Sushi Sommeliers

Food & Drink - July 11th, 2013
Alex Wine Flickr

Sake and sushi seem a suitable and inseparable pairing for most. However, with the number of high-end sushi restaurants growing around the world, and non-Japanese chefs putting their own spin on the traditional cuisine (as recently seen in the World Sushi Cup Japan, where many international chefs participated) could things be about to change?

Interview by Ray Pedersen

We asked Jean-Etienne Gourgues, President and CEO of Pernod Ricard Japan, the company that counts Jacob’s Creek among its portfolio of well-known wine and spirit brands, to talk about a wine that might cause even the most ardent sake drinker to reconsider.

“The idea was to produce a wine that would perfectly match a full sushi dinner. We quickly realized though that to achieve this, you’d need four or five different wines; for example, if you’re eating eel and tuna together, you might need more than one wine.”

Pernod Ricard approached Mamoru Sugiyama, the fourth generation owner-chef of Ginza Sushi Ko Honten and invited him to Australia to meet Jacob’s Creek’s chief white winemaker to together create a single wine that could be paired easily with sushi and Japanese cuisine in general.

Jean-Etienne Gourgues

Jean-Etienne Gourgues with a bottle of Wah

Sugiyama-san spent three days with the winemaking team tasting multiple base varietal wines matched with several ingredients in order to arrive at a final blend that best matched the very diverse cuisine.

“Soy sauce was difficult, too,” Gourgues says, “but they succeeded in creating something special in Jacob’s Creek Wah, as evidenced in the surprisingly high demand for it since its Japan launch and the interest now being shown from other markets.”

“We’ve confirmed a launch in Scandinavia later this year,” Gourgues adds, “and even France, where sushi culture continues to grow, is considering the wine.”

The grape varieties used are what Gourgues calls a unique combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio with the blend being “light and acidic, full bodied but not so strong.”

Jacob’s Creek Wah, launched last March, is currently only available in Japan but consumers in select markets may see a version on their shelves in the coming months. Gourgues elaborates that Wah is illustrative not only of Pernod Ricard Japan’s strategy to innovate locally but also demonstrative of the group’s decentralized business model.

Another example of this model is Pernod Ricard’s Café de Paris, a flavoured sparkling wine brand, which has seen several flavors locally developed in Japan “positioned for ‘joshikai’ drinking occasions and is now our top-selling brand”.

“The market in wines and spirits for global brands continues to grow globally, however, there is huge consumption of local brands wherever you go in the world – and this is particularly true for Japan”.

In a market like Japan, where international brands represent only 2.5% of total alcohol consumption, Gourgues believes there is still potential for growth with innovation and “premiumization” being the group’s two key drivers to accelerate value creation and recruit consumers away from local brands.

In the meantime, whether or not Jacob’s Creek Wah will persuade sake connoisseurs to give up their nihonshu remains to be seen, but it might worth giving it a try this summer.

Jacobs Creek Wah is priced at around ¥1,500 and is available in liquor stores and supermarkets around Tokyo.

Main image: Alex/Flickr