I have blogged on Sake but knew very little about Japanese wine before attending this seminar and tasting at the Imagination Gallery in Bloomsbury (pictured). Jancis Robinson led a tasting of 9 wines and spoke engagingly about her visit to wineries at the base Mount Fuji last year. She is clearly championing these wines and sees them as a “great correlation with Japanese character” in terms of their calm, pure and low key characteristics. I suppose they are a bit like sake or rice wine in their clarity and style. They also are generally quite low in alcohol (10.5% to 11.5% in most cases) and much more enjoyable to taste than young high alcohol reds.
Jancis made the point that these are niche wines in Japan and that “the Japanese are still learning about them” (and some are very dismissive). This is in part due to their tiny production; one we tasted was Suntory Tomi no oka 2009, a barrel fermented Koshu; only 4000 bottles are made a year leading to the comment that they might only need one French and one American barrel for the lot. They are also relatively expensive weighing in at around £15 to £20 and only a few are available in the UK at high end outlets like Selfridges. The most obvious market is likely to be good Japanese restaurants in big foodie cities like London and New York as a match for sashimi (bass or white fish rather than tuna or salmon) or maybe to cut the oiliness of eel. They are likely to come in at £50 plus on a wine list. I would probably choose a sake but a couple were really not bad.
The prevalent grape variety Koshu is 98% genetically vinifera and is thought to have arrived along the Silk Route approximately a millenium ago. The fruit is very beautiful (pictured right), thick skinned, large and uniform. Jancis suggested Muscadet as a European comparison due to the purity and slight saltiness. Quince is sometimes offered as taste associated with Koshu but was not obvious to me. I particularly liked the 2010 Yamanashi Wine Co Sol Lucet which was very clean and slightly ricey (but not in a bad way) and the 2009 Grace Private Reserve which had some subtle acacia honey notes. Unfortunately the Sadoya Zenkouji Kitahara was the worst wine I have tasted in 2010 (possibly a faulty cork). Lynne Sheriff MW co-hosted the event and should be encouraged to keep up her campaign to get these wineries to use screwcaps.
The seminar was followed by further tasting opportunities and ‘bowl food’ with a host of producers (many looking for UK representation). I hope that the wines become more available as this was a really fascinating tasting and I would encourage you to seek out at least a couple to try.
The run up to Xmas is well and truly underway. I could have blogged every day over the last couple of weeks (maybe a sign I am working, eating and drinking too much). Highlights have included the opening of Chisou in Knightsbridge (pictured left). We had sake and sushi of the highest quality thanks to owner proprietor Honami Matsumoto. I also met Paul Masters and Shirley Booth of the British Sake Association, nice people with a great mission; to advance all things sake. I have joined, and if you want to the website is here.
A reunion dinner at Hawksmoor was notable for us taking advantage of the £5 corkage charge on Mondays. The sense of this approach was evidenced by the packed restaurant on a cold night. I bought along a 2006 Vieux Telegraphe as I wanted to compare it to the 2005 which I don’t think is very approachable at the moment. The 06 is also intense (incense!) but much more enjoyable in its youth and worked well with the ‘bone in sirloin’ I ordered (it came text book medium rare as requested). I was glad I decided to take it rather than my last 98 VT. Hawksmoor have the 95 on their list for £130 and one of the wine waiters told us that they are adding the 06. So if you want to enjoy good wine and avoid enough mark up to pay for a three course meal you know how to do it.
I was too busy catching up with people to take notes on the bottles (or photos as I dropped my phone in a puddle and it is off being mended) but contributions included a good fizz, wonderful Condrieu and young but steak friendly Pomerol. There was something to drink with whatever anyone ordered from the menu. A Pedro Ximenez with sticky toffee pudding finished me off and made me vow to fit in an extra work out during the week. Huw Gott from Hawksmoor has confirmed that the new branch in Covent Garden will also be offering the same corkage deal on Mondays. It has been getting rave reviews so book up now.
I somehow managed to win the University tennis club competition at the weekend (maybe making up for the midweek indulgence). Despite the frozen conditions at West Ham Park a few hardy souls turned out and much fun was had. I am far right in the ‘winners photo’ and am standing next to Nuradeen, UEL’s Tennis Development Officer, who used to coach the Nigerian tennis team. I am very proud of my prize; a full UEL sports strip. Thanks to Michael who organised it.
The inside of the Eddie
I had a great evening last week at the King Edward in Stratford (The King Eddie to locals). The Manager, Kendall, organises themed tastings with able support from Matthew Bradford (formerly sommelier at the Groucho club).
The night was all about matching wine with sushi and there were demonstrations from one of the few women sushi chefs who have ‘broken into’ this male dominated career. The sushi was a really good standard and Matt had a brave stab at finding wines to match. I enjoyed a Picpoul de Pinet (and am a fan of this humble but versatile grape) but a Californian Rose’ with tuna sashimi didn’t really work for me as it was a bit ‘turkish delight’ . I think one from Provence or the Languedoc might have been more successful. It is a hard call to match when pickled ginger and soy sauce are involved and, in general, I would always choose chilled sake’. However, Matt struck me as one of the better (more engaging, informed and honest, tasting hosts on the circuit) and I would recommend these nights.
It was good to catch up with my friend and colleague Ash (Ashok Jansari) a neuropsychologist who is getting a lot of media coverage for his work on brain injury. Ash has been bitten by the wine bug and I look forward to tasting with him in the future.