Wednesday, April 09, 2008

4/3/08: The Question

At the Japan Society event, I asked Mr. Gauntner a question, which elicited a reaction of, "brilliant" on couple of occasions. It was a deep question, at least from my perspective, and I feel the need to expand on it a bit further. (***Serious and philosophical post alert***)

The impetus for asking the question was the recurring use of the words "flaw/ flawless," triggering an interesting line of thought in my mind. And interestingly, although I had the opportunity to use the forum to direct the question to Mr. Gauntner, I still am not sure who I really was asking the question - Mr. Gaunter? Everyone in the audience? Or myself? I just knew that it was a question that was meant to be asked.

And as I thought more of it, I wasn't even sure if the question was really a question as much as a reminder. And in a way, this was not only saké-centric, but can apply to any "hobby" as well.

Confused yet?

The question was something to the effect of:

"When you taste saké for competition, do you seek out its virtues or its flaws? And does your approach change whether you are enjoying saké for competition or when enjoying it with your friends?"

Now, it was apparent from the lecture that in the tasting, the judges sought out faults. So why did I ask?

Let us take a step back (way back for some) to when you first got into saké (or any hobby). It's fair to say that you got into it because you liked saké to some degree, although as a novice (at the time), you couldn't tell a differences between Koji and Toji. As you began to enjoy saké, you tried to learn more, so that you can identify and seek out the style that you like. This is a particulary important skill, especially when choosing your bottle at retail stores or restaurants. Let's face it, all 3 of my readers many of my global readership has said to their friend, "you know I'm a Junmai Ginjo type" or "yeah, that Yamadanishiki sure is nice, but I really like sakés made from Omachi."

What am I trying to say? As you can tell by the italics, saké is something many of us study because we like it. But it's apparent that at one of the pinnacles of this profession, one must learn to pick out its flaws. In other words, one must drink saké with the specific purpose of trying to identify why one does not enjoy saké.

Of course, this is a natural result deriving from much studies. After all, as you taste more sakés, you are bound to come across some that do not agree with your palate. and from your enhanced knowledge of the subject matter, you can actually articulate why.

Right around the time you can effectively articulate your self in saké (or any subject matter), your friends recognize you as a saké geek connoisseur or expert. You know you are one when people defer to your opinions, give you drink menu at the restaurant, or ask you to take care of the selection for parties. Heck, you might even have a blog!

I believe this is when you , whether you were conscious and willing or not, began to learn to hate saké (to some degree, of course). "That's preposterous!" you may say, but bear with me a little longer (if you are still reading this.)

When people began to see you as expert to some degree, you are suddenly burdened with expectations. In any capacity involving saké, you may begin to hear people say, "so, what does the expert think?" or they hang on to any comment you make. And you know that making an admission that you like your everyday $20 saké dosn't quite cut it. Worse yet, you go to their homes, and when they serve saké, some might preface by apologizing for it not being "worthy of my palate."

When faced with these type of situations, I often feel conflicted, and I'll try to explain without sounding extremely arrogant. Sure, I recognize there is certain degree of expectations and quite possibly, words of wisdom expected from me to "share my knowledge" to some degree. In actuality, I am quite easy when it comes to saké, and what I aim for is to have a good time. Having tasted many styles and learned about the history, process, and people made me like it even more than from the time when I just began to appreciate the taste of saké.

So, while people might feel bad that they are serving ABC Junmai, I am thinking to myself, "cool, a saké! Thank you for sharing!"

Now, this is just little ol' me speaking. I cannot imagine the type of expectation that someone of Mr. Gauntner's stature must face, and how that impacts his perspective and approach to saké.

The question reminded me that in the way of saké, we need to look back as much as we need to look forward. Otherwise, we may lose sight of where we're going.

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