Monday, June 24, 2013


In the heart of Toronto's Distillery District.... eh? Right, in the midst of the Baudrillardian funfair (not my term, but I like it) that is the Distillery District... the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company, aka Izumi. Brewed on premises, a pretty small shop, unfortunately toji wasn't there or we could have had an interesting conversation.

I was very much hoping to buy a few things, support the good fight. But, not without sampling first. Near as I can tell, everything sold is a variation on a single batch (made from California grown rice, I'm guessing it's Kakuho rose, brewed with sake yeast #7.) Pretty much everything was nama... nama nama... nama cho... genshu nama nama... Didn't try the nigori, because, surely, it was just unfiltered nama nama... or genshu nama nama...

I finished the tasting of the main offerings in equal measures delighted and disappointed. Delighted that sake makes inroads further and further. Disappointed that for the most part, the sake tasted pretty much exactly what I've brewed at home. Which really, to my opinion, is not a compliment. Far from dry (SMV -10), not very "clean", unbalanced and pretty heaty (a neat trick, high alcohol and still high RS.) I'll say that they've at least managed to control the acidity, but I'm left a little confused as to what my problems were - I'd been assuming that my pressing allowed too much air, and my conditioning, too much light. But, Izumi has what looks like proper kit (note to self), so, if they've managed to become a going concern, maybe I'm not too far behind? How about that?

The tasting bar.

Mildly embarrassed at the prospect of leaving empty-handed (having wangled a free sampling), I noted on the chalkboard, batches #36 and #38. A pair of small-batch arabashiri. That's the spirit. Nama nama and genshu both, both much drier, and cleaner, than the regular releases, but both still very much off-dry to my taste. Both were very faint of nose, but very fruit forward with the melon, followed by a pronounced bitter finish. If anything, the ever so slighty stronger 38 (18% vs. 17.9%) was less syrupy and a bit more bright and jangly than the 36.

All in all, a bit underwhelming, but you have to start somewhere. Gears in head turning...

Monday, June 3, 2013

Oze can you see

It's been a while, all the various excuses apply. On the one hand, family. On the other hand, haven't seen a lot of new stuff lately... maybe just haven't been looking in the right places, maybe just haven't been awake. But out of hibernation we come, and find ourselves in Gunma. If not in mind, then in spirits. Oze no Yukidoke Ohkarakuchi, a junmai-shu from Ryujin Shuzo in Gunma Prefecture. A blend of yamada nishiki and gohyakumangoku rice, semaibuai of 60% and brewed with #11 yeast. Net result, a hefty SMV +10, and above "average" acidity (1.8) and amino acid (1.6). On the whole, this comes across as substantial, with a savoury roundness that, to my palate, completely offset the dryness. I wouldn't call it sessionable, but a good match to fermented and curdled foods... pickles, tofu, miso, cheese... yes, cheese. Also a good candidate for warming, I should think. Pity the thermometer has been in the red...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

North Fork Wine Tour

Friday morning, October 21st. Took an early morning bus from Philadelphia to New York's Port Authority, cycled down to Penn Station, met my cycling buddy from Brasil, Y., and hopped on the 11:14 Long Island Railroad service to Montauk, the eastern tip of Long Island. Our second "loaded" tour together, our first on road bikes.

Road bikes being, theoretically, much faster than the mountain bikes we took off-road in Brasil in the spring, we figured we should be easily able to exceed the 100km day limit we managed before. Working against me though was a) no exercise in 4 months, b) only slightly more sleep over the same period, and c) surgery for a deviated septum exactly 10 days before. Not an ideal scenario.

GPS is a wonderful thing, and getting off at Bridgehampton station, we cycled the hard 2 miles to our first stop, Long Island's most enigmatic winery, Channing Daughters, with wines largely inspired by those of Friuli/Brda - yes, indeed!

Approaching the tasting room, which was all but empty. Amongst the Gods which we had unwittingly summoned, the Lord of Fair Weather and the Lord of Empty Tasting Rooms were our foremost companions. I should note that the ever so crafty Lord of Ill-Conceived Shopping was also present along the way.

Our pourer had recently visited both Gravner and Radikon, and we had a full slate of Friulian-inspired wines to try. The highlights were a Tocai Friulano, two actually, both appearing varietally correct, though only one really pleasing; and the Meditazione (above), a skin-fermented blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Tocai, Muscat Ottonel (!), and Pinot Grigo. Wild!

Their Ramato fell a bit short of the mark for me, but in general, it was an adventuresome portfolio. A not-quite-Jurassic chardonnay, Malvasia Biancas, and a pair of quite reasonable Blaufrankisches. The Refosco and Lagrein were both sold out, but we were given access to far beyond the normal tasting, and the effort, even if slightly wide of the mark, is very much appreciated. Chapeau!

Hmm... two miles covered in two hours, two loaves of bread (freshly baked with the winery's lees, and delivered as we were tasting) and three bottles of wine strapped to bikes now. Not a good sign. Only 40 miles to cover today, barely a warm up, but still...

Head down, we cycled strong for the next couple of hours, but on a long and lonely stretch, in which the sea sounded on both sides, and hunger pangs began to rise, this clam bar beckoned shortly before reaching Montauk.

$30 for a Lobster Roll and a bottle of local beer! Jeez... I mean, I feel it is always imperative, on these cycling trips, to sample the local fare, but this was painful. Tasty, but painful.

We reached Montauk with sunset approaching, but it turned out we had another 6 miles to go to actually reach the Lighthouse, which, if we were to say we cycled the length of the island, was a must. And, up until reaching the village, our route had been reasonably flat, and me, with a racing gears set up, felt reasonably confident that I'd survive. Unfortunately... this last stretch was very hilly. And it got dark. And it got cold. And my GPS battery died... fortunately, we had clothes (aha! loaded touring!) And we had a backup GPS! Woohoo! Fully chilled, we got to our "motel", basically, a set of rooms over the dodgiest dive bar on the island, but there were two queen size beds, the room was reasonably clean, and warm, and the shower had absolutely no flow control. It was glorious. Hot shower, followed by a great meal in the town's "best restaurant", Harvest on Fort Pond" - we had grilled oysters, mussels, a bit of steak, and a single beer (Brooklyn Brewery Lager - lovely, actually, more hops than any typical lager, but not all Left Coasty...) that basically kicked me in the head. Stamina, where have ye gone?

Serious day of cycling today. Leaving Montauk, passed the tallest structure in town. Dubbed, "Montaukparnasse"...

Oh Gods of Shopping, why would you put a "Last Day Sale" at the surf shop just as we leave town? Don't you know that we have 115 miles to cover??? It was a minor disaster. Everything, $5. I bought 3 t-shirts for my friends' kids (staying at their place tonight), plus two jackets for the Mrs. Y. nearly came away with a wetsuit. And a kayak.

Now, the shorter route would have been to stay on the South Fork and proceed straight west, but we decided we would tack on an extra 20 miles and cut up to the North Fork, where most of the L.I. wineries are. This required a couple of bridges and a two-leg ferry journey to and from Shelter Island. You will note the cycling jersey, a fundraiser for the Japan tsunami.

Beginning the North Fork wine trail.

And not 50 meters from that last sign, our first stop, One Woman Wines, producer of the only Grüner Veltliner on the island. And in truth, it was pretty decent (ignoring the price.) One more bottle added to the bike, and a pair of glasses to enjoy the lovely sun.

By now, we were falling more than a bit behind our intended pace. Four bottles of wine, 2 loaves of bread, and half a surf shop...

Next stop, not 3 miles later, The Winemaker Studio. This is the "storefront/winebar" for the areas winemakers, most of whom are not the owners of the wineries they work at. We tasted a few more things, including a bone dry gewurtztraminer (Spezia) and a not very weedy cabernet franc ("Bordo") from Anthony Nappa, a respectable northern rhone styled syrah from Suhru Wines, and a nearly-Austrian dry riesling from The Grapes of Roth. Wonder what "The Grapes of David Lee Roth" would be like?

We also had some lunch, one loaf of bread (to lighten our load, of course) and some jamon iberico that Y. somehow wangled in with him. Don't ask, I don't want to know.

Now several hours behind schedule, we finally made it back to the Hamptons, passing this very fancy McDonald's. Why didn't we stop for some nuggets??

By this time it was evident that there was no way we were going to make it to our destination within an hour of sunset, so we had to make new plans, and that was, get to a train station. Looking at the schedules, we had few choices, and a tight schedule to keep to, with a further 2 hours on a local train in order to make it to my friends' house for the night. All in all, we cycled about 70 miles in 10 hours, including ferry rides, wine tasting, eating, and shopping (we stopped at not one but two more bike shops looking for geegaws and doodads... I do have some extra bright yellow handle tape now). Not too bad, I suppose. And in speaking with one of the bike shop owners, it seems that 70 miles per day loaded is not an unreasonable upper limit.

Arrive at my friend's place we did. And a great dinner followed by a deep sleep. But given our glacial pace, and our absolute need to reach the Wall Street piers in Manhattan by 12:35 it was a quick exit and a not entirely pressure free 40 mile ride the next morning.

Would you believe, Brooklyn?

Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge... a bit off course and costing us time, my GPS absolutely refused to recognize the Brooklyn Bridge - it would have been shorter, more direct, and allowed us time to cycle round the WTC memorial, but it didn't work out. A nice ride all the same, and awesome that the bridges in NYC are so bike friendly.

Made it to Pier 11, for the Sandy Hook ferry, with 10 minutes to spare.

Hmm... bike seems very much more laden than when we began. Sensibly, a water bottle was ditched for more important items. This has inspired our next business concept, attempting to latch a case worth of wine to the frame of the bike... stay tuned.

Having reached New Jersey, and crossing to the barrier island community of Sea Bright...

Lunch on Longbranch beach

Through the farmlands of Monmouth County, the last few, slow, painful miles to Freehold, NJ, where we arrived at my in-laws' house approximately 3 minutes ahead of schedule. My father-in-law couldn't believe it, but there we were, 80 miles later. Originally, we were going to spend the night and cycle down to Philly the next day, but having ridden that 70 mile stretch before, I knew that it was fairly uninspiring terrain, and frankly, I wanted to get home to the kids.

All in all though, a great, packed little ride, my heart and legs never gave out (only my lungs, and the post-op nasties hiding in my sinuses), so that's a plus. Hopefully a kickstart to getting fit again.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ichishima Tokubetsu Honjozo

From Niigata Prefecture's Ichishima Shuzo, this is a subtly unusual offering. The alcohol-added honjozo category, already relatively rare in the U.S., and in the generally uncommon tokubetsu version. Was this a ginjo in a former liftime? At any rate, this appears to be new to our shores, and I was very much looking forward to trying this. And, not at all disappointed. Gohyakumangoku and koshibuki milled to 60%, a solid sake meter value of +8, and allegedly made from snowmelt waters. Delivers a clean, light, and dry taste, easy drinking session sake.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kawacho Junmai Ginjo

From Gunma Prefecture's Nagai Shuzo, producers of the very delicious Mizubasho Ginjo. I don't seem to come across a lot of Gunma sake around here, which is a shame, as my one and only visit to the area, to the tiny hamlet of Sarugakyo, is firmly imprinted in my memory. Oh, to go back to Sarugakyo! Kawacho, take me away!

Rice information not given, oddly, but SMV +8, 15.5% abv and... "pH" of 1.4... er, that can't be right... this is not a strong acid... let's assume that's just the regular sake acidity, which is slightly above "average", but not that much! A prominently fragrant perfume, silky, medium bodied, lightly nutty, rounder than expected, but a drying, lightly savoury finish. It's a bit more demanding than the Mizubasho, but if one may cast non-aspersions, it does seem of the same family.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nihonbashi Daiginjo

This sake was sent to us recently by a friend who lives in Tokyo, it's one of the "gold medal" winners at the BY23 (this year) national sake evaluation. Ok, so 286 out of 1085 entries won a gold medal, but these competition sake are the cream of the crop, for the entire country. Nihonbashi Daiginjo (can't read the main kanji - anyone care to illuminate?), by Saitama Prefecture's Yokota Shuzo. 100% Yamada Nishiki, semaibuai 40%, SMV +5, acidity 1.3. TREMENDOUS ginjo nose, smooth, clean sweetness. Doesn't taste as dry as the numbers suggest, silky goodness. Yum!

Here is the toji, and this gives me something consider for my next attempt at drip-pressing. BUT, I really need to get better bags for the purpose.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ozeki Junmai Shiboritate

Ozeki Junmai Shiboritate, the one that comes in the 1.8 liter milk carton! And folks, I'll say it again, my opinion is that Ozeki is head and shoulders above the rest of the giants when it comes to mass-producing brew. I don't care if it's... the (insert best of bland American beer mega-breweries here) of sake, I'll drink this anytime. And I believe I paid less than a Jackson for it. In these times of financial austerity, I nominate this sake as the house sake. Unknown rice, semaibuai 73%, SMV +5, acidity 1.6, low alcohol content of 13%, fresh and clean.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tengumai Uma Jun

Tengumai Uma Jun, a junmai from Ishikawa Prefecture's Shata Shuzo - I loved their yamahai, I guess this is the sokujo version of the same? Don't know the rice type, but it is milled to 60%, SMV +6, acidity 1.6, and 15.5% abv. A little drier than the yamahai, on the numbers, and tastes that way too, milder, but still full flavoured, savoury, and a definite presence in the mouth. Too interesting to slurp, but not so interesting that you must sip. In a nice spot.