A friend from Quito stopped in Grand Junction a few weeks ago and we ended the first day by dining at No Coast Sushi, the original (there’s now two) sushi and contemporary Japanese restaurant owned by Chis Boyd, who started his sushi apprenticeship at 16 (he’s now 42).
Every town, even those in the middle of fly-over country, has a place that claims it’s a sushi restaurant and you can find hand-made sushi in the deli at the local market. But Chris Boyd’s mom brought sushi and traditional Japanese dining to Grand Junction 25 years ago with the opening of Suehiro Japanese Restaurant and today the family is still at the top of its game when it comes to fresh fish and Japanese dining.
But this isn’t a restaurant review; instead it’s a reminder that Oct. 1 is Nihonshu no Hi, or World Saké Day.
Most Americans pay little heed to saké except for the occasional encounter at a Japanese restaurant where their meal is accompanied with hot saké served in a small white pitcher.
Sadly, that’s also where most Americans end their saké education.
“I think education is the key” to appreciating a drink that may go back to 300 B.C., said Boyd, who takes pride in the premium sakés he pours. “I’m trying to get more people interested in saké and showing them how easy it is to match saké with food.”
If that sounds like something you’d hear from a sommelier, it’s because saké reflects the same sense of terroir as does fine wine.
However, instead of discussing weather patterns, rainfall and soil types, when saké tojis (master brewers) get together they talk instead about strains of rice and yeast and the all-important (and often closely guarded) water sources they use.
Water, which makes up 80 percent of saké, and the type of rice contribute to the terroir of saké, with some sakés showing softer, fruity undertones while others are sharp and clean, Boyd said.
The four main types of saké differ mainly in how much milling (or polishing) the rice undergoes while being prepared for steaming and brewing.
Polishing removes the husk, fats and proteins, which may cause off-flavors, and prepares the rice for brewing.
More polishing is said to make a more refined saké, and different types of rice add different flavor components to the finished saké.
Junmai and Honjozo sakés use rice milled at least 30 percent; Ginjo has at least 40 percent polished away; and Daigin (often the most expensive because it uses more rice) may have as much as 75 percent of the grain milled away.
One source I consulted said most saké produced for everyday consumption in Japan is the lowest grade futsu, where less than 30 percent of the rice grain has been milled away.
In brief, sake is made when rice is polished, washed and steamed and then mixed with a special yeast and koji, which is steamed white rice cultivated with a specific mold that changes the starches to sugars needed for fermentation.
The entire batch ferments for four days (with gradual additions of more rice, koji and water), after which the mash sits undisturbed for up to a month.
All saké has a bit of distilled brewer’s alcohol added to the fermented mash (the amount is strictly controlled by law), a technique that pulls desirable flavors from the mash and retains them in the finished saké.
Then, the mash is pressed and the resulting saké has water (again, the role of good water) added to cut the alcohol to around 14-16 percent.
Because saké has no sulfites or tannins, it is pasteurized prior to storing and shipping.
Boyd said people who drink only hot saké are missing some of the true essence of what saké can provide when it is served cold.
“With cold saké, the flavors are so pure,” he said. “I like warm sakés during the winter, it warms your stomach and creates a nice mellow feeling.
“The hot saké is really popular – in the winter our saké sales soar – but I prefer chilled saké, because it shows a higher quality of saké making.”
As part of World Saké Day on Oct. 1, which also is the traditional start of the saké brewing season, both No Coast Sushi restaurants will offer 50 percent off all premium bottled chilled sakés.
Additionally, those premium sakés will be 20 percent for the rest of the month.
Boyd also is offering a free Saké 101 class at 5 p.m. Oct. 24 at the No Coast Sushi in Grand Junction, 1119 North First St.
Information at 255-1097 and in Fruita, 229 East Aspen Ave., at 639-8271.
Check your local Japanese restaurants for similar deals.
I’m climbing the stairs into the granary, the hand-cut stone building housing the major portion of winemaker Alois Lageder’s Renaissance complex in the Alto Adige hamlet of Magré.
Once I’ve reached the doorway, the first stop is to visit Primo Franco.
It was Day One of Summa 2014, the two-day tasting event last April hosted by Lageder that serves as a well-focused run-up to VinItaly.
This year Summa celebrated its 15th anniversary of featuring several hundred select wineries from around the world and as expected, the maze of rooms and floors are filled with winemakers of every ilk.
But for now, it’s Primo Franco I’m here to see.
Or more rightly, it’s his Prosecco, which Franco has elevated to levels previously unseen in Italian wines.
There are other great Prosecco makers – I immediately think of Bortolomiol, Drusian, Bisol, Bonotto and others who deserve mention – but today it’s Primo Franco I want to visit.
I met Primo, his wife AnnaLisa and daughter Silvia at Summa 2008 and after missing a few years didn’t expect them to remember me. But Primo, either a very good diplomat or simply very accomodating, greeted me as if he recognized me and immediately shared his wine and his immense insights into the World of Prosecco.
I’m certainly not the first to write of Primo Franco – thanks to recent posts by Susannah, Alfonso, DoBianchi and Charles Scicolone – so anything I can tell you about the Franco family history and winemaking, and the struggle to retain Prosecco’s integrity and identity, is repeat news.
I tasted through his wines, including the Nino Franco Brut (named for his father), the Vigneto della Ria di San Floriano and the Primo Franco and was impressed by them all – bright, fruitful, satisfying wines that sit light on the palate.
I especially liked the Cartizze Superiore, produced from the tiny vineyards in the vertiginous hills of the exclusive Cartizze DOCG hills of Valdobbiadene, where land prices are as steep as the topography.
The Cartizze was more restrained than the other wines, a symphony of green apple, honey and lemon, underscored by the brilliant minerality character of fine Prosecco.
Primo didn’t have much time to chat – this year’s Summa was popular and busy – but he talked briefly about the struggle to retain the purity of Prosecco at a time when nearly everywhere, even Brasil, claims to produce a Prosecco.
The new regulations adopted in 2009 focused the Prosecco DOCG in and around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene and established a penumbra of nine Treviso provinces that would become DOC.
All the rest, that ocean of lesser sparkling wine taking advantage of the work, the heritage and dedication of such people as Primo Franco, would now be called Glera, after the grape, and all would be IGT.
The laws, Franco said as he eyed the small crowd building behind me, would preserve Prosecco’s identify and integrity.
“People will know that Prosecco, true Prosecco, comes only from” the DOCG/DOC zone, he said. “I owe it to my family, to my history, to the people who live in the (Prosecco) hills and work the land like their fathers did.”
He inclined his head toward Silvia, who seems quite capable of filling some very big shoes. “How could I not?”
He turned to another visitor and I moved on.