Review: Taste of Terroir · Provence: More than just Rosé! with sommelier Ms. Dany Saint-Pierre

Cover image © Spirikal for WhereNYC

There are few things in life that conjure a perfect mid-summer evening than a gathering of friends in Provence sipping wine and enjoying the breathtaking scenery. The South of France has it all; Mediterranean climate, scent of wild herbs, delicious food and some of the world’s iconic wines such as Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. Deeply rooted its soil, Provence’s winemaking tradition dates back nearly 2500 years when ancient Greek settlers planted the first grapes.

Left to right: Whispering Angel rosé, Clos Ste-Magdeleine de Cassis and the red Terre d’Ombre Baby Bandol © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Bringing a little sunny Provence to a cold, rainy Chicago, sommelier Dany Saint-Pierre recreated her own Provençal wine experience for guests at the Alliance Française in Chicago. During of which, she led us through a masterclass showcasing a group of delicious French wines that will bring a little Southern France magic at your next dinner party.

Seated before us is tantalizing display of goat cheese, sliced baguettes, olives, slices of lemon and toasted almonds – each of which will pair with the wines.

“Pairing intensity of flavor is an art,” Ms. St-Pierre begins. While it really depends on your taste, Ms. St-Pierre has some useful tips.

If serving a dish, for example, with a higher acidity such as salad vinaigrette or a fresh seafood or light canapé, a fresh rosé is a good place to start. The popular Whispering Angel from Château d’Esclans, is a “complex rosé,” explains Ms. St-Pierre as the guests take their first sips. It contains up to five grapes, and like most rosé, keeps for up to two years. It is accessible, which editor Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast once described Whispering Angel as a reliable, affordable rosé for any occasion, retailing at $20 a bottle ($19 at Binny’s). It is also slightly sweeter and fruity. If you’re after a dryer punch with a cleaner finish, try Château d’Esclans’ rebellious Rock Angel or Château Puech-Haut Prestige 2017 from the neighboring Languedoc region 2017 for $18 also at Binny’s.

The star of the evening. Clos Ste. Magdeleine de Cassis 2015 © Spirikal for WhereNYC

The star of our evening class was the Clos Ste-Magdeleine 2015, a beautifully balanced white wine from the seaside village of Cassis. If there was ever wine made for seafood, it’s this one. The Clos Ste-Magdeleine would balance beautifully with grilled fish, eggplant or a fresh ceviche. Comprised of four grapes including the herbal Marsanne and Clairette, the wine has an incredible, pleasant texture with floral and spicy aromas.

Neither too sweet nor dry, “it is perfect with an oily fish like sardines,” Ms. St-Pierre said. As I take my second sip, I notice the wine actually becomes pleasantly sweeter when paired with the salty almonds and citrusy lemon.

The 2015 is pricey, nearly $30 a bottle at Plum Market Wine Chicago but totally worth it. Unique and unlike a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, it has its own flavor. And like the Whispering Angel, always serve it well chilled.

An evening of sipping delight © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Its owners aren’t descended from the ancient Greek settlers, but the Zafiropulo family left Greece in the 19th century and settled in Marseille. Four generations later, they are still producing this lovely wine.

The Baby Bandol pairs brilliantly with chèvre and olives. © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Finding an ideal red wine for your summer meal is not an easy thing and sometimes even “risky” – as Ms. St-Pierre explains. The medium bodied Terre d’Ombre 2015, or Baby Bandol from Domaine de Terrebrune is a winner. For $20, it is a great wine that can be enjoyed through the year. “Leave it to decant 20 minutes before serving, or you may keep it in the refrigerator up to 20 minutes to 65ºF (18.3ºC) (if serving during the summer),” Ms. St-Pierre recommends.

Robust without a long, heavy tannic finish, it’s best paired with a great dish. “It not fun to drink without food,” says Ms. St-Pierre. It is absolutely perfect with the herbal goat cheese and olives on our tables. It could also work with lamb or a garlic-roasted chicken.

Finally, finish the meal on a sweet note with the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2013, a wine “made for desserts” from Domaine de Durban. Available at Plum Market for $16, it is an affordable alternative to a higher end Sauternes from Bordeaux. But like the latter, it is also brilliant when served chilled with foie gras as I had discovered from a previous rendez-vous with another Muscat from Domaine de Coyeaux.

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise © Spirikal

Made in the traditional process of arrested fermentation, the yeast is killed by a grape liqueur, leaving the remaining sugar. It may sound barbaric, but it’s all in a good cause. The residual sweetness of the Muscat is pleasant with a mild, sweet bouquet and the texture smooth and nectary. While it is good with mint chocolate served at the event, Ms. St-Pierre suggest to enjoy it with a “a fruity crumble or citrus tart with a fruit coulis.”

How ever you want plan your meal, Ms. St-Pierre encourages everyone to “experiment.”  She adds that wines are “not to necessarily contrast” but rather to complement and enhance your meal, bringing joy and of course, the pleasure of the table.

For more information on upcoming events, visit the Alliance Française Chicago.

Review: Japan Society 20th Annual Sake Lecture & Tasting: Unorthodox Variations

Cover image  © WhereNYC

After countless sushi sessions midday with my partner in food crime, I’ve developed a taste for a warm, yet delicate cup of sake. This warm rich treat has quickly become a staple with my spicy tuna roll.

John Gaunter, presenter and editor of Sake World is the face of Japanese sake in America. © WhereNYC

Now, as a self-proclaimed spirits connoisseur, I’ve gone to several whiskeys, beers and wines, but never have I ever made the effort to go out to taste sake. I decided to investigate. Each year the Japan Society hosts an annual sake talk and tasting with 30 types of premium sake. I knew I had to go.

The night was kicked off by industry expert and Sake World editor John Gauntner with an informative discussion on the unorthodox variations of sake. Gauntner delves into the pros and cons of these sake anomalies and examines how they stack up against the tried-and-true standards. He went through the different types of sake and explained the different types of sake to the lively crowd. As he continues, it opened my eyes to the many different variations of this drink. I never heard of red sake. Sparkling sake? I did not know that it was a thing, but as he went on I knew I must try each variation. After some lively Q&A, John Gauntner invited each of the brewers on stage before the main event– the tasting.

Sake © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

So after the presentation, it was time to finally try the different variations! The Japan society was arranged with several tables with brewers. They had all the northern sakes located in the north part of the building and the southern sakes in the South part of the building. The building itself is gorgeous with a bonsai tree in the build of a fountain.

I carefully took note of each sake, in order to understand the different notes in liquid. Each was unique in its own way. As I went from table to table, I learned to distinguish different notes. I tasted crisp, citrus, and fruity sakes to name a few! The crowd became super friendly as we all tried the different brewer’s creations. Some notable standouts included Kirin Hizoshu from the Kaetsu brewery in Niigata which was enclosed in a beautiful blue bottle that looked too beautiful to drink. The was a cold sake Hanagaki Usunigori Junmai Daiginjo that crisp and as white as snow.

Kirin Hizoshu © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

If you thought this event exciting, then the Japan Society is something you should look into. The Japan Society host many unique programs to immerse people into Japanese culture. It’s an American nonprofit organization supported by individuals, foundations, and corporations that bring the people of Japan and the United States closer together through mutual understanding, appreciation and cooperation. More than a hundred years after the Society’s founding, its goal remains the same—the cultivation of a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan. To learn more about the Japan Society for more information on programs and events at JapanSociety.org.  

Hanagaki Usunigori Junmai Daiginjo © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

After this event, I know I more confidence to taste and order sakes. I plan to incorporate more sake into my diet in the near future.

Review: Natto: Japan’s Probiotic Superfood Event at Japan Society, May 23, 2018

Cover image: Modern natto… put in on anything! © Meg for WhereNYC

Mr. Spaeth and Ms. Yonetani © Meg for WhereNYC

“It is quite wonderful to see so many people interested in natto or just natto-curious,” Ms. Ann Yonetani, “microbiologist turned food entrepreneur/natto maker” (as per Japan Society), began. Ms. Yonetani shared the stage with her friend, former New York Times and current Serious Eats writer, and who’s also half Japanese, Mr. Sho Spaeth for a talk on natto. When they both met in 2016, Mr. Spaeth was baffled by Ms. Yonetani’s passion to promote natto in the United States because the fermented, pungent soybean would be a hard sell to the public.

Ms. Yonetani growing up eating natto (c) Meg for WhereNYC

But the natto industry could hardly hope for a better PR rep. Quirky with fun nerd vibe and clever, Ms. Yonetani unexpectedly became the ultimate “natto cheerleader.” 

While natto is a “common day household food experience in Japan,” Ms. Yonetani explained, as a Japanese-American growing up in Philadelphia, it was impossible to find. It was during a visit to Japan when she first tried it. She does not remember her first time tasting natto, but she remembers that she eventually fell in love with it.

What is natto?

This “Japanese soul food” is essentially fermented soybeans. As a Japan-American myself, I was familiar with Ms. Yonetani’s description of  the “most polarizing quality of natto.” In Japanese, it is referred to as neba neba, the sticky, stringy texture that natto has, similar to that of okra. We laughed when she said that it tastes “like Boston baked beans crossed with a stinky French cheese with the slippery mouth feel of Southern okra,” but added, “No, it tastes nothing like kimchi!” as she often finds herself saying to Americans. As I also grew up eating natto myself, Ms. Yonetani’s take was definitely spot on.

It’s all about the soybeans! © Meg for WhereNYC

The term ‘superfood’ gets thrown around a lot, according to Ms. Yonetani, but natto has healthy properties. The two basic ingredients are soybeans and bacillus subtilis culture, a natural probiotic and a source of nattokinase, which is rich in Vitamin K2. Bacillus subtilis is a part of the microbiome, or beneficial microbes that we can’t possibly live without. Known as the best source of Vitamin K2, it can help strengthen bones, improve cardiovascular health and aid digestion. Nattokinase is a natural blood thinner, which may prevent stroke and heart disease and is sold in supermarkets such as Whole Foods.

To combat the decline in natto consumption in Japan, today there are many new varieties “to appeal to the younger generation.” For example, dried natto is sometimes served on Japan Airlines flights in place of peanuts. Traditionally, natto was more of a “breakfast staple,” Ms. Yonetani explained, served with a bowl of rice, scallions and soy sauce, and sometimes a raw egg. Though still her preferred way, Ms. Yonetani also likes to “throw [natto] on pretty much anything,” which she encouraged the audience to do the same. “Think of it like a cheese and put it on anything you’d put cheese on.”

Line up, take a plate, and go! © Meg for WhereNYC

Ms. Yonetani learned how to make natto from a fifth generation maker in Japan. One must “start from really good soybeans” and of a specific type. Interestingly, the majority (80%) of natto is made from U.S. grown soybeans and is fermented for one day only. “Fermentation makes food more digestible,” Ms. Yonetani explained. Natto began as an “accident,” just like many delicious common foods today, and it was likely discovered by samurai warriors when they fled with fermented soybeans wrapped in rice straw to prevent it from spoiling.

As founder of New York based natto company, NYrture Food, one of Ms. Yonetani’s missions is promote natto in the U.S. and around the world. “I think America is finally ready for it,” Ms. Yonetani explained. For beginners, she suggested trying “the black natto” as it is “much milder and chocolaty” and not as sticky as the traditional kind. Also “mix it with foods that will dilute or get rid of the gooeyness.” As mentioned before, the “neba neba” (sticky, stringy texture) quality is something that people either love or hate. Her company sells traditional, black, and even turmeric natto – the latter shocked the judges in this year’s natto competition in Japan.

Annual natto competition in Japan (c) Meg for WhereNYC

Our tasting reception included new unorthodox varieties including: Natto Italiano, Black Natto Parfait, Natto Pani Puri and a traditional style Natto Maki Sushi served on a clear plate. The reception also served wine and soft drinks like a palette-cleanser. For me, the traditional style Natto Maki Sushi was the best. It had the familiar “neba neba,” character and  distinct odor with the bitterness of traditional natto.

Although a daunting task, it would be great to see healthy options like natto become popular outside of Japan.