If you only know hot Sake, like it or not, there’s so much more out there in the Japanese world of rice wines. You are cheating your palate if you stopped at the one being offered at your corner sushi bar. I learned this years ago and have since made it a point to peruse the cold Sake offerings anytime they are available. (Maru Sushi has my favorite local list and the best presentation: http://www.maruvalencia.com/menu/sakes.php ) As a wine drinker, learning from trying many varietals, Sake also has many to sniff, swirl and taste. Here’s one way to get started: read what Sake Sommelier, Anthony (“A.”) Fagundes, does:
1. You’re a Sommelier, but specifically a Sake Sommelier, is that an additional degree of some kind? (Please tell wine 101 readers about yourself.)
A. There are additional qualifications that require extensive knowledge of specifically sake, and exams that have to be passed. Mr. John Gauntner holds the most accessible training and exam. For those of us that don’t have the means to travel abroad to do your research and or training in Japan, look him up… He is an amazing person.! I have yet to take his course, but I have read all his material I could get my hands on over the years.
2. What kind of experience do you have?
A. I have worked in many aspects of the alcohol industry. From retail to restaurant to winery. I have managed wine bars, fine wine and spirits retail boutiques, been both a Beverage Director and Sommelier in restaurants, I have consulted with winemakers to make blending decisions in various wineries, and I am currently a Wine Manager for one of the largest distributorships in the country. I am a Certified Sommelier (level 2) from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and I am one of very few sake experts in the country as well.
3. Do you hold events or tastings for the public?
A. Yes, I have conducted many public and private seminars, tastings, and pairing diners. I have a passion for all aspects of the business, but this is the one I am most fond of.
4. Do Japanese restaurants employ Sake Sommeliers? Should they?
A. I don’t get as much of an opportunity to travel around, even our own country, as I would like, but I would have to assume that there are places like Las Vegas that would employ a Sommelier dedicated solely to sake. I believe there is only one here in LA county, but the name slips my mind at the time. I remember reading an article in the LA Times about an Japanese American gentleman that had just returned from Japan having just successfully passed the highest level examination that can be achieved.
5. What’s the most fun you’ve had with Sake?
A. Does just drinking it count.? Just kidding, I think the most fun is yet to come. I have had many great experiences with the flavors in sake. I have always really enjoyed stepping outside the box and taking people outside their safety zone where sake is concerned. There are two extremely common misconceptions that keep the proverbial lid on sake and all its splendor. One, is that it is a rough, hot beverage that quickly gets you inebriated, and Two, that it only pairs well with Japanese cuisine. Both are very wrong, and where I have had “the most fun” with sake is when I see the look on peoples faces when I introduce them to premium sake and pair it with a food that they would never expect to create synergy. For instance, at a private wine dinner, just after the white wine pairing was about to conclude, I threw a curve ball to even the host & hostess by pairing the Shin-Rai Tokubetsu Junmai from Hiroshima with a spinach/artichoke bread pudding. It was in the middle of a night full of star-studded wines, but the sake pairing was the only literal standing ovation of the evening.
If you have questions about Sake, Sake Tastings or would just like to contact Anthony you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818- 400-1367.
(This column originally ran in the West Ranch Beacon.)