- Capital Eats
- Exploring the world of sake
Exploring the world of sake
Going deep on sake at the Japanese embassy
Recently Japanese Ambassador Yamanouchi greeted dozens of Ottawa’s leading restaurant experts for an educational seminar on sake. The seminar was led by renowned Toronto-based sake expert and educator Michael Tremblay.
He and co-author Nancy Matsumoto, recently won the James Beard Media Award for their book Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake. Having known Michael for a number of years, I can recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating drink. It’s smart, in-depth and easy to understand.
Sake expert Michael Tremblay. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Top sommeliers and chefs were assembled to enjoy a lecture and a series of sakes that opened people’s experiences to a diverse range of textures and tastes.
One hope of the Embassy was to inspire restaurant talent to incorporate sake into their menus and bar lists. Sake may be understood as a drink for Japanese cuisine, but it’s much more versatile than that and its uses are only limited by our imaginations.
In Japan, the changes within the sake industry are rapid and exciting. New technologies are merging with older methods to create something new.
Historic vessels such as Kame (large earthenware pots) and Kioke (large wooden tanks) for storing sake are making a resurgence. Combined with modern hygiene practices, modern yeast strains and newer rice hybrids, the industry is inspiring a whole new generation by simultaneously linking to methods from the past.
If we look at wine producing countries we see quality markers in place such as Geographical Indicators (GI) to denote the quality of a wine from a specific region. These are parameters with legal definitions.
The first GI in Japan was awarded in 2005. The second, Yamagata prefecture, came in 2016. Now in 2023 that number has grown to 14. Styles of sake according to region are rapidly becoming codified and that is a useful tool for the industry and the consumer.
Despite all this proud investment in a culturally and historically significant good, our current monopoly system is bafflingly thick on the subject. I have my theories on what may be driving the dearth of sake on store shelves and perhaps one day there’ll be an accounting for the heads at the LCBO.
Momokawa Junmai Ginjo. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
However we are lucky in that we can order from the import agencies directly, bypassing the LCBO. One such agency is Metropolitan Wines and Sakes. According to Tremblay, “their service levels and product breadth is the highest in the industry.” There’s no arguing that founder Vivian Hatherell has assembled an impressive portfolio of top-tier and internationally awarded sakes.
Not only does she work with the excellent Kosher certified Oregon producer MomoKawa but also offers a tantalizing range of industry legends such as Kuheiji, Masumi, Dassai and now Kaiun.
MomoKawa has been a leader in US-crafted sake and their Diamond is a delicious, straight up off-dry sake great for cocktails or for dressings and marinades. Compare this Junmai Ginjo (Junmai meaning made with rice only) with that of the Kaiun Junmai Ginjo and be amazed at the contrast of flavours. The Kaiun is bigger in both texture and flavours with a range of melon and muscat grape profiles.
Masumi and Kaiun sake. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Shockingly, Ottawa currently has 27 bottles of this gem at its LCBO stores. If however you are interested in exploring the world of sake further, I recommend visiting Metropolitan’s website for a look at their portfolio complete with tasting notes. They now also offer convenient online ordering for those most unique gifts of sake.