Saké and Prosecco occupy my brain’s vinous lobe on this independence day, shoving aside thoughts of domestic barbecue reds, rosés, and celebratory sparklers as swiftly and completely as South Africa’s American-less pitches vacated our nation’s collective mindset. Last year at this time, I added a caveat to Alder Yarrow’s thoughts of wine independence with a serious look at the escalation of Bordeaux prices and how inaccessible claret has become to so many that once reveled in the freedoms of drinking and collecting those magical wines. With further thoughts on wine independence and non-oppressive economics, I have been thinking about Prosecco and Saké on this July 4th weekend.
My Prosecco fixation is driven by two great chefs that regularly inspire my cooking at our summer retreat in the New Hampshire lake region; Jerry Traunfeld and Mario Batali. Traunfield provided the inspiration for the meal that employed Prosecco in a strong supporting role. Worth mentioning is another regular in our lakeside meals that comes with its own built-in view. I had a fire pit carved out of the earth between the back of my house and the lake’s shoreline and then assigned a local farrier the task of banging out and molding an appropriate sized grill. Our entire meal of (1) whole eared corn, husks peeled back and then replaced after each ear was generously treated with butter and fresh marjoram sprigs, (2) brussel sprouts bathed in olive oil, hot pepper flakes, and aged balsamic vinegar and (3) skirt steak marinated for 12 hours in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cumin, garlic, jalapeño pepper, fresh oregano, fresh thyme, sugar, and salt. All three dishes in this meal cooked for eight fit tightly yet comfortably over the pit and graced our table with oaky smokiness from two hour-old sizzling embers.
I ran into the Prosecco cocktail we quaffed this evening at Batali’s Babbo restaurant years ago on a hot steamy New York City evening. Pour a quarter inch of Angostura bitters in a small bowl and place one sugar cube in the bowl and turn on all sides as it absorbs and takes on the color of the bitters. Place it at the bottom of a Champagne flute and top with the Prosecco of your choice. It is an amazingly festive 4th of July cocktail as the bubbles rise in a feverishly continuous fireworks display from the sugar cube at the bottom of the glass, infusing the Prosecco with the bitters flavoring that makes it stand up to a meal of strong tastes like our assorted grill.
On a separate path, I have been thinking about Saké for two reasons on this independence weekend. First, I had the pleasure of dining with Richard Auffrey this week who just successfully finished a rare state-side version of John Gauntner’s Saké Professional Course in San Francisco and is now one of only 300 Certified Saké Professionals (CSP) in the world. I am happy for Rich on this accomplishment not only because he is a wonderfully knowledgeable and humble man, but because it validates his immense dedication and knowledge about the drink that comes from rice to him personally and to everyone he shares a glass of sake with. Besides the proximity of July 4th to our dinner, Saké has me thinking on the one year anniversary of the weekend that I ranted about the lack of freedoms and access in the Bordeaux market because of something that Rich passed on to me over our meal. There are very few Sakés that are more than $150. And when you buy expensive Saké, there is a reason. It costs more to make expensive Saké. Expensive, better rice or material size and volume reduction from polishing external layers of the rice are examples of Saké making techniques that drive quality and cost of production together. When I think about wine in this regard, I recall one wine maker (I won’t mention the winery) saying that it cost about $7 more to make the bottle of wine that he sells for $125 on release than it does his $15 bottle. Marketing, reviews, packaging, tasting rooms, and a myriad other intangibles drive price for wine in ways that are not consistent with quality measures and outcomes in the production process. So, consider on this type of day that celebrates fairness and freedom, that it could be time for more of us to become Saké masters and celebrate a new independence from selected pockets of abusive wine economics.
If this has any appeal, Richard Auffrey will be teaching a class on July 15 at 6PM at the Boston Center for Adult Education and then again at the Boston Wine School later on that:
will teach you the basics of Saké, from its history to how it is brewed. You will learn about the various types of Saké, from Sparkling Saké to Daiginjo. And you’ll taste some interesting Sakés.
Maybe, just maybe, I will run into you there.