The SOMM Journal

June / July 2015

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60 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2015 { carte blanche } A Love Leer to the Bivalve by Hoang Nguyen, Beverage Manager of Connie and Ted's I love wine. If I could only drink just one beverage in the world it would be wine, but given the enormous diversity of oyster flavor profiles, even between two oysters from the same bushel, there is only one bev - erage that without hesitation I would pair them with: a junmai ginjo saké. Most of the rice is still left intact in this style, leaving a lot of complexity not found in a more refined and polished grain. Whereas an incorrect wine choice can be like an awkward date between Bacchus and the bivalve, a good terroir-driven junmai ginjo saké will either har - monize with an oyster, or let it do all the talking. Saké will seldom argue or overshadow; there is too much they have in common. Both are rich in amino acids, and high in glutamates, but the one element saké and kaki (Japanese for oyster) share that truly defines and binds them is water. It's no coincidence that the great saké breweries of Japan, like great Scotch distilleries of Scotland, are located near major rivers; it's those waters that have great influence, along with the craft of the brewers, over the final taste of the sakés. Water is conspicu - ously present in three stages of saké production: the cultivation of the rice, where the fields are flooded five inches high; in the brewing process; and when it's added again near the last stages before bottling, to soften the alcohol. Water has everything to do with oysters as well. Most people don't know that the majority of oysters come from only two species: Crassostrea virginica (East Coast) and Crassostrea gigas (West Coast). All the quixotic names are just monikers given by the farmers. Their flavor profiles? Not necessarily influenced by species, but by the bays, capes and sounds that harbor the regionally specific nutrients that feed them. In other words, the specific water source where each oyster is grown has everything to do with developing its particular flavor profile. I see saké and oysters as two products from two different worlds, one from land one from sea, both baptized in water, mirroring each other in so many metabolic ways that fate destines them to be together. Sam Baxter, Executive Chef of Connie and Ted's, made sure we were never without an oyster in hand. EXPLORING THE DELICIOUS MATRIMONY OF SAKÉ AND OYSTERS by Karen Moneymaker / photos by Cal Bingham FORGET MARRIAGES OF CONVENIENCE. WE DECIDED TO DEBUNK the long held perception that saké is difficult to pair by handfasting a wide range of styles to perhaps the most persnickety of pairing subjects: oysters. On hand to guide us through the adventure were Hoang Nguyen, Beverage Manager of Connie and Ted's, Chef Michael Cimarusti's New England–style seafood restau - rant in West Hollywood, CA, where the tasting was held; Kris Elliott, Saké Specialist for Young's Market Company, who brought the sakés; Todd Rubenstein, Director of West Coast Operations for Blue Island Oyster Company, which provided the oysters; and Robert John Burck, aka The Naked Cowboy, who has an endorsement deal with Blue Island and lends his name to an oyster in the day's line-up. Let me tell you this: An afternoon with oysters and saké is a day well spent. Add a guitar-toting, tighty whitey–clad NYC fixture to the mix and it is a rollicking good time. As we shucked, sipped and slurped our way through the line-up of potential matches, it became clear that not only is saké an excellent mate for oysters, but its pairing potential for a wide range of cuisines is something we are only just scratching the surface of. "Only drinking Italian wine with Italian food would be ridiculous, just like only drinking saké with Japanese food is," notes Elliott. "Saké is such a beautifully complex beverage with a huge range in flavor profiles and styles that its applica - tions in food pairing are tremendous. Oysters are a natural fit considering the gener ally soft texture, subtleness and oftentimes salty, ocean notes—but thinking beyond the ocean is where it's really at. There are so many sakés that are perfect with charred meat, creamy pasta, various cheeses, bitter green vegetables, pizza, chocolate, etc. The pairing possibilities are never ending. I really think that the next step for saké is to go beyond the Japanese/Asian/seafood world. It's going to take forward-thinking beverage people to get saké there." Unlikely Bedfellows

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