Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Suntory Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt

The pairing of food with wine has long been a target for ridicule and class envy. Sitcoms and pop culture often poke fun at the wine elitists who know when to open the chardonnay and when to serve the claret.

I too had my doubts about the pairing of food with wine until I recently attended a corporate event on the topic. The event went something like this. The table was set with a collection of eight wines with the sweet dessert wines on the right. Also in each of the table settings was cheese, olives, crackers, jam, and a few other food items. The host instructed us to eat a certain food, then sip the wine. It was remarkable how the flavor of the wine changed. The dessert wines tasted fantastic with the sweet jam and not so good with the cheese, for example.

This is similar to my experience with Suntory Yamazaki 18. When a friend brought it back from his trip to Japan, I was underwhelmed with its seemingly flat taste, including a slight not-so-pleasant aftertaste. I was very disappointed, since my friend had dished out a hefty sum for what seemed to be a mediocre whisky.

Yet, it all made perfect sense when we tried it again on our latest night. So what changed? The meal. The Suntory fell flat when we sipped it with BBQ, but was oh-so-excellent with the meal from Mr. Sushi. The flavor complemented the tuna, octopus and salmon in a most pleasant way. The tartness of the sushi rice and the tartness of the Yamazaki were in sync.

As an aside, you may have seen Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in the romantic comedy (date movie) “Lost in Translation”. That is, you may have seen it if your wife made you. Suntory is the company featured in Bill Murray’s ads. The filming of Suntory ads are the reason for him to be in Japan, and while there he meets up with the lovely Scarlett Johansson for shenanigans.

So, on that night, I found myself in the middle of a science experiment. I now had to know if the impact of food was really that great. I turned to the top bourbon, the venerable 20 year old Pappy Van Winkles as a control. Pappy is one of the favorites of all time, not only with the poker geeks, but with the entire world. Just how would it stand up to raw fish, however? The Pappy fell flat on the palate by comparison. Wow!

This blog is dedicated to tasting a world’s worth of scotches and bourbon, but I am going to have to rethink my tasting strategy. In order to really understand a whisky, there will have to be several tastings to ensure that the palate has not been affected by food.

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

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