Last Saturday (15th June) Tengu Sake exhibited six sakes from three different producers at the Wing Gang’s London Summer Festival in London. I had actually participated in a previous Wine Gang show (in 2013). I was a lone table amongst many, many wine companies and – given that setting – I found the punters not quite ready for sake. Maybe it’s indicative of how the market has changed over the past six years but this time people were very switched on and receptive – exhilarating!
Much of this interest I suspect to be the work of Anthony Rose. Anthony is a founding member of the Wine Gang and long-time advocate of sake; indeed, he has recently written an excellent book, Sake and the Wines of Japan, currently available on Amazon and elsewhere, I’m sure. I highly recommend it. Anyway, I suspect his enthusiasm and following are in no small part responsible for the very positive response this year. I was joined by other fellow sake slingers. In all – including Tengu Sake – there was a line up of some 17 sakes for people to try.
I was asked by Anthony if I would run a Masterclass focusing on pairing non-Japanese food with sake. I really enjoy doing these sorts of things as (a) talking about sake is what I do, and (b) I live for seeing those epiphany/eureka moments in others and, invariably, there’s always a few when doing these sorts of things!
Brindisa, the most excellent Spanish food suppliers, were sponsoring the food and it was up to me to choose sakes to pair and also weave it into a coherent narrative demonstrating some sake pairing principles. I decided to focus on three pairings to illustrate that much of the pairing techniques we already employ for wine are transferable to sake, followed by two pairings to show umami synergy (we didn’t have the facilities or the time to delve into temperature, it was only a 45 min Masterclass). Here are the parings and some brief observations. For general pairing ideas see our pairing sake with food page.
Objective: Demonstrate complementary texture pairing
Food: Salted Catalan Almonds
Sake: Yauemon “Autumn Leaves” Honjozo
This is a pretty classic combo in Japan: nuts and dry sake. Autumn Leaves also has a creamy texture to it and I was pleased to note that this paired well with the oily and ‘creamy’ texture of the almonds. Not a pairing to blow the mind but a good start nonetheless.
Objective: Demonstrate complementary flavour pairing
Food: Payoyo goat’s cheese
Sake: Gozenshu 9 “Mountain Stream” Junmai Bodaimoto Namazake
An absolutely fantastic combo. I find Mountain Stream rarely disappoints: it’s frisky profile and multi-layered flavours often result in some fabulous combos. Here it was the mild, ‘goaty’ nature of the cheese which paired so well with the sake’s lactic acidity and zesty tang. The sake teased out flavours of apricot and nuts while softening the impact of the cheese. It was our first example of the pairing being greater than the sum of its parts.
Objective: Demonstrate contrasting flavour pairing
Sake: Tatenokawa 50 “Stream” Seiryu Junmai Daiginjo
Not quite as mindblowing as the previous pairing but a great illustration of how a bright, fruity style of sake can stand up to a mature and earthy cheese despite not having the acidity you would require for a traditional wine pairing. Here the sake washed away the flavour of the manchego and then, selectively, allowed different aspects to come back. I actually really enjoy sake’s ability to do this (and when I tasted this pairing with Anthony earlier in the day he concurred). The rich flavour of the manchego was washed away but the creamy texture remained (sake not having enough acidity) and a bit of smokiness, nuttiness came back, mingling with the melon and pear flavours of the sake: lovely! Some people were put off by the sake not being able to wash away the fat of the cheese but, for me, this was not a negative and more than made up for by the interplay of flavours.
Objective: Demonstrate umami synergy
Food: White anchovy
Sake: Yauemon “Silent Forest” Junmai Ginjo
Let’s face it: umami pairings is where sake really excels. I find it so easy to impress here as it’s something that is very difficult to replicate with wine. Here I also demonstrated another of sake’s gifts: washing away the flavour of fish. Ultimately, what we were left with here was the cleansing of the fishiness from one’s pallet, followed by a deep and round flavour as the umami synced, finished with the interplay between the stewed fruit flavours and acidity of the sake and the oily, rich flavours of the anchovy. Superb.
Objective: Demonstrate umami synergy
Food: Iberico ham
Sake: Gozenshu 9 “Rocky Mountain” Junmai Bodaimoto
I once won a competition pairing Rocky Mountain with a bacon sandwich so I knew this pairing would be a match made in heaven. It really was and perfectly demonstrated the synergistic power of umami in sake. Rather than concerning ourselves with needing ample acidity to cut through the fattiness of the iberico, we merely spent time revelling in the resultant umami-bomb. This pairing is where I really saw those epiphany faces!
In summary, it was a delight to be at the Wine Gang this year. Thank you so much to all who attended, especially the delightful 25 who came to my Masterclass. Hopefully there are some new sake converts amongst you!