This was a feast of refinement and balance, roasted aromas, dust, a slight bitterness, the type of wine you enjoy while drinking it and after swallowing. B. felt blackcurrant, cinnamon and pepper. The wine was telling you silent stories, it was all in restraint and tannins that were present but civilized, very beautiful.
And it was also an occasion to think about these early top-quality wines going modestly under a table wine label, because Trevallon may be one of the first among these demanding artisan vintners scrapping the AOC cover (forced or by choice) and opting for the vulgar table-wine (or vin-de-pays) anonymity instead. From what I remember and recovered from my own writing, this wine was granted for a while the VDQS Coteaux d'Aix en Provence in the early 1980s', VDQS being a pre-AOC type of appellation then, meaning Vin de Qualité Supérieure. But one day, when the AOC Baux de Provence replaced the VDQS for his area, and because Cabernet Sauvignon wasn't allowed in the Appellation over a limited percentage, the AOC authorities asked Eloi Dürrbach either to comply and take the Cabernet Sauvignon percentage down, or have this wine downgraded as "Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone". He took the vin-de-pays label instead of complying and his usual customers (who foremost were buying the bottles for what was inside) remained loyal, with retail prices at the winery already much higher than most AOCs of the area (read this page to see by yourself how much may cost his vins de pays). ELoi Dürrbach was particulaly upset in the sense that cabernet sauvignon had been very common in the area before the phylosera and in spite of the long history of cabernet here, the AOC rulers decided to minimize this variety in the "allowed" list. Most winegrowers who still had cabernet decided to comply with the rules then but Eloi Dürrbach chose to resist and stay in the cold (without the reassuring cover of the VDQS or AOC) and he sure made the right choice, his wine is here to prove it.
We were greeted by a very professional team, part Japanese, part French, and given a highball whisky, Japanese style, with lots of ice in the glass. Not really the best way in my mind to enjoy a whisky, but at least this way you could relax the Japanese way, as it is a very popular way to drink whisky in Japan these days. Highball is usually a cocktail, that is a base of whisky with soda and lots of ice. This is the way people in Japan were massively introduced to the whisky culture after WW2, in particular in the Tory's bars that were all over Japan cities. Today most have disppeared, here is maybe the last Tory's bar (in Osaka). Since then, Japan grew up from being a mass producer to an award collector, and it nows sells well in Europe.
Like everything related to consumering in Japan, whisky sells well among young Japanese women, at least that's what it seems from the billboards perspective in Tokyo (this one on the left shot along the Yamanote last march). Young women anyway seem to fuel all the economy in this country, with their high disposable income from the youngest age. And I'm pretty sure that these highballs mixing soda, water and whisky are an easy gateway to bring this young female public into the world of whisky which would be otherwise a little rough for them.
After we were seated we first listen to a few words from Tsutomu Ogata, president of Suntory France, saying that they were proud to present their new whiskies from respectively Yamazaki and Hakushu. He reminds the attendees of the many prizes won by Suntory for its whiskies (just following this event, Suntory's Hibiki 12 years won a double gold medal in San Francisco). Mr Tsutomu Ogata says that Mr Shinji Fukuyo, chief blender at Suntory would introduce to us these Suntory reserve whiskies, with the help of Mrs Yuko Nonaka for the live translation.
The project behind these new whiskies is to offer blends with no age, no vintages, as the focus will be to get a particular taste and drinking experience with putting together several casks. I had personnaly a nice experience with Suntory's Hibiki, a blend with a vintage, it was a bottle which I had someone with a direct flight purchase for me at Narita, the whisky was just gorgeously delicious, intense and silky without any asperities, I couldn't believe I had payed 3500 Yen (about 25 €) for this, Narita is indeed a good deal when you fly direct. The down thing is that I ordered 2 bottles a few months later, still though Narita tax-free shops (Fasola), and that this 2nd delivery of Hibiki was much less pleasurable, it had a harsh edge and alcohol was more burning. This made me realize that it is very difficult to have a stable product in a blend. But I still look forward for another try of Hibiki btw, this 1st bottle was such a treat.
Mr Shinji Fukuyo in person, the chief blender of Suntory whiskies based in Oyamazaki (home of the Yamazaki brewery) took the microphone to address the attendees : We learned through Mrs Yuko Nonaka and her smoothly-run translation of short sentences so that nothing was missed that at Suntory you find both master blenders and chief blenders, all the master blenders having been part of the family tree of the founding family of Suntory, the first master blender being Shinjiro Torii himself, the founder of the distillery, the 2nd being his son. Today, the 3rd master blender of the company is Shingo Torii who keeps the legacy of his grandfather. The master blender holds the final decision on the quality but he is also a guide with an eye on the future. For his part, Mr Shinji Fukuyo says that he is the 4th chief blender at Suntory. He underlines the Japanese character of Suntory whiskies through a devoted attention to detail and artisanship. After a broad-brush description of the respective qualities of the Yamazaki and Hakushu whiskies, Suntory's chief blender presented the new products. On Yamazaki first : He says that every year, they check 20 000 to 25 000 samples, which makes 200 to 300 a day. While doing these checks they sometimes fall upon unique, unexpected qualities [individual barrels I guess]. When he was proposed to start thinking about this reserve project, he thought to these young but exceptional whiskies he has come across. For the Yamazaki reserve whisky for example the central element was a whisky finished in a wine cask, the idea being to avoid the strong character of a young whisky. He say that among the many elements part of the distiller's reserve whisky, he decided to have us taste three of them.
The main component of this Yamazaki reserve is a les-than-10-years-old whisky that had a 6-month maturing time in a wine cask.
The Yamazaki whiskies, both the elements and the final blend are on the left in the picture above, 3 elements and the final blend. We'll taste the first element which is the glass on the upper left, we're encouraged to leave some so that we can taste it again at the end.
__ Yamazaki single malt, less than 10 years, matured 6 months in wine cask (French oak, contained Bordeaux wine). 45 % alcohol. Rather delicate, soft in the mouth, pale yellow color. Mr Shinji Fukuyo says that this whisky has small red fruits aromas. He says that the wine cask brought harmony here. He says that given the uneven quality of used wine casks, they checked each cask prior to shipping in Paris, a meticulous job, typically Japanese, he adds... His boss the master blender wanted something more complex, that's why they looked for other casks to combine.
__ Yamazaki single malt, aged in Spanish sherry oak cask. 20-year-old whisky. 60 % alc. golden/copper color. Aromas are very concentrated here, dry fruits style. Intense feel in the mouth, quite oaky. This is a good element for the blend, the chief blender says : Alone it would be too marked, to oaky, he says, but it would do a good blend element when combined with other casks.
__ Yamazaki single malt, Mizunara (Japanese oak), about 55 % alc. 2 years. Color : gold. Burning feel in the mouth. He says that there's a sugary and concentrated side in this whisky that helps the whole blend.
__ Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve. Final blend. Color : light gold. Nice mouth feel. Onctuosity and complexity. Not bad. The chief blender asks if people like it but the public keeps shily quiet.
__ Hakushu single malt, lightly peated; sample aged about 6 years. Color : light gold. Very pure, onctuous and powerful. Not bad at all as such, I'd say. Very enjoyable as is. The refreshing side has a citrus style, the chief blender says, with acidulous notes.
__ Hakushu single malt, heavily peated; about 12 years old. Tastes almost like medicine, and very high in alcohol. Very, very smoky indeed, a bit excessive for me.
__ Hakushu single malt, aged in american oak; about 18 years old. For the third component they chose a well-aged whisky, he says, with smooth and complex notes. But given the cost price of this particular whisky, they put a moderate pêrcentage of it in the blend.
__ Hakushu Distiller's Reserve (final blend). The whisky is smooth and powerful, with complexity and an intense refineness. the end of the mouth brings liquorice, zan notes.
After the tasting, Mr Shinji Fukuyo asked if there were any question and as people didn't have one, I dared one question about how different the water in Oyamazaki and Hakushu was, to help me understand the different style of these two Distiller's Reserve whiskies. Mr Shinji Fukuyo answered through the translator that the water at Yamazaki contains 3 imes more minerals than the water at Hakushu. He'd compare the difference with the French spring waters of Volvic (very soft) and Vittel (very mineral) to let us understand the contrast between these water styles.
The attendees were indeed well treated that evening and we went all together to another in another room with our Japanese guests for a cocktail, and were given each (when leaving) a bag with a bottle of each Distiller's Reserve.
What is striking is that you find unpicked real apples all over the French countryside, they're just waiting that someone with common sense stops by and picks them (even unlawfully, the tree will love you for that). By real apples I mean old varieties, unsprayed and sometimes misshapen by scars, not these shiny spotless apples on steroids that people prefer to pay for. Thanks to these vulgar apples we felt that we kept a foot in the countryside, feeding on its hidden energy.
Suntory, like Nestle or Coca-Cola is expanding its water acquisitions worldwide especially in the U.S. and Asia but if I'm correct it's only in Japan that you find its water under its brand name.
This natural mineral water from the Minami Alps (the southern Alps is a mountainous region in the Yamanashi prefecture) had indeed a mineral feel. The Suntory water facility here is named the Hakushu Water Plant, so it's probably the closest thing you can drink from a Suntory whisky (a Hakushu of course).
Whatever, I brought one of the two bottles that I had brought along from Paris (I sometimes bring more) and we opened it that evening for a group of people who were totally unaware of what was natural wine, like I was myself not long ago about pure sake (sake made without any addition of alcohol or sweetener). There was also a bottle of Mercian (wellknown Japanese winery) on the table and while people were discussing on all sort of matters and enjoying the evening, I didn't even know there would ba another wine this evening, and I monitored discreetly the fate of the two bottles. This Loire table wine from Brendan Tracey had not suffered too much from its long trip in the cargo hold, it was still yielding a lively feel and this enjoyable fruit. At opening the people who tasted this Loire bottle were curious and asking what it was as the label was kind of fun and they didn't recognize the romanji letters of a wellknown French appellation. Then all returned to their conversation and laughs but I kept looking at the bottles. Do you guess it, the odd-labelled bottle with its light, transluscent-red wine was getting down faster than the serious, dark-colored Mercian, although the latter was probably closer to the image the people in this restaurant had of what a wine should look like.
During this long dinner I witnessed the short cooking of Wakame, a dark-green seaweed that becomes instantly bright-green in boiling water (video on the right). Japanese cooking is a marvel, it's raw, simple ingredients which turn out being so tasty or with such a mouth touch.
Apart from this special dinner between long-time friends, we ate a couple of times for lunch at the same restaurant in Nippori, which is named Onkel Curry. Here is the typical lunch set (pic on left) that you get every day for 750 Yen only, or 5,5 €... just to make you understand that Tokyo isn't necessarily as expensive as everyone seems to think. All these dishes are carefully crafted, lots of vegetable plates but also fish and meat, and so tasty, and the whole thing was largely enough to fill me.
As a reminder, 2000 Yen make 14 € or 19 USD, and 3000 Yen make 21 € or 29 USD. It is noteworthy that you can find in Japan artisan wines from faraway France for as little as 15 € retail. I think that one of the best deals in Japan is probably the wines of Hervé Villemade (not pictured here) for which you pay even less than that in Japan.
Domaine Escarpolette, La Petite crapule 3200 Y (22,5 €), Aux Caudelayres, Fronsac 2011 2327 Yen (16,4 €), Touraine Pinot Noir 3393 Yen (23,9 €), La Syrah de Talès Frédéric Cossard table wine 3070 Yen (21,6 €), Le Boncie 5 Toscana 2011 2666 Yen (18,8 €), Oltrepo Pavese Vigna Montebuono red 2004 2993 Yen (21 €), Domaine Les Deux Terres (Ardèche) Sylène 2504 Yen (17,6 €), Domaine Jean Ginglinger (Alsace) Pinot Noir __ missing price tag__, La Bohème (Auvergne) Gamay d'Auvergne Violette 2011 3200 Yen (22,5 €), la Bohême pinot noir Brutal 3554 Yen (25 €), Noëlla Morantin Côt à Côt 2010 3200 Yen (22,5 €), Thierry Puzelat Vin Coeur/Cul 2100 Yen (14,8 €), Laurent Lebled Touraine Le Gam Cab du Bled 3007 Yen (21,2 €), Hirotake Ooka Le Canon Syrah __ missing price tag__, Hirotake Ooka St Peray __missing price tag__, Karim Vionnet Moulin à Vent 3231 Yen (22,7 €).
What happened recently to two prominent wine writers speaks length of the expectations of certain wineries regarding their press coverage and their hastiness to close their doors to people they consider have been critic of their recent vintages. To remind the story, on one side you have the Domaine Huet, formerly owned and managed by Noel Pinguet, which has been purchased by a Chinese-American financier and on the other side, two independant wine writers, Chris Kissack and Jim Budd who respectively manage the Wine Doctor and in Jim's Loire, both having written unflaterring comments about the last vintages made under the new ownership. Mrs Sarah Hwang, the current director of Domaine Huet made them know that they were subsequently not welcome at the winery to taste the latest releases, demonstrating a rare censorship in the direction of wine writers widely respected for the quality of their work and independant reporting.
The problem is certainly not foreign or even Chinese ownership here, we have in our own western progressive democracies our own lot of censorship against dissenting voices, with alternatively either the tax admministration unleashed against political opponents or journalists blacklisted from accessing the President for not being politically-friendly, but to be frank, things are not usually that rough in the wine trade, at least from a first glance, and you rarely have a clear blacklisting of writers to a yearly tasting of releases, something which is usually open to professionals. The problem here is certainly a lack of subtility in the way a business-focused owner not rooted in the country wants to secure the commercial viability of its new releases and thinks there are shortcuts when some media writers don't paint a favorable picture. Having a good business sense is certainly important to run a winery, but putting business matters above all is certainly not wise, you may lower the end quality of your wine, and trying to silence the few writers who noticed will not do the job. In the end it may prove counterproductive, because you can't anymore silence writers in the Internet era, wine amateurs tend to trust more these independant writers than glossy magazines, and they will look twice before buying Domaine-Huet wines, waiting if needed that Budd and Kissack get access to the wine one way or another before opening their wallet. This affair has certainly cast doubts (even if yet unfounded) on the way the new ownership may have altered Pinguet's team traditional winemaking for short-term profitability purposes.
Read again the detailed report about that story by Chris Kissack himself.
Comments on this affair at the Wine Disorder forum
Another chapter in the captivating serie "the UK on the fast lane to sharia compliancy" (and an unpleasant news we'd prefer to keep under the rug) : 200 Subway shops will be hallal from now on in the UK : the newspeak of the company, mirroring a few weeks ago Marks & Spencer's own says that "The growing popularity of the Subway chain with the diverse multicultural population across the UK and Ireland means we have to balance the values of many religious communities with the overall aim of improving the health and welfare standards of animals." By the words "many religious communities" you must read of course a single-cultural group of supremacists determined to have the rest of the society enforce their own rules. The official declaration of Subway says that the decision came after "strong demand" from this single-cultural part of the society. This "strong demand" smells something like "or else"...
Not that I am a fan of Subway sandwiches to begin with but this will certainly will not help. It is wise to remember also that halal-meat processing involves a fee going to religious authorities with often murky relations with shadow groups operating in the Middle East. The killing of the animal is also made by uttering a few words praising a certain exotic deity, and without offensing you, many violent actions against innocent people around the world were committed with uttering precisely the same words. Not really something I'll enjoy to think of when I'll order a sandwich...I use to joke that pork comes first and booze is not far behind, but we're getting closer...
Edit : things move fast in the UK, and we just learn almost at the same time that another chain, Pizza Express, followed suit with providing only halal-certified meat in its pizzas. The company spokesman's speech focused predictably on the animals' conditions (stunned before being killed) but omitted wisely to tell anything to its consumers about the financial contribution to the religious authority giving the certificate, and about the ritual words required by the ritual slaughter.
I shot this short video while in Russia a couple years ago, we were in the Taman peninsula, the wine region of southern Russia on the black sea and the sea of Azov, and my friends drove me unto a strange man-made construction, a long dike starting from Taman in Russia and pointing in the direction of Kertch in (then Ukrainian) Crimea. This dike was actually a dirt road with lots of wind and Russians liked to come there and look with nostalgia on Crimea in the [not so] far. I learnt then that this dike was built in 2003 on the demand of Vladimir Putin as if it was intended to connect the Russian mainland to the Tuzla island, Crimea, which was Ukraine territory. With the dike head approaching more and more from Ukrainian territory, a crisis occured between the two countries, the Ukrainians massing troops on Tuzla island to ward off a mooring attempt of the dike on its shore, and the construction stopped short of reaching the island which was very close already. A bilateral agreement between Putin and Kuchma then eased the relations but the Ukrainians had felt the heat of the Russian interest in Crimea and the strait of Kerch.
I couldn't guess then that this dike would one day possibly connect Russia's Taman with...a Crimea back in Russia's borders. This dike, if one day paved as a major highway could be the road through which the wines of Crimea will reach the Russian market. The side story of what happened recently is that the switching of nationality for Crimea will probably be a bonanza from the wineries of the peninsula, as the Russian amateurs will certainly pay no duties on Crimean wines and because through some sort of flag-raising patriotism the average Russian will probably buy generously these wines. The wedding party scene on the left, which I shot somewhere in the Kuban region during the same trip, would sport Crimean sparkling maybe instead of one from the Kuban.
We all know that one of the problems of Crimea is that it doesn't have water supplies, and at least that's good news for the grape growing and the ensuing wine quality, there shouldn't be any irrigation for a while...
At the end of the video with the zooming you can have a short glimpse on Tuzla island, and the cranes of the deep-water port of Kerch, on Crimea mainland.
Satellite view of the dike, the Tuzla island, and Kerch on the Crimea side
You guess my surprise when I spotted a wine section, even a if tiny one (4 or 5 labels). This bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from France costs 200 Yen or 1,4 €, and I'm scared to think what sort of wine this must be, imagine, the bottling, the transportation and a little margin for earnings... They also sell (again from France) Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot,
I didn't dig too much but they had a few cuvées there from France, Italy (among which this Insolia white 2011 from Sicilia) and Spain, priced either 200 Yen or 300 Yen. I can't believe it. The cuvée Saint Val (poster on the background behind the white from Sicilia) is__take a seat__ a blend from Italian wine and Spanish wine...
And there's not even a misspel in the long French sentence on the label. Too bad, because if there had been one I may have bought one bottle to bring back in France, we love so much these weird French sentence uncorrectly retranscripted or translated... Not sure I'd have opened it though.
You find more details about the wines at Daiso on this page.
Of booze, history and travel through time...
Here is an almost Vivian-Meier-esque story, a pile of police mug shots from the 1940s' & 1950s' rescued from the trash when the town's police department threw them out. With these police portraits, you have here the related history of the people featured on these mug shots, thanks to the documentation of the local newspaper. The technical quality of these pictures is excellent, with this old-school balck and white negatives, nice shades of grey generally, and these anonymous people tell a story just by the mug shots of their face, I really like this police work... This comes from a small American town : New Castle, Pennsyvania. You feel like these people are so real, you know them, this is a very interesting experience where reading and looking at the pictures interact, making you travel through time.
among the crimes related to these arrests, lots of "drunks", "intoxicated drivers" and "disorderly conducts"... Betty Joan Edwards was one of them (source -bottom of the page).
Betty had her mug shot taken after she and a man called Albert Bonnetti, along with another couple, were arrested for pouring four quarts of oil over the floor of the Spur Distributing Co filling station on East Washington street while in a state of intoxication at a quarter past three in the morning. Everyone involved in the incident was fined $5 and costs. Betty didn’t bother to turn up at the courthouse to pay; she made the police come to her.
To end on a more reassuring note, the newspaper source found that apparently Betty Ann didn't have anymore trouble with the law after that episode.