From Piemonte pain and pleasure to super sakes

6 May

The Japanese are thought of as austere and the Italians effusive, so it was interesting to experience the reverse of these stereotypes, at least in drink, last week.   And all without leaving London, as The Wine Wanderers progressed from wine tasting in Knightsbridge to sampling sake in the heart of Mayfair.

We started at that shrine to Italian glamour, the Bulgari hotel, which is hosting a series of wine tasting sessions to provide insight into the offerings of Italy’s top wine-producing regions.  Long fans of heady Barolo, we were delighted at the chance to learn what else Piemonte produces – until we started tasting.  The fact this region is more celebrated for its reds may have something to do with the austerity of its whites.  A Roero 2010 Arneis displayed notes of – er – laundry detergent, and even the more approachable Erbaluce di Caluso  only livened up when partnered with morsels of buffalo mozzarella.

Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo are Piemonte’s glorious red varietals, but the Dolcetto d’Alba Vietti 2011 seemed a tad monastic.  We were happier with a Barbera brought to life by some accompanying charcuterie – head sommelier Sam Heathcote recommends monkfish to bring the best out of Dolcetto.   Only when the Barolo finally came out – a lovely example from Giacomo Fenocchio – did we feel as seduced as we expect to be by the great, voluptuous reds which Italy does like no-one else.   If you want to get to know some of these, book in at the Bulgari to taste Tuscans with Sam on June 17.

From Knightsbridge it was on to Bruton Place for dinner at Umu, a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant whose warmth and buzz diminishes any notions of stereotypical austerity even before you get the menu.   It had to be sake to complement chef Yoshi’s rirgorously authentic food, and a Shirakabegura Daiginjo from Hyogo, with fruity aromas, made a perfect aperitif and also a great complement to Yoshi’s sashimi selection.   This included paper-thin slices of sea bass served with an intriguing yuzu and chive dip, as well as our favourite yellowtail and some surprisingly great raw mackerel.

With the seared toro which followed,  a seasonal Urakasumi Tokubetsu Jumai Shiboritate from Miyagi was suggested.  This was rich, yeasty and somehow slightly dry, slightly bitter and slightly sweet all at once – an outstanding accompaniment to unctuous, rich and fatty tuna belly.

The piece de resistance was the wagyu beef, which came with a blisteringly hot slab of Himalayan rock salt on which to cook the thin slices to our taste(interestingly, medium proved better than rare at extracting the flavour of the fabulous fat within the meat).  We complemented this steak-fest with a Kamoizumi Nigori Ginjo from Hiroshima, unfiltered and looking more like milk.    Barolo is also a fine partner for steak, but for great wagyu you can’t beat great sake, and it was the Japanese who sent us home happiest last Thursday.

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