Is wine really the best way to go when eating sushi?
To test this thesis, your intrepid team at VinoVerve made our way to a local treasure, Katsu, to eat some sushi and drink some beverages.
Initially, we began with beer. That is certainly traditional. And those Sapporos went down very nicely with wasabi, soy sauce, rice and fish…
We moved on to wine. Rory brought a half bottle of the Colette Faller et ses Filles, Domaine Weinbach, Alsatian Grand Cru, 2004 Reisling Schlossberg. How is that for an estrogen packed wine! I have had wine from these ladies before and enjoyed it. The 2004 was not where the 2003 was in terms of flavor and depth, but it was certainly tasty with a light burnt caramel flavor and scent. The wine, while dry kept had enough fruit to stand up to the umami of Japanese food.
Next began our experiments with sake. Sake is produced by the fermentation of rice along with a mold, Aspergillus oryzae or kōji-kin as it is known in Japan. This mold is also used in the fermentation of soybeans, potatoes and other grains in order to make soy sauce, rice vinegars, miso and other alcoholic beverage such as shochu. The rice for sake must initially be milled, or polished to remove proteins and oils from the surface. The finer the milling, the finer the finished product. Fermentation takes place in multiple steps as the starch remaining in the rice is converted into sugar although these steps occur simultaneously. The fermented sake is cloudy and is often filtered to eliminate the milkiness that comes from the rice.
Sake grades are based on the amount of milling and the ingredients used in the process. The most typical grades, Junmai, use rice or molted rice alone. Other grades may allow the addition of distilled alcohol or special brewing processes. Additionally the type of rice and yeast are important considerations as well as the types of water (soft, hard) as well as the brewer and the school of which he is part.
All this being said, we proceeded to taste three separate sakes (hey! They come in 300ml bottles…) The first was the Tomoju which is a Junmai Ginjo (prepared with rice that was 40%-50% polished away and only with rice or molted rice). It was a smooth, medium dry sake that smelled of melons (I thought cucumbers which I think is a potato, potahto scenario)
The next was one that Kevin and I have enjoyed before… the Suijin or God of Water was a crisp dry and tastes of rice, which I find somewhat refreshing. The last sake that we tried was selected for us by our hostess, Hiroku Romanov. Hiroku is the co-owner of Katsu and wife of its chef… She runs the dining room and is responsible for the selection of the wines (viniferous and rice) on the menu. I must admit (in the spirit of full disclosure that she and Katsu are friends of ours and that it is a friendship born out of love of food and its excellent preparation…plus I have cute kids who know how to behave in restaurants!) that her choice was the perfect selection to match with what we were eating and drinking… it was mellow and mild, with some richness and medium dry. And for the life of me, I have no recollection of which sake it was. Is that because we drank too much (well that probably didn’t help) or because I failed to write down what we were drinking because I was taking pictures of the bottles… and I forgot to take the picture. Yes, that was the answer…
Truth be told, we were having a great evening. We were talking amongst ourselves with Katsu and Hiroku and their staff… and my 12 year old daughter… What? Don’t you take a preteen with you when you go out for a wine tasting dinner? Well, we do. The Angel was with us and she is developing her palate at restaurants by smelling what we drink and eating what we eat. I am proud to report that she has moved beyond descriptors other than “grape-y”. If we had been home, I would have allowed her to try a sip, but out of respect for our hosts, we skipped that.
Which wine did we prefer overall? It was a toss up. The Alsatian Cru was wonderful and fruity and a great choice if you want a grape wine. Of the sakes, I my favorite was the Tomoju. Kevin and Rory? Well I can’t speak for them…. Maybe they will give us a heads up.