Cava super bien!

Récemment, j’ai eu l’opportunité d’aller visiter le domaine Recaredo à Sant Sadurni d’Anoia dans le Haut Penedès.

J’avoue que le Cava ne m’a jamais excitée plus que ça et c’est pourquoi j’ai voulu prendre le temps d’essayer de mieux comprendre.

L’aventure commença en 1924 quand Josep Mata Capellades fonda Recaredo en construisant une cave sous sa maison. Grâce à un travail à la vigne forcené et respectueux, une patience dans le chai pour que les bulles se peaufinent, un acharnement à constamment s’améliorer et apprendre avec humilité, ce noble héritage a poussé deux générations à s’impliquer dans l’ascension du domaine qui est considéré par beaucoup comme le meilleur producteur de Cava du Penedès.

LES FAITS

Terroir de Turo den Mota

Les 50ha de sol à prédominance calcaire sont travaillés en biodynamie.

Vignes de Xarel-lo

Les vignes autochtones de la région sont Xarel-lo, Parellada, Macabeu, Malvasia, Monastrell et Garnatxa et sont toutes enherbées pour favoriser la vie du sol.

Les préparations biodynamiques

Ils élaborent leur propre compost,  préparations biodynamiques et tisanes homéopathiques.

Camomille pour les tisanes homéopathiques

Tout est vendangé à la main en caissettes de 20kg.

Ils font des essais en vieillissant les premiers vins en barriques et en inox.

Ils tentent de faire des sélections de leur propres levures pour élaborer les liqueurs de tirage.

Les bouchons au lieu des capsules en plastiques

Les capsules n’existent pas au domaine Recaredo, seul les bouchons de liège sont utilisées pour les élevages sur lies.

Tous les Cavas sont millésimés, issus d’une année, Brut Nature et vieillissent au moins 30 mois sur lattes avant d’être dégorgés.

Frederico, l'homme qui a dégorgé plus de 4 millions de bouteilles à Recaredo

En parlant de dégorgement, toutes les bouteilles sont dégorgées à la main (sans tremper la bouteille dans un liquide congelant) par six employés qui se relayent toutes les 2h30.

Turo den Mota se faisant

Turo den Mota (la grande cuvée) reste 10 ans sur lies avant d’être dégorgé et mis à la vente.

Après le dégorgement, aucune liqueur de dosage n’est ajoutée.

Le petit village de Sant Sadurni d’Anoia est charmant et discret malgré l’enseigne géante de Freixenet qui fait immédiatement surgir des mauvais souvenirs de maux de tête et d’erreurs de jeunesse.

En effet, le Cava a généralement une mauvaise réputation. Comme ces Moët ou Veuve qui valorisent la quantité au lieu de la qualité, les grands noms industriels de la région ne s’intéressent pas à la production de qualité mais plutôt à la rapidité de la sortie sur le marché et aux poches vite remplies.

Dans la cave de veillissement sur lies

Pas chez Recaredo. La patience, le respect, l’humilité, le courage, la vision et la passion sont les mots d’ordre du domaine.

Ce n’est pas facile de s’améliorer quand on est entouré par la facilité plutôt que de chercher à tirer vers le haut. Nous avons discuter de cela avec Ton Mata, le directeur général et le petit fils du fondateur. Il soutient que leur façon de faire est un hommage à leur héritage mais aussi une manière de redonner un nom à l’appellation.

En Champagne, la réputation de l’appellation tire les petits producteurs vers le haut et leur donnent une plateforme légitime pour faire du vin de terroir.

Contrairement, le Cava n’est pas une appellation de terroir géographiquement parlant car il est produit dans le Penedès mais aussi à Valence, en Navarre et dans la Rioja. Cette méthode traditionnelle, qui a sa propre appellation, peut donc porter à confusion. Cette difficulté augmente le problème de sensibiliser le public à une notion de “Cavas de terroir”.

C’est un défi dont est conscient Mata mais qu’il est prêt à relever.

J’ai aimé

Cava Rosat Brut Nature “Intens” 2010 Gran Reserva: 58% Pinot Noir et 42% Monastrell en saignée 6 heures puis assemblés avec 12% en fût de chêne avant d’être mis en bouteille et élevé sur lies pendant 30 mois, dégorgé le 30-02-2014.

Notes: le vin est rouge clair, le nez est fruité, gourmand et la bouche est pleine, voire tannique. Un Cava en mangeant une viande! Je n’aurais pas cru…

Cava Brut Nature “Subtil” 2007 Gran Reserva: 62% Xarel-lo, 8% Macabeu, 30% Chardonnay issus de la parcelle de Can Rossell de la Serra à Torrelavit, 7% de l’assemblage vieillit en fût de chêne avant d’être mise en bouteille et élevé sur lies pendant 5 ans et demi, dégorgé en Septembre 2013.

Notes: les bulles sont microscopiques, au nez, on ressent la craie, zeste de citron et des notes iodées, la bouche est discrète, la bulle crémeuse et la minéralité en finale tranchante. Un Cava à servir un peu plus chaud et à carafer.

Cava Brut Nature “Touro den Mota” 2003 Gran Reserva: 100% Xarel-lo issu de la parcelle d’un seul tenant Touro den Mota de vignes plantées en 1940, élevé sur lies pendant 10 ans, dégorgé à la volée devant nous le 27-05-2014.

Notes: le vin est clair, doré, nez de miel épicé, bouche riche et grasse. Un Cava prêt à boire, issu d’un millésime difficile où la fraîcheur a été conservé et exalté.

Touro den Mota en méthode ancestrale 2013 (un essai toujours en bouteille): ce vin 100% Xarel-lo est issu de vignes plantées en 1940 sur une parcelle d’un seul tenant. Mata fait des essais en méthode ancestrale pour dévoiler la puissance de ce terroir magnifique.

Notes: visuel un peu trouble, notes de miel, citron vert, bouche fine, élégante, tranchante. Gros potentiel pour cette technique hors du commun dans la région.

VISITES

Recaredo

Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, Barcelona

Téléphone: +34 93 8910214

Email: cava@recaredo.es

In my glass today, May 23rd

We’ve been pouring it by the glass to pair with one of the courses in the Degustacion menu but I only recently tasted other wines made by Carlos Esteva of the Bodega San Rafols dels Caus in the Penedès.

Carlos refurbished the estate in the 1930s and recently has renovated the cellar to better execute his vision of well-made, emotional and intelligent wines.

The Garraf Massif standing 1000 feet above sea level has a very hot but well-ventilated climate atop a stony, limestone and chalk-rich soil surrounded by an aromatic habitat (think the Provence’s garrigue with rosemary and thyme at every turn).

The farming is traditional using no herbicides, ploughing, wild yeasts, no chapalization and the well thought out winery allows for making wine with minimal intervention (see video below for more on their cellar).

DO Penedès, San Rafols dels Caus “La Calma” 2008 is an organically-farmed Chenin Blanc planted in 1982 on a chalky, fossil-rich soil on a hilltop exposed both North and South. After fermenting 32 days in French oak, the wine is bottled and carries both the minerality and honeysuckle qualities that make for the great Chenins of the Loire. A true suprise and a pleasurable drink, 12.5% alcohol, balance and salinity galore.

Tasting notes: the wine appears golden and deep, the nose is all honey suckle with herbaceous notes, peach, apricot and orange zest. The mouth is perfect, sapid, balanced, high salinity and a rich creamy finish. Nothing is out of place. A real bluff.

DO Penedès, San Rafols dels Caus “El Rocallis” 2009 is a south-facing plot of Incroccio Manzoni (a mix of Pinot Blanc and Riesling) planted in 1988 on shallow soils with stone, clay and chalk. The wine is fermented for 40 days in French oak.

Tasting notes: the wine is light in colour, the nose is floral, herbaceous, chalky and zesty. The mouth is light but with some nice bitters towards the end. I think it needs some time but pairing it with delicate fish and citrus sauces is a winner.

DO Penedès, San Rafols dels Caus “El Rocallis” 1998 (in Magnum) (see above for details).

Tasting notes: the wine is exuberant, nutty, toasted yet perfectly balanced. It smells like toasted pine nuts, chestnuts and has a refreshing salinity to it that still vibrates with youth.

Judging by these three examples, the winemaking is masterful, controlled and technically correct. What’s great is the wines have emotion, they have soul and I really look forward to visiting to meet the person(s) who contributed to making this a success.

The ones who walked away

On a recent quickie trip to Paris, I had lunch at Les Déserteurs, a new restaurant owned by Daniel Baratier (ex chef de cuisine at Sergent Recruteur) and Alexandre Céret (ex sommelier at Sergent Recruteur). It stands where Rino used to operate on Rue Trousseau.

After spending much time away from Paris, I yearned for that perfect lunch I used to crave that had me so often at Septime in the beginning: the right amount, the fresh ingredients, not too heavy, some great wine (by the glass) selections, good coffee, efficient service, nice lighting, adapted background sound (music, accoustics, etc.).

Les Déserteurs is a very thoughtful and well put together restaurant one could assume easily aspires at gastronomy dining rather than a bistro-laid-back concept.

It’s no suprise with both its owners having worked in high-end establishments in London and Paris alike.

The presentation is perfect, the plates, glasses, cutlery, linen and decor manicured and spot on. It is refreshing to be in a comfortable environment where quality is obviously more valued that quantity: one service, no turning tables and making customers have to arrive or depart at a certain time, no-fuss service but an in-depth knowledge of wine from Alex who by the way, put together one of the best wine lists I have ever seen in Paris or anywhere.

I loved that you have to pass Daniel in the entrance and can watch him methodically dish out over thirty covers with a fierce precision.

I don’t really fancy myself a food critic but sometimes I think it’s crucial to give credit where credit is due. These guys nailed it.

It makes me think of the way the natural wine movement evolved: starting off experimental, uneven, at times really inspiring, at others a little dodgy. it feels the same with the natural wine bar/bistro/young cuisine movement, the teenagers are all grown up and boy are they on the ball!

The food was fabulous of course, balanced, textured, well-plated and creative.

Standing ovation. Enough said!

Restaurant Les Déserteurs
46, rue Trousseau
Paris
(75011)
TEL: +33 1 48 06 95 85

In my glass today, May 17th

Staging at Celler de Can Roca is the best way to learn about Spanish wines. Of which, I quickly realized, to my palate’s delight, I knew absolutely nothing about.

Let’s face it, after spending over three years in Paris, I’d mostly explored the French vineyard. But Spain is going through a REVOLUTION, and the results are really exciting.

Salvador Batlle Barrabeig, Cosmic Vinyaters, DO Emporda “Valentia”, Penedès, Catalunya

About 80km from Barcelona is where you will find Cosmic Vinyaters, a micro-winery run by the very passionate Salvador Battle Barrabeig. Similar to conversations I’ve had with Gianfranco Manca about a winemaker’s energy transcending to the wine rather than solely the terroir shining through, Salvador describes his “garage wines” as the result of a person’s energy and effort.

His wines don’t usually carry a DO appellation but he has resuscitated an old vineyard of white carignan vines planted in the 60s around the farm of Muntanyeta 500m high. The grape was always very present in the region so the wines resulting carries the DO Emporda appellation.

He works his vineyard with the principles of biodynamics and adds no sulfur to his wines, often aged simultaneously in amphora, oak or steel containers.

Tasting notes: the wine is unfiltered, smells earthy and a little yeasty. It has vegetal notes of asparagus and green peas. It has a slight bitterness that brings freshness and salinity. Makes me want to eat green peas and artichokes topped with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Château Paquita, Sistema Vinari Callet, Mallorca 2012

As winemaker for the project 4kg wines which produces other interesting wines in Mallorca, Eloi Cedó Perelló also owns Sistema Vinari which is micro-winery that produces a wine dubbed “Château Paquita“of which the first vintage is 2012.

Eloi is a Catalan native from Montsant and previously worked with renowned Alvaro Palacios winemaker Oriol Castells.

The blend is 40% Callet, 40% Mantonegro, 15% Monastrell and 5% Syrah.

Both the Callet and Mantonegro are fermented without sulfur in steel tanks for about 20 days. The Monastrell and Syrah undergo a carbonic fermentation.

The wine then spend 6 months in 500L oak barrels, 3 months combined in inox and 5 months in the cellars of the winery before being sold. There were 4500 bottles made in 2012.

If you love Foillard’s Morgon, you will love this wine. It’s a “vin de soif” that is utterly drinkable and should only exist in magnums!

Tasting note: wine smells like white pepper, strawberries, cinnamon and candy. This wine screams elbows on a barrel in a street in the old town of Girona and unlimited Pa amb tomàquet to snack on. 10 minutes later: repeat.

Geeky info on Mallorquín wines (summarized from thespanishacquisition.com)

Tucked away in the Mediterranean, Mallorca has a warm yet fresh climate protected from the mountains in the North-West blocking the mistral winds.

There are 2 D.O.s in Mallorca: D.O.Binissalem Mallorca (North West) is best suited for the Montenegro grape and D.O. Pla i Llevant that litterally means “the beach and interior”. Located in the South East and centre around the town of Felanitx near Manacor, Callet is best suited but often blended with Montenegro and other french varieties.

The Mallorcan soils are named Call Vermell, a limestone-dominant soil with ferrous veins (best suited for Callet). You can also find soils similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape with red clay, calcareous and rocky (best suited for Mantonegro).

Both highly drinkable, these two wines go on to prove that incredible and exciting things are happening in Spain.

Take me to Tokyo

There are no two ways about it. Tokyo is absolutely incredible.

It’s a racy, vibrant, gurgling and thundering stomach of a city with diversity, choice and range like no where else.

Having little time to explore at heart’s will, here are, of my small time there, some bits I think are unmissable.

Tsukiji Market

If you are going to Tokyo for the next two years, it will be standing where it is today, smack in the centre and close to the very posh Ginza neighbourhood. It is of course prime real estate and that is the main reason they are moving it around Spring 2016 to Toyosu, a man-made island closer to Obaida.

If you are into food in any way, I strongly suggest you find an apartment close to Tsukiji and spend every morning there eating the freshest fish and sushi you’ve ever laid eyes on.

We went two mornings in a row and wished we could have spent all our mornings there. It’s a chef’s wet dream. The market is surrounded by an array of sushi shops that sell fresh fish on perfectly cooked warm rice with just the right amount of freshly grated wasabi for a nose rush that makes your eyes water with happiness.

Where to stay?

First off, where are you going to lay your head at night?

We had a friend put us up which is always a better option because you also get insider info into what’s cool in that person’s neighbourhood.

Otherwise, I’d say find a place near Tsukiji Market that’s walking distance. Weeks couldn’t be enough to explore it completely and it’s really inspiring if you’re into food.

Otherwise, Shibuya and Shinjuku are very cool neighbourhoods quite close to each other. You can happily stay around Yoyogi Park which is connected to both these areas and is a great place to run in the morning or hang out in the afternoon.

Airbnb has some good options or find a traditional hotel, Ryokan (about 50-60$/night) where you sleep on a tatami (bamboo mat where you set up your little mattress each night).

Getting around

First off, make sure to get a map of the surroundings with English/Japanese translations. Lonely Planet maps aren’t great because there are no street names. Go to www.gotokyo.org which is a really helpful site.

Second, if you get the JR pass you can use the Yamanote line which runs all around Tokyo and is great to hop on and off as you discover the different neighbourhoods. You have to just flash your pass at the agents (you can’t use it going through automatically).

Finally, the subway system is really weird because they are privately owned train companies operating different stations so make sure to ask if you aren’t sure how to get to where you want to go or how much it will cost (price varies depending on how far you go). In general, you can count about 200 to 300 yen (1,50 to 2 EUR) per ticket to get around…

Things to eat

Sushi: the freshest we had was at Tsukiji market but a very expensive 30-minute experience could surely also be enjoyed. Not in our budget this time unfortunately!

Tempura: we found a great little place in Shinjuku called Tempura Tsunahachi. The tempura is crispy and smooth but be careful about “specials” and always ask for the price before.

Tachinomi-ya: the place we went is one of the oldest and is called Tachinomi-ya which means standing bar. You go there around 5pm and have snacks (mostly grilled chicken or other grilled meats), guzzle beer and chat with the young chefs behind the counter.

Noodles: be it ramen, soba or udon, the key is to eat it hot and slurp away! The best places we found were in Kyoto but there are all kinds of good ramen and udon joints all around Tokyo we surely haven’t had time to discover.

Bistrot de quartier: the Japanese are quite fond of this french concept. We went to Gris and it was really high-quality on the same foot with the usual Parisian suspects. Delicious food, Clos Rougeard 2006 at 80EUR = hard to beat. Highly recommend!

Kaiseki: it’s basically a restaurant where you are served a multi-course dinner equivalent to omakase (tasting menu at the chef’s choice). It is usually a high-level of cuisine and often quite expensive. In Tokyo, we were invited to a great place called Jin in Azabu Juban that had delicate and precise food with a western inspiration. We would have never found this place without the local knowledge but it was by far our best eating experience in Tokyo.

Where to drink

Coffee

Credit: Omotesando Koffee

The one place you should go to is Omotesando Koffee in Shibuya at Omotesando subway. Head there first thing and order a coffee, then enjoy it on their tiny but very well-designed terrasse. Afterwards, spend hours wandering around this stylish area filled with great designer shop displaying edgy clothes and sprinkled with concept stores.

Beer

Escape the craziness of Harajuku on the weekend and step into The Taproom serving up dozens of Baird Beer on tap. Find it down an alley off the main street of Harajuku.

Cocktails

Bar Liber (11-1-#102 Motoyoyogi Shibuya 151-0062): this bar was great because it’s tucked away on a quiet street a 10 minute bus ride from Shibuya station. The owner, Fuminori Umeda is alone behind the bar. Behind him there are hundreds of bottles of spirits, liqueurs, vermouths, etc. You tell him what you want and he concocts a cocktail on demand. We had the best Negroni and the space, which is dark, mysterious is a perfect after-dinner hangout. On the plus side, with every 15EUR cocktail, you get three free little bites that are both delicious and generous. Closes at 4AM.

The Lost in Translation experience: like 99% of tourists to Tokyo, who can forget the epic shot from the Park Hyatt’s 52nd floor with Bill Murray as a confused and disgruntled traveller?

Firstly, make sure you are going to the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku (you can’t miss those two towers). Secondly, AVOID the ultra touristy, loud and really tacky 52nd floor. Instead, relax with some bites and good drinks on the 41st floor at The Peak Lounge and Bar. The ambience is relaxing, the view even better and the service zen.

Wine

Le Bistrot Le Verre Volé à Tokyo: I have to say, when I got there, it was like being transposed back in space and time to a lazy Sunday afternoon by the canal stumbling out of Le Verre Volé, glasses under a hand and the third bottle of wine in the other. Nostalgic and welcoming at once, we proceeded to start that night with Eric Pfifferling’s Tavel 2012 which tasted beautifully familiar even thousands of kilometres away from home. Cozy up in the eerily similar decor and drink as much natural wine as you can stomach while nibbling on product-driven delicious bites.

Next stop was Yasuhiro Ooyama’s wine stand Waltz: the place is the size of a tiny walk-in closet yet I discovered there a delicious Japanese wine made with the Koshu grape by Caney wines, Yamanashi prefecture, Manriki-Koshu Asayake 2005. I had never tasted anything quite like it. Floral and herbaceous with a bright acidity, the pellicular maceration and singular orange tint made me think of Italian Emilia-Romagna. Before tasting it, I actually thought it was sake because it really had a fermented rice nose. In the end, the grape is indigenous to Japan and is primarily grown in the Yamanashi Prefecture. It travelled from the Silk Road thousands of years ago and belongs to the “prestigious” Vitis Vinifera family. Unlike many hybrids of poor quality in Japan, this one really has class.

We finished the night at Libertin, a wine bar/bistro serving up simple fare but with a really nice natural wine selection. We drank some of Etienne Thiebaud’s Trousseau and it was great. Five people, five bottles later, it was good to be tipsy in Tokyo!

Big thanks to Junko Suzuki for taking us out to the natural wine spots of Tokyo.

Parks & gardens

Back when I briefly lived in New York, I used to hang out in Sheep’s Meadow. I loved to see skyscrapers from the greenery and feel totally disconnected from the intense rapidity of the city.

In Tokyo, you can readily escape the crazy gurgling Tokyo belly and nestle in the arms of the city’s many parks and Japanese gardens.

Here are the ones I loved:

Shinjuku Gyoen: it is one of Tokyo’s largest parks and it’s conveniently located just minutes from the Shinjuku station. Spend the day sitting under the cherry blossoms from late March to April. You won’t be alone as all the city revives after winter and embraces the pink blanket that colours it.

Yoyogi Gyoen: nestled between Shibuya, Harajuki and Yoyogi subway stations, this park is great for running and for watching the crazy teens sport nutty clothes on the weekends while dancing to funky tunes.

Hama-rikyu gardens: this has to be my favourite garden. About 10 minutes walking distance from Tsukiji market, wander towards this garden after the morning spent smelling and eating fish and sip matcha tea at Nakajima-no-ochaya which is the rest house at the centre of the garden. This is where the shogun, ladies and Imperial court nobles would come to enjoy the zen way of life. Then, take the boat up the river to Asakusa and get a look at Tokyo from a different angle. It’s more touristy but there are good temples to visit.

Tokyo is a wild city where old tradition, new technology, curiosity, novelty and beauty are breath-taking and addictive.

It does change you and beckons you back without a doubt!

Japan at a glance

More information will follow about Kyoto and Tokyo seperately but for now, a couple of things about Japan.

Local up!

At any rate, the one piece of advice I can give if you come to Japan is try to find someone you can meet to share local secrets, good food spots, etc. Sometimes the restaurants don’t even have a name. When they do, it’s in Japanese and unless you are really efficient at learning how to read Japanese before your trip, you will have a very hard time.

Good tip: contact Benoît Piquet who is a fixer and also writes the Louis Vuitton guide to Tokyo. Find him on Facebok or look out for his upcoming website soon.

On the bright side, the Japanese are a very welcoming and helpful people. I was told by a lot of people that visited that they don’t speak English, which, for me, has not proven to be true. Most of the time, you can communicate albeit weakly in English and sometimes in French (especially in Kyoto).

Recognize your surroundings

Try to pinpoint places around your hotel or apartment you are staying in so you can remember a way back to your place (department store, McDonald’s, Starbucks, whatever).

Also get the address written down on a piece of paper and make sure you remember the metro/bus stop closest and how to make your way back.

I am stressing this because there isn’t actually any addresses to the places you are going. The numbers they do give you are actually just for the postal service and GPS uses… there is really no rime or reason so it can be very, very, VERY confusing.

Wi-fi and phones

There is little Wi-Fi in Kyoto and Tokyo except in some stations like Kyoto station (sign up with email for 3 free hours of surfing) or in some stores where it is advertised: at Google play, you get free coffee, free wifi and a seat to rest your tired legs from walking.

Pay-per-minute cell phones are pricey and you have to live in Japan to buy one. If you do have a friend who is Japanese, ask them to come with you and bring ID to be sure that they can buy the phone.

A good thing is some people advertising Airbnb have a portable Wi-Fi which I strongly recommend you favour if you are choosing where to stay.

Transportation and the JR Pass

Definitely get the JR Pass which costs about 428USD for 14 days. This is a good deal if you plan to travel around Japan (going to Kyoto and back will set you back about 200USD or so). It’s also worth it because you can take a the NEX train from Narita into Tokyo or Shibuya station from the airport.

Visit: http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/. Your JR pass is also valid on the Yamanote line which is a train that loops around Tokyo and it saves you considerable money. You can just hop on it and off as you visit the different neighbourhoods. Kyoto has a similar system – look for the JR line and it will be free to use. Some buses also operate with the JR but always check to make sure (you will see clear JR signs).

When buying the JR pass, make sure you don’t buy it 3 months before your trip as it will have expired. You have to buy the JR pass before you get to Japan so allow enough time before your arrival to get the vouchers for the JR Pass by the mail.

Book your seat ahead of time (you can do it 1 or 2 days before typically) that way you can pick your spot and don’t have to wait in sometimes interminable lines.

Good tip: make sure to book at the very front of the carriage so you can plug in your devices while travelling and you get extra legroom. Point this out to the person reserving your seats (they have a screen so you can show them).

Money

It’s helpful to just take away 2 zeros form any bill and it will give you an approximate to a couple of dollars short of the USD amount.

20 000Y = 200USD, 1000Y=10USD, etc.

Always ask how much food/meals cost as they may sometimes try to up sell you without disclosing price especially around touristy areas in Tokyo.

Cultural considerations

Realize you are in alien country. You will not know the customs, the language, the many many (MANY) ways to behave, social codes and proper manners for each situation.

The key is to be as clear as you can, smile and show respect.

Good words to know

sumimasen = excuse me, pardon me, sorry (to get attention or push through a crowd)

kudasai = please (when asking for something)

dozo = please (when offering something)

gomenasai = sorry (apologetically)

wakarimasen = I don’t understand (you’ll use this a lot)

wa doko deska? = where is……..?

arigato gozaï mass = thank you very much

kombava = good evening

koneecheewa = good day (hello)

Honestly, it doesn’t serve much to buy a whole book on the Japanese language because really you will struggle no matter what. It can be quite frustrating so just be really patient and try to smile a lot and approach people to check you are going in the right direction on a regular basis.

Bending in the wind

The bow.

It’s more than just a show of respect, excellent core strength and a very Japanese custom. It illustrates at once both the incredible rigidity and flexibility of the culture.

It’s my first time in Japan. I always wanted to come and now that I am here, I don’t want to leave. I want to stay here, learn Japanese, master the tea ceremony, meditate every morning, and learn how to bow properly, be discreet, shy and gentle.

All of the above is obviously not going to happen. Especially the gentle, discreet and shy part!  But there is something to be said for bending in the wind and dreaming. I will definitely return to Japan.

Here’s why.

I held in my hands a pottery over three hundred years old.

I ate blowfish (fugu) both raw and cooked and survived. It has the consistency of monkfish a little more chewy.

I tasted the best bottarga of my life: it melted in my mouth and had notes of aged cheddar, sea urchin and butter.

I watched as Jimmy (the incredibly apt waiter/tea master at Kiln) prepared Matcha and then was kind enough to walk me through the motion. There are over twenty steps to the tea ceremony and the patience, rigor, perseverance and force required to prepare a perfect bowl of Matcha is very underrated.

 I ordered ramen from a vending machine, sat in a small little crowded shop and ate it in six minutes.

I walked in the kingdom of signs not understanding anything written around me save for the occasional English translation.

I was touched to meet a group of farmers in Kameoka who strive to produce incredibly fresh and organic food.

I ate in a temple hundreds of years old where Masayo Funakoshi (chef at Kiln) prepared a delicious meal in the freezing cold with the great produce these farmers supplied her with.

I wandered the grounds around the temple where every step you take is a dodge to avoid stepping on many patches of beautiful wild purple sorrel growing free.

I visited Tomika Brewery in Nagahama in the Shiga Prefecture and was amazed by incredible sake aged in sherry casks.

I dove into a searing hot onsen north of Kyoto on the sea and ate traditional food strange and wonderful all at once…

The kindness I witnessed throughout my trip so far has brought me to my knees. The Japanese are not a cold people. They have rituals and rules and they love beautiful things to get deserved reverence.

We have much to learn from the Japanese service style.  Everything is important: from the moment you set foot in the restaurant, the crockery, the glassware, the music or absence of music. They want the atmosphere to be relaxed to prepare the guest for the best possible experience.

In Kyoto, where we have so far spent most of our time, we were lucky enough to have incredible locals show us around and let us peek through the keyhole of their day-to-day life.

We are now headed over to Tokyo to witness the fitness of a grand and great city.

More details soon…

The road to Bolinas

The Oakland Popup had just ended and we were driving down from a great visit with Nathan at a winery called Arnot Roberts in Healdsburg.

Having sipped and slurped and chewed away through the wines, my mind was racing at the “non-California” qualities they presented.

Similar to what Philippe Pacalet does in Beaune that I dub his “high-end” négoce (purchasing wine from various farmers and vinifying it all himself), Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts (get it now?) pride themselves on selecting the best possible parcels of vines in Northern California. As Philippe does, they entertain a close and collaborative relationship with the farmers whose grapes they purchase.

They do the good stuff: little irrigation (some places, none), hand-harvested, native yeasts, whole cluster for Syrah, Pinot Noir and most of their reds, no filtering on the reds (sometimes on the whites), etc. etc.

Particularly interesting is their fascination with original and lesser-known grape varietals. At least for California, you don’t really expect to find Trousseau, Poulsard or Touriga Nacional, right? Well, the latter is used to make a delicious refreshing rosé that gave me a flashback of my many Gros Noré rosé binges in Provence.

I also learned a good one: Trousseau is really Bastardo (Portuguese synonym) and the reason it’s there at all was because at some point, the Mondavis’ were looking to make Porto-esque sweet wine. That explains that Touriga Nacional bouncing around North East Sonoma and East Mendocino.

Stand-outs were the Legan Vineyard Sta Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir 2012 with a floral and orange peel nose doubled with a fruity palate and delicious acidity. A friend on Facebook commented: Welcome to Healdsburgundy !

Another winner was the Clary Ranch Sonoma Coast Syrah 2012 that exuded eucalyptus, mint and white pepper. This is the coldest vineyard in California planted with Syrah. The absence of insanely high alcohol and coolness on the palate now make even more sense.

When discussing our Popup and how we poured Evan Lewandowski’s brilliant Fox Hill Vineyard Chilion 2012 with Cortese in pellicular maceration, Nathan popped a Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla from Napa Valley 2012. The juices had spent two months on the skin and the tannins were quincy, refined and super drinkable.

With this incredible aftertaste in mouth, we raced down to catch the sunset towards Bolinas where we were to stay with some friends for a couple of days to unwind post Popup.

As we approached, we passed a little stand packed with beautiful green vegetables, flowers and fresh fruits. I immediately wanted to stop and go check it out. Turns out we had landed at Gospel Flat Farm. Don Murch‘s beautiful little natural heaven just outside of downtown Bolinas.

There was no one at the stand so you are meant to weigh your food at a scale by the counter and just leave money as you see fit.

I saw a contraption behind the stand and further over to the right there was a slab of unsteady wood above a small little dam that led to a wide spread where hundred’s of chicken were roaming free-range.

Don emerged from a small little hut covered in feathers and smiled at us. We were “trespassing” with curiosity and we got to talking to this original character. Minutes later, we were off with plans to meet him at the dock the next morning at 8AM to go fishing for crab.

I never knew that this would involve five hours, freezing winds and forty baskets of crabs pulled out of the ocean by this upwards of sixty year incredibly entertaining man. Usually, he goes with his son Mickey, has a fag and drives the boat as the baskets are weeled out of the sea by his younger version. But not today. Under our incredulous eyes, Don muscled out of the ocean over a hundred pounds’ worth of four-year old crabs (about 60 or 70 crabs). At 10$ a pop, you do the math.

Here’s how fishing crabs work:  large round baskets with two areas small enough for the crabs to crawl into are baited with dead sardines. The small entrances then latch closed via a simple metal pin and the crabs are trapped in. He comes along, hurdles a rope on board and a pulley gets the basket to the surface and onto the boat where the crabs are measured, unloaded and the females and young ones are tossed back into the sea.

Legislation has it that only male crabs aged four years and over are allowed to be caught. This allows the species to survive, reproduce at the right rate and therefore supply enough for all the fishing that goes on in the area. Don estimated that 95% of the crabs that should be caught were in fact captured each year by fishermen.

The basket is now ready to go back in the sea but Don usually leaves a crab in the basket as apparently crabs are fans of fighting amongst themselves so they happily enter the basket and start a brawl.

In between the tugging, catching the rope in the water, opening the baskets, tossing the crabs in a container and baiting each basket tossed back in with horribly stinky sardines, he told us stories of fishing in high sea in Alaska, of nearly freezing to death during a hunting trip and lying in the train tracks while a train roared above him passing across a bridge at more than hundred meters over a roaring river.

The man’s got stories and he’s passionate about food. He raises it, grows it, hunts it and fishes it.

That night, around a small table, twelve of us (and a lot of chefs were present) cracked open and licked off our fingers the best crab we’d ever eaten.

Down the boozer

What should we do this afternoon?

“Go to the pub ain’t it?”

Which one though?

” The local.”

The what…?

“Down the boozer!”

This is the pointless conversation I have with Harry when we go to England and each time I just pretend I understand the concept but really I don’t get it.

What is a pub really? Do they serve food? Good beer?

Not really… in my meager experience, usually you get horrible pork scratchings out of a stale plastic packet and warmish beer.

Described as the “heart of England”, the pub’s history can be traced back to the Roman taverns and is considered the gathering spot for socializing around beer, wine spirits and soft drinks.

Here are some things I’ve learned about pubs while researching them…

Pub: public house (as opposed to a private house where the public is not welcome in). The pub is a place for drinking and usually opens in the day until late at night. It can also serve food but the primary goals is drinking.

Landlord: the owner of the pub – historically owned the whole building or part of it

Local: a pub that you frequent regularly and is your “local hangout”.

Lock-in: when you know the landlord and he closes down the pub but keeps serving booze – it then becomes a private party (no longer “public house”).

Boozer or Battle cruiser: pub and rhyming slang for a pub.

Pub quiz: quiz nights in a pub that occur on evenings one night or so per week. Typically, these pub games can get quite competitive. Questions vary on the quiz master’s selection that are read out loud (via a microphone generally) and all the different teams/tables have to write their answers down.

All this is quite merry but to be honest, a good lesson I got from my pub experiences was to enjoy the spirit of the night above the quality of beverages served and the deliciousness of the food.

You can just shoot the shit and laugh about past ridiculous situations most of which included getting wasted in a pub and then doing something stupid afterwards.

Honestly, it was kind of liberating…

Grape varietes of the week: Pinot Noir, Romorantin, Frappato

Our imminent travelling has forced me to sift through all my junk and start making decisions about what is going to stay and what is going to go. Happily, this was also an excuse to dive back into the wine library I’ve been obsessively hauling around from apartment to apartment, across countries, and back from travels. I pulled out Wine Grapes: A Complete guide to 1368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.

This week’s top three are…

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir: the highly mutating variety (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier) is the source of many legends as to its origin but there is actually no current factual proof of who mom or dad are. Parent to many an offspring and in a long-term relationship with Gouais Blanc, Pinot Noir has hatched Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay, Melon, and Romorantin. It is also a distant parent to Teroldago, Syrah, Lagrein, Corvina, Mondeuse Noire/Blanche, and Viognier.

Pinot I’m loving: Hubert Lignier‘s Morey-Saint-Denis 2008 and Philippe Pacalet‘s Pernand Vergelesses 2010 are guzzle-ready.

Cépage Romorantin

Romorantin

Another child of the Pinot Noir x Gouais Blanc romance, Romorantin is a Burgundian varietal originating from North-East France that, when planted ungrafted and allowed many years to evolve, can spawn some incredible complex, mineral and well-balanced wines. It also has its own appellation, Cour-Cheverny where it thrives on the Loire valley’s complex soil kaleidoscope.

Romorantin I’m loving: Domaine de Montcy, Cour-Cheverny 2010 and Domaine des Huards, Cour-Cheverny “Cuvée François” 2006

A bunch of Frappato grapes

Frappato

A red varietal of Sicily, this grape is quite enchantingly known for its fruity nature. Indeed fruttato in Italian could have been at the origin of this Frappato. It is often blended with Nero d’Avola to produce the DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria and brings balance and freshness to its tannic and acidic counterpart. One of its parents is Sangiovese and it has been thought as a sibling of Gaglioppo (Calabrese varietal with aromatic similitude).

Frappato I’m loving: COS Sicilia IGT Frappatto 2012 and Arianna Occhipinti’s IGT Sicilia Frappato 2011.

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