Smell Test Detects Alzheimer’s Disease

The University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test, or UPSIT, pits aging people against scratch and sniff cards of raspberry, coffee, chocolate, cinnamon and licorice: basically fantastic Napa Cab aromas. If you cannot smell these, well, you have a tripled chance of Alzheimer’s disease. Great. Well, I hope my never-ending sensory analysis work (aka drinking) keeps my grey matter muscles sharpened against this.

For more read here.

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SakeOne Brewery Visit Review

West of Portland, Oregon, on the fringes of civilization in Forest Grove, sits what looks to be a warehouse among fields, other warehouses, and lumber yards. Yet here lies America’s first saké producer: SakeOne.  They began in 1992 as sake importers but soon saw gold in Oregon’s coastal range: pure water similar to Japan. By 1997, SakeOne produced their first batch of Momokawa.

Our tour starts outside with a mural of classic saké production by a local artist.

Brewery Mural SakeOne MomokawaQuaint pantless men parade about vats of rice.  Moving on.  Inside, we go to the source of sugars: rice:

Calrose Rice SakeOne Not just any rice: Calrose rice.  Yes, that grocery store staple.  Still, Calrose launched Californian rice production. Developed in 1948, Calrose soon dominated domestic cooking rice throughout North America.  Typically, Japanese sake producers prefer finer grades. But this is America.  Thus, partly out of convenience, SakeOne uses Calrose exclusively.

But how do you turn rice into alcohol? Well, it helps to have one of these:

SakeOne Rice Milling MachineThis is SakeOne’s magic milling machine straight from Japan.  Those curvy drums next to our guide tumble rice grains against eachother breaking off hulls and polishing them like rocks down to their starch-rich core.

SakeOne Rice Tumbler

Here is hot some milling action:

Husks and outer unsavory bits go to cattle, while the 40% polished cores ready themselves to become alcohol.

Milled Rice SakeOneA conveyor pulls these magic pearls into conical tanks of water that rinse and ready them for fermentation:

Rice washAnother room of pipes and tanks greets us. A 400 pound rice cooker sits on the blue scaffolding, ready to heat up starches and ready them for conversion.

Many Pipes SakeOneOverseeing all this, tucked behind PVC pipes, just above our heads, is a minute shrine

SakeOne Altar Momokawa

Just around the bend, after all this fiddling about, we enter the sauna.

SakeOne rice fermentation SaunaHere, steamy rice meets Koji and sweats it out at 90F for 24 hours in this cedar room.  Unlike beer, sake undergoes its starch-to-sugar conversion thanks to Koji (aspergillus oryzae) a mold applied to each grain.  Koji grows on and into the grain, digesting the starch and converting it into sugar with enzymes (beer barley already has these enzymes thanks to sprouting during malting). After a day, the Koji-cracked rice is ready for yeast to ferment it.

I forget what these do, but they’re important and have historic significance…something to do with punching down the rice and macerating?


Finally, classic, temperature controlled, stainless, recognizable, fermentation tanks:

Fermentation VatWe admire the gurgling yeast and sulfuric, chalky aromas. The next room contains even more fermentation and storage vessels, batch for each of SakeOne’s lines:

SakeOne Fermentation Hall

Between these rooms sits one of the largest filters these eyes have every seen:

SakeOne Filtration

Obsessed with clarity and stability, the majority of Momokawa passes through this filter three times. Next, just to be extremely extra-special careful that no wayward yeasts survived, all saké gets an 180F hot bath pasteurization:

Pasturization SakeOne MomokawaFinally, they bottle it and we head outside to taste through their range.

MomoKawa, Silver, Junmai Ginjo Dry Saké

MomoKawa Silver Junmai Ginjo Dry SakeThe APPEARANCE is clear, bright, colorless. Medium AROMAS of ethanol and rubbing alcohol distract at first, but verbena, clay, cream and white peach creep to the fore. The PALATE feels viscous, plump, warm, yet sharp shouldered. MomoKawa’s Silver is good (3 of 5), completely functional saké for drinking neat with food or as a cocktail base.

MomoKawa USDA Organic Sake

This comes in a green bottle (clever). We like it more regardless of its Organic-ness. It is slightly sweeter than the Silver, which hides the alcohol. AROMAS and FLAVORS tend fruitier, with pear, gold honey, rose water, coconut, and pinot gris with a slight mineral note.  Balance, complexity, and ease of drinking alone make MomoKawa’s Organic very good (4 of 5).

Next, SakeOne’s G Joy Sake in a squat, opaque black bottle. The G (aka Genshu) range sees no watering down, so alcohols are at their natural height. Also, rice polish is at a premium 60%.

AROMAS and FLAVORS show great intensity with fruity, honeyed white apricot, anise, minty candy cane, and a slight paint. The PALATE has a slight graininess, medium plus body, and warmth. G Joy is very good (4 of 5).

Next, their unclaimed Junmai Daiginjo SakeOne’s G Fifty:

SakeOne G Fifty sake

This sees rice with greater polish, which means purer flavors. AROMAS and FLAVORS seem the most delicate and complex thus far, with white clover, pear, and other pale fruits and flowers, pinot blanc. Yet the PALATE feels medium sweet, plump, with just enough edgy alcohol 18% abv. G Fifty is very good (4 of 5) and will hold up against rich and spicy food.

Now, remember that pasteurization machine. At Momkawa, one can try their Unpasteurized (aka Nama) Junmai Ginjo:

Momokawa Junmai Ginjo NamaFor fear of exploding bottles, this is only sold on site. Very pretty AROMAS and FLAVORS of grass, pear syrup, strawberry, and vanilla charm us. Medium sweetness, a medium plus natural 18% alcohol by volume warms well creating a medium plus body. This is very very good (4 of 5), just shy of outstanding.

Another brewery exclusive: MomoKawa’s Limited Edition Single Pasteurized sake:

Momokawa Limited Edition Sake

The limited pasteurization allows for all kinds of wildness to creep in. Think of AROMAS and FLAVORS akin to barnyard, dried mushrooms, followed by pears and peaches that finish hot and alcoholic. It is good (3 of 5) but an acquired taste.

Lastly, Momokawa’s Pearl Nigori Sake:

MomoKawa Nigori Pearl Sake

As my wife’s cloudy cup indicates, Nigori Saké does not go through their massive filter. AROMAS and FLAVORS match a pina colada with coconut and banana. The PALATE texture is downright chewy, soft, and warm. Their Pearl Nigori is very good (4 of 5) if a bit overly textural. It would calm down any spicy Thai curry or Mexican dish.

By now, the sun and Saké have made us all a bit wobbly: just the perfect time to bring out SakeOne’s Moonstone line of fruit-infused sakés (a style they invented).  These are training wheels for those new to fermented rice. Alcohols are at a lower (12%), wine-like range and sugars are proportionately higher.

Moonstone Pear Sake

From Asian Pear, to Plum and Coconut Lemongrass, they taste and look as expected.

In summation, a visit and tour of SakeOne, America’s founding saké producer and Oregon’s largest, is a fantastic treat. Otherwise, one would have to visit Japan to get this close. Their range is diverse and strategically placed value compared to far more expensive imports.


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Wine Review Thacher Mourvedre Paso Robles 2012

The thermometer hovers around 70 Fahrenheit. Gray blankets the sky. Rain falls.  Classic summer in Oregon.

My heart (and lack of sweater) longs for warmth. So I turn to California’s sun-slathered central coast: Paso Robles. Last year we toured Paso’s wineries and nabbed a few bottles. Thacher Winery was a pleasant visit. Their tasting room nestles in a lovely, oak-lined valley, formerly Kentucky Ranch, replete with old barn. Their vines lay elsewhere, dry farmed, head trained, and also in Westside Paso: the cooler, wetter (still hot), limestone bit of Paso Robles.

Winemaker/owner Sherman left brew master-ing for sixteen years and brought his precision to open Thacher in 2008. Most of what we tasted was clean and interesting, with a tilt to rare Rhône varieties.

The best was Thacher’s 2012 Mourvèdre. Let’s see how it fairs against an icebound, Oregonian summer.

Thacher Mourvedre Paso Robles 2012

The APPEARANCE looks a slightly hazy, medium plus intense ruby, with a narrow clear rim.

AROMAS smell of medium intensity rhubarb, dark pomegranate juice, blueberry, then musk, dry hay, iron, and barnyard.

The PALATE feels lush and thickly fruited up front, then muscular tannins and hot coal alcohol tighten and dry out my palate.

FLAVORS taste most intense, complex, and cling like glue for a medium plus length. A cord of pomegranate and blackberry syrup carries though, vying against layers of molasses, tobacco, and iron below. There is a lot of lovely juicy, dark fruit here. Yet just a dash of seriousness.

Thacher’s 2012 Mourvèdre manages to be approachable without boring you to tears. A fancy burger, smoked then grilled tempeh, ohh! sage encrusted lamb would all smile alongside this wine (avoid chocolate). It is very good (4 of 5).

But a night of cold misery and painful summer irony all melts away with this deep, warm wine. Have a lovely evening.


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Winery Review Newton Vineyard Napa Valley

Wayward Wine’s Napa visit/eighth wedding anniversary ends with one last winery.

After our bubbly breakfast at Domaine Chandon (read here), hunger finds my wife and I. So we roll up to Yountville Market for one last lunch. Both the vegan reuben and reuben reuben sandwhiches satisfy on this wet, cold Thursday.

Newton Rueben Napa Valley Yountville Market

On our way out…

Rain picks up and we hit the road for Newton Vineyard:

Newton Vineyard Fog Vineyards

Since fog obscures the probably spectacular view, we head inside. It feels wooded, windowed, and cozy.

Newton Tasting Room

Peter and Su Hua Newton sold Sterling to Coca Cola in the 1970s and began their journey into Chardonnay (and a few reds) above St Helena. Today, 120 acres grow grapes in these high hills 500 to 1,600 feet above sea level.  112 distinctive vineyard blocks of Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot are planted to different soil types.

We start with Newton’s Unfiltered 2013 Chardonnay. Actually, Newton first printed “Unfiltered” and made it a thing. It matters because filtering wine post-ferment is a quick, modern way to render wine clear pretty. Does that strip the wine? Depends. But the Newtons went old school with patient rackings to avoid the need to filter wine.

Newton Vineyard Wines

Newton Vineyard, Unfiltered Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2013 ($60):

APPEARANCE: A slight haze with medium intense, bright gold color and legs. Delicate, complex AROMAS and FLAVORS of dried white wood, marscapone cheese, and lemon last a medium plus length. The PALATE feels dry, with medium plus acidity, taut, hot, woody, and edgy. Very good (4of 5) drink now through 2020.

For comparison, we try 2010 Unfiltered Chardonnay, Knights Valley, ($100.00)

APPEARANCE looks like a brighter lemon. Strong AROMAS of lavender and fresh pineapple. The PALATE is sweet, viscous, and hotly alcoholic. It is very good (4 of 5) but for something different…

Another 2010 Unfiltered Chardonnay but from cooler Carneros (for another cool ,k) APPEARS a clear medium gold, with AROMAS and FLAVORS of wet feet, asparagus, and grilled pineapple. The acidity is medium, body full, and overall it is very good (4 of 5).

Next up 2006 Unfiltered Chardonnay Napa Valley ($150): the decade old kin of the $60 2013 we just tasted (ahhh…$90 appreciation).  The PALATE feels fleshy, fat, viscous yet tamed by medium acidity. FLAVORS keep the pineapple, but what really dominates is cinnamon, powdered vanilla, nutmeg and magic of endless length. The 2006, annoyingly, is outstanding (5 of 5). I say “annoyingly” because I don’t want to wait until 2023 to truly enjoy today’s 2013.

Thanks, Chardonnay.  Now for Newton’s red.

Newton’s OCD soil matching tucked Merlot into western, iron-rich red hills.

Merlot Soil Newton

Unfiltered Merlot, Napa Valley 2012 ($60.00)

APPEARANCES look a clear, medium plus purple with a slim ruby rim. AROMAS smell of dense fig newton, blueberry pie, rose petal, syrup. The PALATE feels dry, fine-grained but structured. FLAVORS taste rich, but right now, tobacco, pepper, toast, and too much wood dominate. 2012 Merlot is very good (4 of 5), but might show better in a few years.

How about Newton’s Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 ($66.00)?

Newton Cabernet Limestone Soil

Extra AROMAS and FLAVORS recall raspberry jam, cherry liquor, chocolate, blackberry skin…you get the idea. The PALATE feels dry, with medium acid, medium plus but a bit limp in the tannin department, the body is medium, texture feels watery, smooth.  2013’s Cab is very good (4 of 5) thanks to its length but somewhat disappointing. Napa Cab maniacs would be confused.

OK OK, a big, red, iconic showstopper to make club members happy:

Cabernet Sauvignon, The Puzzle, 2013 ($135.00)

Whereas, the Unfiltered 2013 Cab lacked something, The Puzzle Cab looks and feels extremely dense, lush, thickly textured, concentrated, with AROMAS and FLAVORS of iron shavings, fig, tobacco, dried mint that last a long length. Our palates die on the vine. Give this 5 to 10 years and then it will be outstanding (5 of 5).

Tipsy, we tour the grounds. From the fog looms a Japanese gate:

Newton Family Vineyard

That leads to the Newton’s private estate. Although they sold Newton to Louis Viutton Moët Hennessy,  Peter and Su Hua’s children retain some oversight.

We duck from the rain and climb down to their barrel rooms:

Chardonnay barrel rooms are separated, ingeniously, to control fermentation and racking temperatures without more modern interventions.

Newton Thermometer Barrel Room

The vaulted barrel cave for aging reds is equally simple yet impressive:

Newton Red Barrel Room

The Newtons had a passion for collecting and aging fantastic wines. We find shelves with special items. We get excited:

Tracy Newton Old BottlesHowever, as we delve deeper, the shelves become hollow and the once europhilic gated special space (lifted straight out of our Alsace tour) looks sad, empty, a skeleton:

Newton Gate Empty Collection

A bit after the Newtons sold to Moët, their hospitality manager (ironically he was our guide at Chandon earlier today) had sold off the collection over a series of events at the estate.   We feel depressed.  Gone are the ’82 Lafite’s to cajole our guide to open for us. Today, the cellars just make new wine for the world’s market.

So we head above to, um, the French garden?

Newton Garden

Lovely. But it stings a bit. So much greatness of the Newtons remains in their wines and legacy. Yet this visit feels like visiting a graveyard: a melancholic shadow of a recent, glorious past.

Newton Vineyard’s Unfiltered Chardonnay remains a delicious icon of California. Their hilly reds decidedly differ from the monsters down on Napa Valley’s floor.

Wrapping up our Napa Valley wedding anniversary, our married and marred palates and livers look forward to a break from all the huge, tannic, alcoholic, high-scoring reds of Beringer, Stags’ Leap, St Clement, et cetera.  Luckily, Chandon, Mumm, Etude, and Newton provide lighter relief.  Maybe next time, we’ll spend a week in Sonoma.

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4th of July Wine: Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut NV

This 4th of July, while children (and/or yourself) blow things up, there is only one choice of inebriation that pairs perfectly with pyromania: bubbly. Not just any sparkling wine, not even Champagne, but all American sparkling wine.

In past, Wayward Wine has kept it cheap and cheerful with our patriotic petillance (read here: ‘Merica). This year, we get serious and go for Napa’s founding fizzy father: Domaine Chandon.

Catch up on our March visit here.

Since the 1970’s, when Champagne’s Möet et Chandon spotted Yountville, Napa Valley as their American vacation home, Domaine Chandon has churned out quality bubbly in quantity.  But their tête de cuvée is Étoile Brut, California, America, NV:

Etoile Brut Napa Valley 4th of JulyThis bubbly blends Champagne stalwarts, Pinot Noir, Meunier, and Chardonnay from various vintages. Moreover, secondary bottle fermentation and aging takes over five years before the bubbly is disgorged, dosaged, and topped with cork and cage.  That patience seems crazy (and worrisome to accountants) when French Champagne requires only three years.  But the results are clear:

Appearance: Clear, medium minus intense golden straw

Aromas: Clean, medium plus intense but filigreed and delicate ginger, honey, almond paste, ripe white pear.

Palate: Dry yet fruity, medium acidity, medium bodied, fine but upright and speedy effervescence.

Flavors: Medium intense, plump fruity pear drizzled with honey, ginger, warm almond biscotti, white lemon rind, and a light, sea-air finish that lasts a medium plus length.

Chandon’s Étoile Brut is outstanding sparkling wine (5 of 5). It has all-American fruit-forwardness emblematic of its Californian terroir and traditions, but tastes dry and structured enough to make its French upbringing proud.

It tastes great with salted watermelon. But cuts through a corndog far better than beer. Just imagine all that fry and fat getting slaked away by rapid fire bubbles and fresh fruit flavors, while matching autolytics.

So raise a bottle of bubbly and (carefully) spark that firework. Happy Fourth of July y’all.

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