We start the first of our new Sake Sommelier Secrets series with Akio Matsumoto, head sommelier at one of Tokyo’s top French restaurants and the 11th best restaurant in Asia, L’Effervescence. As someone trained in both fine French wines as well as sake, he has a unique perspective to offer sake lovers. He has been described as one of the city’s top sommeliers with “a quiet and peaceful appearance and a hidden burning heart.”
I had the pleasure of being served by Akio-san during my last trip to Japan and was impressed with his deep knowledge of both sake and wine pairing. The food, wine and sake were paired brilliantly, resulting in one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The restaurant’s philosophy of celebrating the best also impressed me:
“Never forgetting the diligence and patience of the farmer, picture the magic of the invisible microorganisms in a glass or on a plate that effervesce your body and mind.”
That philosophy leads Chef Shinobu Namae, Sommelier Akio Matsumoto and their colleagues to go to great lengths to ensure only the very best ends up on the table of their dinners – including sake brewery tours where rice quality is inspected and triple checking the best sake to pair with their food, with an appreciation for the balance of taste and texture.
While they only feature a wine list on their website menu, the Michelin Guide two-starred restaurant carries an extensive range of fine sakes.
The restaurant offered two sake-related things I had never seen before. First, their welcome drink was a mix of sake and chardonnay, something unique that, while perhaps balanced, seemed to be more about the shock value than the taste. Secondly, they had one sake pairing during our meal which included the source water of the sake along with the sake itself. It was a marriage between sweet onion soup (with shrimp caramel and sour cream) and Terada Masaru aged sake. The sherry-like flavour of the aged sake complemented the shrimp caramel which was diluted a bit with source water to mellow down and adjust the flavours.
During our sake pairing lunch, we sampled 9 sakes of which the Orbia was the most memorable:
1. 2015 Arama Sa Brewery No. 6, Type R
2. 2016 Orbia Sol
3. Arama Sa Brewery Kasumasu
4. Souhomare Brewery type of Tokubetsu Jumma
5. 2003 Terada Brewery Kaikoshu
6. Manjou Brewerey Between the Moon and Fire
7. Aramasa Brewery Yatanokarasu type of Kijou Shu
8. Orbia Luna
9. Kake Tsu Ru
Akio-san was kind enough to answer the following 12 questions as our inaugural Sake Sommelier Secrets profile:
1. How did you get into this career and what keeps you in it despite the stress and hours and why E’ffevesence?
I’ve always been surrounded with wine. First at a Michelin starred French restaurant and later at a wine bar where I had the chance to meet wine makers and talk about wines. When L’Effervecence gain its second Michelin star and was nominated as one of the top restaurants in Asia they were in need of staff and a sommelier. I took the opportunity to join as their Sommelier. Stress is sometimes good in terms of driving high performance and quality service. The motivation of being one of the best places in Tokyo is rewarding and overall, I’m a workaholic so it is a good match.
2. Do you think sake will ever receive the global prestige and appreciation of expensive French Bordeaux wines?
I don’t believe that sake is quite there yet. Bordeaux has a long history of making prestigious wines but sake, in terms of premium high quality status, only began in the past 30 to 40 years. Maybe one day sake will achieve the same prestige, but wine is still ahead of the curve.
3. What more needs to be done around sake sommelier training to make it more common/effective, or is there just not enough demand versus wine sommeliers?
I feel that visiting sake breweries is important, just like visiting a wineries. The approach of tasting is all the same. Sake has a delicate taste and each brewery will offer a different set of flavors. We must be open to tasting different styles and start familiarizing ourselves with each technique.
4. Why serve sake pairings at a French restaurant?
Our pairings must please all of our guests. Partly, the reason for sake is to show Japanese hospitality. Every day is different. Sometimes it may depend on the weather or the feelings of the day but, ultimately, it must be delicious.
5. What are your top five favourite sakes personally?
· Aramasa brewery =invisible pink unicorn
· Niizawa brewery=zankyou
· Sawaya Matsumoto=Shuhari saido
· Yamane brewery =denshou gouriki
· Tomita brewery=2010 Kokoku
6. Do you have any food/sake pairing principles you live by and apply in your work at E’ffevesence?
One of my primordial principles of food and sake pairings is that the sake’s type of Junmai must not include chemicals.
7. What sake pairs best with a reconstructed “McDonald’s” apple pie?
Our famous Apple pie changes ingredients seasonally. Right now it’s firefly squid, fennel, sake laws, and a touch of tomato jam. We pair this with Aramasa brewery No. 6 X-type. It has nice aromas of melon, herb and green apple. It pairs well with fennel and tomato on the palette with a bit of sweet and acid combinations which is perfect with the taste of squid and sake laws.
8. Tell our readers more about Orbia sake and why it was on your menu
Wakaze Orbia has a good balance of sweetness and acidity and we pair it with dessert.
9. What do you think needs to be done for sake to be more appreciated outside of Japan and Japanese expat enclaves like Singapore?
I feel that the more people that understand sake the better. Outside of Japan, and even inside, people need to learn to more effectively appreciate sake. We need more sake seminars, classes, tastings and perhaps more inclusive sommelier courses such as the WSET and Court of Masters.
10. If you could only drink one alcoholic beverage for the rest of your life would it be wine or sake and why?
I apologize. I can’t make that decision. It would be too stressful!
11. In your pairing at E’ffevescence, you offer both wine and sake. Do you feel they complement each other in a tasting meal or certain dishes are just better with wine versus sake? As a fine dining French restaurant, why not just all wine or all sake?
We use a lot of Sake but in a French restaurant setting, our guests need wine. However, our pairings are focused on flavor. Some times we may use soju. For pairings, you don’t need a label, just taste.