Thursday, December 28, 2006

12/13/06: To Boldly Go Where No Saké Has Gone Before...

Back in September, I mentioned a big missed opportunity at the Joy of Saké event. Fortunately, tonight proved to be a redemption for my mishaps, mere 6 weeks after the fact.

Before we get to that, Sakurai-san was leaving for Japan on the 18th, so we called up some of the regulars for an impromptu outing at Saké Hana, a relaxing evening among friends. Flocking to this establishment on 78th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues were Sakurai-san, his friend, Tim Sullivan, Lefty, Tomo-chan, Ai-san, Min from NY Saké Meetup Group, and of course, Toshi-san taking care of us.

We started the evening by ordering individual drinks while we waited for everyone to arrive (I had "Sato No Homare".) Prior to Mr. Sakurai's arrival, we ordered the Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo.

The main event of the evening was the unvailing of a new saké just made available in the U.S. market. Since it was so new, Saké Hana did not have it yet (they received their shipment on 12/14!), Toshi gave me a special permission to bring this bottle from the store. The bottle was none other than Tsukasabotan "Tosa No Uchu-shu" Junmai Ginjo, a.k.a. "Space Saké." (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Kazé Naru Ko, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: Tosa Space Yeast) from Kochi Prefecture (Tosa is an old name for Kochi.)

The story behind production of this saké is quite fascinating. Checking various sites, there are some varying accounts to the story, adding to the mystery. In short, back in October 2005, some brewers asked Soyuz rocket program to send up yeast for "research purposes" as it was cheaper than "commercial purposes." After the yeast returned, they started making sakés, but their efforts to sell them was thwarted by the Russians who claimed it was clearly not for research purposes, despite much protest from the brewers. As a result, 19 breweries from Kochi banded together, paid the enormous fees for "commercial" license, and had Soyuz send up the yeast in March 2006 for eight night's stay at the space station.

In the process, Space Saké became its own designation with the following guidelines in order to receive a seal of approval from the "Tosa Space Sake Board":
* Made of one of the six local yeasts sent to space;
* Made 100% from locally grown Gin No Yume or Kaze Naru Ko rice;
* Seimaibuai must be at least 55%;
* Must be made in Junmai style (no added brewer's alcohol) undergoing long cold fermentation;
* And must receive approval from the Tosa Space Saké Board.

So, what was this Space brew like? It was good! The saké was comparably lighter than the typical Tsukasabotan, and this medium-bodied brew had expressive flavors of tropical fruits, robust, with clean and dry finish. One thing I did notice was that I had a very pleasant "high" after drinking it, but that may have been aided by the glass of Blanton's Bourbon (SMV: N/A, Acidity: N/A, Rice: No, mostly corn, Seibaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A) I had with Warren for his birthday prior to coming here...

Just to test the difference, Toshi brought out Tsukasabotan Junmai (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast, N/A) in the blue label and Tsukasabotan "Senchu Hassaku" Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV: +8, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A) for an interesting vertical tasting. Not surprisingly, Junmai was the earthiest of the three, with aromas of steamed rice and rich body we're all accustomed to. Senchu Hassaku was very well balanced, with good combination of the earthy grain notes to more accessible fruits with short and dry finish. However, the Space Saké did narrowly edge Senchu Hassaku as my preferred Tsukasabotan of the night.

All in all, considering all the saké dignitaries in the house, it was a star-studded night... in more ways than one!

12/7/06: NY de Volunteer Fundraiser Event

My friend Masa happens to work for a noble cause, spending some of his time at a not-for-profit organization called NY de Volunteer, who were looking to host a charity fundraising party. About a month prior to the event, Masa asked me to help with a significant part of the evening: Saké Tasting.

For the event, I called upon Sakurai-san from Asahi Shuzo of Dassai label, who gladly accepted being one of the featured selections. Through Sakurai-san, we were also able to get contributions from good people at Nanbu Bijin Brewery. Lastly, I was able to call on Ozeki Saké USA, whom I helped design the back labels couple of months ago. With more help from Rihaku, the final list of saké selections were quite amazing:

* Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo
* Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo Nigori
* Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo (See Dassai tasting notes here.)
* Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai
* Nanbu Bijin Daiginjo (See Nanbu Bijin tasting notes here.)
* Ozeki "Karatanba" Honjozo (SMV: +7, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: N/A)
* Ozeki "Osakaya Chobei" Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: N/A)
* Rihaku "Dreamy Clouds" Nigori (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 59%, Yeast: N/A)
* Rihaku "Wandering Poet" Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A)

Considering that entry fee was $60 for advanced payment for pair of tickets ($30/individual) for essentially all-you-can-drink event with food and fabulous opera singing by one-of-a-kind Ms. Asako Tamura (Japanese blog), this turned out to be a super bargain! As a matter of fact, you can see me enjoying Ms. Tamura's singing in this page.

Speaking of food, there was one interesting twist to the evening. Just for tonight, Choux Factory created a limited release special cream puffs using Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo Nigori saké and saké kasu (lees). This was a resounding success, where the gentle fruity flavor of the saké was a sublime complement to the rich choux cream.

How were the new sakés? Osakaya Chobei had distinctively nutty, earthy aroma compared with Dassai and Nanbu Bijin, although the palate was fruity. Rihaku "Dreamy Clouds" Nigori was earthier style showing balanced fruit compared with Dassai, but not a big surprise when factoring in the Seimaibuai (59% to 50%) and Rice (Gohyakumangoku to Yamadanishiki). Think of Rihaku as a lighter version of Shirakawago. Rihaku "Wandering Poet" was a medium-bodied Junmai Ginjo, showing well rounded flavors, depth, and clean finish.

To get my money's worth for the evening, you probably can guess that I visited the saké booth on more than one occasion!

12/1/06: Late Night Saké Tasting at Saké Hana

Toshi at Saké Hana decided to host a first Late Night Saké Tasting that were to start at 11:00 pm. The event featured 6 sakés from Niigata, known for their outstanding rice. For this event, I met up with Tim Sullivan, Tomo-chan, and Ai-san.

The guest of honor was Mr. Takafumi Aoki of Aoki Shuzo, known for their Kakurei brand. Mr. Aoki was very enthusiastic about his sakés, and graciously answered all the questions Tim and I had over the course of the night.

First, a few words about Aoki Shuzo: Established in 1717 AD, Aoki Shuzo's ideal is to maintain the traditional style of saké. In the days preceding refrigeration technology, lot of the food were cured and richly flavored; thus, the sakés needed to be able to complement rich flavored foods. Aoki Shuzo follows in this tradition.

The first saké I tried was the Kakurei Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 48%, Yeast: Assoc #14). This was a really ricey style Daiginjo with nose of steamed rice and flavors of steamed rice, mild fruits, and umami. There is a mild gentleness to this saké, and abundance of rice element gives sense that it is indeed leaning towards the traditional method as opposed to the modern light and fruity style.

Kakurei Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5; Rice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: Kakurei) was the next on the list, and it seemed even more traditional than the Daiginjo. The nose was much more subtle, with a hint of the rice. The flavor was lighter and round flavors of rice and grains, with a clean and dry finish. There was more pronounced flavor of umami towards the finish. In the end, this was my favorite saké of the night, as I kept coming back for more.

The Kakurei Trifecta was comlete with the introduction of Plum Saké, made by infusing Japanese plums into the Kakurei Junmai Ginjo. This was an intense version of a plum saké with a long finish and deep acidity, yet still showcased the light mouthfeel unlike the high viscosity common in plum wines.

The fourth selection was Kimi No I "Kurahiden" Yamahai Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 58%, Yeast: Assoc #10). While the nose was typical of Niigata saké with balance of steamed rice and fruits, the flavor was deep yet soft featuring earthier elements of nuts, grain, and chocolate.

We went back to drinking Daiginjo on the next selection in Ma No Tsuru Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.1, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: K1701). With Gohyakumangoku rice as a base, the aroma and flavor was only mildly fruity with an underlying earthy notes and creamy expression of rice. The body was delightfully light.

The last bottle was Karen "Coy" Junmai (SMV: -23, Acidity: 2.9, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A), which reaffirmed that I do prefer dry sakés.

Even though I was fighting a cold (perils of being in retail business during late fall/winter season), I had a great time. Toshi was very accomodating, the brewers were very enthusiastic and informative, I've made few more friends along the way, all the while Niigata sakés flowed deep into the evening...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

11/12: B.Y.O.S. Tasting at the Urban Saké Headquarters

Just two days later, I found myself at the Urban Saké Headquarters, participating in a "BYOS" ~ Bring Your Own Saké ~ event. The main idea was to encourage bringing a bottle that can be served chilled and warm. For this event, Nell from Aubirya Kinnosuké, Keiko Sato from World Saké Importers, and Urban Saké friends Chao-I, Brad, July, and Scott were the lucky participants.

Even luckier for us, Tim was making chicken yaki-tori with Nell's help. The menu for the night also included seaweed salad, and fresh shrimp spring rolls. All the dishes were great, even if the spring rolls contained cilantro...

To kick off the event, Tim suggested we have a toast. He unvailed Gassan "Izumo" Junmai Ginjo (SMV: 3.5, Acidity: N/A, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: N/A) from Shimane Prefecture, a bottle he received from the brewers during the Joy of Saké event. This was a fantastic bottle, featuring fruity melon and tropical fruits flavors followed by harmonizing sweetness and bitterness common in "Junmai" production style, evolving to a clean and dry finish.

By contrast, Chao-I's Junmai Ginjo was riper and fruitier. His contribution was Mutsu Hassen Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Miyamanishiki , Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: Assoc #10)from Aomori Prefecture , that featured fruity pineapple and lychee on the nose with ripe pineapple and intense strawberries on the palate. The finish was clean and dry with good depth, but the juiciness on the palate combined with the lack of sweet/bitter balance made it seem slightly sweeter.

Nell's contribution was one of those sakés that's destined to be heated, in the form of Matsu No I Tokubetsu Honjōzō (SMV: +5. Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 58%, Yeast: Assoc #10) with a balance of earthy flavors, minerals, and importantly, good depth to maintain the structure of saké even after it was heated. This was served at 104F, as Tim used a digital thermometer to keep track of the temperature.

Next, we moved on to my choice, the Shichi Hon Yari Junmai (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Tamazakae, Seimaibuai: 60%, Yeast: N/A)from Shiga Prefecture. Although my general preference for saké is geared toward complex, mildly fruity, and very clean, I adore this earthy-style saké. It is complex and layered, with flavors of steamed rice, mushrooms, nuts, cocoa complemented by lighter body and understated crispness. This is fantastic warmed or chilled, and a bottle I just had to bring.

Brad brought Setsugetsubijin Junmai Ginjo (Data N/A) from Oita Prefecture in Kyushu Island, area famous for Shochu. Interestingly, this turned out to be an earthier style for a Junmai Ginjo, as it featured flavors of steamed rice and light fruits with a very mineral driven finish. Although we didn't warm it, looking back, I feel that this bottle has the requisite characters (depth, minerality) to make it a good candidate to be warmed.

Julie brough Tenranzan "Saké Roman" Junmai Nigori (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: N/A) from Saitama Prefecture, which was a pretty chunky style of Nigori, but with good balance and milder palate than the body would suggest.

The last bottle was from Keiko-san, Kamoizumi "Shusen" Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +1, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Hiroshima Hattan, Seimaibuai: 58%, Yeast: N/A). Commonly referred to as "Three Dots" based on the Kanji character on the bottle, this saké from Hiroshima is famous for its distinct flavors of mushroom and mildly sweet earthiness, which takes on a totally round flavor when served warm.

Right around this time, Scott showed up with Choux Factory's choux creams, to take a quick break from tasting. Naturally, with Scott now in the fold, it would be extremely rude not to revisit the sakés... a perfect end to a picture perfect evening!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

11/10/06: Sake Double- Header

When it rains, it pours, and sometimes, that's a good thing. Like today, I had two saké events to attend, one where I was a presenter and second where I was an attendee. Not surprisingly, there were lot of pouring to be done.

5:00 pm~ 6:30 pm: Saké Tasting at Daily Candy

I was asked by friendly staffs from Daily Candy to help with a sushi and saké event for their clients. With the goal being educating about 25 attendees on sakés, I recommended the following 6 bottles covering different grades and production methods:

Aramasa Junmai: From Akita. Dryness: +3, Acidity: 1.6. Mild nuts, grain. Medium- bodied with clean notes of steamed rice and grain. Refined, light finish. Pair with lighter meats, tempura. Serve warmed or chilled. (Pic, right)

Bandai Junmai: From Fukushima. Aged one year in tank, resulting in a slightly oxidized style. Full- bodied with dried fruits and nuts on the nose, followed by dried fruits and hints of soy sauce on the palate. Earthy dishes, red meat. Serve warmed or chilled. (No picture available)

Oni No Shitaburui Honjozo: From Tottori. +12, 1.4. Some fruit, but mostly grain. Medium- bodied, very dry, tastes like saké. Can be served warmed or chilled. (Pic of label, left)

Shirayuki Shiboritate: From Nada (Hyogo). +3, 1.2. Pasteurized once, with added alcohol. Made once a year. Light, easy drinking type. Good with stewed dishes, bouillabase. Serve chilled or warmed. (Pic N/A)

Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo: From Fukushima. +1, 1.4. Made in a labor-intensive Kimoto method to enhance fermentation (=richer flavor.) Mildly fruity nose followed by refreshing notes of mild fruit and grain on the palate. Pair with fish, lighter meats, or well-seasoned vegetables. Best served chilled but can be warmed. (Pic, right)

Kaori Junmai Ginjo: From Yamaguchi. +3, 1.5. Flavors of sharp, fruity, and juicy Muscat grapes. Medium-bodied with medium dry finish. Pair with fish, lighter meats, well-seasoned vegetables, creamy sauces, and tomato sauces. Serve chilled only (Pic, left).

Sawanotsuru Zuicho Junmai Daiginjo: From Hyogo. +0, 1.7. Richer style of daiginjo. This particular one has a very low fruit in the palate, instead featuring sweetness of the rice. Versatile pairing with food, ideal with appetizers. Serve chilled. (Pic, right)

The event was basic explanation and Q & A between sips of saké and bites of sushi. The attendees were later forwarded the exact notes above, as well as list of resources for further studies. Unfortunately, my lens got stuck after I dropped my camera this morning, so I have no photographical evidence I was there!

It would've been really cool to stick around longer, but I had to attend the inaugural...

7:00 pm~9:00 pm: Akita Saké Connoisseur's Club Tasting Event

I was informed of this event through Yamamoto-san, one of the founders of this Club. The event was held at the World Sake Importers' NY Office. Among the attendees were Chizuko-san from Sakagura and Natsuyo Lipshutz, both co-founders of the club, as well as Keiko and Asami-san from WSI, Henry Sidel from Joto Saké, Tim Sullivan, and Lefty.
There were officially 12 sakés on the menu, plus Yamamoto-san opened up one bottle for founders and friends, after most of the attendees left. The list is as follows:

Akitabaré "Sui Raku Ten" Daiginjo, Shimizu No Mai Junmai Daiginjo, Yuki No Bosha Junmai Daiginjo, Ama No To "Hyosho Usu Nigori", Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo, Tenju "Chōkaisan" Junmai Ginjo, Hinomaru "Benimansaku" Junmai Ginjo, Dewatsuru "Matsukura" Junmai Ginjo, Hideyoshi "Aki No Ta" Junmai Ginjo, Naba Honten "Jizaké Monogatari" Yamahai Junmai Ginjo, Kariho "Namahagé" Junmai, and Akitabaré "Koshiki Junzukuri" Junmai.

Since I've covered some sakés extensively in the past (such as Yuki No Bosha), here are three sakés that made a big impression on me:

* Tenju "Chōkaisan" Junmai Ginjo (SMV: 0~+2. Acidity: 1.3~1.5, Rice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: ND-4). With the polishing ratio that qualifies as a Daiginjo, "Chōkaisan" was the best of the new sakés I've tried. Very fruity yet light and elegant, with umami towards the finish, this saké combined elegance with substance.

* Akitabaré "Sui Raku Ten" Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 45%, Yeast: Assoc #9). Given to me as a gift, this was the bottle that put saké on my radar screen several years ago. Back then, I remembered this saké as being fruity and clean. This time, the impression was bit different, as I noted balanced fruitiness and grain, steamed rice, and umami. Since it was aged for 5 years in a chilled temperature, it displayed the overall roundness.

* The third bottle was the Sasabune Fukuromachi Daiginjo (Data N/A), which was the "13th bottle." This had a very fruity nose with deep flavors of pineapple and melon, and a fantasic clean and dry finish.

The inaugural event was highly attended and successful, and future prospects looks very promising for ASCC.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

10/21/06: Mutual Trading Food and Restaurant Show

On this day, was invited to attend the Mutual Trading Food and Restaurant Show as a member of the trade. I was really looking forward to this, since Mutual Trading carries some of the top-notch saké selections. So what if it meant I start tasting sakés starting around 11 am?! The good thing is, this is technically a "Food and Restaurant" Show, so there's plenty of yummy food to help my cause.

This was a fun event overall. There were great artisinal food ranging from fine nori, red saké vinegar, purple potato vinegar, sea salt, miso, and real wagyu. In addition, there were fine display of kitchenware, plates, and knives. We won't mention the fact that I got bit drunk and carried away, resulting in a purchase of table top personal hibachi and engraved Japanese knife! (It's a real good thing I am not an angry drunk.)

Without further ado, here are the top sakés out of many fine selections (which excludes Dassai, as I wanted to mention other brands.):

Gold Medal: Sudo Honké "Sato No Homaré" ("Pride of the Village") Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadaho, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: Sudo). Sudo Honké is the oldest brewery in Japan, having established in 1141, and the current President represents the 55th generation of the founder. With such history, it comes as no surprise that "Sato No Homaré" is less fruity and more traditional style of Junmai Ginjo, as the flavors include subtle yet complex balance of cream, vanilla, grain, spices, amami, and umami (Note: the picture is for Yamadanishiki version; the one I tasted has black label.). Interestingly, their highly touted "Kakunkō" Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadahō, Seimaibuai: 28%, Yeast: Sudo) is a very juicy and fruity style, as it resembles biting into a ripe pineapple with honey and spices drizzed on top. However, what ties the two sakés together is the fact that the flavors tend to intensify on the second sip, a rare trait. These are truly connoisseur's sakés.

Silver Medal: This was a very difficult choice. I decided to go with a saké from Muromachi Shuzo (Japanese-only website) of Okayama, an underrated area that produces great sakés. In a slight edge, I am going with the Muromachi "Jidai" ("Era") Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Omachi, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: N/A) over their "Bizen Maboroshi" ("Mirage of Bizen") Junmai Ginjo (SMV: 3, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Omachi, Seimaibuai: 58%, Yeast: N/A). Both use Omachi rice, which is father strain to the famed Niigata rice Gohyakumangoku, as well as Aiyama and Tamazakae. Omachi gives Muromachi Jidai strong aromatic nose of pineapples, soft and round apporach, palate of ripe pineapples and lychee, with a mildly long finish. By comparison, Bizen Maboroshi was lighter and focused on thje palate, but I liked the umami-laden long finish better.

Bronze Medal: To give you the idea of the quality of the competition, the legendary Born "Yumé Wa Masayumé" Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: Kato #9) took Bronze here. This is their top offering, an aged Junmai Daiginjo stored at -8C (18F) for 5 years before the release. With the chilled aging, it helped retain clarity of the saké, and effect of aging was evident in the very smooth, round, and light mouthfeel. In addition, the passage of time did not thin out the aroma and palate, as I would consider it aromatic and fruity.

I have to say that I am very impressed with the quality of Mutual Trading's portfolio. There were many fantastic sakés that could placed within top 3, and it should be known that the final determination was significantly biased by my own palate. I'd advise you to try some of these sakés for your self, and see how they stack up!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

10/19/06: Nanbu Bijin Tasting at Saké Hana

I truly believe that saké tasting experience is greatly enhanced when you have good people around you. Now when that circle of people includes saké brewers, well, the event becomes momentous.

I had a chance to be up and close with Mr. Kosuke Kuji from Nanbu Bijin Brewery when Toshi from Saké Hana asked me to help translate for the event.

The event was attended by a lot of familiar faces, including Sakurai-san of Asahi Shuzo, Tim Sullivan of you know where, Lefty from NY Saké Meetup Group, Toshi-san's better half Tomo-chan and her partner in crime Chie-san (left, in the picture), my co-worker Akiko & her husband Drew (right and center in the picture), and tasting event regular Ai-san. No, there was no pressure what-so-evah!

First, a little background about Nanbu Bijin Brewery: Based in beautiful Iwate Prefecture surrounded in nature, the company was established in 1902 as a retailer before beginning production in 1915. Mr. Kuji is the fifth generation running the brewery. Their philosophy is to brew saké by taking advantage of natural resources of Iwate. Their ideal saké experience is to bring a smile to people's faces without having them think about it.

This concept of enjoyment was very evident from Mr. Kuji's contagious smile. Although he didn't speak much English, he had a gift of communicating with the audience through sheer force of his charisma. There were smiles and laughter echoing througout the evening.

So, what did the sakés taste like?

We started with their entry level Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV: +7, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Gin-otome, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: Assoc #9). Using the local rice, this is a very straight forward with flavors of steamed rice, mild fruits, and touch of cinnamon leading to a finish with balanced sweetness and bitterness. The very dry finish and depth makes it food-friendly, and I'd imagine it would be a good candidate to serve warm as well.

After the little warm-up, Kuji-san wasted little time in getting to the good stuff in the form of Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: Iwate #2). Aged for one year prior to releasing, it shows good expression of melon, lychee, and mild amami with a mildly dry finish. Incidentally, this was one of the sakés selected for Japan Airlines in-flight saké list for next year. For those interested, their current list can be seen here.

The next on deck was a special and rare selection, a Shizuku (free-run, or trickle) style Daiginjo made for competition purposes. While using traditional pressing method like accordion- shaped Yabuta machine or tub-like Fune yield healthy amount, Shizuku relies solely on gravity with limited run time of four hours to avoid oxidization. The result is a yield that would be 1/40th of the usual pressing. Apparently, this saké was tremendous, but I wouldn't know because I was too busy explaining and didn't get to try it (they had already ran out when I asked for a glass later.)

The next special saké eased my pain somewhat, as Kuji-san introduced a 10 Year Old Daiginjo (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.2, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A), which is not available for purchase anywhere. Kuji-san explained that this came straight from the brewery's storage, reserved for guests of honor at the kura. It's so rare, that even he had yet to taste it! Upon tasting, he noted that this is a great demonstration of the changing style of saké production, proclaiming this as a prototypical "traditional" style as opposed to modern, fruitier style. The "traditional" style seems much closer to the Ginjos, with its very clean approach. The flavor was mildly fruity with notes of green apples. Despite aging for 10 years, the cold fermentation and lack of inpurities kept the saké clear; where the effect of aging was evident was in the very round and mellow flavor profile and overall mild profile.

The last saké of the night was another rarity, as Mr. Kuji introduced All Koji 2006 (SMV: -20, Acidity: 3.5, Rice: Toyonishiki, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: Assoc #1601 and Assoc #77) served in a Champagne glass with a fresh strawberry inside. As the name indicates, this is made 100% using Koji yeast starter, while regular saké would contain 20% Koji. Although this was a style developed by Nanbu Bijin, but because the media wrote about this saké prior to release, they were unable to obtain a patent due to a loophole Japanese patent law. After tasting it with a strawberry inside, I asked to try it on itself to find out that it had a gentle nose of steamed rice, with a rich body with a long sweet/bitter finish.

Although the tasting officially ended at this point, we had an obligation to finish what Mr. Kuji brought, as afterall, it would be cruel for him to carry all those bottles home. It took a couple more hours, but we did polish off everything.

The night got even more special, when one of my friend says, "hey, isn't that the baseball player?" I turned around to look, thinking it was the saké talking. Well, what do you know, there's Hideki Matsui from the Yankees sitting by the window. We left him alone until we had to leave, but he was very gracious in posing for a picture, as I happened to have a camera ready because of this event! (Flanked by Tomo-chan, Ai-san, and me).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

10/8/06: Sakagura

One Sunday after work, I stopped by Sakagura with Lefty, as it was the last day of the two- week saké special commemorating their 10 Year Anniversary.

The first saké on the menu was Ryusei Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: N/A, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A), from Hiroshima Prefecture. I've had their Tokubetsu Junmai, and always thought it was atypical for Hiroshima saké, as it had more expression and fruit oriented rather than having a distinct earthy component like Kamoizumi or Suishin. This was very good with deep and firm fruit expression and long finish.

Next up was Kirinzan Jumai Daiginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Takanenishiki, Seimaibuai: 45%, Yeast: N/A), from Niigata Prefecture, which was very memorable for its uniquely shaped blue bottle. Initially, this was a lot like many Niigata saké with notes of steamed rice and cream with initial sweetness. However, this saké had an extraordinary long finish that slowly turned dry.

Although late lunch meant I wasn't particulary hungry, Chizuko-san gave us the seasonal menu. Not a bad idea, since we were planning on consuming quite a few more selections. We chose couple of superb dishes, including home-made tofu that uses mascarpone cheese, and the prized matsutake mushroom tempura served with salt from Okinawa.

With such fine cuisine on the way, my next choice had to be equally great. For that, I turned to Yusura Junmai Nama Ginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A), by the legendary Sudo Honke ("House of Sudo") of Ibaraki Prefecture. This was the perfect choice to go with the dishes, as vibrancy of the namazaké was contrasted with the silky texture of tofu while cutting through the tempura skin. Flavor-wise, it was mostly creamy steamed rice with touch of mint and a very long finish.

I couldn't decide what to try next. Chizuko-san gave me taste of clean and grainy Aramasa Junmai (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: Assoc #6 a.k.a. "Shinsei" or "Aramasa"), from Akita Prefecture and much richer and earthier Bandai Junmai (Data N/A), from Fukushima Prefecture, but neither really hit the spot to follow Yusura. Flipping through the extensive beeverage menu, I found a saké that I've always wanted to try: Narutotai Genshu (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: N/A), from Tokushima Prefecture. I've had other Genshu, but this one always intrigued me for some reason. ALthough Narutotai is brewed as Yamahai in addition to being a Genshu, the theme of this saké is balance. Right off the nose, there is the Yamahai-like nose of steamed rice and nuts. On the palate, there is a gentle yet expressive steamed rice and mild fruit that leads to long, balanced, and clean finish. This is definitely one of the best Genshu I have tried.

The last order of the night was recommended by Lefty, and it was Daruma Masamune Koshu, a multi-vintage blend of '72, '82, '84, and '94 vintages. Simply put, Koshu is Japan's answer to sherries and ports. Daruma Masamune was complex, starting with oxidized aromas of dried fruits like sherry. The flavor slowly evolved from sherry to dark chocolate before finishing with long notes of coffee and spices. This is a great study in versatility of saké, and an appropriate coda for the evening.