The combination of some of the most extraordinary French wines ever produced and the genius of chef Joël Robuchon made for the most compelling hedonistic experiences I've ever had.
My first trip to Japan, in 1998, began with an enormous crowd of Japanese paparazzi and television crews, all waiting for me to clear customs in Tokyo (a first-time experience for this wine critic). Over the next five days, the attention never waned. Throngs of serious Japanese wine drinkers at all the tastings I conducted asked hundreds of intelligent questions, displaying a level of appreciation and desire for knowledge that was both remarkable and refreshing. In just a few days' time, I was dubbed the "sumo taster," which in Japan is akin to being named a winner on American Idol. I even made the scandal sheets when a Japanese actress (some said a soft-core porn star) crashed a tasting and threw herself onto my lap. When she experienced a "wardrobe malfunction," the photographers clicked away, producing tantalizing photos that made Naomi Kawashima an overnight sensation as Japan's most glamorous "wine girl."
Although that 1998 trip was extraordinary, it was also frenetic. When I returned in December 2004, I was determined to do things a bit differently. First, I wanted to experience some Japanese culture. Second, I wanted to visit Yamanashi, the burgeoning viticultural region near Mount Fuji, and do some tasting.