Hedonism

International Sake Day Part I: Hedonism

The best occasions deserve multiple celebrations. Part I is covered below, while Part II at Matsuri is covered next.

Not long after the first encounter, I found myself skipping back down the same path to happiness and Hedonism. My mission: to warm up for International Sake Day.

To avoid repetition, I defer uninitiated readers to my quick explanation of International Sake Day here, but suffice it to say that it wouldn’t be wrong to think of 1st October as New Year’s Day in the Sake world.

Continuing the analogy, Hedonism was celebrating New Year’s Eve, with a very special edition of expert Honami Matsumoto‘s Sake pairing masterclasses.

House of Sake Honami

Honami Matusmoto, Founder of House of Sake: www.houseofsake.co.uk. House of Sake is the official Sake consultant to Hedonism Wines.

Titled  The Terroir of Yamagata Prefecture & Dewazakura Brewery, the event was extra special as Honami would be joined by 5th generation brewers Akari & Shotaro Nakano of Dewazakura brewery, and the Sake would be paired with cuisine from delicious Kikuchi restaurant. Not only would this be an opportunity to hear about Sake straight from the source, but it would also be an opportunity to enjoy the natural affinity between Japanese food and sake.

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We eased into the tasting with a sparkling, cloudy, Dewazakura Tobiroku Sake. A passion for bubbles, I’ve noticed, is one of those things that transcends borders and language barriers. The creamy mouthfeel, rich rice aroma and subtly sweet taste always draw me back to this sparkling number in particular.

 

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Left to right: Oka Ginjo, Tobiroku Cloudy Sake

With a bit of alcohol now coursing merrily through the system, guests began to anticipate what was in store. As Akari and Shotaro talked knowledgeably about the origins of Sake, the brewery itself and the raw ingredients that go into making Sake, Honami led us through the food pairing.

Left to right: Oka Ginjo, Dewasansan, Omachi, Ichiro, Izumi Judan Ginjo, Yuki Man Man

Left to right: Oka Ginjo, Dewasansan, Omachi, Ichiro, Izumi Judan Ginjo, Yuki Man Man

Sake number one was of course Dewazakura’s signature Sake and the winner of the IWC 2015 Ginjo category. Romantically named “Cherry Bouquet – Oka Ginjo”, you can imagine the delicacy of the nose, a beautiful efflorescence of cherry and peach flavours flowering the glass. This characteristic is typical of Ginjo Sake, a grade of premium Sake previously only made for competitions. Dewazakura’s innovation was to begin releasing it at an affordable price to the mass market, effectively triggering one of the most creative periods in the history of Sake making. Our entry dish was appropriately light, taking on the form of cured flounder sashimi. Having never tried cured sashimi before, I was curious to discover that pickling the fish overnight has the effect of producing a tighter, firmer flesh. While many Ginjos could have overpowered such a delicate fish, the Oka Ginjo at no point intruded, owing to the dominance of floral over fruity notes, and its shorter finish.

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Our next dish was another typically Japanese offering – fried pork cutlets, with a mouth-watering salted plum paste and dried shiso. More robust in its flavour, this required a savoury Sake to handle the umami – in this case a Junmai Ginjo made from Dewasansan rice, aptly named Dewazakura Dewasansan. Dewasansan rice is grown in Yamagata prefecture where Dewazakura is located, and is so called as “Dewa” is the archaic word for Yamagata, where there are thirty-three or “San San” mountains. This type of rice typically produces mellow, slightly herbaceous tasting sake. In this case, the Junmai Ginjo had some sweet and fruity tones, nicely bringing out the saltiness of the pork dish and the plum paste.

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For the third course our familiar friend sashimi made its second appearance, this time in the form of luscious pink salmon. Dewazakura’s Omachi Junmai Ginjo was the choice Sake for this dish, as it was able to cut through the oiliness of this fattier fish. Here “Omachi” refers to the rice strain used for brewing the Sake, which is also the oldest indigenous rice strain to Japan. The thing about Sake made from Omachi rice is that it tends also to have a wilder, deeper flavour; a flavour that has garnered its own loyal following of “Omachists”, or diehard Omachi Sake drinkers.

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By this stage we had experienced three knockout food and Sake pairings, and were well warmed up for the three perhaps more unique choices to follow. The fourth pairing was all about Dewazakura’s 2008 champion sake, Ichiro Junmai Daiginjo. “Ichiro” means one straight road, so called as a symbol of Dewazakura’s dedication to focus on Ginjo making. Slightly thicker and more lingering, the sweetness tinged with a hint of spiciness was a perfect partner to the white miso chicken skewers. Juicy, lip-smacking food that hugs you back in the darker months.

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And then the dish that foreigners will forever associate with the Land of the Rising Sun: sushi. Kikuchi sushi rolls are something else – generously filled rolls of seven colours, ingredients that glistened with freshness. Spinach, eel, salmon, tuna, squid, omelette, cherry blossom pickles represented the seven colours of the rainbow, and came served with Kikuchi’s special Tosa soy sauce, a smoky and complex number. “Tenth degree” or Dewazakura Izumi Judan Ginjo, was the Sake chosen for this dish. A Sake fit for Bond, this is possibly one of the driest Sakes you might easily come across. Also known as the “Martini lovers’ Sake”, the crisp flavour and Tanqueray aromatics cut perfectly through the fatty flavour of the Rainbow roll and had a pleasant, palate cleansing effect.

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The final course was the simplest, and yet my favourite dish of the evening.

Seasonal vegetables, gently prepared in dashi and light soy, absolutely non-fussy. A nod from the chef to Nature, as if to say, “taste what Nature did, I cannot do any better!” Sincerely prepared and thoughtfully presented kabocha, aubergine, yam and shishito – autumnal, with the earthy flavour that comes off ingredients which have been retrieved just moments ago. The Sake choice for our final dish was intriguing, bearing the artistic name – “Snow country”, or Yuki Man Man. The choice was intriguing, as Daiginjo tends to enjoyed for its freshness, whereas Yuki had five years of age under its belt at 5 below zero Celsius. In essence, maturation had the effect of turning what would have originally been a vividly fruity brew into something darker, more muted and caramel. With the age came a silky smoothness. Overall, aged sake can be hard to pair with Japanese food, but the simplicity of the vegetable dish let the flavours of the Sake flow over, and the overall effect was a mouthful of delicious autumn flavours.

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From sparkling to still, fresh to aged, dry to sweet – it felt like we had covered a lot of ground both in terms of knowledge and in terms of the flavour spectrum in one evening. Dewazakura is a brewery that is close to my heart, due to their enthusiastic support of a ball I helped organise a year ago. Since then, the young couple have gone on to win several awards, most recently the coveted title of 2016 IWC Champion Sake with Dewanosato, and the brewery itself won IWC 2016 sake brewery of the year. With young blood at its vanguard, the future of the Sake world is bright – and certainly not lacking in flavour!

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Honami holds frequent tasting classes at Hedonism. Stay appraised of future tastings here.

 

All Sakes mentioned in this article are available to purchase at Hedonism Wines:

Dobiroku Sparkling Sake

Oka Ginjo

Dewasansan Junmai Ginjo

Omachi Junmai Ginjo

Ichiro Junmai Daiginjo

Dewazakura Izumi Judan Ginjo

Yuki Man Man Daiginjo 5 Years Matured

All by Dewazakura Shuzo

Hedonism Wines

A Summer of Hedonism

This summer, like many British summers, fizzled out with all the ceremony of a wet party popper.

It left me with a bereft sort of feeling…akin to that when you perform an iOS update for your iPhone and all you get is a free U2 album. Bereft and perplexed.

Weather aside, the summer months were actually incredibly fun. There was that visit from Philip Harper and the various dinners, the International Wine Challenge Public Sake Tasting with an unbelievable amount of trophy winning sake…and then there was that evening where I learnt all about Hedonism.

Behold, London’s Temple to the humble Grape.

Hedonism Wines

I should confess upfront that my understanding of wine is unapologetically linear. Linear to the degree that I can merrily divide the wine world into four kingdoms: Good Red, Bad Red; Good White, Bad White. A fair number of you are falling over in horror at this stage, spilling your glasses of Chateau Lafite across the floor like a murder scene. But I assure you that wine is on my list of things to get to know. (Although if I’m being honest, primarily for the purpose of being better able to benchmark sake).

Fortunately, Hedonism is the kind of place that even non-oenophiles can appreciate, with its tasteful and cavernous interior de luxe. True oenophiles however, will be brought to their knees with euphoria.

Hedonism Wines

A sweeping staircase is the first thing you see as you enter, and the downwards descent is taken directly from the ball scene in Disney’s Cinderella. The temperature has dropped a few degrees cooler. Amber, ruby, deep sapphire and rose…jewel coloured bottles stretch into the horizon, each resting snugly in its designated shelf space. It’s quiet. The silence is only broken by the deliberate footsteps of suited customers, intently searching for the one.

Hedonism Wines

Hedonism Wines

In short, Hedonism is the home of fine wine in London. But it also purveys plenty of the other fine and wicked things in life, including spirits, glassware thin as soap bubbles, and of course, sake.

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Sake Shelf at Hedonism

Pairing events often take place here, usually in the downstairs ‘cellar’. Tonight, we have gathered for six Mediterranean style mini-bites, paired with six special types of sake. The theme: Seasonal Sake, chosen to showcase the best of summer’s ingredients.

Each pairing was carefully curated by Honami Matsumoto, who in her previous incarnations worked as Head Sommelier at Nopi (with a wine list that was shortlisted for Imbibe’s Wine List of the Year), as a Wine and Sake Specialist at Hedonism and is a Certified Sake Level III Sake Educator by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). (She continues to offer event organising services under House of Sake). By putting Japanese sake to work in unfamiliar contexts, such as non-Japanese cuisines, this masterclass demonstrated sake’s underrated versatility and  turned old conventions on their head with grace and finesse.

Summer Sake at Hedonism

Five of the six Sake we tried, from left: Masumi Arabashiri; Shirakabegura Muroka Daiginjo Genshu; Katsuyama Lei Sapphire Label; Ikekame Turtle Black; Ume no Yado Yuzu. Missing: Mio Sparkling

First came the palate opener of prosciutto wrapped melon and mint, paired with sparkling sake by Mio (see Hedonism). This was a unanimous hit, a mix of sweet bubbles from the sake, wafer thin saltiness and yielding melon flesh. The champagne like fizz of the poured sake heralded the start of a fine evening ahead.

Mio sake

Second came bruschetta two ways: Cherry tomato on the one, and caramelised red onion and Gorgonzola Dolce on the other. Both tomato and cheese are sake friends, being rich in “savoury deliciousness”, or umami. I rather enjoyed Honami’s description of the sake and cheese friendship also stemming from their shared “moldiness”. This course was paired with a Nama Genshu (meaning raw and undiluted), named Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo. This particular sake was chosen for its higher levels of sweetness and acidity, with the aim of bringing out the flavours of caramelised onion.

Hedonism Wines Sake Class

Tomato was to play a dominant role in this evening’s theatre of food and drink, featuring twice more in close succession. First, a petit bowl of gazpacho was paired with a genshu (meaning undiluted) named Shirakabegura Muroka Daiginjo Genshu. The Sake’s smell was highly distinctive, akin to that of exotic white flowers. I took this as an opportunity to test whether I could indeed detect the difference between Nama Genshu and Genshu. An experiment which left me feeling slightly despondent, but which can only be interpreted as a call for more Sake drinking.

Gazpacho at Hedonism Wines

Next the Burrata, peach, tomato and basil salad with aged balsamic vinegar, which came paired with Katsuyama Lei Junmai Ginjo Sake. Let us just pause here and give both elements the appreciation that they both individually warrant.

Burrata at Hedonism

First the burrata. There are many grades of burrata, ranging from that which resembles a white rubber puck, to that which is gorgeously white and soft, and bleeds when you cut it. Tonight’s burrata were decidedly of the bleeding sort, requiring consumption with a spoon. Each majestically pale celestial body came enshrined on its own little constellation – meaty chunks of tomato, delicate peach and vividly fragrant basil.  Because the body is a temple, n’est-ce que pas?

As I sat back and observed, I felt rather moved by the way the delicate cheeses disgorged their inner creaminess, and the greedy slurping this invoked. All things considered, this course was a hit.

Fun fact: burrata is apparently a mozzarella pouch that has been stuffed with cream and other leftover scraps of mozzarella. A pure dose of heart attack, delivered straight from a water buffalo’s milk pail straight to you.

And then the Sake. Katsuyama Lei is in fact one of my favourite Sake to drink, both for the story behind its production, and its flavour and aroma. Just imagine the taste of the best peach in the world, and what it would smell like…and this brings you something close to Katsuyama Lei. Supposedly, this is achieved through the assiduous polishing of the sake rice into diamond shapes, which also explains the premium price tag (c. £56 at Hedonism).

Katsuyama Lei

The fifth course demontrated the ability of certain sakes to hold up well with meatier fare, with its extremely welcome ability to cut through grease without astrigency. The chosen sake, Ikekame Turtle Red Junmai Daiginjo (see sake lineup photo above), also possessed a red berry kind of smell, playing upon the sherry and vinegar dressing in course five’s “Oven-roasted chicken wings with garlic”.

And finally we were in the home stretch.

If our final pairing had a name it would be

Amalfi.

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Waxy lemons and a pastel hued sake liqueur, richly evocative of Mediterranean summer nights. Another familiar Sake friend too – Yuzu by Ume no Yado brewery – which you can read more about here.

Not much more for me to say here, save that Sicillian lemon cheesecake paired with a sweet liqueur tends to speak for itself. (Cheesecake courtesy of the English Cheesecake Company).

Sicillian lemon cheesecake

The rest of the evening is spent in a warm haze of satisfaction, strolling through the different chambers of luxury. Each alcove his its own little delight, not least the famous room of many hands, each cradling a bottle of something priceless:

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Outside it’s raining. I navigate towards the tube station, side stepping puddles filled with the sheen of gasoline rainbows. I’m smiling though, as I remember the line written at the bottom of my tasting sheet:

“I can resist everything except temptation.”

Oscar Wilde

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Honami holds frequent tasting classes at Hedonism. Her next class is already sold out, but you can read more about it in my next post, and be notified of future tastings here.

All Sakes mentioned in this article are available to purchase at Hedonism Wines:

Mio, by Shochikubai

Arabashiri, by Masumi

Shirakabegura Muroka, by Shochikubai

Lei Sapphire, by Katsuyama

Turtle Red, by Ikekame

Yuzu, by Ume no Yado