Monthly Archives: July 2009

What part of Funaguchi Kikusui Ichibanshibori Nama Genshu Honjōzō don’t you understand?

look how cute!

look how cute!

I’ve had this picture on my phone for some time. I bought this sake a few months ago at the very charming Sakaya in the East Village and I’ve been waiting to gather some background information on it. The opportunity to do so presented itself today at my Society of Wine Educators Conference during a seminar led by Michael John Simkin. This little beauty was one of the 9 sakes we tried.

Here’s its full name: Funaguchi Kikusui Ichibanshibori Nama Genshu Honjōzō. Say that three times. I’ll break it down for you:

*Kikusui (kee-koo-sue-ē) is the name of the sake house or brewery and it translates to water chrysanthemum. The Takasawa family owns the brewery and it’s been around since 1881. It became popular in Japan in the 1970s when a brilliant marketer decided the can format would work well for folks on the local ski slopes. Yup, skiing is big in the Niigata prefecture (state).

*Funaguchi means “from the mouth of the tank” (more on this later).

*Ichibanshibori means “first sake out of the tank”. Ichiban means #1; I always think of the beer by Kirin.

*Nama means fresh or unpasteurized. Most sake sold in the U.S. is pasteurized. Some would say the nama style is more fresh and vibrant.

*Genshu means cask-strength. This sake has not been diluted and is bottled right from the tank, clocking in at 19% abv, whereas most sake is in the 14-16% range.

*Honjōzō refers to the quality level of the sake. In this category, the rice has to be polished down to 70% or less and a small amount of distilled alcohol may be added.

I smelled red bean ice cream and dried apricots. It was full-bodied and viscous, with savory and spicy notes on the palate. You could pair it with rich dishes or spicy food. With its packaging though, may I suggest the movies, a picnic or in a few months, the slopes. At $6.99 for 200 ml, it’s quite a bang for your buck.

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Throughout beverage history technology has brought many new and improved ways to imbibe; bottled wine (rather than clay pots), wide-mouth beer cans, and of course the wine glass on a rope.  Unfortunately, sometimes technology moves in reverse.  For example, back in the 18th century there were gin vending machines; nowadays we have to talk to a bartender.

That’s right, over 200 hundred years ago in London, drinkers could walk up to the outside wall of a bar, put their mouths on an “Old Tom” (I’ll explain) and for a penny, get a mouthful of gin.

The “Old Tom” was a cat-shaped plaque mounted on the bar’s outside wall.  Drinkers would drop a penny in the cat’s mouth and put their own mouth over a tube near the cat’s paws.  A bartender inside would then pour a shot of gin into this early gin-o-matic, and voila!  Can you imagine how this would go over in the East Village today?

Old Tom gin is a sweeter version of London Dry gin – simple syrup was added to distinguish it from the other gins on the market. This style was wildly popular in England during the 1700s. It also happened to be the gin of choice for making a Tom Collins (gin, lemon juice, soda) in the 19th century. As of the 1950s, this style of gin was not available in the United States.

Luckily, Hayman’s has arrived back on the scene. It’s round on the palate and the touch of sweetness really highlights the botanicals. The founder of the Hayman’s distillery also happens to be the same guy who invented Beefeater gin.

This gin is great in some classic cocktails like a Martinez or Ramos Gin Fizz or you can try my Violette Femme.

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Think Wine Spectator will cover it?

More plausible than keeping hearts young or preventing extensive brain damage following a stroke, red wine may increase women’s libido!

Doctors at the University of Florence studied 800 women, aged 18-50, and split them into 3 groups; those who regularly consumed 1 or 2 glasses of red wine per day, those who consumed less than 1 glass per day of any type of wine or alcohol and those who didn’t consume any alcohol at all.

They chose to exclude women who drank more than 2 glasses per day, removing inebriation as an obvious study flaw.

All participants filled out a questionnaire titled “Female Sexual Function Index”, which is apparently used by doctors to assess women and their sexual health. It’s 19 questions long and the final scores can range from 2-36, with higher scores equating better function. Sounds like something you’d find in Cosmo or Seventeen, don’t you think?

The red wine drinkers averaged 27.3, while those who consumed less frequently averaged 25.9 and those who abstained clocked in around 24.4. These results have been published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The exact correlation between the red wine and better sexual function is unclear (shocker), but one of the current theories is that antioxidants in the red wine widen the blood vessels, therefore increasing blood flow to key areas of the female body.

The study doesn’t clarify whether the red wine is actually doing something to women’s libidos or whether women who have healthy sexual appetites also have a healthy thirst for wine, but regardless, viva red wine!  I’d buy into this before I’d be convinced that chocolate is good for my health.


Filed under Alcohol in the News, Wine

Thirsty heavy metal hitmakers

I came across something that shows even bad boys with big hair enjoy wine from time to time. “Me and My Wine” was on Def Leppard’s second album, High N’ Dry, which was released in the U.S. in 1984. Seems like an oversight that this song never made it on either of their best-of collections. I can’t decide which is my favorite part of the video – Joe Elliot simultaneously singing and brushing his teeth or Rick Savage playing his bass in the bathtub – but, here’s my favorite snippet of lyrics:

Oh me and the boys have been drinking
Feeling like this is the wrong time for thinking
All I can say is I’m doing fine with just me and my wine

Now listen
My hair’s a real mess, I feel and look like a joke
And there’s a hole in my jeans, I just ran right out of smokes
You know I’d like to get to know you
But I ain’t got the time
I’m finding it harder and harder
To make this damn thing rhyme

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If Homer Simpson drank wine

Toh Friulano

Toh! or is it Doh!

Tocai or Tocai Friulano is an old Friulian name for Sauvignonasse, a widely planted white varietal in northeastern Italy. It’s a productive, late-budding varietal that produces a light-bodied wine with floral and almond notes best consumed in its youth. In addition to the Friuli region in Italy, this varietal is also planted in California, in the Hudson Valley in New York State as well as a touch in Argentina.

This varietal is not related to Tokay d’Alsace, an Alsatian synonym for the Pinot Grigio, which can be found alongside the Tocai in Friulano. It also has nothing to do with Hungary’s great wine, Tokaji, which is probably why the Hungarians succeeded in convincing the EU to ban Italy’s use of the term in 2007.

Tocai is the most popular and widely planted white grape region of the Friuli region and old names can die hard. di Lenardo has honored the varietal’s original name by giving his wine the proprietary name, “Toh!”. Massimo’s family has been making wine in the area since the late 1800s. All of their grapes are picked by hand and the Toh! is their most popular wine. Greenish-yellow in color, the wine had a delicate nose of white flowers and bitter almonds. It had great acidity, but was round and delicate rather than angular on the palate. Homer might opt for a burger or a donut, but I think you’d find a better match with shellfish.

More good news – it retails for around $14.


Filed under Wine

For you tough guys

brass-knuckles-wine-openerYup, a brass knuckle wine opener.  I’ve seen a lot of commentary about this online – Samurai sommelier jokes, gang members who don’t like beer – but, I can’t seem to find a place to buy one.

Jonathan Sabine designed with what he calls the Bourgeois Brass Knuckles in 2007.  He describes the product as “a cross between two iconic objects whose cultural and socio-economic associations lie at opposite ends of the spectrum from one another.”

While I like his design, I object to his statement – wine is for refined rich folks and poor people are violent?  Wine is for everyone, even nut-jobs who like to wear brass knuckles!  If I had these brass knuckles I’d use them to open a bottle of brass monkey.


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Playing second fiddle

Instead of heading north of Bordeaux, we’ll head south-east to a drier, warmer climate where there’s a long, rich history of local consumption of spirits made by individual producers rather than major brands.  We’ve covered Cognac so now we’re going to Armagnac (are-muhn-YACK), France’s second great controlled appellation for grape spirits.

The center of the trade is the city of Condom (tell that to your friends with a straight face).  While Cognac is broken down into 6 regions, Armagnac has 3 that were defined in 1936: Bas-Armagnac, the most westerly and home to the best spirits, Ténarèze in the center where the fullest-bodied styles come from and Haut-Armagnac to the east, where the wines are often sold off rather than distilled – you’ll see them labeled as Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascgone. When purchasing an Armagnac, the name of the subregion will appear on the label.

Only white grapes can be used for Armagnac production and you’ll recognize some of the names from Cognac production like Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche.  There are a few others, too – Colombard, Meslier, Jurançon and a hybrid called Baco 22A (sometimes called Baco Blanc).  It’s a hybrid because it’s a cross between the French vitis vinifera Folle Blanche and the American vitis labrusca Noah.  Noah itself is a cross between vitis labrusca and vitis riparia.  Hybrid=cross across species.

Since 1972 the use of pot stills has been allowed, just like in Cognac, but many producers still use the more primitive and traditional Armagnac still, a continuous still with two copper columns.  Another difference between the two regions lies in the oak aging.  Most Armagnac producers use the local, sappy Monlezun oak.  The combination of still and aging tends to make Armagnac a more rustic version of Cognac.  Cognacs may have more floral and grape-y notes while Armagnacs will have more dried fruit and prune characters.  Cognacs retain their bite, while Armagnacs are fuller-bodied and rounder.

Some of the labeling terms will be familiar to you, but the minimum aging requirements are a touch different.  *** (often written as VS) is one year old, VSOP is 4 years old and XO is five years old.  Hors d’Age means the youngest component in the blend is 10 years old.  Many producers will age individual casks from a single distillation and sell these with a vintage date.

For a fun and refreshing drink, look for Floc de Gascogne, a fortified sweet wine made with 1/3 Armagnac and 2/3 grape juice from the region.  The alcohol clocks in at 16-18%  and there are notes of honey, almond and jasmine.  I kept my bottle in the fridge and used it as an aperitif.


Filed under Lessons, Spirits

A shot at the bar?

A lot of things pair well with drinking – watching sports, eating peanuts/pizza/burgers/pretty much anything, dancing – but handguns?  Really? 

Two states, Tennessee and Arizona, have recently passed legislation making it ok to carry a concealed weapon into a bar.  The new laws in both states stipulate that armed bar patrons must refrain from drinking.  If the weapons are concealed, how will the bartender know who to serve and who not to?

The Colbert Report has produced a spot-on assessment of this situation by profiling one of Tennessee’s political leaders, Doug Jackson.  Check it out:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Filed under Alcohol in the News, Videos

Thirsty for etymology

Alcohol comes from the Arabic alko’hl, which translates to finely divided – a reference to the separation that occurs during distillation.  While not everyone may have been drinking it (poor things), they were using it for medicinal and perfume-making purposes.

Beverage is from the Middle English pronunciation of the Old French term bevrage, from beivre.  This meant to drink, from the Latin bibere

Brandy stems from brandywine or the Dutch brandewijn, meaning burnt wine.   While usually made from a grape-based wine, brandy can also be made with pomace (skins, seeds, pulps and stems) or fermented fruit juice. 

Cordial is a term often substitued for liqueur.  Technically, they’re supposed to be invigorating or stimulating, a reference to their original medicinal usage.  Since the heart was considered the body’s most important organ, these “medicines” were named after the Latin term for heart, cordialis

Distillation comes from the Latin destillare, meaning to drop or to trickle down.

Distilled liquids used to be called ardent spirits, from the Latin ardor, which means to burn.  Sure, we have modern distilling techniques, but the starch source still has to be converted into fermentable sugar.

Gin gets its name from one of its major flavoring ingredients, juniper.  The French is genievre and the Dutch is genever.  Doctor Sylvius from Holland’s University of Leyden is credited with being the first person to distill gin.  His intent was to create a medicinal spirit and he felt he could stretch the diuretic properties of juniper berry oil by redistilling it with a pure alcohol.  The Latin juniperus communis translates to youth-giving.  I can’t say I’d use gin to treat a bladder or kidney ailment, but at times I’ve certainly found it therapeutic. 

Liqueur is from the Latin liquifacere, meaning to dissolve or melt – a reference to the seeds, herbs, roots and other flavorings used. 

Rum is a fun one that we already covered

Tequila is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning place of work that dates back to 6500 B.C.  I’ve also seen that tequila stems from a town of the same name in Jalisco, Mexico, known for its high quality spirits.

Vodka is the diminutive of the Russian word for water.  No one can seem to agree as to whether vodka first appeared in Russia or in Poland, but it showed up around the 12th century.  At that time at a Russian monastery, it was called zhizenenniz.

Whiskey comes from the Irish uisce beatha and Whisky comes from the Scottish uisge-beatha, both a gaelic translation of the Latin aqua vitae, meaning water of life.  King Henry II’s soldiers invaded Ireland in the 12th century and couldn’t pronounce uisce beatha, so over time it degraded from sounding like “whishkeyba” to “whisky”.  All whisky was spelled without the “e” until 1870 when Scottish distilleries flooded the market with inexpensive spirits.  The American and Irish producers added the “e” to distinguish themselves.  Today whisky (plural is whiskies) is used for Scotland, Wales, Canada and Japan while whiskey is used for spirits distilled in Ireland the United States.

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Hold the sausage, pass the beer


photo courtesy of B. United International

I tried a mustard beer last night with my dinner at JoeDoe.  It hails from the Regenboog Brewery in Belgium (Brouwerij De Regenboog or Brouwerij ‘t Smisje in Dutch).  Specifically, the brewery’s located in the West Flanders municipality of Assebroek, a suberb of Bruges.  For a native English speaker, there’s a lot of unfortunate sounding words here. 

Regenboog means rainbow in Flemish and they’ve been brewing beer since 1995.  Despite its small production of less than 800 gallons per year (making it Belgium’s smallest craft brewery), Regenboog puts out six beers as part of its regular production as well as many seasonal brews, featuring both traditional Belgian styles as well as some more funky stuff – raisins, honey, vanilla.  I’m happy to report that Wostyntje is part of their regular production. 

Clocking in at 7% abv, it’s a strong, spicy golden ale with munich and pilsner malts, Kent Goldings and Challenger hops, candy sugar and mustard seeds from a nearby village called Tourhout.  This beer undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, adding to its complexity.  The beer is surprisingly versatile – I enjoyed it with fried chickpeas, pickled onion rings, a salad of radish and spring garlic, duck egg and farro, Tasmanian trout and more – hey, there were 2 of us.  It has the full-bodied, citrus-y, spicy and floral qualities often associated with Belgian beer with a unique bitter finish from the crushed mustard seeds.

For a list of bars in NYC that carry it, click here.

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