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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Dewasansan Junmai Ginjo
Ichiro Junmai Daiginjo
All by Dewazakura Shuzo