Tanaka 1789 x Chartier and Iwa 5 spearheads of the new wave of blended sakes in Malaysia
The world of sake is inherently Japanese. Made by his people for his people, sake – or, more accurately, nihonshu, that is, Japanese alcohol (sake covers alcohol in general) – is more than just a national drink. It is intimately linked to the culture and tradition of the country. It is an art form, a blessing from the earth that cements special relationships and is offered to the gods.
Sake is largely an internal industry that targets locals. It’s not as accessible as wine, first of all, because of the language. It is difficult to make an informed decision for yourself when choosing a bottle in the store unless you understand Japanese or have a good knowledge of sake. Second, it is mostly only found in Japanese restaurants. These, in addition to other factors, made sake somewhat obscure and inaccessible to “outsiders”. That said, we are at the dawn of an evolutionary phase, which goes beyond its usual bubble.
Sake is made by fermenting a single variety of rice – single origin, if you will. The blending of sake is unprecedented and the technique is more commonly used in wine and whiskey. But, in recent years, blended sakes have been slowly entering the market, to the surprise of many. There will always be controversy when there are clashes between the old and the new. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And any sort of disruption of the norm takes some getting used to. But don’t hit it until you’ve tried it.
The forerunners of this change are two outsiders, both of whom have reached the pinnacle of winemaking expertise and apply their wealth of knowledge to blend rice instead of grapes. The Tanaka 1789 x Chartier and Iwa 5 Blend 2 sake, brought by the importer of wines and spirits Sakekami from K2 Marketing, officially launched in Malaysia at the beginning of November at Japanese washu RokuNana bar in the Publika shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur. RokuNana is the first restaurant among many, including Dewakan, Yakiniku Great Kuala Lumpur, Entier French Dining and Rare The Food Company, which will be creating pairing menus that showcase sake in the coming months.
Tanaka 1789 x Chartier
Expert and specialist in aromas, François Chartier is one of the most respected sommeliers in the world. In addition to having published 26 cookbooks and working with the biggest names in gastronomy, he is also distinguished by his talents as a mixer and research on aromatic science and molecular harmonies.
Chartier was approached by the new management team of Tanaka Shuzoten, one of Japan’s oldest sake breweries, which was looking to define a new strategy for the global consumer market, targeting wine enthusiasts in particular. The collision of worlds resulted in two unique sake blends with higher acidity and umami versatile enough structure to match the cuisines of the world.
“We all know the food and sake, food and wine pairing,” Chartier said on a video call. “We think of the texture, the acidity, the bitterness, the sweetness, umami, coldness, freshness and spiciness, but we are not talking about the aroma. I think the aroma is much more important than everything else.
After years of studying the molecular structure of foods, the Canadian developed a one plus one equation equal to three to better describe the potential for understanding the chemical reactions that govern the harmony between wine and food. In other words, the pairing of foods with the same dominant molecules multiplies and magnifies the pleasure of consuming. Its research is also making waves in the academic world, its most recent development being a partnership with the University of Barcelona on the creation of a chair to promote the study of aromas in the field of gastronomy.
Science is the basis of Tanaka 1789 x Chartier, and it appears not only in the formula guide that drives the mixing process, but also its emblem, in the form of a hexagon, which is the structural representation of the common molecule. The symbol is also inspired by the architecture of Tanaka Shuzoten, in particular the tile patterns on its walls from the Edo period. The shape of the bottle is unorthodox for sake but it lends itself to the changing perception of the local market by welcoming a sake with qualities close to wine.
From the start, the Tanaka 1789 x Chartier is unmistakably scented, visibly even through a face mask. The dominant aromas are anise and fresh basil but fruity notes of banana and pineapple can be raised in addition to the fragrant brioche, due to the three types of yeast used to give richness. The palate is dense, round and creamy with a lively finish. It glides effortlessly over latitude while leaving a long trail.
Sake also has the super power to metamorphose depending on the temperature, offering totally different experiences depending on whether it is hot or cold. When Tanaka 1789 x Chartier is cooler, at around 8 ° C, it looks like Sauvignon Blanc, Chartier explains. It is more chopped and the acidity is sharper. When it reaches 12 ° C to 16 ° C, it will look more like a Chardonnay, full-bodied with spices and umami. At 20 ° C, it fully embodies its junmay (pure rice) identity. It is supple, full and has a long aftertaste.
“I don’t think it’s good to change so much sake to make it look like wine,” says Chartier. “It’s better if we only make wine. It has the soul of sake with the spirit of wine.
Iwa 5 Assembly 2
The creation of Iwa 5 is nothing short of extraordinary and the man at the head of its troop of highly esteemed contributors – sake expert Ryuichiro Masuda de Masuda Shuzo, architect Kengo Kuma and designer Marc Newson – is Richard Geoffroy , who was the patron of Dom Pérignon. cellar master for 28 years.
“I worked on the universal principles of harmony and the balance of complexity in different areas,” explains Geoffroy, who created Iwa 5 a year after passing the baton to Vincent Chaperon in 2018. “And this quest for harmony definitely caught the eye. me in Japan.
In his quest, Geoffroy discovered that with sake, the emphasis is more on the nose than on the palate. “You know, the rating of sake in Japan is really more about the scent, the smell, the scent and the high note. I wanted to rework the balance.
“I have worked on balance all my life because the point of balance makes it weightless. If you can get richness, substance, texture, something pretty satisfying without the weight, when there’s very little sense of gravity, to me that’s magic.
Five is known to be the universal number of balance and harmony. For Iwa 5, it represents the assemblage of elements – the types of sake rice, the origins of the rice, how the yeasts spread, the types of yeasts used and the ripening processes – that make up its sake. Iwa 5’s Assemblage 1, her first attempt to balance the scale between nose and palate, is layered and plays with unusually dark aromas. For our tasting, however, we sampled Blend 2, a sake that emphasizes even purer and tangier aromas with a subtle and vibrant scent.
If champagne is like tasting stars as Dom Pérignon has described it so well, then Assemblage 2 is compared to shooting stars. When extremely cold, it is bright and crystalline, but becomes more prominent and vibrant as the temperature rises. At 18 ° C, it is tasty, full-bodied and subtly mellow and earthy. It’s a very complex yet balanced and elegant sake that revolves around palatability, making it suitable for a variety of dishes. One notable quality of Assembly 2 is that the tail is almost ephemeral, it descends completely the moment your lips leave the glass. But one sip is enough to leave you speechless.
“I admit that Iwa is a little less expressive on the nose, but much more on the palate,” says Geoffroy. “This sake should be enjoyed more on the palate than anything else.”
Many limit the possibilities of taking sake within the limits of Washoku (Japanese cuisine) like sushi or sashimi, but Geoffroy advises to diversify. “I experiment in mixing, I take risks in manufacturing. You should experiment and take risks while drinking.
But that doesn’t mean you have to finish the whole bottle immediately. Large sakes can still age very well even after opening, says master sake sommelier Danny Leong, who was present at the launch. “Make sure you keep some [bottles] and see the aging potential of it. It is one of the most complex junmai daiginjo, especially polished at such a small size of 35%.
The design of the bottle alone is enough to secure a place on any collector’s shelf. Designed by Newson, the container has a dark, velvety sheen with the Iwa brand – drawn by calligrapher Mariko Kinoshita in collaboration with designer Hideki Nakajima – fused to the body like a thin layer of flat white glass. The black varnished cap is made of solid glass, emitting a decidedly satisfying ‘tinkle’ when opened that has caught the attention of fellow diners in the room.
When Geoffroy launched Iwa 5 in Japan last May, he was extremely worried about the response, especially from the Japanese. “The best compliment I ever got in Japan was that people got a new feeling. It made me so happy. I didn’t mean to be flattered, but when longtime sake drinkers tell you they’re having a new sensation… I was having a blast. I was the happiest man on earth.
Buy the Tanaka 1789 x Chartier and Iwa 5 Assemblage 2 from Sakekami here.
This article first appeared on November 22, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.