Sunday, May 16, 2010

TasteCamp: BYOB & Watari Bune Junmai Daiginjo

How do you intrigue a group of wine lovers and geeks? You let them taste something outside their comfort zone, something more unique which they might not normally taste on their own. And you hope that they enjoy what you bring.

At the recent TasteCamp in the Finger Lakes region of New York, there was a BYOB event aboard a ship docked on Seneca Lake and very close to our hotel. I knew I wanted to bring a Saké, in hopes of gaining some converts to this delicious drink. As I pondered the choices in my cellar, I knew only that I wanted something to impress, something to show the vast potential of Saké. In the end, I settled on a Junmai Daiginjo.

The Watari Bune Junmai Daiginjo ($125/720ml) is made by the Huchu Homare Brewery, which is located in the town of Ishioka, in the Ibaraki prefecture. Hundreds of years ago, Ishioka was the capital, or huchu, of the prefecture. When the brewery was founded in 1854, it was named "Huchu Homare" which translates as the “Pride of the capital." The brewery is still relatively small, only producing about twelve thousand cases of Saké each year.

This Saké is made from a rare heirloom variety of rice, Watari Bune. This rice, up to the 1930s, had been very popular but it was more vulnerable to the elements and eventually fell into disuse. But this brewery wanted to resurrect it, and found preserved seedlings at the Japanese Agricultural Research Center. The brewery planted them in 1988, and finally harvested their first batch in 1990. They are the only brewery that uses this rice.

As I mentioned, Watari Bune is an heirloom variety, a pure rice strain, and it should be noted that most Saké rices used today are hybrids. Watari Bune may also be the father strain to Yamada Nishiki, often considered the king of Saké rice.

This Saké has had its rice polished to 35%, and an SMV +3, making it slightly dry. It has an acidity of 1.4, an amino acidity of 1.0 and was pressed by hand in fune. It is a very impressive Saké, which enthralls with its complexities. On both the nose and palate, you will find a variety of smells and flavors, from floral notes to fruit, including melon, pineapple and peach. It is richer than some other daiginjos, and fills your mouth with bliss. The more you sip and savor each taste, pondering over what is in your mouth, the more you will find in it. It remains a very accessible Saké as well, and newcomers will still very much enjoy it.

What pleased me most were the comments from others who tasted this with me, their hugely positive comments, some stating that this was the best Saké they ever tasted. Joe of 1WineDude, Richard of Silene's Cellar, John of Anything Wine, and Michael of Undertaking Wine all gave it rave reviews.

I had accomplished what I set out to do, to spread my passion for Saké by sharing something many others had not experienced before. Hopefully these people will seek out more Saké in the future, and Saké love will grow and grow.

I have to add as well that this BYOB event was tons of fun in a cool venue. Lots of bloggers, some local wine makers, and dozens of bottles of wine. Even though we had been tasting wine all day, we all still were pumped to drink even more, and there was far less spitting aboard the ship. Many people brought some excellent wines and it was great to chat with so many different people. It was difficult for a few people to get up the next morning, but there were no complaints that night. Just some typical blogger debauchery.


Michael Gorton, Jr. said...

It was nice to finally meet you and the rest of the people at Tastecamp. It was extra nice of you to bring this and to taste how good sake is and can be. I have been a sake fan for a while, usually just with my sushi though. Now I may have to keep a few bottles in the cellar, thanks to you!

If I had tasted this blind, I doubt I would have guessed this was Sake.

Thanks again!

1WineDude said...

That was one great sake and very generous of you to share it - thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Hey Richard: I never did get a sip of this. When I first arrived at dinner I had a splitting headache. But you neglect to mention in your post that you brought a killer Sake, a Lopez Heredia and a Jasko Gravner. You big show off you! :-)

It was great to meet you.


Silenus said...


I did not want to drink anything but that sake once I had some in my glass. My experience with sake is minimal. What I experienced with the Watari Bune, for lack of better terminology, was purity. Such clean and beautiful flavors and textures. Thanks again for sharing.

LaMonte Heflick said...

I enjoy Watarebune 55. I'll have to give the Daiginjo a try. Thank you. LaMonte