Introduction by Nikki Bayley
If your only experience of sake was a served-too-warm, headache-inducing, palate-blasting brew, it’s time to think again and give sake another chance. Light, bright, delicate and deliciously smooth, modern sake is brewed in stainless steel or ceramic-lined tanks, rather than barrels, which allows its natural floral, citrus and herbaceous notes to shine through. We asked three Whistler restaurant professionals to tell us which cold sake they’ll be serving this season to pair with everything from ocean-fresh seafood to briny oysters to sushi and sashimi!
Tengumai 50 Junmai Daiginjo
If you like experimenting with food and wine pairings, you should include cold sake in your repertoire. Sake is extremely versatile and pairs wonderfully with a wide range of food beyond the classic sushi and Japanese dishes. It works particularly well with those ingredients that are sometimes harder to pair with wine, such as asparagus and artichokes.
Tengumai 50 is one of my favourites right now; it is a Junmai Daiginjo, which means it is made with no added alcohol and that the grains of rice have been polished down by 50 per cent to remove the impurities in the outer layers. This leaves just the core of the grain, producing clean, smooth flavours. Beautiful aromas of Bartlett pears and apples with a clean citrus finish make it perfect pairing for oysters, salads, spring vegetables, pork belly and even cheeses.
Here’s some helpful information, so you can better understand sake bottle labels:
Junmai — at least 30 per cent polished, no alcohol added.
Ginjo — 40 per cent polished, with distilled alcohol.
Junmai Ginjo — 40 per cent polished.
Daiginjo — 50 per cent polished, with distilled alcohol.
Junmai Daiginjo — at least 50 per cent polished.
Bearfoot Bistro, 604-932-3433, bearfootbistro.com
Yoshinogawa Gokujo Ginjo
Cold sake is categorized from Daiginjo to Junmai Ginjo and generally refers to the amount the rice grains are polished down before the sake brewing process begins. At Sushi Village, Yoshinogawa Gokujo Ginjo holds a special place in our hearts, as it was late owner Miki Homma’s favourite sake. This beautiful, refined sake is from one of the oldest sake houses in Japan, circa 1548. Rice harvested from this rich agricultural region north and west of Tokyo creates a sake with herbal and anise notes and a silky-smooth finish.
This bottle was a celebration each week for Miki and his “Tuesday Boys.” The group of local entrepreneurial business people would set aside one day each week to take a break from their busy work lives. Miki loved to pair this beautiful sake with Black Cod Saikyoyaki, a richly flavoured, miso-marinated white fish, or Ika Kaarage, a very authentic version of a Japanese “calamari” and of course, a mixed variety of sashimi created with the best fish of the day. This “Tuesday Boys” club ensured this group could ski together, dine together, drink sake together and remind themselves of all the wonder that Whistler has to offer.
Sushi Village, 604-932-3330, sushivillage.com
Araxi Restaurant + Oyster Bar is renowned for offering beautiful, fresh seafood paired with interesting wines from their award-winning cellar. Step out of the box, be a little more adventurous and try one of our sakes. Founded in 1548, Yoshinogawa is the eighth-oldest existing sake brewery in Japan. Daiginjo is a process that polishes rice down to a minimum of 50 per cent, with this particular sake having an astonishing 40 per cent polishing ratio. Centuries of experience is given a modern twist, with this sake aged in steel tanks for three years at -5 Celsius to barely initiate ice crystal formation before melting away.
I find this sake to be light and floral on the nose, fresh and clean on the palate but with a good depth of melon, honey and ginger flavours and a long finish. Served chilled, this sake is great on its own, but really sings with fresh shellfish, sashimi and lighter seafood dishes.
Manager + Wine Director
Araxi Restaurant, 604-932-4540, araxi.com