Thursday, July 16, 2009

WBW#59: Saké Round Up

It appears that Saké is still intimidating to some as well as not as widely available as it should be. But, on a positive note, those who really give Saké a try seem to appreciate it and want to learn much more about it.

For Wine Blogging Wednesday #59, I chose to pay homage to Kushi no Kami, an ancient god of Saké. For this theme, participants had to conduct a kikishu (“Saké tasting”) by selecting any Saké and reviewing it. They could earn bonus points if they reviewed multiple Sakés of different styles or types, as well as if they paired Saké with food. My hope was that people would explore this unique beverage, and maybe gain a better appreciation for it.

Participation in this theme was not as extensive as I would have liked but those who did participate were quite enthusiastic. In fact, over 30 Sakés were reviewed and discussed which will thus give you lots of different recommendations. Plus, we had two special guests, both well known Saké experts, who joined in on the Saké fun.

Our first special guest was John Gauntner, a famed Saké authority and educator. The Japanese media refers to him as the "Saké Dendoushi" ("Saké Evangelist"), for his intense devotion to the promotion of Saké. John reviewed a Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai-shu from Niigata. This is the first time this brewery has made this style of Saké. He said: "How'd it taste? Rich, young, tight, clean and balanced." It also had fruit flavors including: "Mostly berry-like stuff: cranberry, raspberry, a bit of apple too I guess." This is a Saké I would love to try.

Our second special guest was Beau Timken, a Saké authority and the owner of True Sake, the first all-Saké store in the U.S. He reviewed the Kikuhime Dai Ginjo, a very pricey Saké at $125 a bottle, but also quite an exceptional one. Beau may not remember his first love, but he certainly remembers his first taste of this wonderful drink. He provides his tasting notes from the first time he tasted this as well as his most current tasting note of this Saké. Does this not sound enticing? "With a gentle collection of cherry, sweet rice, melon, lavender, and powdered sugar aromas, this brew is a mouth-ride at its finest." This is a Saké for the true aficianado, for someone seeking the best of the best. For a Saké experience like that, I would pay its high cost.

As for the rest of the participants, many of them earned bonus points for tasting multiple Sakés as well as pairing them with food. Plus, some people earned additional bonus points for going beyond the usual, and adding even more cool information about Saké to their posts.

Victoria of Read Me, Drink Me earns bonus points for reviewing multiple Sakés as well as describing her trip to the Takara Brewery and museum in Berkeley, California. I have been there too so it was cool to resurrect that memory and Victoria does a great job of describing it. Victoria also reviews 8 different Sakés from Takara! She enjoyed some of them but not others. Her favorite was the Sho Chiku Bai Antique (though pricey at $60) which was "a surprisingly unique and complex selection" with "Earthy notes of moss and mushroom were complemented by sweet notes that went past the usual melon fruit to more floral and herbal ones."

Marcy of Come For the Wine earned bonus points for reviewing two different Sakés, as well as pairing one with food. She first tried the Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai, finding it "easy to drink with a light citrus fragrance and a smooth lemony juniper flavor." It paired well with Yakitori. Next, she tried the Onikoroshi Daiginjo which was "dry and delicate but more floral than fruity in fragrance." As an extra bonus, Marcy even mentioned a couple of her favorite Sakés, including Yumedono Junmai Daigino and Hasumago (one of her favorite “go –to” Saké. Marcy ends her review stating: "The world of Sake certainly deserves more research on my part. But if you're looking for something new to drink, give sake a try."

Rich of the WineLabelReview tried the Momokawa Pearl Saké, a Nigori Genshu. He shared the bottle with a group of friends. Rich said: "It was a salty taste with hints of coconut/pineapple (kind of like a salty Malibu Rum with milk)." Though this did not go over well with many of the people, Rich was glad to have tried something new. A Nigori is probably not the best choice to serve to those new to Saké. I am also not a big fan of Nigori, except sometimes as a dessert wine. But Rich did tell us about a previous Saké that he tried, a Junmai Daiginjo Jyudan Jikomi. He said: "It tasted like sweet flower petals, malty and lemony all at the same time." Rich hopes to visit Sakaya, the all-Saké store in NYC later this summer.

Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 tried the Rihaku Wandering Poet Junmai Ginjo. She admits to knowing little about Saké so this theme was educational for her. She found this Saké to be "somewhat difficult to describe in terms of aromas and taste." Yet she liked it and felt "it represents good QPR." And she does want to learn more about Saké. So we have another convert.

Ryan of Oe-No-Phile tasted the SakeOne G, from a brewery in Oregon. Ryan gives a very detailed description of the appearance, nose and palate of this Saké. Part of his enticing description is "Flavors include orange, lemon, and vanilla. Austere and clean. Incredibly refreshing." He paired it with a wasabi and sesame crusted tuna steak and felt it was an excellent match. He comments that the "saké scrubs your palate clean, leaving a warm, but incredibly fresh feeling." He also recommends this Saké for newcomers.

Joel of Writer's Blanc reviewed the Sudo Honke ‘Sato No Homare’ Junmai Ginjo, which was one of the Sakés I actually reviewed. It is interesting to compare our thoughts on this Saké. Joel felt the "exceedingly smooth palate proffers white peach flesh, early golden plum flesh, creamed corn, and melon." He enjoyed this Saké and would like to try it with some nigiri sushi.

Erika of StrumErika is already a fan of Saké, stating it "can be so refreshing and beguiling." She tasted the Kanbara "Bride of the Fox" Junmai Ginjo and paired it will some spicy tuna hand rolls and spicy crab stick salad. She found the flavors and aroma "tough to pinpoint" but found "a lot of a sweet cereal aromas like a cream of wheat with layers of cucumber peel and a hint of orange zest." She also got a smell almost like "freshly folded laundry!" Though she enjoyed the Saké, it was pricey and she would like to find some less expensive, quality ones. She too wants to visit Sakaya, the all-Saké store in NYC.

Rob of Wine Post went with Leah, his girlfriend and a Saké lover, to Sake Hana, a Japanese restaurant/Sake Bar. They get bonus points for reviewing 6 Sakés! It is cool to see the different perceptions of Rob and Leah for each Saké, just as different people can view the same wine differently. Rob also relates a fascinating story about a group of Japanese patrons who brought in their own Saké to the restaurant. It appeared as if they brought in some rare and unusual bottles, and this seemed to intrigue Rob into wanting to get deeper into Saké.

Gwendolyn of Wine Predator also receives bonus points for reviewing multiple Sakés as well as pairing them with food. She began with two, the Sho Chiku Bai Nigori and Sho Chiku Bai Filtered which are from the Takara Brewery which Victoria previously discussed. Gwendolyn paired the two with some miso soup and sushi though she was not impressed with the Saké or food. Later, she also tasted the Shuzo Rihaku “Wandering Poet” and the organic Mumokawa Junmai Ginjo. The Mumokawa was her favorite and was organic "full of character, complexity, body, flavors of fuji apple, pungent, upfront, not subtle, and with a lingering finish." The Shuzo was her second favorite with "flavors of banana, sweeter than the organic ginjo, vague tropical fruits, pineapple." I also must give Gwendolyn extra points for including a couple poems by the Wandering Poet, Li Po, in her post.

For my own contribution, I reviewed two Sakés. I chose to review Sakés from breweries with long histories, including one that is over 860 years old! The Sakés included the Sato No Homare "Pride of the Village" Junmai Ginjo and Kuro Obi "Black Belt" Do-D0 Junmai Yamahai. The Sato No Homare was excellent, a complex and flavorful Saké which should appeal to everyone. The Kuro Obi was rustic, with an unusual taste, which should appeal to Saké lovers though it may not be something for newcomers.

Please check out the complete posts of all of the participants as they are fascinating. Thanks to everyone who participated in WBW#59. I hope everyone enjoyed the theme, maybe learned a thing or two, and hopefully there will be more converts to Saké.

And there was one more, last-minute participant. Tom of Ithacork reviewed two Sakés, earning bonus points for that. This included the Horin Gekkeikan Sake Junmai Daiginjo and Momokawa Pearl Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu Sake. Tom's favorite is definitely the Nigori. What really makes his post interesting is Tom's scientific approach to Saké, discussing matters such as phenylethanol and Aspergillus oryzae.


Ryan said...

This was a lot of fun - thanks for making my first WBW a good one. Anxious to read these other reviews!

ithacork said...

Nice work, team!

Here is my own very belated contribution.

Tokyofoodcast said...

This sounds like a lot of fun! Kanpai to everyone!