Have you always thought that Japanese cuisine should go with sake? Well, you might be pleasantly surprised at how some Italian wines might complement Nihon-ryori just as well, if not even better.
Kuriya Penthouse, the flagship fine-dining outlet of RE&S, recently held a "Danger Night" where wine and sake were pit in a friendly face-off during a magnificent seven-course dinner. The wines were from Castello Banfi, and sake from Gyokusendo Shuzou Brewery 玉泉堂酒造. I was very fortunate to be able to attend this at the invitation of Yoshihiko Koezuka, Master Chef and General Manager of Kuriya Penthouse.
Here's Ms Harumi Kawai of RE&S (centre) introducing Guillaume Blanchard, Castello Banfi's Regional Manager for South East Asia, and Atsushi Yamada, President of Gyokusendo Shuzou Brewery.
Abalone, Octopus, and Assorted Vegetables with Aspic Jelly topped with Sesame Cream Sauce
A mouth-watering mixture of savoury and fruity flavours. Amazing texture for the tako (almost like a la plancha). The sesame cream sauce makes it a little bit more heavy than usual Japanese appetisers.
Sake (left) and wine (right) for the starter:
- Reisen Ranjatai Daiginjo (Chilled) - a premium daiginjo brewed manually in a small quantity each time. The name "Ranjatai" is from a famous ancient fragrant tree now kept as a national treasure in Todaiji temple compounds in Nara.
- Centine Blanco Toscana I.G.T. 2010 - this wine has a very fruity bouquet. It's a soft, dry and well-balanced wine of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay grape varieties. Has notes of pear, apricot, lime and tomato leaves.
My verdict: I still prefer the daiginjo, as did the rest of my table.
Puffer Fish Chunk with Herbal Vegetables
The puffer fish sashimi slices are hidden at the bottom. There's a bonus of ankimo (monkfish liver) in this sashimi dish (the thick brown slice), which will prove interesting.
Well, they did say "Danger Night"! This is my first taste of fugu. I was excited but not scared. These days, most puffer fish are cultivated, and aren't as poisonous. Plus, I was in good hands.
The translucent sashimi flesh is actually very clean-tasting and has no dominant flavour. What you really get is a slightly chewy texture, even though these slices have been gently poached on one side. Now, what really makes this a flavour bomb are the thick little strips of sweetish kombu or dried seaweed. The combination absolutely...is to die-for!
Sake and Wine For Sashimi (see first photo):
- Reisen Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki 2010 (chilled, left) - made using the highly refined Yamadanishiki rice grains from the Hyogo Prefecture, this sake is delicate and clear-tasting.
- San Angelo Pinot Grigio Toscana I.G.T. 2010 (right) - this Pinot Grigio has an immensely fruity bouquet (pear, banana, peach, anise, honey). This is a rich, full, round wine suitable for light dishes and fish.
Grilled Item 1
Grilled Yellowtail with Salt, Salted Salmon Roe with Grated Radish, Sudachi Citrus
Beautifully buttery fish, with palate cleansing grated radish accentuated with pops of flavour from the ikura. The slice of sudachi is just the thing to cut through the rich oiliness of the fish.
Sake (left) and wine (right) for the grilled fish:
- Reisen Junmai Daiginjo (Chilled) - this sake is served in JAL's first class cabins. Made from high quality rice and fermented with classical yeast in a way to produce a classy, smooth taste. It is tinged with a slight vanilla-like flavour, and is easy to drink.
- Principessa Gavia Gavi D.O.C.G. 2010 - 100% Cortese, with an intense bouquet (hints of pineapple and apple). Well-balanced, gently acidic with a delicate, dry finish. Great for seafood and poultry.
My verdict: the Principessa in general. It goes particularly well with the ikura. But I do like the sake with the fish itself.
Semi-Dried Puffer Fish Tempura (hidden at the back)
Crispy Cheese and Dried Mullet Roe (front)
Yes, fugu again! This time in a different form - semi-dried (and deep-fried). And now I am officially in love with fugu. The taste was so amazing, it defies description! The closest I can put it is - a sweetish fish-based 'bak kwa' (dried BBQ pork) but the texture is far more delicate, and the taste far more complex. It's a piece of umami heaven.
Every item on this plate is a gorgeous treat. The puffed crispy cheese (front left) is fun to eat, and that slice of bright orange is not carrot, but karasumi (dried mullet roe)! The piman and the ginkgo nut were done perfectly too.
The deep-fried items were accompanied by a single Reisen Junmai Yamadanishiki (at 15°C). This Tokubetsu Junmai-shu carries an elegant flavour and rich rice taste. It's light with a pleasant acidic aftertaste. We could not help but finish this whole glass. Delicious.
Grilled Item 2
Grade A5 Hida Wagyu Beef with Foie Gras topped with Sea Urchin served on Homemade Grilled Miso
Wow. Wagyu. Foie gras. And uni. Three decadent ingredients all at the same time! Triple the indulgence and joy. Amazingly the combination works. Hida wagyu is chosen for its texture - it has a bit more bite to it. But still so fragrant!
Sake (left) and wine (right) for the grilled items no.2:
- Reisen Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki 2009 (at 15°C) - this is the aged 2009 sake has a richer taste than the younger 2010 edition.
- Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. 2006 - 100% Sangiovese with a light, vanilla scented bouquet. It's full, soft, velvety and intense with notes of liquorice, spices and goudron.
My verdict: Despite the red wine's suitability for red meat, my table and I unanimously preferred the 2009 sake. The three ingredients were all very rich, so something clean-tasting proved welcome.
Crab Meat and Tuna Belly on Vinegared Rice served with Miso Soup
What a beauty! I had been expecting something like two pieces of nigiri sushi, but a whole bowl of chiraishi studded with seafood gems? Colour me happy! Even the rice was so tasty, I could be satisfied with bowls of it accompanied by their shoyu (also incredible). The miso soup also went down very well with its smoky aroma.
Here's the lovely Yvonne from Giorgio Ferrari, which supplied the wagyu.
Sake (left) and wine (right) for the sushi:
- Reisen Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki (at 40°C) - the hot sake (atsukan) has a rounder and more acidic taste, and is also richer in aftertaste.
- Cum Laude Toscano I.G.T. 2008 - a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah grape varieties. It's got a complex bouquet of blackberry, plum jam, cherries and liquorice, with black olive and tobacco sensations. Tastewise, it's got a powerful body, wide and soft tannin texture.
My verdict: The sake. Well, the red wine might be good with the miso soup, but it's slightly too overpowering for the delicate sushi.
Pear Compote Jelly
There's fresh fruits and almond jelly too. So refreshing, and I couldn't ask for a better end to the fantastic meal.
The dessert wine was the Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui D.O.C.G 2010. The intense bouquet carried hints of Bulgarian rose. This soft red sparkling wine has berry flavours and a touch of almond and nutmeg.
So ultimately, it was a pretty close fight with sake winning four out of seven rounds. But I am really partial to sake, so maybe my opinions are biased. Still, there are no rules, and it all really depends on your tastebuds. The thing is to be open to trying new and unexplored combinations.
Here on display are the wines from Castello Banfi, a family-owned vineyard estate and winery in Tuscany. It has sister estates in Piedmont, Vigne Regali and Principessa Gavia. It's a huge 7,100-acre estate you can visit and has luxury suites (il Borgo) you can stay at. This winery started from scratch just 30 years ago, but the family has been in the wine business for three generations.
You can read about the wines in detail on their website. The wines are available in Singapore through Auric Pacific, and you can get them at Kuriya Penthouse too.
Gyokusendo Shuzou's renowned brands of sake include Reisen and Minogiku.The brewery was established 1806 in Yoro in the Gifu Prefecture. The name Reisen comes from a legend. It was said that in the 8th Century, the Empress of Japan visited the town of Yoro and heard that the water from a famous waterfall had turned into fine sake. She named this waterfall "Reisen".
The water quality in Yoro is so good that almost all households still use well water in their daily lives. It is very soft, so the sake made from it is distinctively clear and soft.
Only selected rice like Yamadanishiki and Oyamanishiki are chosen in order to develop the clear, full and comforting sake taste. The grains are polished inhouse, then washed, soaked, and steamed. Top quality Koji or fungus is used to help fermentation. The Reisen brand is made with Kobo (yeast) called Kumamoto-Yamagata #9, which has a classic mellow fragrance.
I had the great privilege of being seated with Atsushi Yamada of Gyokusendo Shuzou Brewery and Minoru Inui of Inui Sake Ten (exporter). Together with Yvonne (and despite my halting Japanese), our table had lots of laughs even before the drinking got underway. I must thank Inui-san for showing us how to eat the fugu with kombu!
I also got to meet the very affable Takahiko Tsutsui, Director for Overseas Business Development for RE&S. Interestingly, the other RE&S outlets are in Russia. But they are now opening more outlets in KL.
Most importantly, I must thank Koezuka-san for his kind invitation, and commend him on the masterfully executed dinner. Every course was a winner, and that is rare to see in restaurants these days. This was a most memorable evening where I learned so many new things.
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181 Orchard Road
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Lunch: 1200 to 1430 hours
Dinner: 1800 to 2230 hours
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