiotis worked together. As Morimoto prepared more intricate cuts, Panaiotis was able to discuss the food and wine. Morimoto also offers insight on the champagne along with Panaiotis.

Chef Morimoto has been studying and developing his cooking techniques for well over 30-years, and offers tips to the audience on how to choose the best fish. First, he explains, his favorite knife is any knife that is sharp. The best cuts of fish have not been sitting directly on the ice–the cold damages the meat over time. When eating sushi, place the wasabi directly onto the fish, not into the soy, and put the fish side of a nigiri role down onto the tongue, with the rice side up. This gives the purest flavor.

the audience

a glimpse of the audience

The team explains that this demonstration is a proud moment. Chef Morimoto is honored to be included in a prestigious food & wine event. Wine is an established, and respected culture. Twenty years ago seeing an Asian chef on the itinerary for such a demonstration would have been unheard of or un-thought. Panaiotis, likewise, is pleased to see Ruinart alongside Japanese food, where he thinks it can pair so well.

Morimoto puts the final touches on Panaiotis's sushi

Morimoto puts final touches on Panaiotis’s sushi

In considering his Iron Chef reputation, Morimoto explains that even there he is not cooking for the judges, or cooking to beat the other competitor, but instead cooking to improve himself. With each ingredient challenge the approach is similar. “I cannot do same, same, same.” He says, “So, I have to create a new thing. Every single time, I’m shaking when I hold the knife, then I have to ask myself, what am I making? Each time, I’m challenged. I’m shaking.”

Chef Morimoto Sings

After the demonstration was complete, the audience was invited to propose questions. An audience member asked if Morimoto would sing. Bashful at first, he offered what he called “a fisherman song from Japan.”

***
Thank you to Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone and Nicolas Ricroque.

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookie season has hit the United States. Did you know there is even a free iphone app to help you locate where the cookies are available for sale?

I got a request to do tasting note comics for Girl Scout Cookies. On my other comics blog I’ve done that from time to time–draw up tasting notes for random foods. What was desired here was a comic representation of the sentimental favorites’ flavors and general qualities so as to be able to keep celebrating the phenomenon even in their off season.

The truth is, I don’t really eat Girl Scout Cookies. It isn’t that I WOULDN’T. It’s just that I don’t. But the idea of drawing tasting notes for them cracked me up, and the idea of drawing cookie notes alongside wine notes down right made me laugh. So, clearly the way to make the request work was to draw up tasting notes for the cookies alongside their perfect wine pairing.

The goal of any wine and food pairing is to bring together the right elements such that both the food and the wine are improved, so that they become something together they simply weren’t before the combination. It can be nice to have wine and food beside each other even when they don’t improve each other so thoroughly, but it’s a magical experience when the perfect pairing is found.

So, when I announced I was going to take the Girl Scout Cookie Wine Challenge, Katherine offered to bring over cookies in each of the flavors available in our area. Before she showed up I ran to the wine shop where I bumped into James, the head chef of Cuvee 928, and he offered input on my wine pairing ideas. Thank you for his suggestion of the Blanc Pescador and the Oloroso Sherry. And then along the way when a couple of surprise cookies I hadn’t anticipated appeared, @DecantChicago gave a push to go ahead and try a bottle of Demi-Sec Champagne I’d already been considering. Wonderfully by the end of the night we really had hit the perfect pairing for each cookie.

Enjoy!

Thank you to Katherine, James, and Cara Patricia–Decant Chicago–for your help!

Tasting notes appear in recommended tasting order as well.

Trefoils and Blanc Pescador

click on comics to enlarge

Girl Scout’s most classic cookie is their Trefoil Shortbread. The cookie is crisp and buttery with very faint sweetness, and the crunch of a proper biscuit. Honestly one can also taste preservative notes along side the buttery flavor so any good wine pairing would hopefully moderate that lightly bitter element.

The Blanc Pescador is a wonderfully crisp, lightly effervescent Cataluyna table white wine perfect for Mediterranean style seafood dishes. I’ve had it along side fish soup with wonderful results. It even did well as the wine base for Risotto.

It’s made from the same grapes as those allowed for Spanish Cava–50-60% Macabeo, 20-25% Parellada, 20-25% Xarel-lo–but instead of making a full sparkling wine, the winemaker chose to make an effervescent (half-sparkling, basically) style instead.

It’s a perfect pairing for Girl Scout Trefoil Shortbread cookies. The wine increases the buttery flavor of the cookies, while also cutting the preservatives bite, and the cookie ups the mineral quality, and lemon flavor of the wine. Yum!

Savannah Smiles and 2005 Dr. Loosen Erdener Pralat Riesling Auslese

click on comics to enlarge

The Savannah Smiles is a lemon flavored shortbread style cookie rolled in powdered sugar and new to the Girl Scouts this year.

This Riesling Auslese is a beautifully balanced sweet wine. It carries a nice mix of rich fruit and light floral qualities alongside pleasing minerals. This style is often thought of as a dessert wine and with its sweeter quality many people drink it only at the end of a meal. But, it’s worth tasting this with a range of other types of food though from spicy thai food, to blue cheese.

The Erdener Pralat vineyards are a mere 4 acres in the Mosel Valley, but are thought to generate some of the finest wines of the region. This is a wine that does well for decades in the bottle. If you have some it’s well worth holding onto but is also drinking nicely now. It’ll simply gain a deepened complexity over time.

Dr. Loosen’s Erdener Pralat Riesling Auslese is also a perfect pairing for Girl Scout’s new-this-year lemon shortbread style cookie rolled in powdered sugar, their Savannah Smiles. When put along side the sharp tang of the lemon cookie the heavier elements of the wine come into even better balance. The wine mellows the cookie tang, while the cookie lightens syrupy elements of the wine.

Do-Si-Dos and Demi-Sec A. Margaine Premier Cru Champagne

click on comics to enlarge

The Do-Si-Dos were an unexpected addition to our tasting evening. I had thought we had five cookies to review, and didn’t know in advance of this one. The Do-Si-Do is a slightly salty, crisp oatmeal cookie with a thin layer of creamy peanut butter inside. With the combination the cookie carries toasted oatmeal, the creaminess of the peanut butter with a slightly salty, faintly sweet palate.

To balance the dryness and saltiness of the cookie it would need something soft in the mouth and slightly sweet. Not as heavy as the Auslese, nor as thick as the upcoming Banyuls.

We turned to the Demi-Sec A. Margaine Premier Cru Champagne, and the combination was perfect. The demi-sec style offers a softer body for the champagne while also giving just a touch of sweetness. The balance of herbal notes with a light brie funk on the nose and touches of yeast and toast bread beside minerals give a range of flavors avoiding the cloying problem. This is an elegant, delicate, and balanced champagne.

The Margaine is a special champagne in that Arnuad Margaine fully produces this champagne himself. Grower’s champagne is a less common version of the wonderful drink, and one that offers a difference in quality from the more mass produced types that dominate the wine type. A grower’s champagne is simply one in which the person that makes the champagne has also grown his own grapes. Margaine does just that making less than 5000 cases a year.

The wonderful thing about this wine really is found in how widely it could be paired. I’d love to drink it with dim-sum, as suggested by Michael Skurnik, or with spicy thai food. Oh… yum.

Alongside the Do-Si-Dos the yeast of the champagne is highlighted in a pleasing way, while the wine makes the peanut butter of the cookie both smoother and creamier tasting. The wine also eases the crunch of the cookie just slightly in a way that makes it work better.

Samoas and Lustau Almacenista Oloroso Sherry

click on comics to enlarge

The Samoas cookie from the Girl Scout combines a crisp cookie center covered in caramel, toasted coconut and touched with chocolate. So it offers a combination of chew with crunch, and some sweetness.There are also lightly buttery elements to be tasted here.

To pair, a dry, full flavored companion is found in Oloroso Sherry, a dry style sherry showing lots of nut, hints of caramel, and touches of rich fruit. The high alcohol content work against the sweetness of the coconut making it more balanced, while the cookie brings out more fruit notes in the sherry uncovering flavors of dried cherry and more raisin. So, while the cookie became less sweet, the wine turned more complex. A pleasing complement.

The truth is a lot of people I know don’t like coconut, and so this cookie comes as the least favorite for them. I don’t mind the fruit-seed but also am not much into sweet cookies. It was a nice moment to see how this wine and the cookie worked together. As Katherine, one who does not like coconut, put it, “the cookie became worth eating” without hiding the coconut altogether.

At this point in the evening the wine and cookie match up was going so well Katherine extended me the following compliment. Thank you! “I salute your ability to pair Girl Scout Cookies with wine. It’s an important life skill.” Katherine, there is no one better to work on such a project with.

Tagalong Peanut Butter Pattie with 2003 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls

click on comics to enlarge

The Tagalong is a cookie topped in creamy peanut butter and covered in chocolate. The flavors here are rich, full, and very buttery and creamy.

The Banyuls is a full bodied, full flavored dessert wine that showcases nut, caramel, dried herbal, and spice notes. The acidity here is medium high helping to balance the sweetness of the wine and the alcohol level at 15.5% gives just enough heat to counter the richness.

When paired with the peanut butter pattie the cookie becomes more creamy and buttery, while the wine becomes less sweet, and a hint cooler. The buttery-ness of the peanut butter works well here against the alcohol heat. The salt of the peanut butter too fights the sweetness of the wine so as to lessen such effects when drinking it, making both the cookie and the wine smoother.

The classic pairing for Banyuls is chocolate, and with this cookie I agree while adding a couple more demands alongside.

Thin Mints and Rihaku Nigori Sake Dreamy Clouds

click on comics to enlarge

The big challenge of the night came in trying to pair Thin Mints. Mint and chocolate are a hard set to make work with a wine. The classic pairing for Thin Mints is, after all, coffee. But I was determined that a wine could be found, and realized that the fumy quality of sake, rice wine, resembles slightly the fumy nature of mint flavor, while the very slight sweetness of Nigori style sake would likely work with the sweetness of a cookie. All my friends were skeptical.

Thin Mints are as they sound, a thin cookie with a thin layer of mint dipped in chocolate. They do well being frozen and then eaten after an overnight in the cold state.

Nigori Sake is left slightly cloudy in comparison to other types of sake, which are, by contrast, filtered. Nigori holds some rice sediment still, which keeps a slight haze in the cup, and works to help generate what is thought of as the sweetest of sakes, though still only slightly sweet. Due to the rice and yeast used, the Rihaku sake is also quite fragrant with dried plum, hints of banana, and a rice tang.This style is also meant to be finished once the bottle is open as oxidation will quickly change the flavors. Rihaku Dreamy Clouds is a super clean, pleasant sake.

I’ll admit the sake and cookie were a surprising flavor combination. I hadn’t had Nigori sake in a while and after a steady stream of grape wine tastings up till this point it was a significant contrast. Still, once the sake and cookie were tasted together the combination worked. The sake made the mint even more palatable, also cutting the waxiness of the chocolate, while the cookie erased the banana elements of the sake.

***

Thanks again to Katherine, James, and Cara for your enthusiasm and suggestions! Thanks too to Katherine for providing the cookies. 🙂

***

Have a wine focus you’d like to see explored here through comics and write up? Please feel free to email me at lilyelainehawkwakawaka (at) gmail (dot) com . I enjoy the challenge, and hearing from you too!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com