Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WBW72- Cherry Blossoms & Earthquakes

In any given March, most thoughts of Japan popping into the minds of Vancouverites relate to cherry blossoms. Historically, the Japanese have had a wonderful influence in our city by the sea with the introduction of flowering cherry trees. Our Springs are dictated, to a large expense, by the arrival of these pretty pink flowers throughout the city.

Although the blossoms have arrived on schedule, almost all thoughts of Japan in Vancouver this Spring - like in the rest of the world - are related to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the Japanese coast and all the ongoing catastrophic events and stories that have followed.

I would never have foreseen working the Japanese tragedy into this blog; however, I see that a special request has been made by the gang at Wine Blogging Wednesday. Richard Auffrey at The Passionate Foodie is coordinating our next adventure and has charged us with Wine Blogging Wednesday 72 - Helping Japan. To be honest, I'm still rather behind in my own wine postings and have only just caught up to WBW70. I was thinking I might need to take a break from this next instalment before folks think I'm posting nothing but Wine Blogging Wednesday's. Guess April's topic put the kaibosh on that. The lucky thing for me was that Boo and I just happened to have enjoyed a Japanese meal the other night; so I had a ready-made posting.

Now, be forewarned, I know diddley squat about Sake - other than having enjoyed my fair share of it over the years with sushi. So, I won't pretend to go into any details about this particular style or any specifics about what might make this brand particular. I wouldn't know. I'm simply taking a few notes from the company's website and from a quick Google search. Indeed, "Sake" doesn't even show up in The Oxford Companion to Wine. The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (which coincidentally happens this week) always includes a couple producers, however. So, I'll go with them, count it as a "wine" and give the bottle a number on The List. (Well, at least I will when I catch up with my other postings.)

761. N.V. Momokawa Organic Ginjo Junmai Sake (* Japan - OOOOPS! NOT Japan - it's Oregon, OW! See Note at bottom of post.)

The origins of rice wine aren't clear; however, there has been literary reference of the drink for centuries in Japan. In many ways its production is more similar to the brewing of beer than it is to the making of wine. With wine, alcohol is produced by the fermentation of the natural sugars in the grape juice. With Sake and beer, however, the sugars to be converted into alcohol must first be generated by the conversion of starches - whether that starch be rice or grains. That being said, the making of Sake differs from beer in that the conversion of rice starches into sugar and sugar into alcohol happens in one single step instead of two separate procedures.

Although Sake has been traditionally Japanese, the production of Sake has actually been declining in Japan since the 1970's - just as production in other global areas (including one producer in Vancouver) has been growing and as production methods have been steadily improving.

The Momokawa is indicative of some forward thinking in that the production of this Sake is certified organic all the way from the rice paddies through the brewing process - moving the product along with the green revolution, just as many wines are currently being branded as organic and biodynamic.

Regulars to this blog know that I don't dwell on tasting notes of the wines that we drink. So, I'm certainly not going to try that with the this Sake. I know that there are varying styles of Sake now available; however, suffice it to say that it seemed pretty much like most of the Sake I've knocked down in the past. There was enough of a fruitiness and slight sweetness that I had no problem finishing off my little bottle. I am glad, however, that I limited it to one bottle because, at 14.5% alcohol, she packs a bit of a punch.

Boo, on the other hand, just doesn't care for Sake. Even in restaurants, he'll always order some alternative beverage. I offered him a glass and, not surprisingly, he declined. I'd rather expected that, so I pulled out another little Japanese treat that I know he's enjoyed in the past - Shochu.

Tanaka Moonlight Premium Shochu

Seen by many as a cross between Sake and Vodka, Shochu also has a long history in Japan. Being a distilled alcohol, I'd never expected or planned to give this bottle a number and add it to The List. But, I do have a slight "problem" with this bottle - and this being a posting on Japan - in that, despite the brand name "Tanaka," this Shochu is distilled in Vietnam. I hadn't noticed the tiny print on the back label - until I took a look at it for this blog entry. I'd just assumed, back in the store, that it was Japanese.

Oh well, the drink is still native to Japan and promotional materials for the product online refer to it as a "Japanese-style" drink. Typically distilled from barley, sweet potato or rice, the Moonlight uses a grain base and has a clean, fragrant taste that has a mild hint of sweetness. Served on the rocks, it's a different take on a vodka martini. The only other time we'd tried it, it was served neat in a sushi restaurant in NYC. I believe that bottle was distilled from sweet potato because it had that distinct flavour and prompted me to look for an elusive bottle back home here.

Once seen as the Japanese equivalent of moonshine, Shochu has seen a big boost in popularity in the last decade - both in Japan and abroad - and it has even led to a shortage of sweet potatoes. Apparently, the drink has become trendy among young, hip Japanese drinkers, particularly women, as it is seen as stronger than wine or beer but weaker than spirits. Its resurgence in popularity is sometimes seen as stemming from a claim by Japan's oldest living man, allegedly 120 years of age at the time, whereby he proclaimed the healthy benefits of Shochu and revealed that he made it a part of his daily dietary regime.

We won't be drinking either Shochu or Sake on such a regular basis; however, there's little doubt that they pair up nicely with Japanese inspired cuisine.

As a final request to this month's WBW bloggers, Richard has requested that we add a link to the Canadian Red Cross (or American Red Cross as the case may be) as an easy prompt for all of our readers to make a donation - large or small - to help out with the humanitarian aid efforts continuing in Japan. If every one of us donates even the costs of one bottle of wine - or Sake - to the cause, it's bound to make some difference.

My thanks to everyone participating in WBW72's aid drive and to The Passionate Foodie for hosting this month's theme. Here's hoping that next year's cherry blossoms will find Japan in much safer, happier and healthier state of being.

* Editor's Note - After I'd finished my entry for WBW72, this month's host, Richard Auffrey, wrote me back and politely let me know that this Sake is made in Oregon. Sure enough, when I actually looked at the bottle, my face went a brighter shade of pink/red than the cherry blossoms. Such embarrassment - an American Sake and a Vietnamese Shochu. I suppose I am going to have to read all labels like I read wine labels. I shall now retreat to atone for my shame and contemplate hari kiri.

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