Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sake and Wa-Shoku: The Art of Japanese Cuisine at Napa Valley Wine Academy

Back in November I was invited to a Sake tasting and introduction to WA-SHOKU, the art of Japanese cuisine at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. The event was sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and in conjunction with Sake School of America and Morimoto Napa. The Sake pairing seminar was part of the core instruction curriculum for students and taking the WSET Level 3 Award in Sake certification intensive.

Instructor Toshio Uneo, Master Sake Sommelier and Executive Instructor at Sake School of America guided us thought the fine points of food preparation and the basic flavor profiles: salty, spicy, sweet, sour/bitter and umami--the savory element that adds depth to a dish.

As this was a pairing demonstration we did not go too deeply into the production of different Sakes as in the regular course of instruction. But the quick explanation on sake is that the more the rice is polished the higher the grade of the sake. Higher polished rice lends a lighter more fragrant less complex flavor profile, while lower polished sake gives a richer more umami flavor.

The art of WA-SHOKU is in tune to the bounty of nature and focuses on using distinct seasonal ingredients to reflect the four seasons.

Sushi Chef Ichiro Tsuji, from Morimoto Napa, was every entertaining and explained the importance of knives and technique in the preparation of sushi. Then we were presented with the most gorgeous bento box I’ve ever encountered.

Each section of the box was a different flavor adventure that Chef Ichiro created to pair with the sakes. It was like a treasure chest of little jewels. Below are some of my favorites from the box.

Daikon with ebkuro (fish stomach) was reminiscent of tripe but with a umami twist. Paired well with the Hakkaisan Honjozo.

This tomago custard had a unique flavor and very distinctive spicy sansho pepper on top. I found it also paired well with the Hakkaisan Honjozo.

The Fried Chicken with paper thin scallion and dried chili pepper was amazing and flavorful. The Colonel would surely love to know Ichiro’s secret recipe for this.

I thought the Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai was the most full flavored and balanced of the sakes to my palate and it paired great with everything. The Hakkaisan Honjozo was more aromatic and its subtle mango and tropical fruit flavors were also well suited to all the dishes.

Sakes presented:
Born Gold Junmai Daiginjo
Brewery: Katoukichibee Shouten
Perfecture: Fukui
Rice Variety: Yamadanishiki
Polish Ratio: 45%

Hakkaisan Honjozo
Brewery: Hakkai Jyozo
Perfecture: Niigata
Rice Variety: Gohyakumangoku & Todorokiwase
Polish Ratio: 55%

Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai
Brewery: Kikumasamune Shuzo
Perfecture: Hyogo
Rice Variety: Yamadanishiki
Polish Ratio: 73%

Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi
Brewery: Shata Shuzo
Perfecture: N/A
Rice Variety: Gohyakumangoku
Polish Ratio: 60%

If you’d like to learn more about the world of Sake, a course through the Napa Valley Wine Academy would be a great place to start. There you can pursue a WSET Level 3 Award in Sake for professional development or to simply deepen your experience for your own enjoyment.

Useful links:
Taste of Japan 
Napa Valley Wine Academy 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Annual Book Gift Guide for Wine Lovers 2015

Annual Wine Book Gift Guides and round ups have become as ubiquitous as Thanksgiving wine posts, but still, I think anything that involves books and wine and is a worthy pursuit at any time of year, not just the holidays. Here are my 2015 wine book selections for gifting or keeping. Note: All books mentioned in this post were sent to me as review copies except Hungry for Wine which I downloaded on my Kindle and paid for myself. Links are to Amazon, but please consider ordering or purchasing from your local independent bookstore.

Wine Folly The Essential Guide to Wine -- Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack  Whether you are new to wine or a seasoned pro, you’re bound to enjoy this new book that presents complex information in clear and engaging visuals. It’s fun, accessible, and essential. Based on the award winning website of the same name, Wine Folly covers everything from wine tasting basics to the style and characteristics of individual wines with detailed maps of wine regions. Indispensable for winning those wine related arguments that occur at mealtime. Or is that just in my household?  Regardless this book will make a great addition to your wine library.

The Wine Bible 2nd Edition -- Karen MacNeil
Anything that calls itself the Bible has got its work cut out, but this comprehensive tome takes a swing at it and scores a homer. I’m glad to see the Okanagan in BC, Canada is represented here and one of my favorite Viognier’s by Liquidity Wines is featured. So what’s that saying... Great Minds Think Alike? Well, in this case I’d say it’s Great Palates Drink Alike.

Wine Trails * 52 Perfect Weekends in Wine Country - Lonely Planet
I’ve been harping on about the need for dedicated travel guides to wine regions for many years now and glad to see Lonely Planet finally got my memo. It’s light on providing any in-depth regional information, but perfect to use as a guide for pre-trip planning. One glaring omission in my opinion is the Canada section only offers Ontario. Where is my beloved Okanagan??? Also, no Croatia?!? What’s up with that? But it hits the right notes in many other spots regarding winery recommendations and dining options. Nicely designed and laid out. Great for arm-chair travel and dreaming.

Hungry for Wine : Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Wine Glass- Cathy Huyghe
Not your typical wine book, by not your typical wine writer. Cathy Huyghe gathers the stories about her wine journey and the people and places that made her “hungry” to dig deeper, observe and explore. A blend of travelogue, how-to-guide, tasting note journal, and manifesto; Huyghe’s compelling narrative will leave you hungering to examine the threads of your own wine discovery and weave them into your own story.

Thirsty DragonChina’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines --Suzanne Mustacich
Ever since I watched the film Red Obsession, I’ve been rather obsessed myself with what’s going on in the world of ultra premium wine and the inherent drama of Old World Wine vs New Money of China. The book details how the wine merchants of Bordeaux hitched their wagon to the fortunes of China and the clash of cultures that ensue. It reads like every non-fiction book should, as if it were fiction--gripping and informative that at times borders on the unbelievable.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer Gift Idea--
DripTeez. See my post on them here.


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