Sunday, February 28, 2010

Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet: Saké Tasting

Yukimi-zake once again!

Yesterday, as snow flakes drifted down, I attended a Saké tasting at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose. Adrienne, a representative from Classic Wine Imports, was on hand to pour and explain about the Saké. I had previously tasted a number of the offerings, but a couple were new to me.

First up was the Hakushika Junmai Ginjo, which is produced by the Tatsuuma-Honke Brewing Company Limited that was founded in 1662. "Hakushika" translates as "white deer" and has an intriguing derivation. There is an ancient Chinese legend about a white deer which had lived for over one thousand years. This deer was revered as a holy animal, a symbol of longevity. The Hakushika was named after this deer, with the hope that their Saké would "be always synonymous with life energy flow, longevity and good omen."

The Hakushika has a SMV +0, making it more neutral in character. It is smooth, light & has some nice subtle fruit flavors. This has always been one of my favorite every-day Sakés, something mild enough to appeal to most people. It generally comes in a 300ml bottle, so you can take a chance on a small bottle rather than risking your purchase on a large bottle.

Next up, the Murai Tanrei Junmai from the Momokawa Brewery in Japan. Associated with the SakeOne brewery in Oregon, the Momokawa Brewery produces the Murai Family line, after the name of the owners. Momokawa's origins can be traced back to the late Edo Period (c. 1603-1868), when the influential Miura Family began brewing saké in Momoishi Village. On each bottle of the Murai line, there is a picture of a Nebuta Warrior. This famous symbol has numerous origin stories and one claims that the fiery warriors were created by General Tamuramaro out of bamboo and paper to scare off rebels.

This Tanrei Junmai is made from Mutsuhomare rice, which has been milled to 65%, and has a SMV of +5, making it a bit dry. Tanrei translates as "crisp and dry" and very much describes this Saké. It has a fruity nose, nice melon and apple flavors, with a very crisp, clean flavor. An excellent choice for sashimi. This is also a good Saké for newcomers, smooth and easy-drinking.

The third offering was the Chikurin Fukamari Junmai, made by the Marumoto Brewery in the Okayama prefecture which was founded in 1867. "Chikurin" means "bamboo" and "Fukamari" means "depth." It is made with Yamada Nishiki rice, milled to 60%, and has a SMV of +4, making it slightly dry. What really makes this Saké unique is that it is blended with a bit of Koshu, aged Saké, which is from 1-5 years old. The idea for doing this was inspired by the smell of rich incense at a local temple. This would be like adding the flavor and richness of a Port to a wine.

This Saké was full bodied and rich, with a smooth creaminess. It was very different from the two prior Sakés which were light and crisp. I tried some of this Saké with some bleu cheese and it paired well together, the richness of the Saké complementing and taming the tangy taste of the cheese. A milder Saké would have been overwhelmed by this cheese. It also would pair well with many other foods, including fried chicken and possibly even a steak.

From the richness of that Saké, we then moved onto a much lighter one, the Ozeki Osakaya Chobei “First Boss” Dai Ginjo. The Ozeki brewery has been around for almost 300 years, and was the first major Japanese brewery to begin production in the U.S. "Ozeki" is roughly translated as "champion" and its origins extend back hundreds of years when men used to gather for sumo wrestling. Ozeki was originally the title for the sumo champion, though that term eventually changed. Yet, the brewery currently awards an Ozeki Cup to victorious sumo wrestlers.

The Saké is made from Yamada Nishiki, polished to 50%, and with a SMV of +4, making it slightly dry. It has a bit of a floral aroma, and its flavors are more subtle and complex, with some white fruit tastes. This is an elegant Saké to slowly savor and enjoy. It should be paired with light dishes, such as fish or chicken.

Now onto a more fun drink, the Ume No Yado Hoshi Usagi “Star Rabbit” Blueberry-Infused Sparkling Saké. “Ume No Yado” means “Plum House” and stems an ancient plum tree located on the grounds of the brewery which has been there for as long as anyone can remember. The brewery, founded in 1893, is located in the mountain region of Nara in Japan. The Saké appears a bit cloudy in the bottle, almost like a Nigori.

This Saké has been infused with blueberry juice adding a prominent blueberry flavor. It is crisp and refreshing on the palate, with a touch of sweetness. It only has a touch of effervescence so the carbonation does not overwhelm. It has a low alcohol content, around 7%, and will appeal to most people, even those who generally dislike Saké. It has enough sweetness to appeal to most people, but not so much that is seems cloying or syrupy.

For the finish, was the Murai Nigori Genshu, from the Momokawa Brewery like the previous Murai Tanrei Junmai. This Nigori is made from Mutsuhomare rice, milled to 75%, with a SMV of -18, making it very sweet. As this is a Genshu, it means additional alcohol is added, bringing its alcohol content up to 19.9%.

This is a thick and creamy Saké, with sweet flavors of coconut and vanilla. It is more of a dessert drink, though you could pair it with some spicy dishes, such as curries. You could pour this over ice cream rather than chocolate sauce. For me though, it had too much alcohol, and it is very noticeable in the taste. I would question why this Nigori was made a Genshu, when I would suspect it would taste better without the added alcohol.

Kudos to Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet for helping to promote Saké, and I am sure their selection will continue to expand and improve.



Veronique Deblois said...

I was just telling my hubby last night that we don't know enough about sake. Thanks for this insightful post.

Anonymous said...

For the uninitiated, the SMV number means???

Richard Auffrey said...

Welcome Veronique. You will find plenty of info on sake on my blog. Just look for keyword sake on the right hand column.

SMV=Sake Meter Value, in short it indicates whether a sake is dry or sweet. The higher the positive #, the drier the sake, and the more negative the #, the sweeter.