The Advice Sisters get a lot of interesting invitations to events around New York, but it is not often that you get a note fro the Japan External Trade Organization（JETRO）stating that Ambassador Sumio Kusaka
Consul General of Japan in New York and Mayor Toshiyuki Obonai, Ninohe City, Iwate, Japan, request the Pleasure of our company at the Ambassador’s residence for a seminar and reception.
Who are we to say no?
So along with about 500 of the Ambassador’s friends, contacts and members of the media, we found ourselves attending a reception and seminar about Ninohe City, Japan, at the baroque style residence of Ambassador Sumio Kusaka in Midtown,. The event was held to introduce Americans to the city of Ninohe in northern Japan. This city of just about 30,000 people is home to a number of craft-based industries, particularly sake brewing, and lacquer work (called urushi in Japan).
The first part of the seminar was about the creation of sake, and this Sake Seminar was by Kosuke Kuji and Nanbu Bijin. Sake is a fermented beverage made from rice. As we reported in our March 2013 article Sake-tini Anyone? Sake 101 from Sake and the City, sake is is a brewed product, similar actually to beer, but with a flavor profile more like a fruity white wine. Sake is comprised of just four ingredients: Water, rice, yeast, and a mold called Koji. Much like great cheeses gain their depth and flavors from fungi, so does sake. In fact, it is this magical mold that allows turns the rice starch into sugars and eventually into alcohol. The Ninohe area is known for its fine sake’s and after a video showing how it was produced, we all could see the dedication that Japan’s brewers bring to their art.
The other product that Ninohe is known for is lacquer and lacquer ware. This part of the evening was by Urushi Seminar by Makiko Suzuki, Tekiseisha I was familiar with lacquer ware before the seminar but in the seminar I learned that the finest of these were Urushiol-based lacquers. These are made from a resin derived from a specific type of tree found mainly in China and the Ninohe region of Japan. Actually most of the Urushi lacquer used in housewares comes from China, while the finest resins which come from Japan are used in temples and shrines (including the famous golden pagoda).
Following the lecture we ascended the stairs to the Ambassador’s ballroom where we sampled four sake-based beverages from the Nanbu Bijin brewery in traditional lacquer-ware urushi cups. Later in the evening, there was a Special Koto performance by Yumi Kurosawa .
Of the four sake products we sampled the finest was a daiginjo, which as the Japanese say, was both sweet and dry. The sake had a very fruity character that one finds in the best examples of sake, and would pair with most foods that you would want to drink a Riesling with like spicy foods or seafood. In addition we tasted a junmai (Tokubetsu Junmai) from the same brewery. This was being served in a cocktail prepared with a cherry blossom and a peach flavored liquor. It reminded me of a bellini cocktail except for the fizz, and honestly, while the cherry blossom flower was edible, it was quite bitter.
Two other sake based beverages were also sampled at the event. The most interesting was called All Koji, which was honey colored and much more intense in flavor than traditional sake. Similar to how many scotch and bourbon producers are adding honey and maple to their products, the All Koji sake has a honey maple flavor that comes from the special brewing process. In addition to the sweet taste there is also a freshness that differs from the flavored brown liquors making it something totally unique to sake. This is one product that I will certainly ask my local wine store about.
Finally, we tasted a sake called Muto Umeshu which was a Plum Sake. Made only junmai sake and plum, this tasted much like a plum wine one would find at their local Chinese restaurant, but with a much less cloying sweet taste. While it still had the strong flavor of plum, the sake was clean and refreshing. This sake would make a lower sugar substitute for a sweeter wine like a Saturne or other desert wine.
High quality sakes are best served cold, but you can drink sake hot if you wish. That is often what is associated with sake in Sushi restaurants. Whether you drink it cold, hot or mixed with other ingredients, Sake, is sensational!
my thanks to The Advice Sisters wine afficianado, John Dunham, in helping to put together this feature