Tuesday, August 28, 2007

8/27/07: Joto Tasting at Sakagura

I have very few rules in my life. One of them is: when a manager of one of your favorite saké bar personally extends invitation to an exclusive tasting event, you must attend. Such was a case for August 27th event at Sakagura, featuring 20 of Henry Sidel’s Joto Saké selections.

Here are the selections:
Shichi Hon Yari Junmai
Shichi Hon Yari Junmai Ginjo
Shichi Hon Yari Shizuku Junmai Daiginjo
Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry
Kasumi Tsuru Yamahai Junmai
Kasumi Tsuru Yamahai Ginjo
Chikurin Fukamari Junmai
Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo
Chikurin Taoyaka Junmai Daiginjo
HouHouShu Sparkling Sake
Hana HouHouShu Rose Sparkling Saké
Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo 55
Watari Bune Junmai Daiginjo
Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai
Yuri Masamune Futsushu
Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo
Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori
Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo
Yuki No Bosha Akita Komachi Daginjo
Kattchou Gesseki Daiginjo

I showed up, and came across Timothy and James (my colleague and saké enthusiast). On the other side of the counter, I greeted Henry and Katie from Joto Saké, as well as meeting Joto representatives from Chicago and West Coast.

Having tried many of the selections before, my focus was to try the new ones, and also use the opportunity to learn more about differences in production styles.

My focus was on Shich Hon Yari Junmai Daiginjo made in Shizuku style (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Tamazakae, Seimaibuai: 45%, Yeast: Assocociation #14), as Shichi Hon Yari is one of my favortie producers, and this was going to be their flagship bottle. And my, what a nice looking bottle, looking like the drip (shizuku). The saké was noticeable from other shizuku by its solid expression, while I found many to be very soft and milder in style. Katie was nice enough for me to get very used to this saké.

I thought the most interesting tasting was trying the three Kasumi Tsuru styles. Surprisingly, I found the Kimoto Extra Dry (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.1, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: N/A) to be mildest of the three, with subtle nose and more yeast and umami-driven flavor. By comparison, Yamahai Junmai (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Kitanishiki, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: N/A) had far more aromatic nose of fresh mushrooms, which translated to a gamier flavorbalanced with umami. The Yamahai Ginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A) was very tame on the nose, but still showed mushroom characteristics underneath flavors of fruit.

Saiya Brewery's lineup was the most comprehensive from top to bottom, ranging from rare (by US standards) Yuri Masamune "Futsuu Shu" all the way to Yuri Masamune "Kacho Gesseki" Daiginjo made using Fukurotori (Shizuku) style, with Yuki No Bosha series in between. Surprisingly, Futsuu- Shu was better than quite a few of Junmai or Honjozo I have tried. The flavor was bit gamy, with minerals and umami without fruity elements. Kacho Gesseki (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.2, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: Saiya), with brewer's alcohol added, was the polar opposite with flavors bursting of intense pineapple.

There were two other standouts. I've always liked Wataribune, and their Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Wataribune, Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: N/A) was a pleasure to try again. With its gentle fruitiness and long finish of balanced sweetness and tartness, it has the prototypical Junmai Daiginjo profile. The unconventional choice for the second standout was the Hana Hou Hou Shu Rosé Sparkling Saké. Made by Marumoto Brewery, producer of Chikurin, Hana Hou Hou Shu is a sparkling rosé saké that takes the meaning of rosé literally; the saké infused in rose petals and hibiscus. Although the flavor profile wasn't rose-like per se, it was balanced and delicious.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

8/22/07: Chanto Tasting

Since I was inspired by this event at Chanto last month, I decided to attend the August version of the event as well (I was pre-occupied during their July event.) So what if Chanto is bit of a detour from my Midtown- to- Queens commute home, and it was a Wednesday night... we all need a weekend in the middle of the week, right?

It seems that Chanto runs "Triple Delight" event each month featuring saké, tuna chef display, and Geisha-style dancing. To keep things interesting, there is a revolving theme in saké. In June, it was Shichiken and their saké making clinic; in July, it evidently featured Dassai. For August the theme was "Japanese Premium Saké Collection," featuring 6 daiginjo-grade saké and 4 shochu selections. It was quite a bargain at $65 (includes tax and gratuity)!

My friend Hideo joined me for this event, and not surprisingly, Timothy showed up with Scott as well. While the last event involved lot of movement by the customers depending on what was being highlighted at the moment, this event was a sit-down format. Being one of the first ones on the premises, Hideo and I situated ourselves to a table by the window, strategically within striking distance of the pouring station and with premier view of the Maiko dance.

For tasting, my initial inclenation was to focus mainly on saké, and try the unfamilar/less frequently tasted selections first. However, when I saw Nanbu Bijin Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: Iwate #2), I had to pay my respects to Kuji-san. With its ripe profile, it also wasn't a bad choice to kick off the evening. This was accompanied by some delecable appetizers.

Next, I had Kubota Senshin (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.3,Rice: Takanenishiki, Seimaibuai: 28%, Yeast: N/A). In one of those rare instances, I wasn't sure what to quite make of this saké. Based on the brand name and seimaibuai, I was expecting a expressive, fruity, and with good structure, but in reality, this turned out to be mellow, smooth like water, and without much impression otherwise. In short, this was as un-Kubota as I have tried. My second visit later in the evening confirmed that the virtue to this saké was the umami-laden flavor and finish.

The sushi chefs started their craft, and we were served "akami" first, both as sashimi and sushi. While my sights were set on "chu-toro," I was surprised by the tenderness of akami. Chu-toro was very good, with well-defined marbling. It did have some of those fatty stripes, which did provide extra texture.

Unfortunately, the next two sakés did not pair all that well with tuna: Born "Tokusen" Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: N/A) and Go-okunen Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +6, Acidity: 1.2, Rice: Yamdanishiki, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: N/A). Both had the oxidized nose of dried fruit for different reasons. Born is actually a Koshu, having been aged in a controlled temperature for two years. As a result, the flavor showed mild flavor of caramel moreso than fruit. Go-okunen is from Ehime, and it definitely had "Shikoku-ness" with its mellow but fuller mouthfeel that belie Acidity of 1.2, and more of the sherried flavor on the palate.

As the Maiko dance began, I tried Kamotsuru Tokusei Gold Daiginjo (SMV: 1.5, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Hattan and Omachi, Seimaibuai: 50%,Yeast: N/A) which, like the other Daiginjo, had more of the riper approach. While the flavor wasn't as flamboyant as Nanbu Bijin, it was deep with firmer finish. I rounded up the first round of saké selections with the incomparable Dassai 23.

Of the four shochu selections, I decided to try two: (Tori Kai rice) for its saké-like flavor profile, and Hozan "Ayamurasaki" (sweet potato) for curiosity. From my past experiences with Hozan proving to be a revelation, I had to try the limited edition made from a purple potato. For my palate, Ayamurasaki is the best of the lot, as I enjoyed the intense yet soft nose of potato, and soft and full texture that brought pretty intense spiciness towards the finish.

As they say, you shouldn't increase your alcohol percentage over the course of the evning. I gladly heeded that advice by going for round two on sakés.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Interlude: What I've been up to...

...or, more accurately, why I have been negligent.

The last 4.5 months have been a whirlwind, with changes in my full-time employment. Working for a Japanese subsidiary, they expect Japanese work hours to a degree, which does indirectly cut into my blogging hours as such minor details as feeding myself, bathing, sleeping, drinking saké, socializing, playing baseball, etc. still needs to be accomplished.

Also, I have cut down drastically on working at the wine store, reducing weekly hours roughly by half. Part of the reason has been to accomodate the dreaded "zangyō,"but also due to my budding career as a consultant, as some of my recent post hints.

Aside from the events listed here, I have also been asked to train restaurant staff at such highly esteemed restaurants as EN and Matsuri, with few more training sessions on the horizon.

Toshi has few events lined up for me at Saké Hana on the horizon. I have also began some writing, more in the commercial side.

I also celebrated my birthday recently. It was an impromptu event that was held at Saké Hana, and my friends Masa, Tony, Hideo, and John were able to attend on short notice. We started off with a bottle of Sato No Homaré, one of the "payment" Toshi stashed away for me, then one Dassai 50 after another while feasting on Saké Hana special munchies. After about 4th Dassai, Sakurai-san showed up after a saké event.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

7/20/07: Dassai Midnight Tasting at Saké Hana

My recent run of working at Saké events continues, no thanks in small part to Toshi of Saké Hana. Actually, Toshi has been very instrumental as the past entries and future entries shall prove. This time, the request was to help out Dassai Midnight Tasting. Could he have twisted my arm any further? I think not.

This was a special event, as it featured 7 versions of Dassai saké (keep in mind there are 3 versions currently available in the U.S.), plus soap using Dassai saké lees, dishes cooked using saké lees, and cooked Yamadanishiki rice that has been polished down to "Niwari Sanbu," or 23%. This was sure to be yet another great evening.

The job itself was a first for me... be a bartender, and help with product description and translating for Sakurai-san and Kinoshita-san. I was outfitted with Asahi Shuzo "happi" robe. Attending this event were my buds Lefty, Tim, and Ayuko who brought her friend. Incidentally, the turnout for this event was the biggest I have seen at Saké Hana.

The event kicked off with Dassai 39 Sparkling Nama Nigori. Because this is rare and Sakurai-san brought limited quantity, we decided to open a small bottle at 1/2 hour interval. A perfect little saké to toast and start the evening. (Note: all saké uses Yamadanishiki, and has SMV rating of +3 and acidity of 1.3.)

Others were served on a all-you-can drink style. These selections included: Dassai "50" Junmai Ginjo, Dassai "50" Junmai Ginjo Nigori, Dassai "Warm 50" Junmai Ginjo, Dassai "45" Junmai Daiginjo, Dassai "39" Junmai Daiginjo, and the incomparable Dassai "23" Junmai Daiginjo. Of course, the numbers depict the different degree of polishing ratio.

The popular selection, outside of the "23," seemed to be the "45," which I found to be a rich and bold with fruity presence of the lot. The American audience seems to especially favor the Nigori (both "39" and the "50"), a trend I still have some difficulty comprehending. My personal favorite was the "39," which I sensed to have the best balance between fruit on the palate, dryness towards the finish, and good length.

The hidden treat was the steamed rice cooked using Yamadanishiki that was polished down to 23%. The end result was soft, slightly chewy, with subtle sweetness. As you chew, the mild sweetness unfolds and expands gently in the mouth. Not surprisingly, lot of the flavor profile echoed that of the "23" in the liquid form.

The evening went on well after the scheduled finish, and it was another successful evening at Saké Hana.