31 March 2014

Argento Malbec

Malbec was a grape that I fell in love with early in my wine self-education. So many of the Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots that I could afford were not that great, not to mention some of the terrible Pinot Noirs that I purchased for under $10. Truly some of the finest red wines in the world come from the classic giants, but in Argentine Malbec I found red wines of great balance and tremendous flavor that were inexpensive, ready to drink now, and outstanding with the simple delight of a grilled ribeye.

Argento was founded in 1998 in the Mendoza region of Argentina, and I've had the chance to try many of them over the years, and of course for this tasting I used my special Riedel Malbec glass.

2012 Argento Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
100% Malbec
$13, 13.9% abv.

Initial aromas of black cherry and a touch of pepper, a little leather, and just a touch of spice on the finish. Tart raspberry acidity and firm tannins mean that this one benefits from a good decanting before serving. Excellent with a rustic grilled lamb dish.

2011 Argento Reserva Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
100% Malbec
$17, 13.9% abv.

The reserve version displayed a big dark plum profile with touches of leather, coffee, and chocolate. Medium tannins and a bold finish. I loved the balance and complexity of this one, and for $17, it is an outstanding bargain. Grill up the biggest Porterhouse you can find and top it with some herbed butter before serving.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

28 March 2014

Nomacorc & Lean Manufacturing

My day job is in quality assurance. It's not a topic I talk about a lot here--I'm very engaged in the subject and it keeps the lights on at Casa de Benito, but it doesn't apply much to the kind of wine and food that I write about most often.

That's not to say that philosophies like Lean Six Sigma don't have a place in the world of food and beverages, it's just that you see the greatest implementations in mass-produced factory brands. My own home cooking is wildly inefficient, delicious, yet often inconsistent because I'm constantly tinkering with recipes. Your neighborhood baker can focus on making a dozen baguettes and a few hundred cookies without employing efficiency strategies, but the supplier for a national chain of grocery stores is going to have to use the Japanese-inspired manufacturing techniques that have been refined over the past forty years. Concepts like kaizen (continuous improvement) and 5S (sort, straighten, shine, standardize, sustain).

The macrobrew beer industry has fully embraced this, which is why every Budweiser you taste anywhere will taste exactly the same, and through a commitment to quality improvement, the amount of water required to make the beer goes down every year. Not just the water used in brewing, but all of the water used for cleaning the facility and preparing ingredients. More detail on the efficiency of the modern beer industry is available in my review of the industry book Beer Is Proof God Loves Us.

Wine is a little different, and often gets treated more like art than science. A lot of people lose money making amazing wine. Outstanding producers often have small patches of land that are unique and beautiful but can't really scale up to industrial production. Serious wines have characteristics that depend on the weather in the summer and how a certain volcano eroded ten million years ago. On the bargain side, it is possible to make mass produced, industrial wine. There's lots of it on the market and, although you don't read a lot about it, those jug/box wines keep many wine shops in business while the customers showing up looking for single vineyard Viognier only show up once in a blue moon.

Not every Cabernet Sauvignon needs to taste the same, and we can still enjoy the fact that a difference of a few miles will determine how your white Burgundy shows in the glass. But there are elements of wine production that can benefit from quality assurance while still delivering a product with artistic integrity. Here I am returning to my February visit to the Nomacorc factory in North Carolina. The factory holds many Six Sigma awards as well as multiple quality certifications. Their impact on the wine world is not to make every wine on the market taste the same, but to ensure that every individual bottling of a specific wine is free from the variation (and potential spoilage) due to the random performance of traditional corks. Moving beyond that goal, the company works to match the perfect cork with the desired oxygen transfer rate needed by the wine in question.

How do you figure that out? It takes some time. The above photo shows the development of the Nomacorc over twenty years, demonstrating how that commitment to kaizen takes the product from a relatively simple alternative enclosure to a highly sophisticated and technically superior choice over the traditional cork. From the labeling of bins and floor markers to the signs about 5S compliance to the tester who would plug a bottle and show you exactly how many Newtons of force were required to pull the cork to the engineers who perform testing on all of the raw materials, the factory is a model of modern lean manufacturing.

We got to try a couple of wines for a controlled experiment, starting with a Hungarian Chardonnay. Our group sampled the same wine from bottles enclosed with three different Nomacorcs. Each one was a little different, and I think most of us enjoyed the middle option that wasn't too bright or too restrained. Opinions also varied on a Cabernet Franc presented in the same way. The synthetic cork with the most oxygen transfer would probably be the most welcoming in a restaurant situation (soft and fruit forward), but I enjoy how that particular tannic grape opens up over time, so I preferred the enclosure with the least oxygen transmission. The Nomacorc technology allows the winemaker to select the perfect synthetic cork for the desired presentation.

A quick note on these tastings: the comparisons against different types of Nomacorcs are very useful, but comparisons against natural cork are difficult due to the wide variation introduced. Comparing against things like agglomerated corks is easier due to the fact that TCA contamination tends to spread out evenly amongst an entire production run. Screwcaps--and I'm a big fan of them for "drink now" table wines--also present their own problems with consistency when it comes to oxygen transfer over time.

It is possible to introduce science and modern quality assurance into the world of wine without sacrificing the art. From everything that I heard at Nomacorc, glass bottles are wildly unpredictable (and their corks are designed to work within a wide delta of internal neck diameter). There are probably efficiencies of labeling and shipping that are already happening behind the scenes. While we embrace the tradition and romance of the old ways of making wine, it is important to take advantage of modern technology that can deliver a better and more enjoyable wine experience for everyone.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Nomacorc. All opinions are my own.

26 March 2014

Microsoft OneNote for the Mac

As part of my involvement with the Microsoft Office 365 group, I'm getting some great opportunities to network with other Office users around the country. I've particularly enjoyed conversations about math and Excel in my day job (quality assurance), but that doesn't fit too well with what I write about here. However, I was really excited at the recent announcement about the release of OneNote for the Mac desktop. Even better, it's free.

As faithful readers know, I've been an Apple user since 1983, though I've also been using Windows, OS/2, various flavors of Unix, and other more obscure operating systems throughout, and I've been using Mac versions of Microsoft applications for decades now. OneNote is a note taking application that syncs with your free Microsoft account. What this means is that you can edit the same document on your desktop, iPhone, iPad, or even via the web on any computer connected to the internet. On top of that, you can share documents for collaborative editing with other people. It's not like Word or PowerPoint, but is more of a virtual whiteboard where you can jot notes, post photos, highlight items, make to-do lists, etc.

Here's an example of a way I was able to use OneNote in my blogging life to build my Monday post. I took photos with my iPhone and added a photo of the bottles to a note. Later when doing the initial sips, I jotted simple tasting details on the desktop app. I got the idea for the Portuguese mussels and added a shopping list, which I was later able to check off on my phone while at the grocery store. Then I was able to take the photo of the dish with the iPhone and later have a basic set of jottings with which to build the bigger article.

My desktop MacMini is upstairs, the laptop tends to live downstairs (or travels with me when I leave town), and the iPhone lives in my pocket. I can easily work on any note wherever I am and not have to constantly e-mail documents back and forth to myself.

Once you get used to working with the program, it's as easy as dealing with an index card, except that the index card can be multimedia (music, hyperlinks, photos, video, etc.) and is backed up in cloud storage, so you don't have to worry about leaving your tasting notes on the restaurant table or accidentally throwing away that pile of envelopes that contained important musings. I've lost physical tasting notes and photos in the past, and look forward to using OneNote for a more modern and efficient workflow.

This is one way to use OneNote for wine blogging, but in my group I've gotten to hear about how people use this for taking notes in college, handling schedules for children, building sermons, and coordinating weddings. My parents have installed it on all of their Apple devices, and Mom and Dad are already testing it out with the to-do lists and having a blast.

Like I said, it's completely free on all platforms, so give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

24 March 2014

William Hill Estate Winery

William Hill Estate Winery was founded in Napa in 1978, but these two wines represent the introductory Coastal Collection with grapes sourced from the Central and North Coast regions (I wrote about two of the Napa reds in September).

2012 William Hill Chardonnay
North Coast, California
100% Chardonnay
$14, 13.5% abv.

Creamy mouthfeel with a dominate profile of pear, low acidity, round body, and a gentle finish. Little touches of butter and oak more in the French style than your standard $14 California Chardonnay. A great bargain that turned out to be the perfect match for the seafood dish described below.

2011 William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
North Coast, California
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$14, 13.6% abv.

Black cherry aromas with a touch of anise and undertones of spice. Medium tannins contribute to a light body with a soft finish. Outstanding companion to a patty melt on a quite spring afternoon.

I paired the Chardonnay with Portuguese-style mussels. There are a lot of recipes out there but the idea is pretty basic: sauté chopped shallots, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, and chorizo, add wine, steam until the mussels open up, and serve with good crusty bread. There are two layers to the meal, meaning that you eat the mussels first and then sop up the savory sauce with pieces of bread. The salty, savory notes of the dish contrasted nicely against the mellow profile of the Chardonnay.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

21 March 2014

Adobe Trio

Clayhouse Wines in Paso Robles has an extensive line of wines, and I've tried a lot of them over the past four years. On the introductory level you'll find the trio of wines under the Adobe marque. While commonly associated with graphic design software, the word adobe refers to the mud wall construction popular for the past 4,000 years in various parts of the world. In a desert climate, it has the magical benefit of being cool during the day and warm at night, yet that doesn't really work in a humid region like Memphis. A true adobe building here would never stay dry (if you could even get the bricks dry in the first place) and would pretty much steam cook you during the night.

Here's a look at all three of the Clayhouse Adobe wines:

2012 Clayhouse Adobe White
Paso Robles, California
36% Viognier, 34% Grenache Blanc, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Princess
$14, 13.5% abv.

Light herbal notes with a hint of musk and just a touch of sweetness on the finish. Firm acidity and a fun pairing for chicken salad on a croissant. The Princess component of this is a familiar green seedless grape you can purchase from the supermarket.

2012 Clayhouse Adobe Pink
Paso Robles, California
39% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 27% Mourvèdre
$14, 13.5% abv.

This rosé is bright with a profile of watermelon and raspberry. Round body and a smooth finish. Great GSM blend and one that will pair well with a wide range of foods. Keep this in mind as BBQ season approaches.

2011 Clayhouse Adobe Red
Paso Robles, California
23% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 10% Petit Verdot, 4% Tempranillo, 3% Syrah
$14, 13.7% abv.

Big ripe plum and cherry flavors, round mouthfeel, low tannins. With so many grapes, it's difficult to discern any individual varietal characters, but it's a fun table wine to go along with a Tuesday night burger.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

19 March 2014

Stark Wines of California

The fourth season of Game of Thrones will premiere on Sunday, April 6, 2014. And what better way to celebrate than to open up a few bottles of Stark Wine.

Now, I have to admit that there is no connection between this winery and the sword and sorcery works of George R. R. Martin. Nor have the publicists for the winery made any connection with the TV show. But as a mild fan of the series, it was the first thought that I had. Tonight, I'll be sipping from the cellars of House Stark.

In the reality of the world in which we live, the company was founded in 2003 by the husband and wife team of Christian and Jen Stark. The couple produce Rhone and Mediterranean style wines in Healdsburg, Sonoma. These are small production wines, so your best bet for finding them will be to visit the winery or order from their online store.

2012 Stark Viognier
Damniano Vineyard
Sierra Foothills
100% Viognier
$28, 14.2% abv.

A little caramel and toast with deep overripe pear flavors and a slightly vegetal finish. Utterly amazing with a chicken pot pie. I don't encounter Viognier often, but when I do, I always wonder why I don't have it more frequently.

2012 Stark Carignane
Trimble Vineyard
Mendocino County
100% Carignane
$34, 13.5% abv.

Ripe red berry flavors with firm tannins and a long finish. Gentle notes of tea and stewed fruit as it opens up over time. A rare and delicious opportunity to sample a great French grape that does not get the love it deserves.

2012 Stark Cuvée Julian
Mendocino County
100% Syrah
$44, 13% abv.

Light blueberries and raspberries, touch of black pepper, spicy tannic aftertaste. Out of the three red wines, this is the one that cries out for a hearty grilled lamb chop with lots of rosemary and a final dash of rich olive oil. While tasty now, this wine should improve over the course of the next few years.

2012 Stark Barbera
Damiano Vineyard
Sierra Foothills
100% Barbera
$36, 14.1% abv.

Gentle red plum aromas and flavors, low tannins, very smooth and delicate on the palate, almost like a Pinot Noir in its overall profile. I would recommend serving this one with gently seasoned pork tenderloin or rabbit, accompanied by a mesclun salad.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

17 March 2014

Two Wines from Cognac One

Cognac One imports an impressive array of wines from around the world, some of which are branded under specific marques like the beautifully curated Xavier Flouret line that I've had the chance to try over the years.

Both of these are exceptional bargains and are highly recommended if they are distributed in your area. Both exhibit perfect balance in a restrained yet complex Old World style. The Portuguese red will let you experience what those grapes can do if they're turned into wine instead of Port, and the perennial favorite French rosé will make you weep over every cheap White Zinfandel that ever passed your lips.

In addition the two wines are food friendly with a wide range of dishes. I could have done a better pairing with the Douro (perhaps braised pork shanks with a shallot, dried fig, and red wine reduction), but I believe I hit it out of the park with the rosé.

2010 Quinta Do Pessegueiro Aluzé
Douro, Portugal
20% vinhas velhas, 35% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Francesa, 15% Tinta Roriz
$18, 12.5% abv.

Deep black fruit aroma with lots of plum, a touch of cinnamon, and rich cassis. Very low tannins and low alcohol contribute to a very mild red wine. It was perfect with a pizza topped with lots of cured pork, where the fruit and structure were boosted by the salt. Note that 20% of the grapes are listed as vinhas velhas, meaning "old vines". In Portugal, this is the name given to a vineyard that is old and not completely identified by ampelographers. I'm a big fan of old vines and field blends, but am still curious as to which varieties are included in that mix.

2013 Xavier Flouret Nationale 7
Domaine de Rimauresq - Cru Classé
Côtes de Provence
34% Grenache, 33% Cinsault, 10% Mourvedre, 7% Carignane, 5% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Tibouren, 3% Rolle
$17, 13% abv.

This is the third vintage of the Nationale 7 that I've had the pleasure to try. Light and delicate with the most beautiful expression of wild strawberries imaginable. Firm but not tart acidity, sort of the difference between a lemon and an orange but tasting like neither. Gentle finish and amazing balance. The Rolle in the blend is the local name for what is known as Vermentino in Italy, and the general Mediterranean expression of this wine led me to pair it with clams once again...

I had some great saffron linguine and decided to buy two pounds of littleneck clams to go along with it. I boiled the pasta and drained it, setting it aside. I heated up some olive oil and gently cooked four cloves of garlic and a healthy dash of red pepper flakes, then added in a splash of the Nationale 7 and some white vermouth. Time to steam the clams, let them open, add a pat of butter, and then toss with the cooked pasta.

It's important not to overcook any of the clams, but to let the various liquids cook down to the perfect consistency before plating and topping with toasted breadcrumbs and fresh parsley. My ratio of linguine to vongole is pretty heavy on the vongole, but it was delicious and matched perfectly well with the wine. And one great thing is that you don't really have to add salt thanks to the natural saltiness of the clams. Even though it was cold and rainy on this Sunday morning in Memphis, for a moment I could imagine that I was on the sun-kissed coast of the French Riviera.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

12 March 2014

2011 50 Harvests Cabernet Sauvignon

Like many Italian immigrants, the family behind Scotto Cellars made small batches of wine in New York City at the turn of the last century. I'm not sure where he got his grapes for making gallon jugs to sell down at the docks, but at the time a lot of California grapes and juice headed eastward on trains to be made by home winemakers--a tradition that actually continued throughout the Prohibition era. After getting into the retail business, the family moved out to California in 1963. Now the company holds an extensive portfolio of brands, but today we'll be looking at the one called 50 Harvests.

50 Harvests is named in honor of that 1963 move to the Golden State, picked in 2011 and released last November after a stay in a combination of new French oak and two year old neutral oak barrels. The sample arrived in the half bottle format, though I've provided the pricing information for the full bottle. Generally the difference is that the smaller bottle will age a little more quickly, which can be a benefit with stronger red wines. You get a preview of how the wine might taste a little further down the road, and it's a perfect size for two people to enjoy over dinner. (Note that the 375mL bottle is not available for retail sale, but was provided for review purposes.)

2011 50 Harvests Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot
$50/750mL, 13.9% abv.

Gentle cassis and leather aromas. Firm black fruit flavors with a solid tannic finish. Great balance of fruit with earthier undertones, and one that should age gracefully for the next few years. If you're looking for a classic Napa Cab to go with that perfectly aged ribeye, this would be an excellent choice.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

10 March 2014

Winebow Saké Tasting

I got an opportunity to enjoy a saké tasting with Midori Roth of Winebow. She was in town promoting the brands to various restaurants and wine shops, and a meeting was arranged so that I could sample the products. The tasting took place in the lobby of the Sheraton in downtown Memphis, right across the street from a major agricultural convention, and the hotel restaurant kindly loaned us a pair of wine glasses while we sat on the couch and discussed saké.

All of the bottles shown here come from the Akita Prefecture on the northwest coast of Honshu, the large main island of Japan. In the tasting notes, I've included the milling percentages, which refer to how much of the rice grain is removed through polishing before the brewing process starts. Naturally the more that's abraded away, the more delicate and expensive the saké. 65% milling means that 35% of the grain was removed.

A note about temperature: there are nine levels of serving saké, from piping hot to snow cold. Roth mentioned a gastropub in Japan that employed specialists who would make sure the temperature of the saké was perfect--not just for the particular bottle, but who would also remember a specific customer's preferences. All of these were tried slightly chilled and in wine glasses.

Hideyoshi Namacho Honjozo
Suzuki Shuzoten founded in 1689
65% milling
$12, 15% abv.

Despite the modern packaging this is a truly traditional saké. Nineteen generations of the Suzuki family have been brewing in Akita since the 17th century. Bright and crisp with excellent lactic acid, and a great bargain. I'd strongly recommend this as an introductory saké if you're curious about it or have been turned off by bad experiences with cheap saké in the past.

Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
Akita Seishu founded in 1865
65% milling
$30, 14% abv.

This selection was the one that would most appeal to someone who is fond of French white wines. I found it to have a great Old World profile that would pair well with a lot of classic cheeses. Wild and earthy with notes of dried mushrooms. Firm acidity with a thicker body that slightly clings to the glass.

Manabito Ginjo
Hinomaru Jozo founded in 1689
60% milling
$36, 14% abv.

Like with the Suzuki, this kura was also founded in 1689 but that's purely a coincidence. This brewery only produces higher end and lower end saké, with nothing in the middle. The latter products are just the everyday futsū-shu for locals, the equivalent of a table wine. It's said that if a brewery's futsū-shu is good, then the premium bottles will be good as well. Incredibly smooth and delicate, and a delight to sip.

Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo
Tenju Shuzo founded in 1874
50% milling
$63, 15% abv.

A true surprise. This saké showed gentle notes of licorice and jasmine, like a very mild memory of pastis. Rich and smooth with a very refined body, I found myself craving raw shellfish... Oysters and clams would be amazing with this bottle, and if you ever get a chance to try a well-produced, premium saké like this, it will forever change your mind. Highly recommended.

Note: These bottles were provided as samples for review.

07 March 2014

2011 Lamùri Nero d'Avola

Whenever I see Nero d'Avola on a wine list, I'm inclined to order a glass. Said glass of wine will generally be inexpensive and have a rustic character. Why do I order it? Mostly as a show of appreciation to the person building the wine list for the restaurant. This isn't one of those second-cheapest wine tricks, it's more that I really enjoy the wines of the Mediterranean islands, they tend to go well with lots of different foods, and they're not terribly popular in the United States. The restaurant owner or sommelier is taking a risk by including an obscure grape that doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the occasions when I've spotted this grape on a wine list and ordered it, I've found the waiter or bartender to be eager to talk about it, to pour a little more generously, and to be generally excited about discussing something other than the cheapest option or the prestige brands. It's sort of like having a sincere appreciation of an indie band. Most of the conversations about the Beatles have already happened. It's nice to have a fresh talk about the local band's playlist that's on the house sound system.

2011 Tasca d'Almerita Lamùri Nero d'Avola
Sicily IGT
100% Nero d'Avola
$18, 13%

This particular bottle showed a lot of stewed fruit and brambles, with an overall wild and earthy profile. Medium tannins with a clean finish. It makes an entirely delicious companion to a pizza topped with pepperoni, ham, and other cured pork products.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

05 March 2014

2011 Loveblock Pinot Noir

One of the difficulties of the wine blogging game is that there is a huge push for Valentine's Day, but all of the samples tend to arrive in the two weeks before the date. This one arrived early on, but I was still working through a backlog from the Christmas and New Year's rushes and did not get around to writing about it on time.

Loveblock is a project run by Kim & Erica Crawford, who are well-known in the New Zealand wine business. This is a smaller project with a focus on organic, sustainable, and even biodynamic elements involved in the production. The Pinot Noir comes from the mountainous Central Otago region at the south end of the Southern Island.

I haven't talked a lot about label design recently, but I love the dandelions on this one. I had a childhood fascination with the flower: blowing the little seeds off was fun, but the scent of the yellow flower heads brings back so many memories of playing in the yard, neighborhood baseball games, cookouts, and the other delights of summer. Years later I'd read Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine and see how a writer truly captured the magic of such a humble flower, and then in 2008 I got to try the actual beverage thanks to a small winery in Ohio's Amish country.

2011 Loveblock Pinot Noir
Central Otago, New Zealand
100% Pinot Noir
$20, 14.3% abv.

Crisp and tart and full of ripe raspberry, while some earthier undertones open up after a half hour of breathing. Gentle tannins and a soft finish. With our current winter weather, I made a big dish of spaghetti and homemade meatballs, and loved the combination while wrapped up in a blanket watching a good movie.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

03 March 2014

SakéOne Online Tasting

This is my third online tasting with Oregon's SakéOne (cf. 2013, 2012). In addition to brewing in Oregon, they also import saké from Japan, and are working on making craft saké like the craft beer movement. You couldn't pick a better place than the Portland area, and yes, the bottles have already made a cameo appearance in an episode of Portlandia.

Nearly everyone has had a bad experience with saké, and it's probably due to trying it at the wrong temperature, drinking really cheap and acidic versions, or simply dunking it back without a thought of the aromatics. In fact, the traditional ochoko cup shown in the picture is not good for enjoying the subtleties of saké: a wine glass works much better, and in fact, Ridel makes a special glass just for that purpose.

I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to taste some decent saké, preferably a few in a row, and learn what you've been missing all these years. (Note: in the photo, all bottles are 300mL format for sampling, compared against a pair of standard Riesling bottles in the background for contrast.)

SakéMoto Junmai Saké
Nada, Japan
$11/720mL, 14.7% abv.

Our first selection of the evening was an inexpensive import. Clean and light with a little melon element in the background. Low acidity and a round mouthfeel. Good introductory bottle that is traditional and accessible. Junmai indicates that the rice grains are polished to 70% and no additional alcohol is added to the product. It's a mid-range classification, not the cheapest futsuu-shu that most people have encountered.

Momokawa Diamond
Medium Dry Saké
Junmai Ginjo
Forest Grove, Oregon
$13/750mL, 14.8% abv.

Junmai Ginjo removes a bit more of the rice grain, down to 60%, and again, no additional alcohol is added. This bottle had a wonderful earthy aroma with richer grain flavors and a firmer body. It reminded me of a Hefeweizen, and indeed, saké pairs with a pretty wide range of foods like beer does.

Momokawa Pearl
Creamy Nigori Saké
Junmai Ginjo
Forest Grove, Oregon
$13/750mL, 18% abv.

This was a real surprise... The host told us to turn the bottle over multiple times to mix it up, which revealed a sort of lava lamp lump of something in the bottom. It's unfiltered like back in the old days, so you have to gently turn it over to mix before serving. The resulting mixture is white like milk with all the rice sediment. It clings to the side of the glass a bit like cream. On the palate it is creamy with a little touch of sweetness, and fascinating. Highly recommended if you've never had it before, and whatever you do, don't serve it warm. All of these were sampled at a cool temperature similar to white wine.

Note: These bottles were provided as samples for review.

01 March 2014

Bella: Week One

For a stretch of one year and one month, the house was empty of dogs for the first time since 1998. Though many offers came along, I wasn't really in a good place to take in another fifteen year commitment, but a unique opportunity presented itself: an extended dogsitting gig for my buddy Paul.

Bella is no stranger to this blog, having appeared as a model with a Rob Roy and with a bottle of Barefoot. She and I have always gotten along great together, even though Paul has done the hard part of raising her, training her, and getting through the chewy furniture-destroying phase.

What type of dog is Bella? Some sort of Jack Russell mix, though I've always thought that she looked like she belonged in an old Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, or Little Rascals film. She'd awkwardly tug on a tablecloth and reveal the knuckleheads hiding under the table, or would chase alongside the kids on bikes, or bark and alert her owner that shenanigans were afoot.

I've settled back into the routine of life with a dog more quickly than I thought I would, though she's so easy to handle that it requires zero effort on my part. She puts up with my snoring, doesn't mind the piles of wine samples scattered around the living room, and curls up into an adorable little ball on the end of the bed at night.

Welcome, Bella! I hope you enjoy your stay.