The obvious complement to a taco isn't sake, unless, that is, you're sampling dishes under the tutelage of Miami's own sake expert Morgan Olivia Hartman. She is leading the spirits discussion at the United Way Miami Wine and Food Festival's Sake at Sundown this Thursday at Wynwood Kitchen and Bar. Tapas created by the restaurant's Venezuelan chef Miguel Aguilar will be paired with a variety of sakes chosen by Hartman.
She has been in the wine business for 10 years, currently working with wines from Argentina and sake from Japan with Vine Connections. Once into the Japanese beverage, she truly got into sake, completing her Advanced Sake Specialist Level II certificate. Fewer than 100 people in the world hold this distinction. We spoke with Hartman about junmai, Kobe beef, and the best sake selections in town.
When was the first time that you drank sake?
I had it warm like everybody else did when I would go to Japanese restaurants, but the first time I tried premium sake was when I got hired with my company (Vine Connections) and that was August of 2007.
Do you have a favorite kind of sake?
I like sakes usually that come from the south of Japan. They usually tend to be a little bit more full-bodied and rounder and softer. There's a category called nama-zake, which is unpasteurized sake, they are released once a year, and they're pretty special when they come out. Because they're unpasteurized, they're very vibrant and full of flavor, but they're hard to get in the United States, you have to order them.
What makes a good sake? What are some indictors of quality?
That's one of the most important things about events like these. I usually do a guided tasting and I give people information so they can look at a bottle and know what to look for when they're buying sake. The first word I would tell people to look for is junmai. Junmai is really one of the first indicators that the sake is premium and meant to be chilled. There are two others ginjo and daigingo. Those terms indicate a degree of milling of the rice where the fermentation process begins.
Have you spent time in Japan?
I've been twice.
Any food or drink experiences there?
The main brewing region for Japan is in Kobe, which is where Kobe beef comes from. So, they drink a lot of sake with kobe beef. The last time I was in Japan, we were in a brewery in a remote part, just outside of Tokyo and the brewer let us drink the water that he was using to make his sake and then we tasted the sake afterwards. I really saw how the flavor of the water that they use to make sake really translates to the final product.
What makes this even special?
I think people have a perception of sake that it only goes good with sushi. That perception couldn't be farther from the truth. Sake goes very well with a whole range of flavors. I think it'll be really exciting to see how this new chef will pair the sakes with his Latin influenced tapas. I think people will be very surprised.
Where are your favorite placed in Miami to buy sake?
Whole Foods has a good selection. Believe it or not El Carajo, the gas station on 17th Street. There's a Japanese market in North Miami that has a huge selection.