Weekly Apéro Hour | Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Here’s your weekly apéro hour!

 

DRINKING.

I am sorry.

It’s a unicorn wine.

I kind of hate when people post and write about unicorn wines. So many of us don’t get to enjoy them. It doesn’t seem fair. And it feels like it can fuel this sense of hype that permeates the natural wine world: get the bottle that nobody has the privilege to drink! Then Instagram it! Watch the likes flow in!

But take a moment, and flip the perspective: think of the winemaker, who has chosen to run a very small business, and to make precious few wines that they really love and believe in. Not because of ego, but because small is truly beautiful, to that winemaker.

That’s the case with Kenjiro Kagami’s wines. They number at most 10,000 bottles per year, coming from his 3-hectares of vineyard in Grusse, in the Jura, not far from the legendary Ganevat, who has been an influence on Kenjiro’s wines. Kenjiro, a former engineer who left his native Japan for the love of French wine, studied winemaking in Burgundy, worked for Bruno Schueller in Alsace for five vintages, and for one year with Thierry Allemand in the northern Rhône, winemaking is not a practice of ego exultation. He’s not hoping that we’re getting 300 likes on a photo when we post one of his wines.

But at the same time, his winemaking is about ego. Miroirs is French for “mirror.” Kenjiro chose this name for his winery because his last name actually translates to “mirror,” but also because he sees winemaking as a reflection of himself. Which, of course, it is. Such a simple, almost obvious truth, but what a lovely way to express it. We speak of terroir as the “environment,” but it’s absurd to think that the hand of the maker does not play a role in how the wine (or any product) turns out. Especially with a small-batch producer, the maker’s touch defines so many aspects.

No sulfites are added to the wines, making them an even more naked reflection of oneself. And they are immaculately pure wines. I had the opportunity to taste from barrel with Kenjiro’s winery when a friend, the Jura natural wine queen Sev Perru kindly organized for a few of us to visit him in February of this year. Each taste of wine caused us to exclaim at its purity, as well as the tension and precision. Just the right level of reduction. Just that hint of lush creaminess that you find at the end of a long, diligent fermentation. Nothing above 12.5 percent ABV, we guessed.

Luckily, we were able to bring a few bottles with us. If you get ahold of some Domaine des Miroirs wines, please do yourself a favor and age them. This 2014 bottle of “Sonorité des Vents,” made from his 1.5-hectare parcel of Chardonnay, was just beginning to show itself. Unlike a real mirror, which gets dirtier with time, Kenjiro’s wines become brighter and truer expressions as the years go on. It’s as if they polish themselves, somehow. 

Kenjiro also makes, of course, Savagnin, as well as very small amounts of the light red grape Poulsard. One highlight during our visit to his cellar was tasting the Chardonnay he fermented on skins for 1.5 months (destemmed). It had notes of white peach tea, with tannins on the front palate. That’s definitely a wine which will need time in bottle.

These are wines to pull out of the cellar when good friends come over for an intimate meal. (Although we did impulsively drink one during a harvest-time lunch with about ten people at the table.) These wines will bring you joy. And be warned, they could also make you become a little self-reflective.

READING: Sorry. More self-reflection.

It has been five years since Tao Lin published a book. (The photo above is from several years ago, when I wrote to Lin asking for an advanced copy of a book he published of his own tweets along with the tweets of an internet poet Mira Gonzalez. Possibly my weirdest selfie ever, I think I was excited because he personally addressed and stamped it! I loved the book but never wrote anything about it because I was working full-time at Vice and wine-writing on the side. So it goes).

Lin is a controversial, though quite popular author in the U.S., known for his novels, which portray the bleak realities of upper-ish-middle-class existence in bare bones prose: the pointless shoplifting and fiendish drug use so many get wrapped up in; an overall sense of boredom; constant digital chatter. I like books like this because they don’t try to hide anything. Much like I prefer natural wines, I like books that reveal the world in its raw form, which is sometimes beautiful and inspiring but often quite gritty.

With Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, Lin strikes a new tone. He has achieved a completely different voice, in this nonfiction book (he has only written fiction until now) that explores the legacy of Terence McKenna, a pioneering advocate of psilocybin and LSD use in the 1970s and 80s. I am only halfway through the book but I could hardly put it down even to write this, and to recommend it — it’s a definite must-read if you’re curious about the topic. 

Before writing this new book, Lin was addicted to Adderall, Ecstasy, and DMT. Pretty nasty stuff. When he discovered McKenna’s lectures, he felt drawn to the way he spoke about the world — the vocabulary he used, his ability to not preach or profess that one must believe in certain things. Lin had never even tried psychedelics. Lin wrote this book in order to undertake a deep, personal exploration of hallucinogenics of various classes (and yes, he documents his trips in the book, including one that he undertakes with his mom!) — and it’s all with one aim: Lin wrote the book in an effort to try to be a less narcissistic person, less skeptical about the world, and more OK with oneself. 

TRAVELING. This week, I head to Sydney and Melbourne for some fun events! Do you live in either of those places? If so, please join me on Wednesday the 20th at Sydney’s PNV Wine & Liquor Merchants, where I’ll be co-leading a panel about the intersections of terroir with a beekeeper, a coffee roaster, and a seafood procurer (info and tickets here — and a copy of Terre Issue 2 comes with your entry fee!). Then, on Thursday the 21st in Melbourne there’s a fantastic pop-up you won’t want to miss, at Milton Wine Shop (pictured above), where I’ll be guest somm-ing with a special winemaker-guest-chef. Check details on the Milton Wine Instagram.

And following that, I am headed to Tassieeeeeee. I have never been to Tasmania, and I’m so excited. It’s for a winter solstice natural wine tasting called Bottletops. You can follow along on my personal Instagram if you like!

If you enjoyed this week’s apéro hour, take a peek on the right side where you can sign up to receive this blog directly in your inbox (if you’re on your phone, you have to go back to the blog’s home page, rachelsigner.com, to find the sign-up). I promise that it will only occasionally be slightly boring or irrelevant and will otherwise be the highlight of your week! (Sorry, I am too honest, sometimes.)

more soon xxR

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Apéro Hour | Weekly Highlights: Remembering Georgia; Remembering Bourdain; Retasting Aussie “Favourites”

Welcome to your weekly apéro hour! 

Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public—and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans—as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.

-Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

 

DRINKING. Just over a year ago, I was invited on a trip to the Republic of Georgia. That trip changed my life, completely; it exposed me to a vibrant culture of wine and food, and I met some people who, even if I haven’t seen them since, I consider close friends. Eight days driving around on a bus, meeting winemaking families, is a great way to bond! I also met my partner on that trip, so that was one of the obvious highlights.

At the Zero Compromise tasting in Tbilisi, all of us were impressed by tasting wines made by Mariam Iosebidze, from a light red grape called Tavkveri that’s basically the Georgian equivalent of Poulsard. Mariam makes her wine in an uncle’s mariani (cellar) and there is very little of it, so I’m thrilled that it makes its way to Australia and I had a chance to drink the 2016 the other day, over a light lunch. The wine was made with only a brief skin contact — less than three days, which is not much for a red — and fermented for one month total in qvevri. The short maceration does it well, I think — it’s got plenty of flavor but is light and driven by acidity — it tastes like crushed roses and salted cherries, with hints of curry and salami. It’s got no sulfites added, nothing but grapes in here. And it’s definitely one of those “funky” natural wines, if you’re looking for that (it has some VA — which I don’t mind, at all!)

If you want to read more about Georgian wine, here’s the piece I wrote for MUNCHIES based on that trip!

MOURNING. When I read Kitchen Confidential, it was long after its publication in 2000. I’d come late in life to the world of food writing, and discovering Bourdain’s tell-all memoir was a revelation: it was brave and brash, hiding nothing about restaurant life and his own tumultuous experience as a cook. In this age of over-saccharine social media performativism, I am sure all of us appreciate the instances where someone is raw, unguarded, and truthful. Especially when it comes to restaurants, which so many of us experience as the end-user only.

Bourdain’s legacy is powerful, and wide-reaching. It was incredible to watch the outpouring of emotion on social media and in the news, from people whose lives he had touched deeply, whether they’d had a chance to meet him, or not. They shared stories of how he’d motivated them to go to cooking school, or validated their sense of pride in Filipino cooking. Bourdain showed appreciation for simple, humble dishes at mom-and-pop restaurants around the world, and shunned fancy establishments. He ate bún cha with President Obama in Hanoi. He made his career after halfheartedly sending an exposé of restaurants to the New Yorker, on the advice of his mother (watch the video where he tells that story here).

The California-based writer John Birdsall wrote on Twitter: “After a day of being able to get nothing done and a night trying to resist sinking into panic, I figured out Bourdain’s legacy: to use whatever influence you have to champion anyone with an authentic voice, even if it’s not fully formed.”

In the wake of Bourdain’s death, I was touched by brief and touching eulogies written by the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner, and Kat Kinsman for Food and Wine. Bourdain’s suicide also triggered an eruptive discussion about mental health, particularly in the hospitality industry, and more broadly; people wrote on social media about their own struggles with depression and suicidal tendencies. As always, all one can hope with a tragic loss like this is that it sparks a profound debate, which could have lasting cultural or even legal changes and help others find their way. I hope this doesn’t sound inauthentic, because many people are saying this, but I’ll chime in: if any of you need a friend, even if you’ve never met me, please reach out. I do check my messages, probably more often than necessary, on all forms of social media and e-mail. I will make time for you if you’re hurting inside.

AUSSIE DRINKING. Back in Australia, it’s pine mushroom foraging season. They are everywhere! We’ve been sauteeing them and having them on toast, or in an omelette; I also pickled some, just because there are so many.

And it also means: back to drinking Aussie wine. And I’m very lucky to be doing so, because all over this country, natural winemakers are making some of the freshest, most gluggable juice out there. Australia’s natural wine scene is largely concentrated in the Adelaide Hills area, but that’s far from the only place it’s happening. Take, for example, Momento Mori, made by Dane Johns in Victoria; these are small-batch wines featuring mostly Italian varieties made with skin contact. I’ve enjoyed them a few times, had the pleasure of re-tasting them at a recent event in Melbourne called Handmade.

I also got to retaste some favorites from Travis Tausend, located in the Adelaide Hills. His winemaking is inspired by his time working with Sebastien Riffault and Daniel Sage in France. That should be enough motivation to try them! Tausend’s wines do make it over to Europe and the U.S. in small amounts, so keep an eye out.

(By the way: my spellcheck now autocorrects “favorites” as “favourites.” Is it only a matter of time before I make the switch??? Oh, and happy birthday to the Queen! That feels really weird to write.)

I also love this Savagnin from the Barossa-based duo Yetti and the Kokonut, which I drank recently with some friends here in the Basket Range. The story behind Savagnin in Australia is funny — it was brought over mistakenly labeled as Albariño. What a happy mistake for us Jura lovers! And re: the fireplace, yes, it is “winter” here. I am sorry, but I grew up on the East Coast — an average of 14 Celsius with sunny days does not make a very scary winter! But it does get cold inside the houses here. I’ve become very good at building a fire! Watch out Scandinavia, Basket Range hygge is totally a thing.

WRITING. I’ve been working on a short story lately — as in, fiction! Nothing to do with wine. As soon as I send this, I am going to return to that. Also, I have something else in the works completely unrelated to wine writing; I guess you could call it a travel book, or a guide to traveling? But it’s written by me, so it’s not exactly your average travel guide. Stay tuned for more on that in a month or so.

And, are YOU a writer? Are your friends writers? Please share with them the submissions guidelines for Pipette Magazine, my new indie mag venture (Terre, rebranded, essentially). The first issue is already shaping up to be pretty good! Follow along on the Pipette Instagram and via the newsletter.

Have a good start to your week! Long live the Queen! Cheers! RS

 

 

Apéro Hour | Weekly Highlights

Hi everyone! This is a new feature I am pioneering on my site. Each week, I’ll post a list of things I’m psyched about, thinking deeply on, questioning, reading, drinking, or otherwise want to share. Subscribe to the site to receive this in your e-mail box each week. It’s designed to be something you read with a glass of wine or tipple of your favorite whiskey as you wind down the day, and to inspire you for the coming weekend.

And here’s your very first Apéro Hour! 

WRITING. The jet-lag from being in Europe is starting to fade, and now instead of being an insomniac all night and watching weird old movies to fall asleep, I feel refreshed enough to look through all my notes from visiting winemakers, and try to figure out what to do with it all! I really enjoyed meeting and interviewing the Renner sisters (RennerSistas is their wine label), a sisterly winemaking duo in Austria’s Burgenland. I love stories like theirs of generational shift and change — converting the family vineyards to organic, making new strides with the winemaking and going for lighter, lower-alcohol styles, and less or no sulfur. You’ll have to wait for Terre’s next issue to get the full story! It seems like so much is happening in that part of Europe. Evidence: in my latest publication, for Playboy Magazine, in which I did not pose in a bikini with a glass of wine (sorry to disappoint), but instead wrote about the philosophy behind the natural wine movement, I also recommended three producers from Middle Europe (Middle Europe is a vague term, but comprises the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia) — including two from the Burgenland, where the Rennersistas are located. But you have to read the piece to find out who they are! Link here. Maybe not safe for work?

COOKING. It’s getting chilly here in the hills of South Australia, and the other day I was inspired to make lasagna. Obviously, I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe — is there any other, aside from your grandmother’s, worth trying? It turned out to be not just good, but incredibly good, for two reason: one, handmade fresh pasta, and two, freshly ground nutmeg. Do it! And drink this Aglianico from Canlibero while you’re at it. We picked it up in Rome, at a beautiful little wine bar called Caffè Sospeso. Ripe plums and fresh plums with a lovely touch of reduction.

But what I am most excited about when it comes to cooking is that my friends in Portland, Oregon, the rock star somm Dana Frank and super talented chef Andrea Slonecker, finally have pre-orders on for their upcoming cookbook with Ten Speed Press: it’s called Wine Food, New Adventures in Dining, and you can order your copy here. It’s always bothered me that cookbooks, generally speaking, narrowly focus on food, without sharing wisdom as to what you drink alongside, for example, a comforting dish like grilled fish with herby fennel relish. The answer, per Dana and Andrea, in this case: a salty Greek white wine. They walk you through which producers to look for and even how to pronounce grape varieties. It’s a manifesto for making wine accessible without dumbing it down, and for considering wine part of a beautiful meal, rather than making it separate. I am pretty sure this is the ONE cookbook everybody should grab this year. (Also pictured: the May/June copy of Imbibe Magazine, featuring an article I wrote about collaborative winemaking — look for it on newsstands!)

DRINKING. Here’s something I am less into these days: sulfur. I realize that many people have defenses of adding sulfur to wine: it stabliizes the wine, so that it can travel across the world, being the most common one. That’s the reason why importer Kermit Lynch famously asked the winemakers of the Gang of Four, who pioneered sulfur-free and generally non-interventionist winemaking in Beaujolais in the 1980s, to put a bit of sulfur into their wines before shipping them to the U.S. There are a lot of misconceptions about sulfur, which is a preservative added to probably 98 percent of wine, and in some cases naturally occurring, depending on soil types, and I’ve answered them in previous articles (like this one here). But what is interesting to me now is that I’ve personally gotten to the point where I strongly dislike wine made with added sulfites — I can’t even really drink it. I honestly think I’ve developed a sensitivity, as well — the few times in recent months where I’ve drunk wine with added sulfites, I’ve felt very lethargic and even a bit short of breath.

Anyway, the question of how sulfur relates to my personal taste is simpler to explain than any physical reactions: A gift of Dard and Ribo’s Crozes-Hermitage traveled with us from France to Italy, where it was opened with great anticipation. This is a producer not easy to get ahold of, you cuold say, and not terribly cheap, either. On first sip, I was enthralled by the flavor of fresh black olives, the silky texture. But with each glass, I noticed more and more the sense of heaviness in the wine, and the way this heaviness lingered in my body. It wasn’t the booze itself, as the wine was low alcohol: 12.5% ABV. But the addition of sulfur was the unmistakable culprit. How much was added? I would guess between 20-30ppm (parts per million). Not as much as the standard, these days, which is around 40ppm for many small producers. It’s legal to add as much as 70ppm and still call yourself organic, in many places (and still be admitted to the RAW Wine Fair, even, with those levels), and some wineries add up to 120ppm. Anyway, the good news is there are enough winemakers now working without any added sulfites, at all, that I won’t go thirsty. At least, I’ll have my own wines to drink!

READING. This will be the nerdies section of my weekly apéro hour, for sure! This week’s pick is especially heavy on the nerd factor.

I have a longstanding interest in French critical thought and specifically psychoanalysis, so I was excited to receive an advance copy of this little memoir on Jacques Lacan by Catherine Millot, a French woman who was the lover and student of the famous psychoanalyst for many years, and who also practices the profession herself. I loved in this book how a woman’s intimate testimony sheds light on such an influential yet elusive figure, getting into the squeamish details like Lacan’s infidelity to her, the fact that he unethically kept treating her as an analysand while they were together, his failed attempt to unify intellectual factions in Italy, and his terrible driving skills. 

Next up, I’m awaiting delivery of Tao Lin’s new nonfiction book on psychedelics, as well as Sheila Heti’s latest piece of genius, Motherhood. The other day, I managed to get 500 words of a short story down onto the Word Doc. I promised a friend in Paris that I would have a completed draft of a story for her to read, next time I see her — it’s based on a sort of wild night we had together, a night that carried a certain sadness along with glee. I have until September to make this really good!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week. Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog on the right side of the page so you can receive this in your inbox each week!

Much love xxRachel