Saké Spotlight: Ozeki Karatamba “Dry Wave” Honjozo

I love sake, but do not get to drink it as often as I’d like, unfortunately.  We have a respectable number available to us in this market, but I’ve tried most of them, so I look to a fantastic online retailer when I need to get my sake fix that you can find here.  This time, I was looking for a few selections that represented alternatives to the super clean and pristine examples that are pretty commonplace in the high-quality offerings that are the norm.  This left me seeking out some selections within the honjozo (additional brewer’s alcohol added), yamahai (essentially wild-fermented), and genshu (undiluted with water at the end of the brewing process) categories.  So, I am excited to explore the fuller-bodied side of the sake spectrum.    For my first selection, we will visit a honjozo selection from a brewery in Hyogo Prefecture, near the city of Osaka.  One of the things that I really like about sake is that, at least for the export market, there is a ton of technical data on the back labels.  This has been great while I’ve been learning about sake, and is great in a retail setting, since a lot of places will not have staff members that are particularly knowledgeable about sake.  Here are some of the stats for this particular brew: Saké Name: Ozeki Karatamba “Dry Wave” Honjozo SMV: +7 (negative numbers=sweeter, positive numbers=dry) Acidity: 1.5 Seimaibuai: 60% Rice type: Yamadanishiki

Ozeki karatamba "Dry wave" Honjozo

Ozeki karatamba “Dry wave” Honjozo

Alcohol Content: 15% Brewery: Ozeki Corporation Founded: 1711 Location: Nada, Hyogo Prefecture According to their website, the Ozeki brand name is derived from the sumo-related word for the ‘grand champion.’  When this name was selected in 1844, sumo was becoming increasingly popular, so the positive association between the two was seen as a great marketing tool.  ‘Ozeki’ sounds very similar to ‘odeki’, which is a phrase meaning ‘good job’, and this brewery has prided themselves on their product, while continuing to strive for improvement.  In fact, the brewery has been instrumental in developing important enzymes that aid in the brewing process, much like enzyme enrichment of grape musts during fermentation.  I would assume that they are a fairly large-scale operation, considering that they are near Osaka, have a pretty extensive laboratory, and have quite a few sponsorships, in addition to pioneering a pretty extensive network of vending machine sake distributing operations.  However, this is just an assumption, as I have not found any data about production numbers. When I was choosing this honjozo, the Sake Social website described it as being rich and round, which is exactly the character that this saké delivered.  A creamy texture carried flavors of melon, baked pear, and caramel, all with a pleasant acidity that kept things refreshing. Also, while the aromas and flavors suggest a sweeter style, the palate really delivered a dry, but not excessively dry product.   I was really digging this saké, and so was my husband.  It really had a lot of character and was just what I was looking for in terms of exploring saké’s fuller-bodied side.

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Australia’s Central Victoria and Tahbilk, Victoria’s Torch-bearer of Tradition

Tahbilk Vineyard View

Vineyard view of Tahbilk, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia

I’ve been on an Australian wine kick lately, so it just seems natural to explore some of the diverse regions that make up this great wine-producing country. Victoria is the southernmost state of mainland Australia, and is perhaps one of the most interesting to wine students. It is a region that rose to the pinnacle of production following the gold rushes of the 19th century, and in the modern era, has recovered from the ravages of phylloxera to become the state with the largest number of wine regions and the greatest diversity of wine styles. From the hot, inland regions of Rutherglen that produce the historically-important “stickies” crafted from Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains and Muscadelle, to the cool-climate vineyards circling Melbourne that are cranking out seriously delicious Pinot Noir, Victorian wine regions run the gamut of possibilities. Victoria is also the state of small producers: Victoria contains more wine producers than any other state, yet produces only slightly less than 20% of Australia’s total wine. This is an entirely different picture than was painted by the wine media in the late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. The Australian story thus far has been one of monoculture, that of bombastic and super-ripe Shiraz produced primarily in South Australia. I’m not about to pile on more of that too-oft-written rhetoric. Australia is on the cusp of rediscovery by a thirsty public, finally acknowledging the rich history and incredible diversity of this New World wine nation.

The central part of Victoria was one of the first areas in this state to be developed, being near the gold mines and near the major port of Melbourne. Here are the GIs that constitute Central Victoria:
Upper Goulburn
Goulburn Valley
Strathbogie Ranges
Nagambie Lakes

Most of these regions experience warm, dry climates conducive to growing varieties such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of these regions should also be considered relatively young. Phylloxera landed in Australia in the 1890s and devastated the fledging wine industry here, and many regions have only just been replanted in the past 40 years or less. Fortunately, the phylloxera louse was confined to Victoria, and strict quarantine measures ensured the survival of many old and highly-revered vineyards, the likes of which are rarely encountered in the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe.

One winery, however, survived and overcame the economic devastation associated with such a natural disaster. Tahbilk, located in the Nagambie Lakes subregion of the Goulburn Valley, is one of the most significant growers and producers in Victoria. This region is notable for the ameliorating effect of the chain of inland lakes and wetlands, however, warm-climate varieties of the Rhône Valley dominate, along with Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to being the oldest continually-operating and family-owned winery in Victoria, Tahbilk can also count among its claims to fame some of the oldest plantings of Marsanne in the world. The original holdings were planted in the 1860s, and the current ownership took over in 1925. Now on their fourth generation of Purbrick family winemakers, Tahbilk has established a bustling cellar door operation, complete with restaurant and wetlands ecotourism attractions. Tahbilk’s 1860 Shiraz Vineyard (.5 ha) is listed in Langton’s Classification as “Outstanding”–the second tier, which contains 31 others within that tier. Langston’s was first compiled in 1991, and contains 123 of the top-ranked vineyards in Australia. While Tahbilk has initiated some important modernizations for themselves and for the Australian wine industry as a whole (such as the early implementation of varietal-labeling for their wines), they have also preserved traditional winemaking techniques, such as utilizing large, 100-year old barrels for aging their entry-level wines.

That brings us to the wines that we tried for today…Tahbilk’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The 2009 vintage was marked with significant brushfire concerns in Victoria. While the wines were certainly not effected by smoke taint, the vintage also showed considerably lower yields, due to the extended drought conditions throughout much of the country. The wines that I tasted were full of character and were quite brawny. Grippy tannins held consistently over several days of drinking. I liked the wines equally well, and they were both balanced in terms of fruit character to earth and spice notes. It wears the 18 months of oak aging well, as the drying tannins seemed more grape-driven than oak-driven. That said, bold wines such as these are not my normal forté, but I like to dabble, and frankly need to more often, considering that I suffer considerable palate fatigue when drinking tannic red wines. The quality to price ratio is exemplary, and I am excited to get a few more bottles to sock away and see where they go in about five years or so. Overall, I really liked these wines and have gotten great feedback from people that have tried them in the store for tastings or have enjoyed them at home. In addition to tasting great, these wines represent a great deal of promise from other passionate and conscientious Australians eager to share their wines with wine lovers everywhere.

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Douloufakis Femina Malvasia 2011 and Kríti Write-Up

Our next wine adventure takes us to the Mediterranean’s fifth largest island, Crete (known as Kríti in Greek). Kríti is also Greece’s southernmost island and has a considerable output of wine, with most figures putting it between 15 and 20% of the entire nation’s wine supply. Quality, however, has been slow to catch up to quantity. I wouldn’t know it though, as the admittedly few examples of wine from Kríti that I have enjoyed have all been pleasant enough. This is one of the great joys of the export market, however, meaning few examples of technically flawed and truly undrinkable wines ever see the light of day on a retail shelf or a restaurant wine list.

Kríti is divided into four different geographical regions: Sitia, Peza, Archanes, and Dafnes.  The island is characterized by mountain ranges that are able to mitigate the warm temperatures and low rainfall.  Mountain ranges have a habit of housing diverse macroclimates that feature different flora and fauna, in addition to different climatic conditions, making for a rich panoply of wine growing areas.  The region of Sitia is on the eastern side of the island and is one of the older wine-producing regions on the island.  Moving westward the next three regions are situated in the central part of the island, near the capital city of Heraklion. Peza contains vineyards at various altitudes, with the most-coveted being in the higher mountainous altitudes.  Indigenous red varieties Kotsifali and Mandilaria grow here, as well as the island’s sweetheart white variety Vilana.   The higher altitude, more mountainous areas are conducive to growing aromatic white varieties, as the ripening process is much gentler and more even.  This is an area of intense development and is one of the fastest-growing regions in Greece.  Archanes is just south of the of Heraklion.  Poor-draining clay soils are more common here than in other parts of the island.  Dafnes is the base for our featured winery today.  It is the westernmost delimited region, though there are vineyards more westerly than this.  It is a semi-mountainous area that has lighter, more gravelly soils.  This area is particularly known for production of a red variety usually produced in a sweet style, Liatiko.  International varieties are also proving to perform well here.  Even though our producer is based in Dafnes, the wine that we tried for today was labeled PGI Crete.  PGI is the second tier in the Greek wine quality pyramid.  PDO represents the top tier.  PGI-labeled wines are permitted to include variety and vintage.

Greek wine is pretty scarce in our market, but I feel like the exotic, aromatic white wines produced in many of the country’s wine regions would find a ready and willing audience during the Midwest’s hot and occasionally oppressive summers. I picked up this example on a recent trip to Chicago, which has a pretty sizeable Greek community there, so I was eager to capitalize on an opportunity to pick up some wines that I have been eager to try.

This particular wine was crafted from the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica grape.  Malvasia is a broad “family” of grape varieties spread throughout the Mediterranean world.  I say “family” because, while they are grapes of similar nomenclature, recent genetic research suggests that many of the so-called Malvasias are genetically unrelated.  According to Wine Grapes, Malvasia di Candia Aromatica is most widely grown in Italy.  The provinces of Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, and Campania are all areas where this particular variety is found.  However, Wine Grapes also states that Candia is an old name for Kríti, suggesting that the variety originated there.  This particular variety of Malvasia is noted for its floral aromatics, but can be prone to an oily texture in the wine.  The grapes are made into a variety of styles, ranging from crisp and light dry whites, sparklers, and raisinated dessert wines.  The Femina was in the crisp and light camp, though I would be really excited to try a dessert-style wine.

The Douloufakis Femina opened with a bit of leesy-ness on the nose.  This quality blew over after sitting in the glass for a few minutes.  On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied with a zingy acidity.  It reminded me of a cross between a Sauvignon Blanc and a dry Muscat.  There was a definite herbal quality to the wine, but it was pleasant and fresh: definitely a complementary note rather than stealing the whole show.  Floral attributes were equally prominent with fresh white flowers and dried rose petals present on the nose and palate.  The fruit was relatively subdued, but subtle pear, yellow apple, and green melon flavors were there.  Overall, this was a great wine and a good addition to my Greek wine repertoire.  My one concern with this wine was that it was bottled in an attractive, elongated CLEAR glass bottle.  I suspect that it was to alert an unfamiliar consumer that this was a white wine, however the wine displayed quite a golden color, when most literature a ran across suggested that it should be a pale color.  The wine didn’t really seem any worse for it, but I really couldn’t say, having never had the wine before.  I’d still worry about light damage, particularly given that this wine has probably been in the bottle for a little over two years.  Nevertheless, I am very excited to explore more wines from this ancient country.


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Poças Porto and the 2009 Vintage

Poças Porto

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the members of the Poças team earlier this summer at a Portuguese wine dinner at the American Restaurant. It was a really cool experience, featuring a group of different winemakers and marketers whose mission was to spread the word about Portuguese wines in a brief tour of Midwestern cities. I feel like the Midwest misses out on a lot of these marketing tours and tastings, and the group had a very different and refreshing take on marketing wine. Their goal was, first and foremost, to promote the country as a whole, rather than the individual wines that were represented. I think that this is a really useful way for smaller producers to market their wines, and feel that more producers/regions should approach marketing this way. But, I digress….

Poças is one of the few remaining family-owned Porto producers in the Douro Valley. They began as producers of aguardiente, the potent brandy that is added to fermenting grape must during the Port-making process. They acquired their own vineyards starting in 1932 with the Quinta da Quartas (Baixo Corgo). In 1988, the Quinta de Vale de Cavalos entered into their holdings. This property differs from the stereotype of the Douro. Gently undulating hills mark the topography in contrast to the traditional steep, terraced slopes.  The Quinta de Santa Bárbara (Upper Corgo) was the next acquisition, a property which contributes significant amounts to the Vintage Ports and LBVs (Late-Bottled Vintage Port) that the firm produces.

Poças is particularly known for producing Colheita Port, a style of Port that is best described as a sort of Vintage Tawny.  These wines see extended aging in both barrel and bottle before being commercially released.  They also produce all levels of red Port and white Port, as well as Douro table wines that are becoming increasingly-lucrative ventures for many producers in the region.  The Poças label is their primary endeavor, but they also produce wines under the labels of Pousada and Porto Seguro.  Overall, this is a really sophisticated and forward-looking firm that deftly handles the traditional and the modern.  When I met Pedro Poças Pintão, he and his colleagues seemed interested in knowing what contact, if any, consumers had had with Portuguese wines and how they could reach out to the average consumers and members of the wine trade.  For more info, check out their truly informative and beautiful website

2009 Porto Vintage

The 2009 Vintage in the Douro was the third consecutive drought year in the area. From the get-go, this resulted in dramatically lower yields. A relatively cool spring gave way to a hot summer and a relatively early harvest. Fruit was extremely concentrated, resulting in wines with deep color, high extract, and high tannin levels. Taylor’s CEO Adrian Bridge stated that

“Such colour intensity and tannic structure have not been seen for over twenty years. However, the wines also display crisp acidity and wonderfully pure, vibrant fruit. Although they are built for long term ageing, like the great landmark vintages of the past, the 2009s are capable of delivering hedonistic pleasure even at this early stage in their development.”

A lot of what I have read suggests that the wines of the vintage are more elegant and more accessible that those of 2003, which was another hot vintage for the area and Europe as a whole. Only time will tell how this vintage will stand up, but I am excited by the hype so far.

Have any of you had a chance to try any of the 2009 Vintage Ports? I’d love to hear any experiences you have with Ports in general, or if anyone has had the pleasure of sampling any of the Porto or table wines of Poças!  I’ll be getting a bottle or two of the 2009 Vintage and will post notes shortly.

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Generalizations About Côte d’Or Villages

Burgundy has been the object of my study most recently, since I won an awesome scholarship for the Burgundy Master-Level Program offered by the French Wine Society.  Consequently, I’ll probably have some Burgundy-heavy posts in the coming months.  Thanks to the Guild of Sommeliers and the BIVB for this fantastic opportunity!  Here is a quick list of the villages of the Côte d’Or and some generalizations about the wines made there.  I know that generalizations can be dangerous, but I feel that they are helpful nonetheless.  They are oriented from north to south:

Marsannay: known primarily for rosé production, which makes sense since it is the most northerly and one of the cooler appellations

Fixin: structured reds with a distinct animal/wild note

Gevrey-Chambertin: red-only AOP, very large area of production; contains more Grand Cru vineyards than any other village in Burgundy; deeply-colored and robust wines; a favorite of Napoléon

Morey-Saint-Denis: high-quality AOP, but largely under-appreciated; structured reds, with those at the Premier Cru and village levels showing more elegance and restraint; contiguous string of Grand Cru vineyards

Chambolle-Musigny: incredibly elegant and perfumed wines, noted for their lushness and suppelenss; 2 Grand Crus and lots of small, sub-divided 1er Cru vineyards

Vougeot: home to the largest Grand Cru of the Côte de Nuits , Clos de Vougeot, which makes up 80% of the land area in this appellation; because the Grand Cru is so big, quality is highly variable

Flagey-Echézeaux: allowed to be bottled as Vosne-Romanée, and pretty much every wine made does so, with the exception of the Grand Crus; Grand Crus are very concentrated

Vosne-Romanée: many of the Grand Crus are monopoles and are among the most-coveted wines of Burgundy; 8 Grand Cru vineyards; wines are noted for the hedonistic texture and sumptuousness, as well as their aromatic qualities

Nuits-St-George: end of the Côte de Nuits; large appellation > large variation in quality; full-bodied wines with strong tannins, which are long-lived even at the village level; many négociants have their offices here; home of Pinot Gouges, a white-skinned mutation of Pinot Noir

Ladoix-Serrigny: area of significant soil changes > type of limestone changes as well as appearance of Oxfordian marl; some wines are bottled as Aloxe-Corton; supple, soft reds

Pernand-Vergelesses: mostly red, though whites also produced; dry, tannic, structured reds

Aloxe-Corton: Grand Cru Corton makes up 1/3 vineyard area; vineyards’ fame dates to the days of Charlemagne (late 700s); earthy, mineral reds

Savigny-lès-Beaune: lighter-bodied, elegant wines

Chorey-lès-Beaune: no Grand Cru or 1er Cru vineyards; mostly sold as Cotes de Beaune Villages

Beaune: large proportion of vineyards are 1er Cru level; very large appellation producing mostly reds

Pommard: powerful, sturdy, structured reds; contains Chateau de Pommard, the largest monopole in Burgundy; higher clay content in soil > explains more rustic character of wines

Volnay: elegant, fragrant reds; some of the best wines of the Côte de Beaune

Meursault: home to opulent, rich white wines; very large appellation

Blagny: appellation that overlaps Meursault and Puligny; whites bottled as Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet, depending on location; reds are well-structured

Puligny-Montrachet: higher-acid, finely-structured white wines; home of 4 well-known white wine Grand Crus

Chassagne-Montrachet: historically known for red wine production, but whites now dominate; shares 3 Grand Crus with Puligny; almond notes found in whites

Monthélie: physically close to Volnay, though wines are not generally as structured; good value wine

Auxey-Duresses: red and white produced; reds are good value alternative to Volnay

St.-Romain: no 1er Cru vineyards; higher-altitude vineyards that most other villages > more difficulty ripening

Saint-Aubin: area of change and investment; white-heavy plantings which are of high-quality and becoming increasingly well-regarded

Santenay: rustic, relatively tannic reds; drainage can be a problem in rainy vintages

Maranges: recently (1989) united as one appellation from three townships: Cheilly, Dezize, and Sampigny; mostly red wine produced; deeply-colored wines that often have a animal/wild component to them

Why Should We Care? Burgundy is one of the classic wine regions of the world, an area where early wine growers really delineated the differences in soil condition and the subtleties of Mother Nature at work.  Burgundy is terroir embodied.  Burgundy is also home to one of the largest numbers of wine appellations in all of France, therefore it can be a bit intimidating to keep all of these different areas straight.  I hope that this list (less than exhaustive, I know) can be of help to wine students and wine consumers alike.  This is such a great wine region that really should be explored by every wine lover!  Do any of you have any favorite wine of the Côte d’Or?  I always love hearing about new discoveries in these vast and varied vine-covered slopes.

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Better Know a Grape: Rossese

Rossese is a grape variety most commonly encountered in Liguria, in Italy’s Northwest.  As with many grape varieties, it is not as cut-and-dry as Rossese is Rossese is Rossese.  Rossese from the Dolceacqua commune of Liguria has recently been determined to be the red grape variety Tibouren of nearby Provence.  However, there are other genetically distinct varieties that also go by the name Rossese, even light- and pink-skinned variants.

About the place: Liguria is a small province in the northwestern corner of Italy, and area that seems to cling to the coast, wedged between the steep mountains of the Alps and the sea.  The main municipality here is Genoa, a significant port in Italy and the Mediterranean.  Naturally, since so much of the area is seaside, white wines pair best with the seafood-heavy diet of the Ligurians.  Cinque Terre is probably the most well-known wine region here, producing crisp and fresh whites from the Bosco and Vermentino grapes.  There is a place for red wines as well, with most reds being produced from the Rossese grape and Ormeasco (aka Dolcetto) in the western part of the province, and the shared Tuscan varieties of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, and Canaiolo in the eastern part.

Rossese di Dolceacqua (aka Tibouren) is described as being a lighter-bodied wine, with spice and earth flavors being more central than fruit components.  This seems logical, since the area is cooler and the soils are extremely poor.  In my lead-up to trying this wine for the first time, I frequently ran across descriptors of sandalwood and floral notes.  The wines were generally regarded as being pretty rustic and earthy, embodying the typical Old World red…so I had high hopes!

I was able to get my hands on a 2010 Rossese di Dolceacqua from Azienda Agricola Ramoino recently, not an easy feat in the Midwest where you are lucky if people have even heard of Liguria.  The wine was indeed earthy and spicy.  Medium-plus tannins and a medium-plus acidity helped to amplify the spiciness, which was definitely in the warm allspice, cedar, sandalwood camp.  Even though the wine was stainless steel-fermented, it really had a woodsy, oaky quality to it, which was interesting.  I didn’t really detect any floral qualities in the wine, which was a bit of a disappointment.  I really love floral wines, so I’m always on the lookout for a grape variety outside of the usual suspects of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.  However, this was but one example of the grape variety.  According to Vino Italiano, wild mushrooms are also a specialty of the region, and I could really see the two pairing well.  Overall, it was a good experience and I’m always excited to add another grape variety to my list.  However, I can’t really say that I’d seek the wine out again, especially considering how prohibitively expensive Ligurian wines are.

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