Q&A with Yukiko Kawasaki, Sommelier at Yellowtail

Wine Enthusiast tapped the star sommelier to learn more about the award-winning wine and food pairings program at the Las Vegas eatery.


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Boasting heavy hitters from across the globe, the wine program at Yellowtail in Las Vegas focuses on food-friendly selections, with a large collection of trophy bottles and an extensive saké list. The Japanese cuisine is influenced by flavors and ingredients from around the world. Wine Enthusiast tapped Yukiko Kawasaki, sommelier, to learn more about the wine and food pairings, and the extensive saké offerings.

Wine Enthusiast: Tell us about customers’ wine/saké-drinking tendencies or proclivities at Yellowtail?
Yukiko Kawasaki:
Since we have a lot of fish, usually guests order white wines. However, if they are the red wine lovers, Pinot Noir is more popular, even though they usually enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon with steak. When it comes to white, we sell a lot of Sauvignon Blanc, even though many love Chardonnay. For saké, we sell a lot of Junmai Daiginjo or Daiginjo, which is the highest quality of saké. This is very popular in Las Vegas. Many people in other places buy Junmai or Honzojo saké, which is lowest and 3rd quality of saké out of premium sakés, because the price is more affordable.

W.E.: What is the wine scene in Vegas like at the moment?
Y.K.:
We find guests love to drink when they are in Las Vegas and don’t mind splurging on high-quality wines or sakés. Most of the guests enjoy California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, since we are close to California. We do find that many of our more expensive wines move a lot. Casino players can easily spend from $500 to $1,000 on a bottle of wine without batting an eye. With our high-rollers, we once in a while can see them spend $10K to $20K on wines to celebrate the time they are having in Vegas or a good run in the casino. We even sell Romanée-Conti and we had five or six vintages of it, but now we only have two vintages left, such as Romanée-Conti 1995 for $58,370 and the Romanée-Conti 2002 for $42,865. As for the saké scene, our most expensive saké is $2,400, but this is seriously only exclusive to Las Vegas. Even in Japan, it is tough to order these expensive sakés. We sell this saké a lot, too. We also have bottles of saké that cost $999, $850, $560, etc., but we consistently have to order more as our guests love them. When people are in Vegas, they have no problem on spending a lot of money of wine or saké.

W.E.: What is one epiphany wine/saké and food pairing experience you’ve had?
Y.K.:
When we drink saké or wine, the material of the plates and glassware can change the flavor of the food and sake or wine. If you have glassware with you, your saké will be sharper and drier. On the other hand, if you have ceramic saké cups, the saké will be much softer and rounder. Speaking of the aroma, with the glassware, it will be more bright and vivid, but with the ceramic cups, it will be more quiet and gentle. But they are the same juice! How cool is that? Then you can say the exact same things about your dish, especially when you eat sashimi. Put your sashimi on different dishes and compare the taste of the fish after one minute or so. Same exact fish tastes differently. So what type of saké, in what type of glassware, what type of dish and on what type of plate are very important! It is pretty much the same thing—that Pinot Noir is better served in the Burgundy glasses rather than Bordeaux glasses.

W.E.: Hardest pairing challenge on the Yellowtail menu?
Y.K.:
If I have to mention something, I would probably say that some of the Yamahai or Kimoto saké might be tough. Not every time, but they usually have very bold, classic, earthy and wild aromas, since the mash produces wild lactic acid during the [fermentation] process. Usually, I pair these with steak or beef, since these sakés have very bold, strong power. I would rather not have very delicate sashimi or sushi plates with them. However, if the fish is grilled or cooked with miso, then Yamahai and Kimoto saké works pretty well, so it depends on how the fish is cooked or prepared. So it all depends on the food and saké, since each one of them are all so different! However, Japanese saké and Japanese food works pretty well together. I also have to mention that if the red wine is pretty bold, high in tannin and high in acidity, it’s very tough to pair with sashimi and sushi plates. Wine, a lot of the time, will overwhelm the dish.

Read more about Yellowtail.

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