Monday, August 28, 2017

Retsina's grapes find an artisanal use

Vassilis Papagiannakos and his temperature-controlled tanks
Savatiano is the most-planted grape in Greece, yet also one of the least known. It's the main grape of Retsina, the traditional resin-flavored that is a rite of passage for wine drinkers. As Japanese say about climbing Mt. Fuji, a wise man will try Retsina, but only a fool will try it twice.

Retsina is the type of wine people drank in antiquity. Without refrigeration, they used resin to seal wine in amphoras; the taste of resin masked subpar wine. The Greek wine industry stayed technologically far behind the rest of the world until the 1990s, which kept Retsina on the menu. Now, Greece is making exciting wines from Assyrtiko and Xinomavro and other grapes, but there are growers all over central Greece with big vineyards of Savatiano and a disappearing market for the wine they used to make with it.

Vassilis Papagiannakos is one such vintner. His family owns 100 acres of vineyards mainly planted with 60 to 70 year old Savatiano vines. His solution was to release varietal dry Savatianos: no resin, just the grape itself. They were groundbreaking in his region, and at first his neighbors thought he was making adulterated wine, which is ironic.

I spoke with Papagiannakos last week by Skype. He turned his computer around to show me that he lives by the ocean. Yeah, yeah.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The best sakes on the market: results from the US National Sake Appraisal

Before tasting 352 sakes in a day (see below)
Here's one way in which Japanese sake is better than wine: the floor is higher. You may never taste really terrible wines today* because gatekeepers like shop owners and sommeliers keep them out, but objectively bad wines exist and anyone who judges wine competitions knows it.

(* Pipe down, natural wine haters. Some people like them.)

I was one of 10 judges earlier this month at the US National Sake Appraisal in Honolulu. We tasted 381 sakes, all of them commercially available (this is not the case with most sake competitions in Japan.) I wrote for Palate Press about an important trend I discovered -- that Daiginjos are getting sweeter and Junmais are getting drier. Here I want to highlight a few of the outstanding sakes we tasted, and where you can buy them.

First of all, here is the competition results page. You'll note that unlike with wine competitions, even the sakes that did not win an award are listed, so you don't have to ask if we tasted your favorite.

From that list, the two Benten Junmais that finished first and third in the category were a revelation: outstanding and a great example of the impact of different rice strains, because the nicknames (Dewanosato and Tsuyahime) are names of the types of rice. The bad news is that neither of these sakes is currently available in the US. Sorry. Good news is that a longtime personal favorite of mine, Dewazakura Dewasansan Yamagata Junmai Ginjo, took third place in the Ginjo category and is widely available for about $36; buy it here.

My own notes on sakes I tasted during the competition aren't very good because tasting 352 on day 1 was overwhelming. I gave 9 of those sakes the highest possible score, but some didn't make the medal round because other judges didn't like them as much (I think I liked drier sakes than the average judge), and honestly, some sakes I didn't like quite as much the next day on retaste.

Here are some sakes I singled out with extremely high scores on both tastings:

Monday, August 14, 2017

Is rosé still cool? You be the judge

(Baby: What are you looking at?)

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What's next for Anchor Distilling?

One of Anchor Distilling's most popular imports
Anchor Brewing Company was sold last week to Japan's Sapporo Brewing Co. for $85 million. But Anchor Distilling was not part of the deal.

I was surprised to learn Anchor Distilling is actually more profitable now than Anchor's much better known beers. The beer-based reason for the sale has been covered well by other sites, notably the San Francisco Chronicle. I called Anchor Distilling President and CEO Dennis Carr to learn more about what the newly independent spirits company will do next.

The answer turns out to have international implications, starting in London.

A brief background on Anchor Distilling: It was founded in 1993 as an offshoot of the brewery. It opened with two locally made products -- Junipero Gin and Old Potrero Rye -- that were as ahead of their time in the craft booze movement as Anchor Steam beer once was. It has expanded its business immensely by importing and selling craft spirits made in other countries, including bartender favorites like the Tempus Fugit spirits and Luxardo Maraschino liqueur (and the cherries.)

In 2010, the entire Anchor business was sold to former Skyy Vodka execs Tony Foglio and Keith Greggor. They sold the beer business last week and Carr said they took on the famous London-based beverage merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd as a partner for the distillery business.

Now Anchor Distilling has to look for a new building, but Carr said the distillery's 50 employees nationwide are expected to move with them.

The Gray Report: I was shocked to learn the distilling business is more profitable than the beer.

Dennis Carr: The beer category has become a crowded category. Premium spirits have been on the rise. These trends have been going on for the last two or three years. At this point, the spirits business is larger than the beer business.

TGR: Where are you planning to relocate?