Jason Schneider and Ken Tominaga are our guests on California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger. Jason Schneider is the GM, spirits buyer and sake buyer at Bottle Barn and Ken Tominaga is owner, founder and chef at Hana, a fine Japanese restaurant in Rohnert Park. Today’s show is a much-awaited episode all about sake.
Dan Berger remembers when Hana opened in the area. Steve remembers when he was on a radio station in Rohnert Park, he used to go to Hana regularly. Hana was founded in 1990, so was Bottle Barn.
Ken tells about how he came to this country in 1988 and was looking for a good Japanese restaurant. To find the food he wanted, he had to open his own Japanese restaurant. So he went back to Japan to go to cooking school. In his first career he was an optical engineer but he had worked in restaurants while he was a student.
Ken’s restaurant has a sake lounge, which carries about 100 kinds of sake. The most expensive one costs $1000 per bottle but mostly about $35 per bottle. His goal is to provide a lot of choice for the customers. The sake bar is open in the evenings at Hana. He went personally to the Tokyo area to find the brands of sake that he would carry.
Jason describes an event this Sunday at the restaurant, with 12 different sakes paired with food, including non-Japanese food. They say it’s not necessary to only drink sake with Japanese food.
Their first tasting is a Nigori Sake. Often this type is cheaper and sweeter, but this sake is a medium flavor, not too sweet, and with a nice rice flavor.
Dan mentions having read that in Japan today, the high end of sake is very popular but the low end of the market is dying. Jason says that sake can be tasted and appreciated as a beverage that is as complex and beautiful as any wine.
Jason describes sake’s ingredients as milled rice, water and koji which is a yeast culture. The more the rice is milled, the more expensive and the more pure it is. Dan says that the processing of sake can be very time consuming and that wine can be a little faster to make.
Dan says the rice aroma comes through very clearly in this sake. Jason mentions that like any wine, if sake is too cold, the flavors are harder to taste. Next they taste a Nama sake, which everyone loves.