I decided to begin attending a wine school this Spring to gain a better understanding of wine, how to appreciate it and describe it. There are a number of great wine schools in Tokyo, but for personal and professional reasons I picked the Shinya Tasaki wine school, which has an excellent reputation. In 1995 Shinya Tasaki was the first Japanese sommelier to win first prize at an annual A.S.I. World Sommelier Contest. I was in Japan in 1995 and was an eyewitness to his triumphant win and personally remember when his name was announced to the world.
It happened over two decades ago. The contest was held in Japan that year at a big banquet room at the Takanawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo. The contest results were announced during a Galla party held by the organizer and I was at that very party, dressed up and dining on a gorgeous selection of foods.
I was sitting at a table full of sommeliers from Okinawa who kindly explained each wine to me that we were enjoying from the wine list. I was lucky to be there and to be able to taste them. I don't remember which wines I had back then, but I clearly remember my first experience of a wine and food pairing. It was blue cheese paired with a vintage port wine. The sommelier sitting next to me whispered that this was desert. How could blue cheese be a desert, I thought, but the cheese and port wine in my mouth tasted very much like cheese cake. Wow!
Mr. Tasaki's victory was the highlight of the day. He couldn't have picked a better time to win this prize, since the contest that year was held in Japan. We were all very excited when his name was announced as the winner. What I learned later was that he was 37 years old and the first sommelier other than a French or an Italian, to win the contest. This win by a Japanese sommelier gave people the idea that wine was not just for the French or the Italians.
Long story short, that's why I'm going to his school.