FOOD • SAKE • DINING

FOOD • SAKE • DINING

Food is my Life - Sake is my Passion! Loving the Nihonshu Since 1990. My Goal; Share This Passion and Information with Others to give Sake the Platform it so Well Deserves.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO GO TO THE DARK SIDE!

 

 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO GO TO THE DARK SIDE!

 

This past Sunday I had the extreme pleasure of being invited to partake in Canada’s first structured “in the dark” wine tasting at O Noir Restaurant on Church Street in Downtown Toronto. Organized and hosted by Carolyn Evans Hammond, (@TheWineFind) sommelier and wine critic, I was very apprehensive of what was about to unfold over the course of the early evening. On the docket were five wines that were to be tasted in pitch blackness, without so much a glare of light to even see the slightest shadow, as your hand in front of your face. I have heard of O Noir from colleagues but have never had the time to actually dine there, so this would be a great introduction into the “dark realm”.

We arrived at 5pm and were led down the wood clamored hallway into the reception area where we were given a quick and well informed lecture of how this tasting was to proceed. Moments later we were led into the dark dining/tasting room by our servers (who are all legally/visually impaired), doing so by placing our hand on the persons shoulder in front of us. Like miners into a mine, we treaded blindly (and softly) in single file until we finally arrived at our designated tables. I must admit, the feeling of being led through total darkness without having any idea of where we were walking through, or being led to; was a very uncomfortable and uneasy feeling – to say the least! In a brief moment of helplessness we were directed to our chair by our server, who had to physically grab our hand and place it on the chair’s backrest, so we could eventually sit down. After navigating the tabletop, we could feel that we are each given a glass of water, a napkin and a side plate, on which as few soda crackers rested. At the initial moment of being seated, one had the feeling of confining themselves as if in a rollercoaster car ascending the great climb of the rickety hill, we needed to center our being and focus our awareness without sight. After orientating ourselves there seemed to follow a sense of serene calmness upon the senses, as if my hearing and body awareness kicked into overdrive, to compensate for the loss of my strongest sense, for which the next little while, would be deemed completely useless. Once the entire group (about 25 in total, with 5 of us being industry) were seated, Carolyn would let us know that the first wine was about to be served, at which time we would nose and taste as a group and then discuss as to what we thought the varietal, country/region of origin and even the producer could be.  We knew from the start that we would be given one sparking, two whites and two reds, so you would think that would be easy enough and tip the scales toward our favor – not so fast young jedi! As a chef for many years I have always been told and preached that we eat with our eyes first, to which, I rolled this philosophy forward to the world of wine. The colour and appearance of the wine on many occasions can give you up to a 50% chance on what that wine could possibly be. Colour, tone, weight, texture and viscosity of the tears are all great visual indicators as to what could be in the glass. Tonight however, all those visual signs meant nothing, all judging and hypothesizing of what was in the glass would be left up to the nose and its ability to detect the aromas of each wine.

One of my favourite literary works that I refer back to regularly is called Natural History of The Senses, a brilliant piece of work written by sociologist Diane Ackerman. Anyone who is a lover of food and wine, or works in the service/hospitality industry needs to read this book as it gives an incredible insight to our five senses, plus the addition of ESP, to which we all possess, even though we are unable to consciously harness its abilities. Sitting there in the dark with the first wine in my hands, I begin to recall certain passages that Ms. Ackerman references in regards to the chapter on “smell”, and how the nose is the only trainable sense that we possess and the most difficult to explain what it experiences to others. Oddly enough, as I lean forward to take in the aromas I found myself closing my eyes, which I usually do when I taste in the light. I found this very odd as I was already in complete darkness, yet my mind (or body) almost went into an auto-mode and performed this task without a single thought. So being here, sitting in total darkness at this “double-blind” tasting, I learned that I have actually visually impaired myself many times previously when tasting, to take my eyes out of the equation and force my sense of smell to work harder in terms of judging what was in the glass.

From the first wine we were given came a cool sensation, one accompanied by the smell (or sense of) carbonation and the shimmering of bubbles with a sweet, fresh, delicate and yeasty aroma. Now, we all knew this would be a sparkling wine, surely a dead giveaway by sight alone, we had to experience its being today in a whole new light – no pun intended. We sometimes forgo the heavy aromatic breakdown for sparklings as not much is left to the imagination after the visual confirmation. It turned out to be the ever-popular and 2014 Bottega Prosecco, still, it was great to observe its qualities by aroma only, an eye opener for sure.

Up next, it would get trickier as we knew we were still receiving a white wine, but that left so many uncertainties besides the colour. Bright, citrusy, soft wood, peachy, definitely a Chardonnay based wine (but was it a blend), turned out to be the beautiful 2013 Southbrook Triomphe, elegant with a long finish, and so enjoyable in the dark. Most of the votes at our table were French at first though, with the warm soft wood and steely notes.

The third wine followed and it was curveball as she pulled the “double chard” card, only this time following up Ontario with California, a 2013 Ghost Pines Chardonnay, fooling many people into thinking that it was a possible Bordeaux (or Rhone) Blend. A crafty play on her part, to make one doubt their own senses based on formulated though pattern.

The reds that followed were also very interesting indeed, the fourth wine was a 2013 Pascal Toso Malbec from Argentina. Anise, earthiness, and gamey black olive on the finish with juicy ripe tannins, leading the group a bit astray, and skunking the lot of us in the end. 

The finale for the night was the “mindfreak” to drop a Chris Angel reference (speaking of the dark). It turned out to be a 2011 Louis Martini Napa Cabernet, but with all those dark peppery, meaty notes, black cherry and scorched tire rubber, we were all pretty confident (call it convinced) it was a Ozzie or South African Shiraz. When it was revealed there were gasps and groans from all directions in the dark, how could this be Cali Cab?

Nonetheless, and for whatever reason, the lack of vision caused us to do one thing in particular – over judge and second guess ourselves based on the fact that we couldn’t get any visual indicators from the wine.

I feel that the dark forced us to find other secondary and tertiary characteristics of these wines that we quite often overlook in the light, causing us to make forgone conclusions based on past experiences. That said, by having to rely on senses that sometimes work better in conjunction with other senses, the absence of a sense can at times sway that other sense to sometimes go off in another direction based on the lack of overall sensory cohesion or coordination.

At the end of it all, the experience was quite humbling indeed, causing some to question whether certain wines were white or red? If we take nothing else from this, we take the fact of how we rely so heavily on our ability to see before we judge. There was great comfort of being in the dark by the end of the tasting. It broke down all visual boundaries, biases and comforts and put everyone on the same field of play, and in a time where so much of what we do is based of visual appearance and judgment – nice to see, or not!

If you are looking for a totally new and interactive way to experience a Sunday with your significant other (or even a group of friends), then I highly encourage you to partake in the next O Noir wine tasting (#onorwine). They happen every Sunday at 5pm. You can get involved by contacting them online here, just be sure to leave all your inhibitions and preconceived notions at the door and allow your sense of smell and self-being to take over!

 

Cheers!

WATARAI HONTEN DEWANOYUKI BREWERY

 

 

YAMAGATA PREFECTURE, JAPAN

CLASS: JUNMAI (KIMOTO)

SMB: 65% (% of grain remaining after polish)

RICE: Haenuki and Miyamanishiki

SMV: +3

Acidity: 1.7

ABV: 15.9%

PRICE: $27/720ml.

AGENT: Ozawa Canada 905.731.5088

 

Tasting Temp:

Hana-Hié – “flower cold” chilled sake from 40°F – 50°F

 

Vessels:

A Glencairn Whisky Glass that narrows at the neck to concentrate aroma for a superior tasting experience. Many Junmai are too often completely muted on the nose, this type of a vessel will help give an extra boost to aromas and help in accentuating the sometimes faint notes.

 

Appearance:

Almost crystal clear in appearance with the slightest tinge of chartreuse; no haze or particle distortion.   

 

Nose:

Anise (black licorice), soft peach, candied durian and jelly bean with underlying woodsy/earthy notes, hints of tarragon, almond and white strawberry. Pleasant koji notes with yeasty (call it yogurty) aroma.

 

Palate:

Creamy peach and yogurt spiked melon with ripe banana notes (as it warms), juicy fruit and cheeky spice. Rich, layered and complex body and structure with lively acids and long, clean, well-rounded finish.

This sake is a stunning example of what the Kimoto brewing method can truly offer. It is exemplary sake from A to Z with stellar balance and integration, possessing both complex and elegant traits; making this the perfect marriage of masculine and feminine traits – extremely rare to find in such perfect harmony!

       

Notes:

With 380 years of tradition, Dewa-no-yuki sake was the “national drink” of all Japan’s former PM’s who left their signatures as a testimonial with the recognition assuring that this brew is top drawer.

The brewery is found nearby a river to ensure a constant supply of fresh water. The indigenous rice is sourced from the fertile Shonai Plains stretching out from the Sea of Japan to the Dewa Sanzan Mountains. The sake brewery’s toshi, is the 17th brew master and his son, who is currently in training, will be the 18th brew master, keeping alive the skilll and knowledge passed down from previous generations.

                                                                                                                           

Score:

93/100

 

Lost in Translation:

DEWANOYUKI: God of the snow

WATARAI: Glide

KIMOTO: This painstaking hand toggling technique for brewing sake produces the creamy, smooth, dry and yogurty characteristics the set Kimoto sake apart.

HAENUKI: Local eating rice, instead of bred-for-sake Miyamanishiki

 

Food:

-Fettuccine “Uni” Carbonara with Guanciale and Pecorino-Romano

-Wok fried prawns with tarragon ~ daikon slaw and carrot reduction

WAKATAKE ONIKOROSHI TOKUBETSU JUNMAI

 



 

 

 

OOMURAYA BREWERY

SHIZUOKA PREFECTURE, JAPAN

CLASS: JUNMAI (TOKUBETSU)

SMB: 60% (% of grain remaining after polish)

RICE: Gohyakumangoku

SMV: +7

Acidity: 1.7

ABV: 17.5%

PRICE: $19.45

LCBO Vintages: #371443

 

Tasting Temp:

Chilled: 38˚F (3˚C) Yuki-Hié “Snow Cold”

 

IMPORT AGENCY INFO:

OZAWA Canada

905.731.5088

www.ozawa.ca

 

 

Vessels:

#2: A Glencairn Whisky Glass that narrows at the neck to concentrate aroma for a superior tasting experience.Many Junmai are too often completely muted on the nose, this type of a vessel will help give an extra boost to aromas and help in accentuating the sometimes faint notes.

 

 

Appearance:

Crystal clear in appearance with no haze or particle distortion.   

 

Nose:

Bright cantaloupe, lush ripe melon, greengage plums, soft banana and sweet steamed sticky rice. Secondary aromas of soft koji and pleasant yeast with creamy apple and apricot.

 

Palate:

Mangosteen, jackfruit, ripe hog bananas (sweeter nose) and candied pear are primary on the palate with custard apple and licorice in close pursuit. The fat, rich, creamy, strapping, lush big brother of the infamous Junmai Dai Ginjo from the same brewer. A complex and layered brew with deep, round and resonating flavours that spread layer upon layer and linger long after that first swallow. This is a truly glorious and fantastic sake made in a bold and dry style…in a word…Wow!

                                                                                                                                 

Score:

93/100 this is a steal at under $20…get it while you can as next release will increase about 40% in price.

 

Notes:

Think of a chewy pinot (in comparison) in all its smoothness with the perfect balance of alcohol to fruit. When I drink this sake it clearly reminds me why I so appreciate a great genshu (also age worthy in its own right). Definitely the big and tougher sibling (with far more masculinity and edginess)...Think of Tom Hardy in reference to Leonardo DiCaprio…exactly!

 

Lost in Translation:

Wakatake (Young Bamboo), Tokubetsu (Special), Onikoroshi (Demonslayer/Devil-Killer), Genshu (sake that is undiluted “think cask strength” as most sake has distilled water added to it after fermentation to lower its alcohol content.

 

Food:

NO BRAINER: Char-broiled octopus with momijoroshi, tsuyu soy, scallions and vinegar. Kikujaga (beef and potato stew)

AVANT GARDE: Grilled lamb chops with masala spice and coriander labne.

Fish head and jackfruit coconut curry with longbeans

TENGUMAI JUNMAI UMAJUN

 

SHATA SHUZO

ISHIKAWA, JAPAN

JUNMAI

SMB: 60% (% of grain remaining after polish)

RICE: Gohyakumangoku

SMV: +6

Acidity: 1.6

ABV: 15.9%

Price: $24.95 (720ml)

LCBO Release Date: Currently being reviewed

IMPORT AGENCY INFO:

THAT’S LIFE GOURMET LTD.

647.885.3378

www.thatslifegourmet.com

 

 

 

Tasting Temp:

Chilled: 50˚F (10˚C) Hana-hié “Flower Cold”

Heated: 104˚F (40˚C) Hito-hada, “Human Skin”

 

Vessels:

#1: A Glencairn Whisky Glass that narrows at the neck to concentrate aroma for a superior tasting experience. Many Junmai are too often completely muted on the nose, this type of a vessel will help give an extra boost to aromas and help in accentuating the sometimes faint notes.

#2: A Kiki-choko porcelain cup (AKA “The Sake Judges Cup”) with circular blue rings at the bottom of the cup, which allows two things. Firstly, they allow you to see the colour of the sake allowing you to notice any off-white tones the sake may have. Secondly, the clarity of the sake as the blue lines will “blur” the more particles are present in the sake.

 

 

Appearance:

Sediment free, crystal clear pour with pale yellow colour (think lighter style pinot grigio) indicating possible prolonged kasu contact prior to filtration grain of rice as a well a bit of aging before bottling.

 

Nose:

Chilled: Slightly muted nose with light hint of witch hazel upon intro leading to green apple, unripe melon, cucumber and bartlett pear.

Heated: Muted with immediate soft floral/herbal alcohol nose leading to soft vegetal and lighter fruit notes.

 

Palate:

Palate is forward with punchy acids and masculine fruit flavours. Green apple, earthy spice and horned melon with a sharp mid-palate and full umami/amino acid presence (apricot and underlying coconut flavours when slightly heated), clean and crisp finish with grippy bitterness on tail that could be a tad firm for frequent ginjo drinkers that expect a fruitier brew - nice and dry finish (+6 on the SMV) - a Junmai lovers sake indeed!                         

Score: 89/100

 

The Lowdown:

This is a man’s sake, “Eastwood meets Mifune in a bar” (swords and guns holstered and boots on the table) - a conversation I would love to hear! A very solid Junmai with great acid making it a fun food match with many pairing possibilities. fantastic price as well, nice to see some great sake coming in a reasonable prices.

 

Lost In Translation:

-Umajun meaning “Rich Umami Taste”.

-Tengumai meaning “Dancing Raven God”.

-Gohyakumangoku rice makes sake that is smooth, clean, dry and slightly fragrant.

 

Food Pairings:

NO BRAINER:

Shiso miso crusted bbq lamb chops with sansho pepper.

Grilled sanma (Pacific saury) kabayaki with sweet amadare glaze.

AVANT GARDE:

Wild mushroom and barley risotto with brussel sprouts and shaved peppered pecorino.

Lamb ~ marsala stew with rosemary roasted potatoes, carrots, raisins and semolina dumplings.

KOZAEMON TOKUBETSU JUNMAI

 

 

NAKASHIMA BREWERY

GIFU, JAPAN

Class: Junmai (Tokubetsu)

SMB: 55%

RICE: Miyama Nishiki (from Nagano)

SMV: +3

Acidity: 1.6

ABV: 15.5%

Sugar Content: NA

Price: $14.95 (300ml.) $33.75 (720ml.)

LCBO: Hopefully! (under tasting review)

 

 

 

 

IMPORT AGENCY INFO:

THAT’S LIFE GOURMET LTD.

647.885.3378

www.thatslifegourmet.com

@thatslifewines

 

 

From one of my go to favorite brewers the Kozaemon team is headed by the 14th generation of Kozaemon-san, which is always trying new things, new rice, new brewing methods, and new markets.

 

Tasting Temperatures:

Chilled: 50˚F (10˚C) Hana-hié “Flower Cold”

 

Tasting Vessels:

#1: A Glencairn Whisky Glass that narrows at the neck to concentrate aroma for a superior tasting experience. Many Junmai are too often completely muted on the nose, this type of a vessel will help give an extra boost to aromas and help in accentuating the sometimes faint notes

 

 

 

Appearance:

Slight pale green/yellow in appearance.

 

Nose:

Peach, pear, sweet cantaloupe, white tea, banana (jackfruit), herbal notes and papaya with soft tangerine zest.

 

Palate:

Soft (water) melon, yellow plum, custard apple/cherimoya and sweet guava with a creamy body and a clean, fulfilling middle palate; delivering that “ever-welcomed” pleasant Junmai bitterness on the tail. Deep and dry with firm acidity and a firm umami punch.

 

Score:

93/100

 

The Lowdown:

A crafty sake that is solid, well-balanced and impactful with great presence and character.

 

Buzz Word:

Tokubetsu: meaning “special” and usually referring to a unique rice, yeast or brewing method. Rarely “if ever” indicated on the bottle, nor is the explanation of the word “special” required by any brewing/bottling laws. 

 

Lost In Translation:

Miyama Nishiki: sake rice that makes slightly less dry sake with clean rice-like flavor, presence and solid mouth feel.

 

Food:

NO BRAINER: saikyo miso marinated black cod with shiitake mushroom.

AVANT GARDE: braised beef short ribs with mashed potato and morrow demi.

 

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