Monday, September 24, 2007

9/23/07: Dassai, Kudoki Jouzu and Shichiken Tasting at Chanto

Almost like clock work, I have been attending Chanto tasting during the third week of the month for third month in a row. Although the nature of the event was never fully advertised, this promised to be a great event, as I was provided information about this event from both Sakurai-san of Dassai and Kitahara-san of Shichiken. While having going to a saké tasting event featuring two of my friends was very appealing, the event proved to be far more impressive than I had anticipated.

In addition to Dassai and Shichiken, a third brewer was part of the evening's program: Mr. Toshifumi Imai of Kudoki Jouzu Brewery in the northern prefecture of Yamagata. Joining me tonight for this extravagance were my partners in crime Hideo and Tony, and we had late addition to our table: none other than Mr. Urban Saké himself, Tim Sullivan.

The idea behind the program was to pair five courses with six saké selections, two from each brewer. As if tasting sakés weren't enough, we were to receiv the sakés perosnally poured by each brewers, with detailed explanation.

Sakurai-san led off with his bread-and-butter, the incmparable Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo, to go with three types of Blue Fin Tuna (Akami, Chu-Toro, and Ō-Toro). While the pairing was great, I especially enjoyed the Chu-Toro.

Next up was Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo, to complement Salmon Yuan-Yaki, which is made by marinating with sweet miso. The marinade provided salmon with saké kasu-like depth that managed to extract more fruitniess out of the saké.

In the three hole was Charcoal Grilled Prime Sirloin Steak, ordered medium-rare. Mr. Imai served two versions of Junmai Ginjo as accompaniment. The first selection was the regular Junmai Ginjo, which showcased the high quality of Yamagata yeast, with intense yet clean fruits on the palate. The second bottle was a treat, koshu version of the same saké that was aged for two years. Overall, the koshu paired well, as its nutty, earthy flavors paired well with the soy-based sauce, and softness and mellowness was just the right landing spot for the sweet miso paste.

Batting in the clean-up spot was the Sushi Platter of Chef's Omakasé choice. The sushi featured the usual suspects in the form of Chu-Toro, Akemi, Salmon, Uni-Scallion Roll, and interesting choice of Foie Gras. Saké selection was Shichiken Junmai Ginjo, served Nuru-Kan (for this definition, see this entry.)

The dessert was the decadent Chocolate Fondant paired with Shichiken "Bigin Bigin" Junmai Ginjo Koshu. Pairing with chocolate, whether it's wine, dessert wine, or saké is extremely tricky as chocolate tends to overwhelm the beverage to the point you don't really taste it. However, the depth of Shichiken allowed the flavor to stand up to the richnessof the chocolate.

Now, only if there were Maiko dancing to top off the evening...

9/15/07: Shichiken Tasting at Saké Hana

Today was another treat at Saké Hana, as it welcomed Shichiken Brewery for a tasting session which was first of its kind. Toshi and Kitahara-san designed a three part tasting, including sake making lecture, experiencing saké at various temperatures, and testing sake-food pairing. Joining me this evening were my friends Tony and Hideo, and of course, Tim was on the scene. I also met Hiroko, one of the proprieter for Sakaya, the all-saké retail store slated to open in November.

The evening featured only one saké, which under a normal circumstance may be boring. However, in this context, it was very appropriate and effectiv. The evening kicked off with a Saké Sangria using Shichiken Junmai Ginjo, with lychee in the glass. It was very refreshing and (being a purist I have to add) surprisingly good as clean yet subtle nature of the Junmai Ginjo was a nice complement to the fruit.

The saké brewing lecture is a topic I am familiar with, especially for Shichiken. The key differentces from the earlier tastings were that thsis process was compressed to 30 minutes.

In the next phase, the sakés were served in five different temperatures: 131F "Tobi-kiri-kan" (extra hot), 104F "Nuru-kan" (lukewarm), 86F "Hinata-kan" (sunlight warm), 59F "Suzu-hie" (Cool breeze), and 41F "Yuki-hie" (snow cold). I though the two best temperatures were 50F and 86F, as they were the right tempeature to allow just the right expression to emerge. 41F was bit too cool for this saké, resulting in the flavors to become too focused. A lot of people liked 104F as it brought out some sweetness, but at 131F, it's tough to appreciate this saké's finer points as grainy sharpness of alcohol became predominant.

While it goes without saying that saké selection is usually the key to any saké tasting (can I state anything more obvious?!) the food was extraordinary, and generated just as much conversation. The pairing featured umami-rich Tuna Parmesan (with tomato sauce), Tuna Tataki (With saké ponzu sauce), the peppery Tuna Au Poivre, marinated Beef Satay, and Red Hot Yellowtail Roll. Personally, Tuna Au Poivre with the pepper cream sauce was the absolute winner, even better than the traiditional Steak Au Poivre using Filet Mignon.

At this point, pairing exercise didn't work too well. With saké at five different temperatures floating around, ever changing by the minute, combimed with five different dishes, meant that there were 25 different combinations one could try. At that stage, I just decided to forego the pairing exercise and just go with the flow and enjoy the evening. Afterall, that is the why we do this in the first place!