Tuesday, June 05, 2007

5/15/07: EN Japanese Brasserie Tasting Event

As they (*ahem!* I) say, sometimes, you find saké events, and sometimes, saké event finds you. Latter was the case for EN tasting event featuring 50 sakés by Banzai Beverage Corporation, which was a second installation of the successful event from back in September, 2006.

I must confess that I knew of this event, but having attended tasting events including my frequent visits to Sakagura recently combined with the fact that I already "knew" sakés from the last time, I did not make a reservation. When Toshi-san from Saké Hana called me on behalf of EN with an interesting proposition of getting paid while translating on behalf of saké brewers to the customers, then I was all for attending the event. Funny how small details changes one's perspective...

Speaking of changing one's perspective, there were some major surprises:

1) Winner of my Gold Medal from September, Hiroki, was a disappointment this time around. I had very high hopes based on my past experience, yet this time, I felt it lacked a strong presence in the middle, as if it lost its soul. I don't know what it is, whether it's bad harvest, its rising popularity forcing mass production, or whether these were same bottles from 6 months ago (all speculative, by the way), but something wasn't quite right although the data (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5, Rices: Yamadanishiki & Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 50% & 55% respectively, Yeast: N/A) is the same from 6 months ago. Needless to say, Hiroki failed to medal this time around.

2) Sumi No E "Tattoo" Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.5) Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 60%, Yeast: N/A) , featured at the booth I worked, used different rice compared with last September. Back then, they used Omachi Rice, while this time around, they went with Yamadanishiki. As a result, this year's saké was cleaner in style and minerally compared with last year. The Brewer mentioned that they felt change is necessary to to meet increase in demand while maintaining consistency. One of the fun part working in these events (outside of generous servings of saké) are all the behind the scenes information that the brewers happily share with you.

3) Gold winner hailed from a region that I would not expect good saké to be brewed. In fact, this had been a region that I had not taken seriously at all.

What I learned, especially based on points 1 and 3, is that the more I know, the less I know. Without further ado, here are the Medal Winners:

Gold Medal: Azumaichi Junmai Ginjo (SMV: 0, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: N/A). A big shocker here, as I have not come across impressive saké from Kyushu Island... until now. Crisp and vibrant with depth to the fruity palate followed with umami-laden finish, this was not a just a great saké from Kyushu, it was a simply a great saké. From Saga Prefecture.

Silver Medal: Isojiman Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Bizen Omachi, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A). I gave the edge to Tokubetsu Junmai over Junmai Ginjo, mainly because of the novelty value of using the Omachi rice, one of my recent favorites. Combining the clean fruity flavor, brawny spices, deep minerals, and long umami, this is complex and sturdy saké that's perfect for Spring or Autumn.

Bronze Medal: Katsuyama Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +1, Acidity: N/A, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: N/A) from Miyagi was the typically fragrant style expected out of junmai daiginjo. The profile of juicy pineapple and spices was reminiscent of the great Kakunkō, and I am led to believe that they use yeast #9 here. This was very popular among my friends. This was one of the sakés I took home.

5/12/07: Cyber Tasting at Urban Saké Headquarters

Back in late October of 2006, Saké Bloggers held their cyber tasting event. Since this blog began three days later, I did not qualify then. Now is a different story, however.

Tim has disclosed that the theme will be a vertical tasting featuring two different grades of saké by two different brewers from two different regions. Fearing that four sakés total would not be enough, I volunteered to bring a saké I never tried before in Koikawa Junmai Daiginjo. I was particularly interested in this bottle, as the main sakamai (saké rice) is a rarely used "Kame No O."

Attending the event were Tim, Robb Satterwhite from bento.com where he works with a noted saké blogger based in Japan, Atsuko (who I coincidentally met at a friend's wine party... oh the benefit of retro-blogging!), Min from Joto Saké, and Scott.

Here are my tasting notes:

• Hana No Mai Junmai Ginjo (SMV: 5, Acidity: 1.2, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A) from Shizuoka. Gentle steamed rice on the nose, hints of fruitiness. The flavor initially shows sweetness, but eventually shows koji/rice oriented flavor and long on the minerals. Firm and dry finish. Sweetness/acidity adds some complexity and layer.

Overall Rating: 6/10 (generous 6 at that.)

• Hana No Mai Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: 3, Acidity: 1.2, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: N/A) from Shizuoka. Very subtle nose. Clean Yamadanishiki flavor, but shows underlying minerals. Too much bitterness on the finish... They should’ve added jozo alcohol. Straight-forward and underwhelming.

Overall Rating: 4/10

• Suigei Junmai Ginjo (SMV: 7, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yeast: N/A) from Kochi. Subtle nose. Clean with yeasty minerals on the palate. Shibui. Firm, trailing bitter finish that overstays its welcome.

Overall Rating: 2/10

• Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV: 7, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Matsuyama Mitsui, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: N/A) from Kochi. Mild hints of rice. Mild grain, koji yeast, minerals. Medium-bodied but light on the palate, bit watery (in a good way).

Overall Rating: 6/10

Here are the notes on other selections:

• Koikawa Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: 5, Acidity: Rice: Kame No O, Seimaibuai: N/A Yeast:N/A) from Yamagata. Subtle nose of celery, sweet rice. Rice, grain, fruit, spices, and earthiness. Has some brawniness underneath, like Omachi. Mild umami on the finish.

• Kaika Muroka Nama Genshu (SMV: 1~2, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 59% Yeast:N/A) . Milder nose this year. Intense fruitiness is complemented by hints of fresh shiitake mushrooms. Almost off-dry.

The best saké of the night was provided by the host, and it happens to be one of the more popular one we see around: the ubiquitous Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto. Kurosawa offered familiarity through distinctness, simplicity through balance, and high quality through everyday value. You can't ask much more than that!