The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2014

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Page 91 of 136

december 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  91 very cross-cultural, and saké is popular in seafood restaurants, where sommeliers prefer sakés with aged aromas and more acidity." Nomoto sees growth in by-the- glass programs and wants producers to focus on making more information avail- able to the trade. The Final Cut On day two of the semi-finals, con- testants delivered a five-minute theory presentation to a panel of judges includ- ing restaurateur Akiko Tomoda and SSI Executive Director Haruyuki Hioki. While presentation styles varied widely and many contestants chose to wear kimono or tradi- tional brewer's clothing, those that seemed the most direct and effortless ultimately had the most impact. By mid-day, ten final- ists were announced, and among them was Graves, whose striking images and focused message of his PowerPoint presentation set him apart from the pack, ultimately earning him a "Tokubetsu-sho" (judge's selection award) for Outstanding Presentation. Staged in front of a full panel of judges and a lively audience of enthusiasts and family members, the final included a second practical exam, a blind tasting of one saké— Ei Sen—and a presentation of the taster's findings to the audience. Although there was only one win- ner—Yasuyuki Kitahara, an Assistant Head Sommelier at the Conrad Hotel in Tokyo— finalists with the ability to hold forth in the most compelling and engaging way were acknowledged with special awards. Graves, who had spent a week prior to the competition visiting breweries outside of Tokyo, was in his element: "Like great wine, great music or any other great art, [saké] is varied, subtle and expressive, and brings tremendous pleasure," said Graves, whose motivation is to explore new and interest- ing ways to serve, enjoy and describe the remarkable art of saké. As General Manager and Sommelier at SakaMai, which has one of the most comprehensive saké menus in New York, Graves credits his time spent working with the sommeliers at David Bouley's Tribeca restaurant Brushstroke as inspiration for his sommelier career. Graves and his fellow Kikisaké-shi are embracing saké at a time when the global culinary industry is focused on its merits. In December 2013, UNESCO designated traditional Japanese cuisine, or wa-shoku, an Intangible Cultural Heritage, and saké now joins Champagne and Burgundy in that coveted status. Fine saké is a perfect pairing for sushi. Sushi first made its appearance in the U.S. in 1963 when it was introduced by Los Angeles–based Mutual Trading Co., Inc., a producer, importer and distributor of Japanese specialty foods and restaurant supplies. In the 1970s, Mutual Trading introduced Americans to frozen edamame and, in the early 1990s, began importing premium, regionally-brewed saké or jizake. The company founded the Sushi Institute of America to promote the art of traditional Japanese cuisine in 2009, and the Saké School of America (SSA) followed in 2010. To date, SSA has certified 405 trade professionals and enthusiasts as saké specialists. Master Saké Sommelier Toshio Ueno mentored a team of three highly-qualified contestants who competed in the semi-final and final rounds of the World Kikisake-shi Competition. Three-time competitor Nozomi Niikura, from Akane Gumo in Tokyo, checks her sakés.

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