Thursday, April 12, 2007

4/11/07: Back to Sakagura

After the eye-opening revelation in the form of Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo, I had to go back to Sakagura to try it again. (Although I did have ulterior motive as well, and that will become apparent towards the end of this monh.)

My initial plan was to have two masu's worth of Kokuryu and grab few bites. Of course, not everything works out the way they're planned and being that this is Sakagura, that's a good thing.

Before getting down to the business with Kokuryu, I needed to adjust my palate. As it is a season of nama, I decided to try one I have yet to try this year. On that account, I order one of my perennial favorite, Otokoyama Yukishibore (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A), a lightly cloudy style from Hokkaido. The 2007 version didn't have much of the yogurt-like nose, but it was more minerally with vibrant notes of pineapple and lychee on the palate.

Before I was ready to finish the glass, Mr. Kadoi lines up three glasses on the counter, insisting I try some new sakés (um, OK, if you insist...) They were Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: Brewer's H-1), a saké I had a chance to try at this event. While the flavor was not as intense nor fruity as other junmai daiginjo's, perhaps a function of soft water, the palate was balance of sweet rice and minerals, with a noticeably soft and delicate body. This is another saké with a long umami on the finish, a trait I seem to favor these days.

The second glass was Hakurakusei Junmai Ginjo Namazaké (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Omachi, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: N/A), another saké I had a chance to try at EN. This was more mineral driven, with a noticeable mildness that slowly builds up to a long intense finish.

The third of trial servings was a surprising one. In my last visit, I had the Miyasaka Yamahai Junmai Ginjo, and I passed on their "Yawaraka" Junmai (SMV: N/A, Acidity: N/A, Rice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A). The reason I passed on it was looking at alcohol percentage of 12%, a clear indication of sweetness. With Mr. Kadoi's insistence, I gave it a go. With a nose of mild celery and fruit, I detected no sweetness. Curious at this point, I took a sip, which was soft and went down like water, with faint hint of banana, and believe it or not, finishing dry. But something doesn't add up... low alcohol and dryness? I suspect that the softness and dryness is a result of having higher water content during the dilution process.

With my palate primed, I ordered my Kokuryu. My neighbors to my right, two fellows in the media industry, were curious so Yamaguchi-san gave them a sample. They liked it, and reciprocated by giving me a sip of Okunomatsu Juhachidai Ihei Daiginjo, a top of the line saké polished down to 35% (life is good!).

To balance my equilibrium, I ordered a daily special dish: fire-roasted duck. Yamaguchi-san insisted I try Miyasaka Yamahai Junmai Ginjo, a recommended pairing by Saké Sommelier Momose-san. The pairing was incredible, as I felt that when having this dish, I wouldn't want to drink any other saké than Miyasaka Yamahai Junmai Ginjo, not even Kokuryu.

In the mean time, a young lady to my left was a visitor from San Francisco. She was relatively new to the world of saké, and just finished her glass of Ichinokura Himezen, a light and off-dry style. Talking with her, I recommended she try a sip of Dassai Junmai Ginjo. She was pleasantly surprise that she liked a drier style saké. I think she crossed over, and there is no turning back!

The evening concluded with another masu of Kokuryu... Life is good!

Monday, April 09, 2007

4/7/07: Sakagura Visit

Nihonshudō has been very quiet for about a month, leading up to the previous post, and for a good reason: I changed my non-saké related job (the one that pays my rent). With the toll from transition to a new job and getting used to a work that demands more out of me, it has been tough to keep up on this side of my career.

With things settling down more or less back to normal, I decided to celebrate this occasion by making a random visit to Sakagura, with the goal of trying one particular saké in mind.

The very first order was for Miyasaka Junmai Ginjo Yamahai (SMV: N/A, Acidity: N/A, Rice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: Assoc #7). If the combination of the name "Miyasaka" with the profile of Miyamanishiki and Assoc #7 (Nanago) rings a bell to you as the brewer of the famed "Masumi" label, do pass "Go" and collect $200 for your efforts (but not from my wallet.) This second label offering featured nose of rice, and mild minerally palate that slowly intensified in flavor to show pineapples melon, with a slightly off-dry finish that seems about -1 on the SMV. A very good choice to start my night.

After having the obligatory glass of Sato No Homaré while enjoyig order of Gyu Misonikomi (beef cartlidge braised in miso sauce) and Gindara Shio Yaki (Grilled Cod), it was time to order the special glass. How special was this saké? It is only made in the finest years (yes, a vintage release saké), made in a junmai daiginjo nama shizuku style, and 1.7 oz tasting glass sets you back $43: The Daishichi Myouka Rangyoku (SMV: N/A, Acidity: N/A, Rice: Yamadanishiki Plus*, Seimaibuai: 50% Flat Polishing, Yeast: N/A.)

The full name suggests that there are many ways of sayng it's special (junmai daiginjo "super premium", nama "unpasteurized", shizuku "free-run" style). But perhaps what's most astonishing about the production of this saké is not evident from reading the bottle: they hand selected each one of the several million kernels of Yamadanishiki rice used for this saké (which I called Yamadanishiki Plus for lack of a better term.)

From my experience, sakés costing over $80 tend to have intense flavor as a common element, as many tend to be "competition saké" that are created to be memorable. Many of these are made super premium, undiluted, fortified, free-run style, or combination of several of those styles. In this case, however, Myouka Rangyoku did a great job of balancing complexity and delicateness without being overbearing. Initially, the aroma was combination of ripe Japanese pear, lychee, and traces of sugar. The entry was soft from shizuku production, and the palate was lively, intense, and focused Japanese pears and melon leading to bitter, minerally finish.

My last selection of the evening proved to be the winner, and is quickly ascending the ranks as one of my favorites. When I had the sip of Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Gohyakumagoku, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A) from Fukui Prefecture, I was blown away by its killer finish. In short, this saké is as if Dassai Junmai Ginjo and Sato No Homaré had an offspring. Fruity on the nose and initial impact that eventually yields to a very long, firm, and umami-laden finish. Like Dorito's, you can't just have one (sip). Unfortunately, the word is that Kokuryu brand is not available for sale in the stores. This could get dangerous and expensive...

With extensive list featuring about 200 bottles, visiting Sakagura is always full of options and never dull, and tonight, I was lucky to unearth a winner.

4/5/07: Red Saké Revisited

In my second post, I mentioned a red saké by Kiku Masamuné I took back from Japan. It turns out that there is a red saké is available in the form of Kikusakari Asamurasaki (SMV: -3, Acidty: 2.5, Rice: Asamurasaki, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: Brewer's Original) by Kiuchi Brewery from Ibaraki Prefecture.

With the Staff Training on saké on the schedule, I made sure I put Asamurasaki on the list of bottles to sample. So, without further ado, here is my report:

The nose is funky and gamey (almost made me think the bottle was off), bit rustic with elements of strawberry. The taste is reminiscent of Japanere red beans and strawberries. It is full-bodied, with surprisingly clean finish.

Two thoughts I had were that it was lighter, but had similar tasting profile to Kiku Masamuné's version of the red, and if compared with red wine, it reminded me of a rustic styled gamay from Burgundy.

Although it would not qualify as my everyday saké, it certainly is worth trying at least once though it would set you back $34.

Of the five sakés chosen for training, I had tried three before. The other one I haven't tried was the newly released Masumi "Arabashiri" Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu (SMV: -2, Acidity: N/A, Rice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: Assoc #7). Being a nama genshu, I always found its palate to be intense and vibrant, and this vintage was no exception.

Well, an interesting thing about saké is that while they try to be consistent, there may be some differences year to year. In that vain, while I found this year's version to have the same core flavors of Japanese pear and slight earthiness, I found the nose to be more intense, and flavor to be bit sweeter with longer finish. If this were a wine, I'd call it a riper vintage. This saké is now available in the US for roughly $32.