Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer lunch in Mount Fuji


The other day I flew to Tokyo for Japanese summer holidays. I didn't really go to Tokyo, though, as I landed at Narita Airport and then picked up my car where I'd left it about ten days ago in the airport parking lot, when I'd spent a few days in Hokkaido.

I'd returned to Manila simply to close our next issue, attend several dinners and National Day celebrations, and get some meetings over with. And then I'd hopped back on the bus for Tokyo, and from Narita Airport, I'd driven straight to Mount Fuji to spend the weekend.

It's the Japanese O-Bon holidays so Tokyo is basically a ghost town and the traditional summer holiday retreats like the lake areas of Mount Fuji are suddenly all alive with Tokyo people opening their weekend homes after a long hiatus and coming to stay and escape the oppressive heat of Tokyo.

As for me, I was escaping the rains of Manila; and since our August-September issue is safely in printing (on sale everywhere this weekend), a weekend lunch hosted by someone in his home in the Fuji lakes area was a good enough excuse to fly out of Manila and spend a couple of days in Japan.

LONG AND WINDING ROADS...AGAIN

The host of a very long and liquid lunch has a weekend house not too far from mine; we're on the same lake but as mountain roads are never straight or short, it actually takes longer than it should. I have to drive down the mountain towards the lake and then along the lake, and then head up the same mountain again on another road to get to his house.

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The reason for the party was the christening of his new gazebo, which had just been finished two weeks ago in time for a never-ending round of summer barbecue-and-swimming parties. And this was supposed to be the first one. And actually, the gazebo isn't really a gazebo in the regular sense, but more like an English-style dining room or garden room.

It was very nice, great for entertaining in four seasons, and stylish in a Terence Conran sort of way. It made me think about having one too, although I'd never spend enough time in this area to justify having a garden room.

Our host is probably Japan's foremost authority on wine and certainly the most prominent figure in Japan's wine industry -- this certainly says a lot considering the massive and extremely sophisticated wine market of Japan, which at one point was the biggest in the world for good wine.

And without going into details as a public announcement to the wine world hasn't been made yet, I'm almost sure he will be perhaps one of the top figures in the world's wine industry pretty soon.

GREAT FOOD & WINE


Considering that, you can imagine that lunch was more liquid than delicious. But actually, the food was very good. We had roasted corn picked from the nearby fields that same morning (how tasty freshly-picked vegetables are!), organic pork barbecue ribs, a French chicken stew, a seafood paella, and all kinds of nice salads.

Of course the wine was the highlight. We were only eight but we quickly went through three bottles of champagne and headed for the main courses of wine.

Our host brought stuff out of his weekend house cellar and we began with a magnum -- a year 2000 vintage red wine from Bordeaux that was so garage it didn't even have a label. The wine notes were handwritten by the winery owner on the glass itself. It was very nice and it went very well with the food.

SOBER THOUGHTS



Our host said: "Yes, I like this wine a lot. The winemaker himself wrote the notes on the bottle. Then he killed himself soon after that."

It's a good thing we'd had quite a bit of champagne already by then, or that would certainly have been a damper.

But the host said it with a straight face -- he didn't even know why the winemaker had killed himself, but it's been about ten years now -- and the rest of us didn't know the winemaker, so we proceeded with lunch after a moment's sober reflection on despair gone unaided and talent voluntarily gone to waste.

Pretty soon the magnum emptied itself without our knowing it, and our host proceeded to open a couple of other bottles. But I remember most the last bottle, which came after the meal was over, and everyone was sufficiently inebriated to sit on his lawn as he apportioned out a decanted 2005 St. Emilion which sent everyone to the moon.



I left shortly afterwards to catch a couple of people for dinner. Yes, the sun was setting as I reluctantly drove away, but no one else had any intention of leaving and I had another appointment. It's not often that everyone from Tokyo is around the Mount Fuji area at the same time, in a relaxed summer holiday mood; so I filled my calendar with people to see.

But I wouldn't be at all surprised if everyone jumped into the pool after that.






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