Washoku and Sake Tastings in Napa, the Wine Mecca of USA

Sake tasting events sponsored by the Ministry of Agricuture, Forestry and Fisheries,  held in Napa and San Francisco

Washoku & Sake tasting events sponsored by the Ministry of Agricuture, Forestry and Fisheries, held in Napa and San Francisco

It’s no exaggeration that Napa is considered the wine mecca of USA. In the historic Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, or the Judgement of Paris, prominent judges (including the owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) voted Napa Valley wines (both red and white) as the best wines after blind tasting 4 French wines and 6 Californian wines. Since then, Napa wines have been considered world-class wines.

WHY NAPA?

The idea of hosting washoku and Sake tastings in Napa was both unconventional and unprecedented, however, the underlying intention of getting washoku and Sake recognized in Napa among fine dining connoisseurs was to help spread the knowledge about washoku and Sake among American consumers. Tasting attendees included opinion leaders who have strong influence on others.

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Sake selections for Washoku tasting events both at Morimoto Napa and Napa Valley Wine Academy. Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai, Born Junmai Daiginjo Gold, Hakkaisan Honjozo and Tengumai Yamahai Junmai.

Tastings were held at 2 locations, Morimoto Napa (from Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef fame) in Napa, and Napa Valley Wine Academy in San Francisco. A total of 8 tastings were scheduled at Morimoto Napa, held November 14th and 15th, with each tasting lasting 1 hour and 30 minutes. Food, prepared by Ichiro Tsuji, the lead chef of Morimoto Napa, comprised of Morokyu (cucumber with moromi miso), Hirame Flounder Sushi, Takoyaki and Yakitori.  These 4 dishes were paired with Kimoto, Ginjo, Honjozo and Yamahai Sake. As expected of those who are used to fine dining, many of the diners understood the lecture easily and knew immediately which dish paired well with which type of Sake.

On November 19th, the tasting aimed at students from Culinary Institute of America and Napa Valley College was held at the art gallery located behind Morimoto Napa. This event featured similar food and Sake pairings from the tasting event in the restaurant. Students at both schools carefully listened to the lecture. As future sommeliers and beverage directors, this type of tasting events are great opportunity for them to expand their knowledge on washoku and Sake. At this day and age, it’s no longer sufficient to limit the knowledge only to wine.

Washoku B to B seminar held at Napa Valley Wine Academy attended by industry people, wine makers, wine educators, writers and wine and Sake importers.

Washoku B to B seminar held at Napa Valley Wine Academy attended by industry people, wine makers, wine educators, writers and wine and Sake importers.

And on November 20th and 21st, a 2-hour tasting event aimed at food and media industry was held at Napa Valley Wine Academy. After a basic lecture on washoku ingredients (fish,dashi and condiments), tableware, wabocho Japanese knives, and techniques in food preparation, attendees were presented with a beautiful bento box containing 9 dishes, which were paired with 4 types of Sake.

Shokado style bento prepared by Chef Seiichiro Tsuji, Lead Sushi Chef at Morimoto Napa.

Shokado style bento prepared by Chef Seiichiro Tsuji, Lead Sushi Chef at Morimoto Napa.

Attendees were very much impressed with the beautiful and delicious dishes as well as the Sake paired with the dishes. In the US, UMAMI is referred only to the umami taste component of the food, however, through the tasting, attendees learned the true meaning of umami, and that umami goes beyond taste sense. Umami is felt by sight, sound, aroma, temperature, texture and flavor.

The time when Japanese food and Sake were enjoyed solely by the Japanese are over. Now that Japanese food ingredients are used in American restaurant kitchens by Western chefs, it’s only a matter of time until Sake gets the recognition it deserves. And when that happens, more sommeliers and beverage directors will try to learn and starts handling Sake in the restaurants and bars.

Without a doubt, the Sake Renaissance is happening right now in the US and in Japan. Perhaps this is a great time for chefs and restauranteurs to re-evaluate their liquor line-up.