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News / Life / Clark County Life

Niche Wine Bar in downtown Vancouver adds taste of Japan

Owner travels to enhance sake offering

By Rachel Pinsky, Columbian freelance food writer
Published: August 18, 2023, 6:04am
4 Photos
The owner of Vancouver's Niche Wine Bar, Leah Jackson, visits a sake brewery in Japan.
The owner of Vancouver's Niche Wine Bar, Leah Jackson, visits a sake brewery in Japan. (Contributed by Leah Jackson) Photo Gallery

Leah Jackson has helped customers find a wine that suits them from the curated collection at Niche Wine Bar in downtown Vancouver for the past 13 years. After a recent trip to Japan, she added a short list of sake to the menu, as well as sake tastings the last Saturday of every other month.

The next tasting — $25 for three to four pours — is 4-10 p.m. Aug. 26. A special paired food plate is also available for $18.

Jackson’s fascination with other cultures started at an early age. As a child, she put an ad in “Little Archie” comics seeking pen pals. She ended up with 52 pen pals from various countries. The longest-running correspondence was with a pal from New Zealand that continued throughout Jackson’s college years. Jackson never had a Japanese pen pal. But her father went to Japan when Jackson was in junior high school, sparking her own interest in someday visiting that country.

In March 2023, Jackson traveled to Japan to learn more about sake and find some bottles to stock at her store. She flew into Tokyo then took a train to the city of Niigata. The city faces the Sea of Japan and is known for its excellent rice and pure water from the snow that melts off the surrounding mountain range. These exceptional ingredients are the reason that sake from Niigata Prefecture’s 88 breweries is highly valued. Inside the Niigata railway station, a sake “theme park” called Ponshukan dispenses samples of 110 different varieties of sake from small vending machines.

Jackson visited the Imayo Tsukasa brewery in Niigata City and the Obata brewery on Sado Island. Imayo Tsukasa Shuzo opened in 1767 as an inn and sake shop. Since the middle of the Meiji era (1868-1912), the company has solely focused on brewing sake.

A three-hour ferry ride from Niigata City took Jackson to Sado Island, where she visited Obata Shuzo, where the same family has been producing sake since 1892. Sado Island is a World Agricultural Heritage Site. The island’s rice farmers use methods that protect the endangered Japanese crested ibis or toki. Shells from oysters bred on the island are used to filter water before it’s added to rice fields. The brewery also uses solar energy.

High-quality sake is made with a special variety of rice that is polished to remove the bran and then fermented. Sake production is a complicated multistep process. The alcohol per volume is between 13 and 17 percent, which is a bit stronger than most wines but not as potent as a distilled spirit. It can be served at various temperatures. Sake tastings, like those offered at Niche, help customers learn more about different styles so they can focus on the kinds they find most appealing.

If you go

What: Sake tasting at Niche Wine Bar

Where: 900 Washington St., Unit 130, Vancouver

When: 4-10 p.m. Aug. 26.

Cost: $25 for three to four pours, paired food plate an additional $18

Information: 360-253-1742; www.nichewinebar.com

Columbian freelance food writer