Friuli meets Japan @UchikoAustin

It’s not everyday that you dine at one of the top Japanese restaurants in the country with the woman who wrote its cookbook. Last night I finally caught up with Jessica Dupuy and executive (and celebrity) chef Tyson Cole who took time out to talk about some of his dishes and his approach to cooking at Uchiko with me and travel and wine writer, my friend Bruce Schoenfeld who was in town on business.

Bruce suggested we pair the [Tocai] Friulano by Livio Felluga with a dish of uni, cuttlefish, and lemongrass (above). The minerality and grassy aromatic character of the wine worked gorgeously with Tyson’s creations. I’ll let the food do the talking…

Nantucket bay scallop with nasturtium blossoms, cantaloupe sorbet, and sherry vinegar.

Buri sashimi with pickeled hakurei turnip, saikyo miso, and crème fraiche.

Abalone nigiri with lemon, maldon, and garlic.

Yokai berry with Atlantic salmon, dinosaur kale, Asian pear, and yuzu.

Dewberry Hills farm chicken, short grain sweet rice, banana leaf, and Thai chili vinegar.

Slovenia Day 2: forbidden mussels, winemaker not required

The name and location of the tavern where Nous Non Plus ate dinner on April 9, 2008 cannot be revealed: suffice it to say that the band’s metallic-gray van somehow found its way to a small village in the hills of Brda.

On the menu that night: a tide of scampi (Nephrops norvegicus, Norwegian lobster, adored by Céline Dijon aka Verena Wiesendanger, left) and forbidden date mussels (Lithophaga lithophaga, a long and narrow rock-boring mussel that uses an acidic secretion to chisel its way into the reefs of the northern Adriatic). The fishing of date mussels, I’m sorry to say, has been prohibited in Europe since 1992 because the reef has to be broken in order to extract the mollusk (in Italy, the sale of date mussels was outlawed in 1998). But in Slovenia (an EU country, btw), it seems delicacy trumps delinquency (I’ve heard that they’re easy to find in Apulia and other parts of Adriatic Italy as well).

Above: the delicious date mussels were cooked in white wine and garlic. They didn’t serve Aleš’ wine but the house Ribolla (Rebula) made for an excellent pairing.

Above: The scampi seemed to dance on this mixed seafood platter. Céline goes crazy for scampi. I’ve never seen her eat so much!

Earlier in the day (and frankly, the day didn’t start so early since we had stayed up all night long playing Beatles songs camp-fire style after NNP played two sets at the winery), Aleš had fulfilled his promise to explain the secret behind Movia’s Lunar, a wine he makes — as I discovered — from the free-run juice of unpressed, whole bunches of Ribolla using a unique system for carbonic maceration. He calls it Lunar because he follows the cycle of the moon for its production.

“Before man made a job for himself as a winemaker,” said Aleš, “the grape made the wine itself.” The grape berry “has a natural valve at its top,” he explained. When a grape drops to the ground, the naturally occurring yeasts on its skin migrate into the pulp and begin to ferment its juice. The valve at the top of the berry, “lets the carbon dioxide out without letting any oxygen in.”

So, when Aleš decided he wanted to make a wine with no intervention whatsoever, he used the grape as a model: he designed a barrel with a hole proportionate to the size of the aperture at the top of a grape berry. To plug the hole, he created a spring-loaded cap that releases the CO2 when pressure builds within the vessel without allowing any oxygen to enter. In essence, he built a large grape berry. He fills the “berry” with whole bunches of grapes and then seals it and lets nature do her work.

Above: Aleš always decants Lunar because it is unfiltered and contains a great deal of sediment.

He then concocted an elaborate system of tubes that allow him to draw off the wine without letting it come into contact with oxygen. But he also had to calculate “where” the wine would be in the barrel, since some of the solids fall to the bottom during fermentation while the skins float to the top. In a diagram he showed me, the “layer” of wine lies somewhere in the middle of the vessel. The wine is siphoned off into a larger stainless steel vessel from which he can then bottle the unfiltered wine.

Lunar isn’t cheap but it is one of those life-changing wines. When you taste it for the first time, you immediately experience its purity and integrity (and by integrity, I mean the etymological sense of the word, its wholeness, its untouchedness, from the Latin in- + tangere, to touch). Later in the trip, Aleš dubbed NNP the first “bio-dynamic” band: it was great to see my bandmates get turned on and tuned in to natural wine.

Required reading…

There’s a great article about Slovenian wine and Movia in the current issue of Fine Wine by
Bruce Schoenfeld
. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can download a PDF’d version.)

I’ve become a fan of Bruce’ writing. I recently came across this passage in a piece he wrote in praise of a Patagonian Pinot Noir (which, he pointed out, doesn’t try to imitate Burgundy):

“I’m not sure why, but I hold Pinot Noir to a higher standard than I do other grapes. I come across far too many Pinots made in slavish imitation of Burgundy. These wines aren’t bad, just uninteresting. I mean, I love the Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,’ but I don’t ever need to hear Elton John sing his version again.”

I couldn’t agree more: I love Elton John but his version of LSD just doesn’t do it for me nearly the same way the Beatles’ does.