Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thoughts on Umami

Utterly delicious red spaetzle with gorgonzola cheese sauce I had on my birthday at J.J. Prum Estate

As I sit down to a lunch after 10 miles of running this morning (another endorphin-driven post here), I am contemplating the 5th taste: umami.

This is a Japanese term for a certain taste that falls outside of the classic 4 tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter... it's a taste that I would definte as savory, and I've also had it described to me as a protein taste, a taste that humans have craved since prehistory - a natural affinity we have had through the ages that aided our survival - by going for particularly protein-rich foods, we were able to survive better and longer. It has been surmised by some scientists that the taste umami comes from a couple of amino acids (which make up protein), and in particular, the amino acid glutamine or glutamic acid (depending on what form it is in), which is found in the food additive MSG (monosodium glutamate).

So as I chow down my instant noodles (full of MSG I'm sure), I'm thinking of other foods that I like very much that have umami:

* mushrooms

* soy sauce

* aged cheeses

* cured meats (think dry salami)

My personal theory is that fermentation and aging creates and concentrates amino acids, including glutamine, and increase the taste sensation of umami in foods. Fermented foods include soy sauce (fermented soy), miso soup (miso is fermented soy), cheese, beer, wine, bread like sourdough bread. Further aging, like with cheeses, seem to concentrate this taste and make those who like the food go nuts for it.... crave it and pay high prices for it.

Now, the above theory may not be original, but the following, I'm not sure if anyone else has thought of this, but I'm thinking maybe the aging of fine wines also increases the umami in them.

Aromas definitely become more pronounced and interesting in fine wine that is well aged, but isn't there a certain je ne sais quoi in the flavor of aged wines that makes the wine lover go crazy? Could that be the concentrated glutamine amino acid responsible for umami? If I recall correctly from my nutrition book learnin's, fruit is a very poor source of protein, but perhaps there are trace amounts of protein in grapes? Just like there are small amount of antioxidants in grape skins, which become concentrated in winemaking, perhaps the tiny bits of protein in grapes also become concentrated in wine, and then further concentrated with aging?

Things that make you go hmmmmmm.

And mmmm. Ummmmammmi.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dream Job

Eberhart von Kunow of von Hovel Estate in the Saar & me, Feb 2010

Please keep in mind as I'm writing this post, I'm feeling a bit euphoric after a long run this morning (9 miles) with the running group to which I belong... It was a particularly terrific run, cool weather, nice June gloom, great people out there - I did half the run on my own in a meditative early morning state, very head-clearing, followed by the second half where I ran into a friend in the group I hadn't run with in ages with whom the miles just passed by unnoticed after we got into a multi-topic conversation... very enjoyable.
So in this post-run part of the midday, as hubby is watching the World Cup, I have an opportunity to relax in the computer room reading some fun blogs... some of my favorites now are the ones of folks from either the U.S. or England who have moved to France and are writing about life in France. How fun (thank you Sara Louise for introducing me to them, and thank you Samantha for introducing me to Sara Louise!)
So I was reading a blog and there were some questions for the bloggers out there to answer, kind of like a 10 questions kind of game, and one of the questions was: What would have been your dream job?
I thought this was a great question because I thought to myself, I am doing my dream job!
Back some years ago when I was a dietitian, working in hospitals, I felt stuck and asked myself what I would want to do if I could do anything. And I said to myself, I want to work for a European wine importer, so I can go to Europe all the time for business, and do something that relates to the esthetics of wine and cuisine. I even found examples of who I wanted to be like and said, yes, I want to be like her and work for an importer!
So now I do that. So I'm doing my dream job!
And after running through my town this morning, I felt like I was living in my dream city.
Ahhhh.... the power of endorphins. And a day off... even from a dream job... is needed.
In conclusion, and this is mostly me talking to me: if you have a dream, make it a goal, and you will get there. It's the way of the mind.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Charity Event Season

The approach of summer means a few things to wine representatives in Southern California. One of them is the call of the Charity Event.

Summer is a terrific time to hold charity events - and wine and food tastings are a favorite pre-dinner activity at these things - tasting wine under a blue sky as the sun sets over the horizon - you in your nice outfit schmoozing at the country club or museum venue.... who wouldn't like that?

For the wine vendor, it's a unique opportunity to get a bunch of people exposed to our wines. At the last event I was at, the Manhattan Wine Auction, tons of folks got to try their first German Pinot Noir, the 2007 Becker Pinot Noir, which I'm now sold out of.... we are now onto the 2008 vintage of this nifty cool climate red... people love the aroma and flavor of this very true Pinot Noir, its elegant and serious style at a very affordable price.

We also served 2008 Hooked! Riesling, a medium-dry Riesling from the Nahe, and 2008 Fritz's Riesling from the Rheinhessen, which is also medium-dry but a little more fruity and fuller bodied than the Hooked. There was also very good response for both of these wines as they were Rieslings that were not too sweet, and as the sun was baking down on us pretty good, both Rieslings were the perfect thing - refreshing, crisp, flavorful, and quenching.

The next event and Rudi Wiest Selections wines and I will be at will be for the Library Foundation in Long Beach at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), a cool modern-looking museum. I plan to be pouring 2008 Hooked! Pinot Noir, 2003 Von Buhl Riesling Brut Sekt (a sparkling dry Riesling), 2008 Zilliken Butterfly, and 2008 Von Buhl Armand Riesling. All of these wines can be purchased at The Wine Country, and in fact, Randy Kemner of The Wine Country will be there as the speaker about the wines.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rudipalooza California 2010 a great success!

What to say about last week? It was, in a few words, wildly successful, a great showing of just how many people really love and appreciate these wines, which is more than we usually think. Over the course of a week, we packed in 9 events, both for the trade and for the consumer, and each was well attended. From Monday till Saturday, the growers from Pfeffingen, Dr. F. Weins-Prum, Zilliken, Schloss Lieser, Wirsching, and Reinhold Haart worked tirelessly showing their beautiful wines, accompanying them with genuine stories about where the wines come from and how they are made.

Pictured above are the 6 German winemakers we had with us across two California regions (north and south), 3 airports, multiple counties, and even wine regions Napa and Sonoma vallies. From left, Jan Eymael, owner and winemaker of Pfeffingen Estate in the Pfalz, who is a big World Cup fan (I hope Germany wins on Wednesday!); Philip Vesar, winemaker along with Thomas Haag at Schloss Lieser in the Mosel, and who is a runner, we discovered, and joined us for our Long Beach running group run of 8 miles on Saturday morning; Bert Selbach, owner and winemaker of Dr. F. Weins-Prum in the Mosel, who shared with us a hauntingly delicious 1998 Dr. F. Weins-Prum Bernkasteler Johannisbrunnchen Riesling Eiswein; Johannes Haart, son of Theo Haart, owner and winemaker of Reinhold Haart, the best Piesport producer in the Mosel, who was so enthusiastically presenting his family's mouthwatering wines at every event; Karina Stuhler of Hans Wirsching Estate in the Franken, who used to work for Robert Weil, but now is with this awesome Franken estate showing some of the best Silvaners I have ever tasted, not to mention dry Scheurebe and Riesling; and last but not least, the famous Hanno Zilliken of Zilliken Estate in the Saar, maker of crisp, refreshing Saar Rieslings, and seriously, how many people can pick up a wine from 1992, put a sip in the mouth and call that refreshing? Not many, but that 1992 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spatlese, of which we only have 30 cases left and will sell out by the end of the week, was just that - refreshing, bright, youthful, and terrific with a certain grilled eel on risotto that we enjoyed at the wine dinner at Ame at the St. Regis in San Francisco.

Things were really exciting this week. So many delicious wines, and so many people appreciating them. The only things I wished were different were that I wish I was less stressed (next time I promise, I will be less stressed), and that the growers had more time to visit the beach or go shopping or enjoy more of what we love about California...... but instead their schedules were pretty packed and we visited so many customers. As I said, even in Napa and Sonoma. They were surprised as I was how many sommeliers and wine directors in Napa and Sonoma want German wines. Hey, they know what good wine is up there, and they're not only going to limit themselves to what the neighbors produce!

What we tasted:

The new 2009 vintage. People were impressed. The vintage has been compared with 2005. Others compare it to a combination of 2007 and 2008. The growing season was cool, not hot, but the wines turned out to be clean, aromatic, and physiologically ripe with great acidity. Something for everyone there, and let's put it this way, I didn't hear anyone in the tastings commenting that the wines were just "meh."

We also tasted some 2008s such as Grosses Gewachs (Great Growth or Grand Cru) wines that are not shown before this time - these wines actually show better in a few years because they need time. There were also other 2008s that we have sold out of that people can order on a presale basis as there is a bit more of it in Germany. The 2008s are showing great now with that slightly crisper style, especially if you are an acid freak. Which is not to say they don't have tons of great fruit because they do!

And finally, there were some mature wines shown in the tastings, which was fun - lovely to see how well these wines age.

I'm glad the growers got to visit the beautiful seaside city of Long Beach! They liked the Yard House as much as Johan and I do. And visiting both The Wine Country and Delius in Signal Hill (a city completely surrounded by Long Beach) were great.

Much thanks to everyone who made this week so special. You know who you are! Thank you for hosting our winemakers and sharing their works of art in your place of business with your customers. Thank you, winemakers, for the hard work in the vineyard, the cellar, and also, in your American market! We love you!

And finally, thank you to Rudi, without whom none of this would be happening. Thank you for bringing the best German wines to the United States for over 30 years.

Rudi & me at the Houdini House in Hollywood

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why planning a wedding is a piece of cake

About 4 years ago, we planned our wedding, and as the bride, I took the traditional role of taking the helm and taking care of all the details. It was easy. Choosing a venue, booking a photographer, ordering flowers from the florist, choosing the menu, buying a dress, altering said dress, altering said dress again with new dressmaker for further corrections, buying matching shoes, choosing the wines, getting a hairdresser and make-up artist, ordering the invites, sending them out, getting the RSVPs.... you get the picture.

It was a piece of cake.

A year later, I hosted my first wine dinner - this was when I was still working at The Wine Country. The dinner was at my favorite Long Beach sushi restaurant, Yen in Belmont Shore, and the wines were from Rudi Wiest. Rudi and my then rep, Allie, were present at the dinner, and I was so nervous, that I felt like it was more nerve-wracking than our wedding.

The wedding was a piece of cake, easy peasy. It felt like me spending money in my budget and having to please no one really... it was throwing a big party with no agenda.

The wine dinner, on the other hand, needed to be a success for the restaurant, The Wine Country, and Rudi Wiest Selections. Oh yes, and the guests, the participants of the wine dinner.

And, it was a success. I was relieved. Everything turned out great and everyone was happy with the food and the wine, and wine was sold, so the industry side was happy too.

Since then, I've done a bunch of wine dinners, and now I'm much less nervous about them. But they are still a production.

Just like wine tastings - they can be a big production.

And there is no bigger production than Rudipalooza, the annual German wine tasting event that Rudi Wiest Selections puts on as their new vintage tasting, an extravaganza of events meant to entice those in the trade to the charms and beauties of German wine.

But this year, the extravaganza has gotten a face lift. Instead of just doing trade tastings through the big cities, the winemakers, who have flown in from Germany today (today Sunday - the day Germany got 4 points vs Australia in the World Cup - I hope the winemakers got to catch some of the game, but I suspect, many had to miss it due to the flight), will spend an entire week in California, doing not only tastings for the trade, but also for consumers.

The idea is that the consumer, the end users of these lovely wines, want a chance to meet the rock stars they have heard the trade ramble on about... the legendary Hanno Zilliken of the Saar - what does he look like anyway? Is he nice? Our wineloving public will find out for themselves, not just hear me ramble about what a cool guy he is, how he makes some of the most pristine and gorgeous Rieslings I've ever had the pleasure of drinking, but is so down-to-earth and friendly and speaks perfect English to boot. Our wineloving public will see just how tall is Jan Eymael, nephew of Robert Eymael and winemaker and owner (along with his mother Doris Eymael) and how friendly is his smile, a smile of modesty even as his Grosses Gewachs (Grand Cru) wines make media splashes and most recently, 2 of them got 95 points in Wine Spectator (the Weilberg GG and the Herrenberg "M" GG)....and how the charming Karina Stuhler of Wurzberg in the Franken region has transitioned so smoothly from the Robert Weil Estate in the Rheingau to her current post as export manager at Hans Wirsching.

All this past month I was in a nervous tizzy.... planning this event-filled week which is more difficult even to plan than a wedding, in my mind - juggling where each event will be and who will be there - can we get people there? what wines? when? what food? how to get everyone there? will they order the wines? will people attend the wine dinner? how many will show up at the tasting? But today, Sunday, as I sit here catching up with last minute things, I'm actually not so stressed as I am excited - for the week of fun, wine-filled events is why I'm in this business, and those delicious 2009s.... I can't wait to revisit them and see if I love them as much as I did in Germany this February.

Hope to see you at the events (if you are in California!)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Back from Canada, Soon to Launch into Rudipalooza

So I'm taking a little breath, a moment away from the things I should be doing, instead to write a short blog post and take a sip of one of the wines I was showing today, the 2007 Wegeler Rudesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spatlese from the Rheingau, a wine that my very newest customer liked but didn't like as much as some other younger Rieslings, because it had a taste and smell she couldn't quite place, until I asked her "is it petrol?" and she lit up and said, "YES!" and I did my little explanation that this is what happens to Riesling when it ages a bit.

Funny thing, I don't even notice petrol in my Rieslings anymore.... especially not a young pup like a 2007 Spatlese... so I'm enjoying this little number while I update this here blog.

Last week was spent in the slightly waterlogged city of Winnipeg in Canada, visiting relatives, relaxing, taking in the sights, drinking wine, eating, running, that sort of thing. The town has been getting quite a bit of rain, and the main river, the Red River, which runs north from the United States, has been swelling up, the water high on the banks, threatening homes with basements and farmer's plots whose young plants can't take the suffocation.

Meanwhile, we took the weather in stride, running when we could, taking in the sights of new summer Farmer's markets opening, pretty homes along the river, discovering new neighborhoods, checking out wild bunny rabbits happily dashing through people's lawns. The evenings were spent enjoying an assortment of wines, including 2007 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir, 2005 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir, 2006 Andrew Murray Esperance Rhone-style Blend, 2004 Halter Ranch Ancestor, and, maybe my favorite of the bunch, non-vintage H. Billiot Fils Champagne from Abonnay.

I think the most fun part of the Champagne was the fact that we bought it in Winnipeg - it wasn't one of the wines we brought, but it was actually found in one of the better wine stores, a wine store that is likely my favorite in Winnipeg, called Banville & Jones. They seem to specialize in French wines, and they are located in one of the French parts of the city of Winnipeg, St. Vital. The other big French-speaking part of Winnipeg is St. Boniface, which hosts a number of good French restaurants.

With our Champagne, we cooked up a seafood dinner, which incorporated King crab legs steamed in Stella Artois, seared scallops, which didn't look as good as they do in restaurants but darn they were tasty and moist, peas, potatoes, and a really yummy mango salsa, which whenever I hear that I can feel Randy of The Wine Country bristling, because mango salsa is a wine killer, but it was actually tasty, and while I didn't purposely have it with gulps of delicious Champagne, it didn't hurt the robust Billiot.

So that was Winnipeg in a nutshell - me trying to chill and not work on the Blackberry, and us enjoying vacation and family time, with some nice wines and food.

Now we're back and of course it is full on work-mode, like it is for almost everyone after being away. The added pressure is that I'm back on the road next week for Rudipalooza California!

Rudipalooza East Coast is already in full swing this week, with founder Rudi Wiest and newest Rudi Wiest Selections member Laura Williamson, M.S. having been in Chicago & New York City this week with German winemakers wooing everyone with the 2009 vintage.

Next week, it will be our turn. The wooing begins in Los Angeles Monday June 14 at Lawry's Prime Rib, where the chef Walter, who is German, puts on the best German spread this side of the Atlantic. Seriously. I will likely take pics of the food (again) this year and post here. I'm sure I have posted pics of past years' delights.

After that, more festivities then up to San Francisco for a few events, a terrific wine dinner at Ame at the St. Regis on Wednesday June 16, then consumer events at Solano Cellars in Albany (just north of Berkeley), then back to Long Beach for a tasting event at The Wine Country (5 pm to 8 pm on Friday June 18), then at the Wine House in Los Angeles the next evening (7 pm to 9 pm on Saturday June 19) then finally, we let the winemakers go.