We are invited to ‘Travel with Sam to Japan and uncover the secrets of sake’. But the first questions are likely to be ‘Who is Sam?’ … and ‘What is sake?’ …and Discovery Channel?
Sam Harrop, Master of Wine, is a leading consultant winemaker with clients all over Europe. He is also co-chair of the International Wine Challenge, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious wine competitions. The IWC now has a category specifically for sake, which attracted nearly 600 entries last year!
So that already helps us to answer that second question: What is sake? It’s a Japanese beverage that is evidently popular with ‘them in the know’ in the wine industry. But that industry enthusiasm mirrors the interest of the general public in London, so the aforementioned Sam takes us on a voyage of discovery with the Discovery Channel to demystify this most iconic drink.
Although a Master of European-style wines, Sam has long had an interest in sake. It’s not just a drink frequently consumed by folks living on the Pacific Rim. This has been part of Japanese social and religious activity for thousands of years. These days there are fewer sake brewers, and indeed fewer sake drinkers, in Japan, but its celebrity is these days taking on a multi-national dimension.
It is often described as ‘rice wine’ but sake is made with a brewing process much like the production of beer. Sam enlists the support of his friend Kenichi Ohashi who is a Sake Expert, Master of Sake, and has a Diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
An impressive duo, and one might expect a Discovery Channel programme full of over-technical detail, jargon, and a smattering of formality. In fact the result of the film-maker’s art is charming, informative and a good introduction to sake for those outside the wine world. Yes, there are mentions of flavours like banana and pineapple, and there is the requisite amount of Japanese bowing, but it sets the scene and makes for good viewing.
Our two sake explorers take us to brewers who use the latest techniques to produce the finest of sakes while maintaining the historic know-how; we learn about rice cultivation and drinking etiquette and how sake enhances not only Japanese food but also dishes from other culinary traditions. Sake is becoming known as the drink that doesn’t fight with food.
Sam returns to London and enjoys a kaiseki meal at UMU of Mayfair. Chef Yoshinori Ishii presents plates that are delicious, aesthetic masterpieces to partner some fine sake. Drinking sake is about savouring delicate flavours inherent in the drink, but also enjoying food and good company that will add to the experience.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018