Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Toast under the Trees

Melinda Joe is an American-born sake and wine professional living in Tokyo, Japan. She works as a freelance journalist and is the bar editor of the award-winning Tokyo Food Page (www.bento.com). Melinda loves eating, drinking, and witty repartee. Visit her blog Tokyo through the Drinking Glass at http://tokyodrinkingglass.blogspot.com.

Spring has taken the hand of Tokyo, and the city is blushing. For a few brief days every spring, people of all ages, across all economic brackets, turn out in droves to revel under the cherry trees. For reasons buried deep in the Japanese psyche, the fleeting appearance of the cherry blossoms carries tremendous cultural significance. O-hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, represents both the celebration and mourning of beauty’s transience, concepts that run closely parallel to the drink-fuelled merriment and subsequent hangovers that tend to accompany these parties.

For those of us in here in Tokyo, precious little time remains to catch the blossoms at their most poignant. Cascades of delicate pink petals have begun to carpet the ground, and the sakura will disappear completely in a day or two.

Capitalizing on the hanami craze this month, several wine retailers have been shrewdly pushing sparkling roses. Indeed, a perfect afternoon under the cherry trees might include a chilled bottle of strawberry-soft Moet et Chandon Rose, or a delicate Perrier Jouet Rose Fleur de Champagne, which comes in a fittingly floral bottle.

Of course, there’s no need to spend a wad of cash on booze for your party. These occasions rarely end in poetic meditations on life, death, and beauty; they’re more about cutting loose and having a good time with friends. All too often, this translates into over-consumption of cheap beer - or worse, happo-shu, a beer-like abomination made with little or no malt. Just because the group of salarymen beside you is getting trashed on crap, though, doesn’t mean you have to. Here are two picks for more civilized blossom viewing.

Les Terres du Sud Rose, a blend made exclusively for Japanese importer The Vine by Louis Barroul of St. Cosme in Gigondas, offers aromas and flavors of juicy red berries overlaying a dry, crisp midpalate. It’s versatile, with fresh acidity, and marries with a wide range of foods. Try it with veggie sticks and roasted red pepper hummus, sweet soy-glazed chicken meatballs, or a grilled vegetable salad tossed with anchovy dressing and lemon zest.

Product name: Les Terres du Sud Rose 2007 Vin de Table
Varietals: 80% Grenache, 20% Cinsault
Average Price: Y1995
Categories: Value, Party, Food Friendly
Rating: 2.5

Named for the white-blossomed Rikyubai tree in the brewery's courtyard, Rikyubai Kasumi Junmai Ginjo is a fabulously food-friendly usunigori, or lightly cloudy, unpasteurized sake from the Osaka region of Japan. This refreshingly dry, finely textured usunigori insinuates melon and Japanese pear on the palate and pairs very well with aromatic herbs and dishes with a hint of spiciness – seared katsuo (bonito) scattered with bright shiso and scallions, smoked salmon and cream cheese canapĂ©s with fresh dill, Thai green papaya salad.

Brand name: Rikyubai Kasumi Junmai Ginjo Usunigori Nama Genshu
Producer: Daimon Shuzo
Milling rate: 55%
Alcohol %: 15 - 16
Average Price: Y1680
Categories: Super Value, Party, Food Friendly
Rating: 2.5

Both of these bottles make terrific picnic companions. As the cherry blossoms make their quiet exit, Tokyoites are gearing up for our next opportunity to take to the parks: Golden Week.

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