Richard Geoffroy did not deliberately set out to break the mould of sake when he started his journey in 2019. He wasn’t looking to take his Champagne blending techniques to Japan wholesale. “The end result is something that reminds me of wine, but that is not the intention per se,” he tells Tatler Dining over a morning tête-à-tête before conducting a masterclass for sommeliers taking place at 67 Pall Mall Singapore.
When Geoffroy retired from Dom Perignon after 28 years as its chef de cave (cellarmaster), he started with a blank slate in Japan, calling it his version of a start-up. Together with local partner Ryuichiro Masuda of Masuda Shuzo in Toyama, he brought in more partners, bought some land, built a brewery and eventually assembled a staff team of gaijin (foreigners). It helped that the worldly and open-minded Masuda-san is a bit of a maverick himself—he has innovated on sake-infused Kit Kat and sake aged in Chivas Regal whisky barrels. In 2019, their company Shiraiwa debuted IWA 5 Assemblage 1, a groundbreaking blended sake using three varieties of rice, five strains of yeast and a complex fermentation process.
Although Assemblage 1 was released in 2020 and Assemblage 2 in 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic had prevented Geoffroy from travelling and marketing the sake internationally. His delayed visit to Singapore now presents an unwitting new dimension to his creations—tasting the three-year-aged Assemblage 1 alongside 2 and 3. And yes, we discover that IWA 5 has the ability to age in the bottle, yet another parallel to the wines he used to blend.
Assemblage 1 is now deeply rounded and mellow, with lime and grapefruit notes enticing the palate to create a sense of mid-palate and finish. His personal interpretation of sake brings more verdancy, or greenness, he is fond of saying. Assemblage 2 has a more floral and aromatic character, displaying a faint ripe banana aroma on the nose and more texture on the tongue. Meanwhile, the highly anticipated Assemblage 3 has the same signature white pepper nose as the previous two, this time leading to a racy, silky mouthfeel that comes across youthful and energetic. It pairs winsomely with slightly sour-tangy Peranakan dishes from Candlenut, such as the blue swimmer crab with turmeric curry.
Voila! is the Frenchman’s signature phrase. Experimentation is his calling card, striving to vary the results of each Assemblage every year, using the yeast fermentations to adjust the structure, intensity, spice and persistence of the blend. It is a kind of playfulness, one which he describes as such: “When you have 30 sake elements on the bench, it looks like 50 shades of white. That’s what I call it. I don’t look at the analyses and I never write anything down. I taste it and I assemble the pieces together to make it profoundly Japanese and of great appeal—that’s IWA’s ambition. Voila!”