Monday, April 28, 2008

4/21/08: "Ohanami" Tasting at Sakagura

"Ohanami" means "flower viewing," a concept very dear to the Japanese especially as the Cherry Blossom season approaches. If you get two things out of the "Last Samurai," it's that Tom Cruise isn't completely insane (yet), and that the traditional samurai warrior Katsumoto should've invested in some guns (or at least hired some snipers.) But the point is, I am sure I wasn't the only one whose eyes were bit moist when Katsumoto muttered, "...perfect... they're all so... perfect" right?

Getting back to here and now. This year's event was more expensive than last year's all you can drink event held in April. 2007 event was $35 to taste 35 selections, but for $75, 2008 event featured 50 sakés, assortment of dishes, and Cherry decor, with tax and tips already included. Dollar for dollar, 2008 event was a winner.

Sakagura dedicated all its space for this event. The selections were grouped according to a theme, and here are the highlights from each booth:

Booth number one was NY Mutual Trading in the back room. It made absolute sense to make it one of the first destinations as they were pouring "Kakunko" by Sudo Honke. Of course, Mutual Trading also carry selections by Kuji-san and Sakurai-san.

In the adjoining area was World Saké Imports, represented by Masumi and Dewazakura sakés. I was particularly interested in the Dewazakura "Dewasansan" Nama as it represents local rice by the same name. Although not as fruity as Yamadanishiki-based saké, I enjoyed its depth, vibrancy, and mildly earthy finish.

Niigata Saké selection was next on the list, featuring three selections (Midorikawa, Kirinzan, and Kakurei Umeshu) that I am very familiar with. and I especially liked the gentle and subtle nature of the Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo which was a contrast to all the expressive styles that dominated the evening.

Across from Niigata Saké was a booth titled "Saké Story," where I encountered 4 sakés from 4 different producers that I have yet to try. The selection that grabbed my attention was Koma Tokubetsu Junmai from Fukushima, made in the Yamahai style. Upon trying this saké, there was absolutely no mistake that this was Yamahai, with its very smokey, earthy, nutty aroma with flavors of nuts, minerals, and mushrooms.

Sakagura had two booths, with Momose-san pouring in the back room and Kimono-clad Chizkuko-san in the front room. There were quite a few sakés from Akita and neighboring prefectures. (Note: comments for these will be saved for Akita Saké tasting that is coming up shortly.) Chizuko-san gave me the best scoop for the evening: Kiefer Sutherland enjoyed Bisuikan Junmai Daiginjo a little too much at a restaurant, and he later got arrested for DUI.

Next up was Joto Saké, where I found two of my favorite sakés of the evening. (Maybe I was biased since Midori-san was pouring the sakés as opposed to Henry!) My favorite of the evening was Wataribune 55 Junmai Ginjo Shiboritate Muroka Nama Genshu, which although was very fruity, showed great balance due to depth, acidity, and vibrancy. My second favorite was the Eiko Fuji Junmai Ginjo Nama. This style was tame compared to Wataribune, Eiko Fuji was notable for its smoothness and balance.

The final booth was Japan Prestige, manned by Yamazaki-san. This booth was exclusively nama. While I had chance to try most of the selections in in-store tasting events in the past, there was one I haven't tried in 2008: Otokoyama Yukishibare from Hokkaido. As usual, the light nigori style provided Otokoyama with depth, balance, and long finish.

With all the sakés, food was an essential part of the evning, and Sakagura really hit it out of the park. The dishes included Seared Beef Sashimi, Crab Dumplings, Japanese Egg Omlette, Chopped Tuna Tartare, Sashimi selection, Grilled Cod and Salmon, Grilled Organic Chicken, Beef with Scallion, Shrimp Balls w/Almond, Fried Soft Shell Crab, Braised Pork "Kakuni," Sushi, and Chirashi Sushi among others.

After Sakagura, the evening continued next door at Soba Totto, hanging out with Mr. Urban Saké and reviewing recent events over glasses of Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo followed by Harushika Spring Namazaké. Of course, their food is great, so we enjoyed some skewered Yaki Tori and Tori No Kara-agé, the Japanese version of the fried chicken. (Many many thanks to Tim, by the way!)

To make the evening even more fun, Henry from Joto Saké stopped by with Midori-san, which resulted in more merry drinking and hanging out. In fact, if you saw happy looking man in a blue happi in the happening area of the town that evening, chances are, you came across Henry.

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