Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Review of 2006: June

June 17, 2006

Roughly a month after the Masumi tasting, Sakagura decided to host yet another tasting event, this time featuring selections by an up- and- coming importer, Joto Saké. I attended this event with my Saké Buddies Tim Sullivan and Hideo.

While the portfolio of Henry Sidel's company is small, they feature sakés that are truly artisinal. For this event, there were 19 selections from 5 breweries.

The first selections were three sakés by Huchu Homare Brewery from Ibaraki Prefecture known for their "Wataribune" labels. Wataribune labels are named after a legendary strain of rice that was thought to be extinct for over 50 years, until it was discovered in a lab at research institute. The significance of this rice strain is that it is the father strain of the famed Yamadanishiki.

Huchu Homare makes Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Wataribune, Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: N/A) and Junmai Ginjo "55" (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Wataribune, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A) using the Wataribune rice, while their "Taiheikai" Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A) uses the local rice, Gohyakumangoku. With this type of differes, we were able to enjoy the difference between the effect of polishing ratio between Junmai Daiginjo and Junmai Ginjo, and differences between the rice through tasting "55" and "Taiheikai." For the record, the Junmai Daiginjo had fruitier presence and longer finish, while Tokubetsu Junmai had slightly earthier and softer undertones.

The next in line were selections by Marumoto Brewery of Okayama Prefecture and their Chikurin "Bamboo Forest" line of sakés. Marumoto is an organic producer, and they grow their own Yamadanishiki rice on the premises. There were four sakés to try, including "Taoyaka" (Elegance) Junmai Daiginjo (+2, 1.2, Yamadanishiki, 35%, N/A), "Kaoyaka" (Lightness) Junmai Ginjo(+3, 1.4, Yamadanishiki, 50%, N/A), "Fukamari" (Depth) Junmai (+4, 1.3, Yamadanishiki, 60%, N/A), and the sparkling "Hou Hou Shu," not yet available in the States (Data N/A). The other note that should be mentioned for the non-sparkling sakés is that the pressing method between Junmai (accordion-like contraption) and Junmai Ginjo/Daiginjo (saké boat) is different.

Interestingly, I found that I enjoyed the Junmai the best as I seem to favor, relatively speaking in this case, deeper flavor and vibrancy owing to more intense pressing and less rice polished off. By comparison, both Kaoyaka and Taoyaka were very light and delicate in flavor, going down like water.

Moving on, we get to one of my recent breweries, Saiya Brewery of Akita. As you may recall, Akita Komachi received a very good review last month. Like the other two brewers before, the selections were very educational as we got to see the difference in impact of added alcohol, polishing ratio, and rice selection.

The Akita Komachi Daiginjo (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Akita Komachi, Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: N/A) showed that Akita Komachi rice is more fruitier than Gin No Sei rice, found in Daiginjo (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Gin No Sei, Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: N/A), which in turn showed that added alcohol has more fruity and less minerals on the finish compared with Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +1, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Gin No Sei, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: N/A).

The next selection of sakés came from Shichi Hon Yari Brewery, featuring really cool looking spearman on the label. We had a chance to try the Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Tamazakae, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: N/A) and Junmai (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Tamazakae, Seimaibuai: 60%, Yeast: N/A). This was another case where I preferred the "lower" grade Junmai over more refined Junmai Ginjo, as I can detect more layers and complexity. The Junmai was decidedly more earthy of the two, featuring elements of marshmallow, mushrooms, grains, and cocoa to with a refreshing dry finish. Junmai Ginjo had steamed rice/fruit balance on the nose, followed by a fruit/grain balance and dry finish.

All the way at the end were sakés by Kasumitsuru Brewery from Hyogo, famous for Miyamizu water and Yamadanishiki rice. Interesting note about this brewery is that they make their sakés in either Kimoto or Yamahai method. There were 5 selections available to taste, including 4 usual offerings plus one additional Nama Genshu.

Kimoto Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +3.5, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 60%, Yeast: N/A) was a creamy style with flavors of nuts, cream, and yogurt. In contrast, another Kimoto, Extra Dry (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.1, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: N/A) was smokier and softer on the body.

Switching to Yamahai style, their Junmai (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Kitanishiki, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: N/A) was creamy balanced with umami, and focused on the palate with dry finish. The Yamahai Ginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A) exhibited the most fruit, with mild notes of melon balanced by soft grain and smoke.

Shiboritate Nama Genshu was slightly nutty, with balance of sweetness and spiciness.

All in all, this turned out to be one of the most educational and fun evenings tasting sakés.
June 25, 2006

Little bit over a months since attending Dassai Tasting at Sake Hana, I received an email from Mr. Sakurai. He would be in town in June, and wanted to get together with some saké enthusiasts in the States. After coordinating schedule with my Sake Buddies Tim Sullivan, Lefty, and "Guru of All Things Alcohol" Warren Radford, we decided to meet at a bar at Matsuri Restaurant for an evening of Saké Summit.

The evening was a lot of fun, as you can imagine. We had fun with the fact that Sakurai-san was here, by asking waitress "we're thinking of ordering Dassai Junmai Ginjo. What do you think?" (unfortunately, she was new, and didn't know) and having Mr. Sakurai-san confirm the bottle once it came out.

So, we kick off the evening with Dassai 50. While drinking, Tim, Lefty, and Warren would ask questions and I would translate. We discovered that they take such care into their saké to a point where they use plastic stopper and metal screwtop to minimize potential contamination and spoilage.

We decided to try couple of pretty good sakés to see how they compared with Dassai 50. First, we tried one of my favorite Junmai Ginjo, Kaika "Kaze No Ichirin" from Tochigi Prefecture (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.2, Rice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 53%, Yeast: N/A). While this vintage of Kaika was less fruity than the past year, the lack of fruitiness seemed to magnify when compared with Dassai 50. It drank easy, like water.

The next challenger was none other than Hakkaisan Honjozo from Niigata (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Koshijiwase, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: Assoc. #7). Here, we chose the big name that was comparably priced, rather than go with the similar style. As a result, Hakkaisan proved to be very different, with far more earthy elements of nuts, grains, and steamed rice on the nose and palate with a nice dry finish.

Having tried two sakés, we were unanimous in our thoughts that there were no sakés that were better than Dassai 50 in the $45~$55 range (restaurant price). Fittingly, we ended a wonderful evening over another bottle of Dassai 50 before stumbling our way home.

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