SAKE | 勝山 (Katsuyama)

Yet another premium sake domaine owner in town and certainly was an eye opening encounter. Keio-trained Jihei ISAWA (伊澤治平), 12th generation of this 400+ years old domaine, started his career as a banker right at the burst of the bubble and then went on to run bars and restaurants in Florence and Paris. Termed as ‘Modern Shudo’, he has long been an advocate of mixing sake with food, and interestingly, mainly European dishes. On that note, there is actually an award winning in-house pizzaiolo in their brewery in Sendai and they also sell products like sausages and curry! Back to the sake, he was fast to counter the usual critiques of his sake being too ‘sweet’, stressing that no added sugar will ever be found in them. What is in the sake is purely glucose, which is natural from the fragmentation process, is easily digested and in fact the very reason to bring out the ‘umami’ taste, the buzz word indeed for the mariage of his sake with food. On the night we have basically carried out nearly every single ‘experiment’ that one can think of. From adding lemon zest, spices, to the unthinkable ‘chinese fragmented beans’ to the sake, and even tried out a cocktail of his ‘dessert’ sake with calvados in the end. Though he’s obviously much more fond of European cuisine and admitted that his matching experience with Chinese food is limited, he did bring along two ‘blended’ sake (with the oldest vintage in the mix more than 20 years old), named ‘Feng and Wong’, which in chinese means the male and female ‘phoenixes’, and were said to be designed to match chinese dishes, on this night the famous peking duck and diced pigeon respectively. What really impressed LG, however, was that touch of sake put onto the braised dried abalone. While it has been no secret that sake works well with fresh ‘awabi’, the sensation of splashing some onto this classic premium cantonese dish was just amazing. Probably that’s really the so called ‘Umami’ taste afterall. Another point well played was the domaine’s connection with Lord Masamune DATE (伊達政宗), to whom Isawa-san is still calling ‘My Lord’. Being a sake to serve the Lord, it was supposed to withstand a meal that lasts from dust till dawn, and ideally evolves along the night with the different dishes being served. Also of interest was Lord Date’s connection with Latin America. Said to have spearheaded Japanese exports all the way to Mexico and as a result be friended the Spanish, they have in fact just came out with a sake that is supposed to go well with cigars called the ‘brave smoker’, and even have Romeo et Juliette to be a cooperation partner through their connection with the Cuban government. Abe apparently has also brought along a bottle of their premium sake Diamond Lei to Spain recently as a souvenir. For celebrities franatics, ‘Beckham-san’ is apparently one of their biggest fans as well and has recently shared a bottle with Isawa-san. Back to the sake production, the much hyped Enshin-Shibori method is being utilised to do the extraction and is claimed to be the one with the best technology among its peers practising the same. Isawa-san side stepped the man versus machine debate, stressing that no one maker can possibly do it 100% by hand and admitted that they use machines to do the pressing rather than going down the shizuku route. While 35% of their production used Yamada Nishiki, the remaining is actually local eating rice from Sendai which they have been buying from a farmer with 800 years of history, now at their 20th generation. LG walked out of this session feeling satisfied and yet a bit confused. While one is certainly encouraged to get a bottle of Katsuyama to accompany their parma ham, pizzas and what not, practising the ‘kounai chori’ as pitched, one probably also can’t wait to try a bottle of their basic ‘Akatsuki’ alongside a very traditional Kaiseki set to see how it sinks in. Afterall, this is supposed to be the sake for a Feudal Lord some 400 years ago!

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