I suspect you’ll be hearing a lot about Koshu this year. No, it’s not some unfamiliar aspect of Japanese cuisine but a white wine made from a grape of the same name. A campaign to promote it in the UK was launched at a lunch in London yesterday by a VIP line-up of Japanese goverment officials from the Yamanashi prefecture where most of the winemakers are based.
Whisky may have become firmly entrenched in the after-dinner slot in the Western world but Japan has always been more open to the idea of drinking it with a meal. In fact, the Japanese are much more open-minded about the drinks they enjoy with food and you’ll often find beer, sake and whisky on the table at the same time. It certainly maximises the opportunities of finding a good food and drink match.
The sound of the temple bell reverberates in the distance. It’s midnight in Japan, and the Shinto shrine is full of people celebrating the new year. Some are drinking amazake – a cloudy unfiltered (and non-alcoholic) type of sake drunk warm; others proffer cups to be filled with cold clear sake, served from gold kettles by ceremonially-clad priests. And the gods get their share – offerings of large straw-covered sake barrels called komokaburi are placed in front of the shrine. Only sake is good enough to keep the gods happy – in the hope they'll bestow health and happiness in the coming year.
To the incomprehension of my husband who can’t see the point in raw fish, I adore sushi and try to eat it at least once a week - usually with one of my daughters who are both big sushi fans.
What type of food is the best match for sake and why? Shirley Booth, founder of the British Sake Association comes up with a few surprises and some useful pointers on serving temperatures.
I was reminded the other night of how the average wine newbie must feel confronted with a wine list in French. The names of the wines and the grape varieties mean nothing. You have no idea what they taste like and what to order. Panic sets in.
Sometimes you go to a wine dinner with some trepidation wondering if the wine will stand up to the food but I was pretty optimistic that Domaine Long-Depaquit’s Chablis would survive at Nobu (the original Metropolitan hotel restaurant in London, not LA, sadly!)
Having just got back from Alsace I thought I’d update my recommendations on the best matches for Alsace dry and off-dry white wines. What struck me particularly on this visit is how key sweetness is to the success of a match - something that will often be more marked in a younger wine than an older vintage.
This week’s match had to involve the extraordinary Kaiseki meal I had at Umu. I wrote it up extensively a few days ago so I won’t dwell on it again but rather focus on the pairing that I think would work best in a less rarified contest. And that’s sashimi and unoaked koshu.
A newbie's guide to sake from wine writer Natasha Hughes.
A terrific pairing which was part of a fascinating tasting I went to last week of sakes from the Tohoku region of Japan, the area most affected by last year's earthquake and tsumani. It was organised jointly by the British Sake Association and events company Tengu Sake (@tengusake on Twitter) and took place at Tombo, a Japanese cafe in South Kensington which laid on some particularly delicious food.
It’s the time of year to look back and review the best food and wine matches of 2011. Some were comfortingly familiar, some a total surprise to me. What they had in common was that the combination was more than the sum of the parts. The drink - in most cases wine - made the food taste more delicious, the food just made the wine sing. I hope you enjoy something similar in 2012.
Given that whisky is generally considered the most appropriate match for haggis I thought it would be interesting to check out what Britain’s top whisky experts have to recommend for Burns Night:
About the last thing you’d think I’d be recommending after 4 days in Portugal last week would be a wine pairing for sushi - but that was the outstanding match.
I’m beginning to get Christmassed-out already so this week’s pairing is not the very old madeira and Comté I had last night, amazing though that was, but a steaming, spicy bowl of ramen and an Asahi Super Creamy Head beer I enjoyed at Bone Daddies Ramen earlier in the week.