Sake testing at Giapponese


by Jeremy Iggers |

August 7, 2009 •

That was fun. When Henry Chan invited me out to Giapponese for a sake tasting, I thought it was just going to be Henry and some pals sitting around the sushi bar tossing back a few cold ones. But when I arrived in Woodbury, I discovered that I was in for something more elaborate – five courses of sake and food pairings, with Chris Griese of World Wide Wines leading the tastings, assisted by Elise Gee, formerly the assistant brewmaster at the Minneapolis sake microbrewery Moto-i.

Griese has a passion for sake, and he brought the drink to life with stories of sakes history, how sake is made, and his own visits to small sake breweries in the Japanese countryside. I never knew that quality levels for sake are determined by how finely polished the rice is – the lower grades have less of their outer layers removed, and tend to have a less delicate flavor. But even the lowest graded sake in the tasting – Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu from Yamagata prefecture, served with chili-glazed chicken, was more delicate than the usual stuff poured in restaurants.

As we progressed up the quality ladder to ginjo and daiginjo sakes, the flavors became more delicate, the aromas more complex. I was especially taken with the Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo from Akita,paired with a fresh spring roll filled with pickled carrot and radish,. I couldn’t really put my finger on the flavors, but the tasting notes come pretty close: “anise in the nose, tropical fruit and strawberries in the palate, it finishes with a crisp white pepper spice.”

The highest grade of sake we tasted was a junmai daiginjo Chokaisan from Tenju Shuzo brewery in Akita – again a delicate and complex set of flavors, floral and fruity, and nicely paired with a cheddar-style Midnight Moon goat cheese from Cypress Grove. The accompanying courses of food – which also included ribeye and sashimi of kinmedai (golden eye snapper) were delightful, but the differences in flavor profile of the sakes we sampled were so subtle that I didn’t come away convinced that it really mattered which sake you paired with which foods.

The biggest revelation of the evening, though, was when Griese offered us a mystery sake at the end of the evening, poured from a paper bag. It wasn’t unpleasant, by any means, but I could tell at first sip that this was a much lower grade of sake than any of the sakes we had just been tasting. Turns out it’s the biggest selling brand, and the one that you see most often on restaurant menus.

I also had a chance for a few words with Henry, who is the most fanatical sush purveyor I have met in these parts – the only chef I know of locally who brings in fresh shipments of exotic species regularly from the fish market in Tokyo. Henry reports that he’ll be opening a new restaurant in Hudson, WI this fall – a branch of his original Shanghai Bistro in Eau Claire. More sushi classes are planned for the fall, and for sushi lovers who want their fish as fresh as possible, Henry is signing up participants for a deep-sea fishing trip in Mexico next winter. Giapponese, 10060 Citywalk Drive, Woodbury, 651-578-7777

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