March 2007

Sake Spotlight - Jeremy Kaplan Looks Long And Hard At Kome-Kome

Posted by admin in 2007, March, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight

The best part of my job is that I get to meet you sake souls out there in the great unknown. Some come to the store, whilst others come to me via the net and this here Newsletter. One such sake soul approached me and I asked him to pen a piece on a brew that has been speaking to him. Jeremy Kaplan is a "Guest Sommelier" in New York City and he asked to write about Kamoizumi's Kome-Kome. So without further adieu here is Jeremy's take on a different sort of member of the sake family:

"Special Sakes" open the door to the world of SakeKamoizumi's Kome-KomeSake and French cuisine are two words that are not normally heard in the same sentence. And other then this first sentence, you won't hear them again. At least not from me. As a guest sommelier at the two Michelin Star (I know San Franciscans... Go ahead, boo and hiss but they know what they are doing)... at the two Michelin Star restaurant Bouley in NYC, I have found that sake is not top of mind for most of our customers. Certainly, as most fine restaurants do, we offer several sakes by the glass, and a Dewazakura, Dewasansan Nama Genshu, Junmai Ginjo and a fine Masumi, Yumedono, Daiginjo, Nagano Prefecture, both of which get an occasional pop, and not always from a Japanese customer. We try to keep new sakes on the list, and obviously freshness is of a high importance, but one sake has stayed consistently on the list.As a sommelier, you have one of the most creative positions on the floor. You have the ability to make or break a patron's experience. The right wine, or wine pairing, and you make it a night to remember. The wrong wine selection, or pairing, and you make it a night to forget. One of the most popular choices for Bouley customers is the Tasting Menu and Wine Pairing. A seasonal extravaganza of some of the best dishes you will ever try, paired with an assortment of truly fine wines from around the world. These dinners, especially the Chef's tasting which is nine courses deep, typically leave the patron a little bit overwhelmed, especially towards the end of the meal when often hearty dishes of duck, lamb or Kobe beef are paired with bold Bordeaux, heady Crozes Hermitage or an expressive Nuits-St.-Georges to round out the meal.

As you see the patron's eyes turn to half-mast, and their movements become sluggish, a little bowl of fruit soup is presented as a palette cleanser before the final push of dessert comes around. Often, customers don't know what to make of a fruit soup, much less a palette cleanser, and they are even more surprised when I show up with a wine to pair with their soup. And this is where sake comes into play.

After the surprise of wine being served with fruit soup, they are even more surprised, and sometimes skeptical when I present sake as the pairing. The sake that we pair with this course is the Kamoizumi, Kome Kome-Shu, from Hiroshima Prefecture. It comes in a little white bottle, with a cute bluish, lavender label. Of course, they strain to read the label, which is in Japanese, but I assure them it will be even more of a surprise then the idea of sake itself. As I pour the wine into their glass, I will ask about their experiences with sake and what they like. Typically, they indicate that hot sake is their sake of choice, and I explain, that this sake is very different. It's not junmai, or dai ginjo, or any of the other so-called "classified" sakes, but rather I call it a WINE that they should not think about too much - - as I have asked them to think about the three to six glasses of wine I have already poured them. However, I do try to associate this sake with a wine they may have experienced before since I assure them that they will have never tried a sake like this.

I usually go to Riesling from Alsace as a comparison, or sometime a Condrieu (a pretty serious wine from the Rhone made from the seldom used grape variety Viognier). The nose is definitely fruity. Somewhere between bright and ripe, but definitely fruit. I believe the fruits are more tropical. Grapefruit and pineapple and I sometimes get yoghurt. The acidity seems high on the nose, which keeps things up. But the mouth feel is definitely sake. The immediate taste are those high notes of fruit and minerality, but the mouth feel is ever so slightly viscous with that oily rice/sake feel. This is where I go to Alsace and Condrieu, both wines typically have that "rub between your lips oily/sweet quality." This wine wakes them up for the next course.

They are usually shocked, and 99% of the time super pleased. Even Japanese customers are taken aback by this sake. We sometimes leave the bottle on the table so the customer can study it, which in this case is dangerous for our bottom line and usually means the sake will get poured again, by the customer! A definite no-no. Of the many wines we pour by the glass, this is the one most people ask us to write down.

What's nice about this sake is that it opens people's minds to sake. It drinks so much like a wine that they better relate to it. And then you hope it opens the way to try other sakes. Which is the best way to learn. Taste, drink, taste, drink... and best with friends who also want to go down this same path. As I said, as a sommelier, your job is to help people make decisions (or make decisions for them) and guide them towards experiences and memories that will last and make an impression. You also want to teach them something. About a region, or producer, a vintage or a varietal - - You want them to walk away with something more then a full, and satisfied stomach.

Wine knowledge is one of those things that remains elusive to most people. If 1% of the world thought they knew something about wine, probably 1% of that 1% actually do. As a sommelier I am merely scratching the surface, and I go much deeper then the usual wine lover. The beauty of the Kamoizumi, Kome Kome-Shu is that it opens a persons mind to a whole new experience, and a whole new wine category - sake. And if they go out and try to find Kome-Kome, or some other wine or sake we have shared with them, then we have done our job. To me, success of a patron's evening with us at Bouley is when the experience of Bouley continues, even after they have paid the check - and a wine like Kome-Kome goes a long way to accomplishing that goal.

As a marketing consultant, you try to get your clients to think forward, to think differently, to think outside the box - in order to accomplish their goals and move away from the competition. Perhaps I should serve Kome Kome at my next presentation. Hmmmm.

Jeremy Kaplan is a guest sommelier at Bouley in NYC. When he is not pouring wine for others, he is an independent marketing consultant. Comments? Email Jeremy

Thank you Jeremy for your efforts to sway the good people of Neuvo York away from wine and more towards the world of sake. Kome-Kome has been an extremely popular sake product and as it is not exactly a sake I was reluctant to sell it at the store, but I really like the brewery and the folks who import Kamoizumi and the rest is history. It's restaurant penetration has been outstanding and we get lots of folks asking for this form of sake. We sell the 500ml for $21 at the store. We also carry several other brews that would appeal to those who like Kome-Kome.

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