Master Sommelier Yutaka Takano Introduces A Collection Of Japanese Luxury Spirits Exclusively Available At AEON

In Japan, there’s always a reason and an occasion to sip alcohol. And, more often than not, it never stops at a sip. Very few cultures in the world revere drinking like the Japanese do, and as such, refusing a drink can sound a bit jarring to them.

Today, Japan is on the verge of a drinking revolution, says master sommelier Yutaka Takano. Although the country still boasts a strong drinking culture, Takano says native spirits such as sake and local beers are no longer as popular. Instead, Japanese drinkers are developing a penchant for imported wines and luxury spirits. However, younger Japanese people prefer to stay sober, so much so that the government launched a contest for ideas on how to encourage them to drink.

A collection of Yutaka Takano’s signature spirits at AEON Malaysia.

Given this shift of preference, Takano wants to cater to both groups. With 35 years of experience in the wine industry, he knows exactly how to persuade people to develop a taste for the finer things in life. “In the drinking scene, we can group consumers into three categories,” Takano explains. “The first category are those who know spirits to some extent and constantly hunt for the best drinks in town. The second category are novice drinkers, and the third are the teetotallers who can’t drink for certain reasons. So, the industry’s challenge is to accommodate all three groups of consumers.”

Master Sommelier Yutaka Takano launching his signature expressions at AEON STYLE Taman Maluri.

Coming from a family that has brewed native spirits for more than a century, Takano’s latest collection features indigenous elements such as cherry blossoms and extracts of sakura leaves. He recently launched his signature spirits at AEON Malaysia, where they will be sold exclusively. The launch included two drinking sessions, which were held at AEON STYLE Taman Maluri in Cheras and AEON Putrajaya.

This initiative is in line with AEON’s policy to disseminate Japanese culture in Malaysia. “I want people to be able to experience everything here,” Takano says. “At AEON, we have prepared the highest level of Japanese wine and non-alcoholic fruit juices. We are hoping AEON can continue bringing our valuable local wines and spirits to Malaysia and other Asian countries.”

Pairing the right dish with the right drink can often be the trickiest part. Serving the wrong combination could leave you embarrassed, especially if you’re hosting foodies with sophisticated palates. So, here are some useful tips from Takano if you’re going with his selection. When serving sushi or spicy cuisine such as nasi lemak, go with Aomori Niagara. The sweet wine, which bears a fruity aroma and gentle taste, is also refreshing to enjoy on a scorching day. For meat lovers, feasting on steaks and roasts goes better with a glass of Yama Sauvignon. This sparkling wine made from red grapes has a strong acidic flavour and its sweetness will leave them craving for more.

Yutaka Takano’s latest release include the Yama Yuri Jikome Shochu (second from left) and Sakura Japanese Craft Gin (third from left).

Meanwhile, the best beverage to accompany Chinese cuisine is a glass of Sakura Japanese Craft Gin. Takano says the gin, made with leaves of small equinox cherry blossoms, appeals to Southeast Asian tastes and was sold out almost immediately in Cambodia. However, for a hassle-free dining experience, he recommends his sparkling white wine, Manns Wine Yeast Awa Ryugan, which pairs well with any cuisine. The expression is made from 100 per cent Ryugan grapes produced in Nagano prefecture, which is said to have been brought to Japan from Europe via the Silk Road. “Its carbon dioxide content gives the wine an illusory power to be suitable with any dish,” Takano says. “The wine is great to unwind with too.”

The Sakura Japanese Craft Gin is best savoured with Chinese cuisines.

Takano respects those who aren’t keen on getting light-headed and he still hopes to include them at the drinking table. “At least two out of 10 people in Japan today don’t drink alcohol for various reasons. Although they don’t drink, they are still interested in wines,” he says, adding that he is developing an alcohol-free wine-like grape juice using wine-grade grapes. “Grapes meant for eating and wine-making are specially cultivated to have no acidity,” he explains. “That’s why they taste sweet. But wine-grade grapes have sufficient sugar content and acidity. Although the alcohol doesn’t taste sweet, you will feel the sugar content and acidity eventually. So, the grape juice I’m making using wine-grade grapes will have a very complex taste profile.”

The Aomori Niagara and Supreme Kobe Brandy.

Takano’s passion to educate people about wines tops everything else on his to-do list. The one thing he feels that the drinking scene lacks is drinking courses. “Wine doesn’t convey an impression unless you enjoy it in a drinking course,” Takano says. “Although I don’t visit Malaysia frequently, I would be very happy to hold more courses here.”

For more information on the collection of luxury spirits sold exclusively in AEON, visit their website.

Photos: Law Soo Phye

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