Battle of the Wine Schools – Sommelier Sake Challenge

March 27, 2014

Read about Master Sommelier David Glancy’s Selections & Reasons

Battle of the Wine Schools

Two educational heavyweights went head-to-head at The Kitchen Door in Napa on March 20 to determine who could pair sake best with a non-Japanese multi-course meal. Diners had sake selections from Master Sommelier David Glancy of the San Francisco Wine School and Master Sommelier Robert Bath of Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Master Sommelier Peter Granoff of Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchant was the moderator.

On the menu were western favorites ranging from American classics to creative culinary delights: cream of mushroom soup, dry rub BBQ pork ribs, salmon pastrami on rye, and a cheese plate.

David and Robert were able to pick their selections from a lineup of 22 sake provided by two distributors (Vine Connections and Sake Tengoku). The two competitors sat down together with the distributors one week in advance to taste all of the sake and all of the food. They took copious notes and re-tasted the sake with and without the food. They each picked a different sake for the first three courses and then jointly chose two sake to go with two cheeses for the final course. “It was fun to compete for the first three courses and then collaborate for the final course”, said Glancy. The selections, done individually by each Master Sommelier, ended up being drastically different, which made the tasting particularly fun for tasters.

Both sommeliers discussed during the event the impact on flavor caused by various production details including: the variety of the rice, the hardness of the water, the grade of sake based on the degree of milling of the rice, whether alcohol was added during production, whether native yeast was used, the degree of stirring, the sweetness of the sake and more. David stated, “the flavors and structure alone determined my pairings, never the production details, grade or label”.

We are excited to report that David came out the victor! Here is a list of his picks with a few brief notes on his thought process.

Battle of the Wine Schools 2Takatenjin ‘Sword of the Sun’ Tokubetsu Honjozo
Region: Shizuoka Prefecture
Brewery: Doi Shuzo, founded in 1868
David’s Notes: I thought the creamy, rich, dry character and faint mushroom aroma of the sake would pair well with the buttery, creamy richness of the mushroom soup.

Sawahime Junmai Ginjo
Region: Kanto Prefecture
Brewery: Inoue Seikichi Co, formed a new master brewers school last year
David’s Notes: The sake had delicate chalky, yeasty, rice dumpling aromas and slight sweetness to contrast with the tangy flavors of the sauerkraut and Russian dressing on the salmon pastrami sandwich.

Chiyonosono ‘Shared Promise’ Junmai
Region: Kumamoto Prefecture
Brewer: Chiyonosono Shuzo, the first producer of junmai sake
David’s Notes: The clean flavors and slight sweetness of the sake countered the fattiness of the pork ribs and a white pepper note and long finish stood up well to the dry rub on the ribs. Initially I was worried about the spicy slaw but the sweetness of the mayonnaise perfectly balanced the spices.

Sato No Homare ‘Pride of the Village’ Junmai Ginjo
Region: Ibaraki Prefecture
Brewer: Sudo Honke, Japan’s oldest active brewery, founded in 1141
David’s Notes: Bob and I agreed that the yeasty, floral, delicate aromas, higher acidity and long finish of this sake contrasted beautifully with Jasper Hill Harbison, a cow’s milk cheese from Vermont that was fresh and light, with a creamy texture and note of sweet grass.

Shizengo Cuvee 18
Region: Fukushima Prefecture
Brewer: Ooki Daikichi, founded in 1865
David’s Notes: Bob, Peter and I agreed that we would use this sake with something before we tasted any food. The deep gold color of this sake from aging in oak barrels set it apart from all of the others. Its brown butter, spice and nutty aromas and rich, creamy mouthfeel mirrored the mild nutty flavors and semi-firm texture of the Abbaye De Bel’ Oc sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees.

Previous competitions were:

  • Eugenio Jardim, formerly of Jardiniere Restaurant facing Shelly Lindgren of A16 and SPQR Restaurants hosted by RN74 Restaurant
  • Peter Granoff, MS of Oxbow Wine Merchant and Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant versus Mark Bright of Saison Restaurant hosted by La Mar Cebicheria
  • Emily Wines, MS of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants against David Glancy, MS of San Francisco Wine School hosted by Fifth Floor Restaurant

The Sake suppliers for the four smack downs were: NA Sales, Young’s Market Company, JFC, Vine Connections and Sake Tengoku. All of the events were sponsored by JETRO (Japanese External Trade Organization) and coordinated by Pacific Vision Partners. Previous moderators were Yoshihiro Sako, Sake Sommelier at Izakaya Yuzuki and Melissa Smith, Sake Buyer for K & L Wines. More photos can be seen at

What are some of your favorite sake? What food pairings have been the most magical? Does sake have a home outside of Japanese restaurants?

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