Monday, April 29, 2019

A Finnish Drink That Makes You Say Cheers - Kippis!

By Pinny Tam 

One of my favorite pastime activities is to attend wine tasting events, especially the ones that are hosted in large cities like New York. Almost always, I’ll see and taste some new alcoholic beverages that are so unique and memorable! My new scout is the Finnish Long Drink, which I tasted multiple times at the New York City Wine Fest in April this year, and got some samples from The Long Drink Company for a follow-up tasting after. This cocktail in a can is something I have never tasted before. First, let's hear the national pride story behind this "Tiffany" blue can!

New York City Wine Fest April 2019
The roots of long drinks go back to the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. The country of four million people was still poor and recovering from World War II, but wanted to give athletes and tourists from all over the world who came to the games an unforgettable experience. To serve drinks quickly enough to all the visitors, the Finns came up with a revolutionary idea of a new liquor drink, and the first long drinks were born. Long drinks continued to evolve from being mixed as cocktails originally in tall glasses, to cans for easy distribution and convenient enjoyment.  
Logo for the Games of the XV Olympiad
What’s in The Long Drink? In this Finnish canned cocktail, it presents the most traditional long drink flavor from the nation and contains the same amount of liquor like how it's made in a glass. It's a carbonated soda with an alcohol kick, which is a nice mix of natural grapefruit, juniper berries and gin with an ABV of 5.5%. What makes this drink so unique? Well, aside from being refreshing, it tastes very “clean” - mildly sweet, tangy grapefruit taste without overwhelmingly tart plus crisp gin. The most interesting ingredient in this drink is probably juniper berries which have the distinct botanical flavor. After you pop the can open, pour it over ice and have a sip of this ice-cold carbonated Long Drink.  Aaah…a fizzy thirst-quencher!
I would say the Long Drink probably goes well with a lot of different types of food, but no doubt in my mind, this is a drink made for Chinese food such as casual Chinese take-out - chicken fried rice, stir-fried vegetable medley, sweet and sour sesame chicken and spicy Kung Pao chicken... the drink is bubbly, tangy, light, yet a tad herby which makes it go so well with all this hearty, saucy, spicy, fried, and delicious food– a drink that is versatile and makes everyday meals fun!
I had a chit-chat with Ere Partanen, Co-founder of The Long Drink Company to get more food tips for his drink: 
Ere Partanen, Co-founder, The Long Drink Company
Pinny Tam: I think the refreshing taste of the Long Drink will go really well with spicy Asian food like Ma Po Tofu or pork bulgogi. What do you think?

Ere Partanen: Couldn’t agree more! I myself am a huge fan of Chinese food – we have some great restaurants in Finland also. I think Long Drink is a great refreshment between and after spicy Asian food.

PT: I know the Long Drink is a popular drink in crayfish parties in Finland. What other seafood will go well with this Drink?

EP: My personal favorite is European perch rolled in rye flour and fried in salty butter. Boiled potatoes on the side with some crème fraiche. Lots of great flavors that go very well in hand with Long Drink!

PT: Summer is fast approaching. Will there be any promotional events that feature the Long Drink in NYC?

EP: Yes there will be. We are partnering up with many venues over the summer and there’s something going on every weekend. A few of the bigger events that are in the lineup are: 
  • 5th Annual Brooklyn Crush Spring Edition, May 11th
  • Montauk Music Festival, May 16th-19th
  • 5th Annual North Fork Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, June 22nd
  • Montauk Beach House, July 13th
You probably won’t have much left-over when you eat your take-out with this drink. But in case you do, enjoy the left-over with more Long Drink. Kippis – Cheers! It's all good.

Disclosure: The Long Drink in this post are samples. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Stop and Smell the Aromas of Maryhill's Viognier!

By Pinny Tam

Viognier is a fragrant, medium to full-bodied, fruity, medium-alcohol white wine that originated in southern France. You can now find Viognier grown outside France in a lot of other countries such as the US, Australia, Italy, Argentina and Chile. Walla Walla in Washington State emerges as one of the main regions in the US that makes really good Viognier. Maryhill Winery, located in Columbia Valley AVA, Walla Walla, is the largest Viognier producer in Washington State and has perfected the making of  Viognier - as aromatic and memorable as you can get by any standards! 
What brought me to Maryhill Winery? Well, the 2018 Wine Blogger Conference was held in Walla Walla in October last year. Being one of the sponsors at the conference, Maryhill extended its hospitality to the bloggers in a post-conference excursion and showcased a few of their signature wines in the beautiful tasting room and winemaking facility in Goldendale, overlooking Mount Hood and Columbia River. 
Their large portfolio is truly impressive and reflective of the diverse winemaking in Walla Walla, sourcing 30 grape varieties from selected growing partners in eight of the Washington’s 14 AVAs, making 50 unique wines, and yielding 80,000 cases annually. With all the good tastes in memory from the excursion, I’m pleased to receive Maryhill’s most popular wine, the 2017 Viognier as a sample for a “follow-up” tasting. 
Maryhill’s tasting note of this wine is quite accurate. However, I did pick up some "personal" notes. When swirling this Viognier, the aromas of pear, melon and hints of guava and pineapple enveloped my nostrils, sending a warm welcome for sips to follow. As I started to taste the wine, I noticed tiny flavors of papaya and pineapple as well as a tad minerality and oak – making this Viognier crisp, fruity but with solid texture. The wine is medium-bodied and nicely balanced between acidity and oak, bringing “chews” (texture) and a lingering and sensational finish! Check out my earlier Instagram post of this wine. 

How do I enhance this tasting experience with food? I do what I do best, cooking food in Chinese style to match the wine. There are three quick and everyday seafood dishes coming to my mind, which are whole squid pan-grill with Hoisin and oyster sauces; Argentinian shrimp (shelled or no shell) stir-fry with ketchup and soya sauce; and imitation crab spicy ramen noodle served in a Korean noodle pot.  The ingredients of these three effortless dishes can be easily purchased from local grocery stores. It'll take less than an hour to prep, cook and serve all the food - an easy yet elegant dinner party to welcome spring is in the making.  
Whole squids have the most artsy and freshest look you could give to your seafood food. Cleaning squid is not difficult - just make sure you remove the purple membrane of the squid carefully and use a sharp knife to poke the ink pouches. When you pull the head out, also remove the greenish and slimy guts. To have the great look, don’t cut up the squid. Instead, grill the squid in whole in a heated up cast-iron grill pan and brush the Hoisin and oyster sauces onto the squid frequently to achieve the color and the mildly sweet taste (brought by Hoisin sauce) that goes incredibly well with Maryhill’s Viognier. It takes approximately 15 minutes. The picture-perfect and mouth-watering squid is on your plate. 
If you haven’t tried cooking your shrimp with ketchup and soya sauce, you should really try it as you are definitely going to lick your fingers or maybe your plate after eating all the shrimp. The sauces that coat the shrimp are tangy and savory, really enhancing the hidden tropical flair of this wine as well as its minerality. Seeing the messy ketchup fingerprints on my wine glass is a proof that I savor the meal!
The use of a personal ramen noodle pot to cook/present the ramen is really a thing now, due to the immerse popularity of eating ramen noodle soup all over the world. Ramen noodles are probably the easiest soupy comfort food you can cook at home in less than 15 minutes. Boil the water, drop the noodle in, add some greens and some protein of your choice (imitation crab and a fresh egg in my case), and here you go - a warm and hearty bowl of goodness that is to be consumed in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for lunch or dinner. A word on ramen…the 50 cents Top Ramen or Nissan noodles won’t really cut it. Trust me on this! Go to Amazon (e.g., search for Korean ramen) or an Asian grocery store to get the real-deal ramen. They have an al-dente texture when cooked right and also level up whatever protein and vegetable you put it. As I slurped the spicy ramen noodle in this Korean noodle pot, I couldn’t help but reach out for my glass of Viognier to replenish the freshness and to sooth the spicy effect. The Viognier is such a no-brainer match to this noodle.
As I’m sipping the Maryhill Vioginer now in spring, I won’t be surprised to sip it for the months to come till the end of summer as it is darn good!

Disclosure: The wine in this post is sample. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

An Elegant Pair: Jean Claude Courtault Chablis and Sichuan Peppercorn Cured Salmon #Winophiles

I’m not an ABC person – ABC stands for “Anything But Chardonnay”. As a predominantly red wine drinker, every now and then if I venture outside my comfort “red” zone, I don’t mind having a glass of Californian oaky Chardonnay. I do like the oaky and buttery taste which some people detest, and especially find that goes well with a bowl of Korean ramen with a slice of cheddar cheese and a runny egg. Liz Barret from "What’s in that Bottle?"invites the French winophiles to explore the many secrets of Chablis. It’s time to splurge on a bottle of very good white, which I typically don’t do, and most importantly, to experience Chardonnay that is far from anything that I have had tasted before.
Terroir – Portlandien and Kimmeridgian Soils
Chablis is a wine region in the northeastern most part of Burgundy. The cool climate of this region produces wine that has lesser sun exposure, sugar, fruit, but more acidity than Chardonnay wine grown in warmer climates. The northern and cool climate stunts the ripening of grapes and may cast nasty spring frosts that could be severe enough to destroy partial or the entire annual harvest. Mother Nature doesn’t always nurture!
Chablis Wine Region - Photo Credit: 

Just like Champagne is referring to the region as well as the wine, Chablis is also the name of the wine that reflects the land in Chablis – the use of Chardonnay grape is understood without being uttered out loud on the wine label. Chablis, which is probably the most distinctive white wine in the world, is a poster-child wine to understand the concept of “terroir”. Chablis region is basically a 150 million year old seafloor that surfaces up as today’s chalky and minerally soil, studded with fossilized seashells and fragments of marine skeletons. The two types of soils are Portlandien and Kimmeridgian. Portlandien soil doesn’t have a dominant portion of fossils, reserving for fruitier and softer Petit Chablis – less prevalent in the region. Kimmeridgian soil, on the contrary, has a larger proportion of limestone and marine fossils. Chablis that is harvested on this soil exhibits the briny, seashell and crushed rock flavors – the precise profile that makes it to the bottles and earns fame for this region. As the export manager, Xavier Ritton, for the La Chablisienne cooperative, one of the best co-ops in France put it in an interview with Wine Enthusiast, “We are not producing Chardonnay, we are using Chardonnay to express the Chablis terroir.”

Land in Chablis that's Full of Fossilized Seashells - Photo Credit: The Source
In terms of aging, Chablis is mostly fermented in steel tanks, unpretentiously revealing the minerality and acidity – totally unlike the oaky and big-flavor Chardonnay that’s quite typically made around the world. Of course, the highest level of Chablis classification, Grand Cru Chablis does use oak to style the wine and to create a different experience of Chablis – more savory, intense fruit, and richer mouth-feel…to name a few. The Appellation d'Origine Protégée system in Chablis divides the region into four classifications: Petit Chablis AOP, Chablis AOP, Chablis Premier Cru AOP and Chablis Grand Cru AOP. Grand Cru is the smallest and most exclusive subregions, following with Premier Cru, Petit Chablis, then Chablis. The price range averages from US$60 for Grand Cru to US$15 for Petit Chablis.
Jean-Claude Courtault Chablis
I picked up a bottle of Jean-Claude Courtault Chablis 2015 from Wine Library, which happens to be Gary Vaynerchuk’s (i.e., Wine Library owner, also a social media personality) favorite white wine. While he likes to drink it at room temperate, I like mine well chilled to achieve the youthful energy, acidity, saline and nervy texture of this Chablis…to the core! Let’s have a sip of my Chablis. 
"Jean Claude Courtault Chablis 2015 smells distinctly briny on the nose, following with scents of green apple and oyster shell. The sips reveal the beautiful minerality, acidity and a hint of nuttiness, presenting a strikingly balanced texture - freshness and richness. The chalkiness and acidity drive a lingering finish that mingles with the food you are enjoying. It has aging potential until 2020."

The winemaking journey of Jean-Claude Courtault is inspirational in the way that persistence and effort make a dream come true for someone who didn’t inherit the land in the French wine world. Jean-Claude and Marie-Chantal Courtault moved to Lignorelles which is northwest of the town of Chablis, from Touraine in the Loire Valley, in 1984, when Jean-Claude was hired to work as a manager at a local Chablis winery. Slowly but surely, he went above and beyond as a winery manager. He started his master plan to implement his vision into the vineyard and to craft honest and pure Chablis that he loved to drink as everyday pleasure. Eventually he purchased 42 acres of the vineyard, which has south/south-west facing slopes and contains mostly Kimmeridgien and a little Portlandian soils, from the previous vineyard owner. The duo soil profiles help Jean Claude Courtault to make both Chablis and Petit Chablis. His approach is to capture the best of Chardonnay in its bare existence with no exotic frills, straightly vinified and aged in temperature-controlled steel tanks.

Sichuan Peppercorn Cured Salmon
When I try to match a dish to the briny, minerality and chalky notes in this Chablis I picked, I’m thinking of salmon. However, the texture I go after needs to be denser than a piece of flaky cooked salmon in order to play out the substantial texture of this wine. My first ever attempt to cure salmon is in my plan!
Sichuan Peppercorn - Photo Credit:
Sichuan peppercorns have aromatic fragrance. It is unique, and almost smells and tastes like a combination of lavender and anise. It causes playfully numbing sensation when it’s combined with chili peppers for cooking Sichuan cuisines. The recipe I devise for the Sichuan peppercorn cured salmon doesn’t “numb” but presents a flowery and balanced aroma when combined with other types of peppercorns. Another unique peppercorn I used is Tellicherry peppercorns, which is more pungent on the nose than regular black peppercorns. As with the salmon, I did spend a bit more to have a wild caught Alaska sockeye salmon filet which has a richer taste than the Atlantic salmon or salmon from coastal Scotland. Time to check out the recipe below:

Sichuan Peppercorn Cured Alaska Sockeye Salmon
1 – 1 ½ pound of wild caught Alaska Sockeye salmon skin-on whole filet
1 tablespoonful of whole Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp of whole Tellicherry peppercorns
1 tbsp of whole white peppercorns
1 tbsp of whole black peppercorns
1/2 tbsp of fennel seed
1/8 cup of kosher salt (you can increase to ¼ cup if a stronger salty taste is preferred)
1/8 cup of sugar

  • Descale the whole filet thoroughly, rinse under water, pat dry, and put it in a  rectangular Pyrex dish.
  • Combine all the peppercorns and the fennel seed in a mortar and crush them with a pestle. If you don’t have a mortar, put the peppercorns in a ziplock bag and crush them using the bottom of a heavy frying pan.
  • Combine the spices from the mortar with salt and sugar in a mixing bowl.
  • Rub 1/3 of the mixed spices onto the skin and put the skin side down back to the Pyrex dish, and rub the rest of the mixed spices on the top facing side of the filet. Make sure run-away peppercorns are put back in contact with the filet.
  • Seal the entire Pyrex dish with plastic wrap. Sealing it is important as you don’t want any odor from the fridge seeping into the salmon, and of course vice versa.
  • Lay another smaller dish so that it can firmly press down onto the salmon. Add canned food as weights to the top dish.
  • Cure the salmon inside the fridge between two and three days.
  • When done, discard all the peppercorns and seeds from the fish. Pat dry the salmon with a paper towel, removing the little residual fluid from the fish.
  • Use a very sharp knife and cut thin slices of salmon to the typical thickness of lox by simply angling the blade at a 45 degree cut. The key trick is to pin down the salmon with a paper towel so you can filet as close to the skin as possible.

The anticipation for this cured salmon is real as I have no idea how it would turn out. Also is that “cured” enough to kill all the bacteria of the raw fish or is it under “cured” to kill me? Let’s set aside the fear and eat the fish.

To showcase the Sichuan peppercorn cured salmon, I think of three ways: by itself, on dark rye bagel squares and farmer cheese, and on whole grain Italian bread and avocado.

By itself: I simply cut up a few slices of the salmon and sprinkle some capers to add a bit more salty taste. I intentionally undersalt the fish a bit so the capers help out in the end. Between the cured salmon and the Chablis, it’s an elegant pair that promises to please your taste buds – the briny Chablis is in tone with the mildly salty salmon, and the acidity of the wine brightens the creamy texture of the salmon!

On dark rye bagel squares: I toasted the dark rye bagel squares (i.e., cut a square peg out of a ground bagel😉) and smudged a layer of farmer cheese on top before layering pieces of salmon on it. A word on the farmer cheese…it has the neutral and crumbly texture that doesn’t interfere the taste of the salmon but is there to be the soft diary cushion that goes between the bagel and the salmon. I also cut up some home-made Sichuan peppercorn and garlic pickled onion to make it more fun.

On whole grain Italian bread: I used a baguette-shaped whole grain Italian bread and haloed the center of the bread so the avocado and salmon slices can stay put inside. Does avocado go well with FISH? Yes, it certainly does as the salmon has no unpleasant fishy smell or taste– in fact, fresh fish hardly has bad fishy smell and taste! The chalkiness, minerality and a tad of nuttiness of this Chablis is a no brainer to this fresh yet creamy sandwich. The layering of tastes just works.

Well, it has been two days after I ate all the salmon slices…no stomach or food poisoning issues. Another successful experiment on curing fish!

Check out other #winophiles' Chablis blogs!