Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Favorite Saké Items

What were some of my favorite Saké items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2010. I have already posted a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2010Favorite Food-Related Items of 2010, and Favorite Wine & Spirit Related Items.  This is my final list, my Favorite Saké Items of the past year. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year. All of the items here get my strongest recommendation.

Saké Dominance: Saké continues to maintain a prominent role on my blog. My passion for Saké has only grown and I continue to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Saké and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. It has been an exciting year for Saké and I am going to highlight some of the most interesting Saké events and items that have been on my blog.

Further Education:  This summer, I journeyed to San Francisco to attend John Gauntner's Saké Professional Course in San Francisco. Over the course of three intensive days, I expanded and reinforced my knowledge of Saké, while tasting over 90 different Sakés. The comparative tastings were extremely educational, helping you to really understand the effects of ingredients, production methods and more on the finished product.  There was a test at the end of the course, which I passed, and thus I became a Certified Sake Professional, one of less than 300 worldwide. It was a great class, and well worth taking if you love Saké. John was an excellent instructor, ensuring the material was fun and informative. I cannot recommend it enough.

Passionate Saké: I recently created a new Saké website, Passionate Saké, which is dedicated to my new Saké business endeavors. I am now available for hire to host educational classes, Saké tastings, Saké pairing dinners, and much more. Wine stores, distributors, restaurants, school and even private individuals can all benefit from my services. Please contact me to discuss potential events. Though the new site is only in its beginning stages, it will grow to become an interesting and more comprehensive Saké resource. You can also follow my new Saké-centric feed on Twitter at @PassionateSake.

Saké Tastings & Classes: I have presided over a number of Saké Tastings & Classes this past year, helping to promote this worthy beverage.  This included Saké tastings at the Wine Connextion and Urban Grape, and classes at the Pucker Art Gallery, Boston Wine School and T.W. Food. The response from the attendees has been largely positive, and many have been surprised by the diversity of Saké, often finding styles they enjoyed. Their preconceptions were changed and they now look at Saké in a different light. You can look forward to more tastings and classes in 2011. 

Saké Exports: Unfortunately, 2009 was not a good year for Saké exports. For the first time in the past nine years, Japanese exports of Saké decreased, by approximately 1.7% and Saké imports to the U.S. decreased by about 7%. But, the monetary value of Japanese Saké exports decreased by approximately 6.4%. So, it seems that the decrease in exports included mostly more expensive Saké. The conclusion seems to be that people are generally buying less expensive Saké, which is very similar to the wine situation due to the tough economy. 

Saké Promotion:  It was great to see Eric Asimov, a famed wine writer for The New York Times, cover Saké in his The Pour column. Asimov urged wine lovers to discover the joys of Saké and recommended Sakaya, the all-Saké store in New York City.  He also emphasized how Saké is very food friendly, and not just for Japanese food. It was so good to see this national exposure for Saké, and hope more national newspapers and magazines will cover Saké in 2011.  And if any of them need a writer to do so, please contact me. 

John Gauntner: Congratulations to John Gauntner, the famed "Saké Dendoushi" ("Saké Evangelist"),who was extremely busy this year with Saké activities.  First, he receives kudos for a very inspiring achievement. This year, he became a certified Master of Saké Tasting as well as a certified Saké Expert Assessor.  John is the only non-Japanese person to have both of the these certifications.  Second, John taught two Saké Professional Courses in the U.S., one in San Francisco (which I attended) and the other in Portland.  Third, John started a new educational Saké Blog, with weekly posts on the fundamentals of Saké and other related items. Fourth, he launched a Saké Dictionary & iPhone App and an audio file Japanese for Saké Lovers. Both are useful Saké resources.  And all of that is on top of his usual Saké activities.  Keep up the great work John!

Saké Enhanced By Mozart: There was an intriguing new article in the Toronto Star about the Ohara Shuzo, a brewery in the Fukushima Prefecture, which for the last twenty years has been playing music for the fermentation mixture during the third stage of the brewing process.  For two hours a day, they now play Mozart, having previously tested other music such as jazz, Beethoven and Bach.  They found Mozart worked best for them.  Can music really effect Saké production? 

Saké in Canada:  About two years ago, I posted about the first Saké brewery in Vancouver, Artisan Sakemaker, which opened in 2007.  The owner, Masa Shiroki, has now begun to grow Saké rice rather than import it from Japan. I am anxious to see how that goes, and I am hopeful that it yields success.  In other news, the Toronto Life reported a Saké brewery, the Ontario Spring Water Saké Company, will open in the spring of 2011. Owner Ken Valvur wants to create a brewery that adheres to Japanese tradition, and it will produce a variety of sake, including nigori, genshu, junmai and namazake. The brewery will also have a tasting bar, where freshly pressed sake can be sampled. Hopefully it will be open when I travel to that region later in the spring.

Saké & Diplomacy: When the Foreign Ministry of the Japanese government held banquets for foreign dignitaries, they used to serve mainly wine. Wine was considered easier to handle as well as easier to pair with food. Plus it was something foreign dignitaries were familiar with, and would enjoy. But Saké has begun to be served more and more at these dinners, promoting this national treasure.  Great news all around.

Favorite Japanese Saké: Though I have tasted many excellent Sakés this past year, the stand out was the Watari Bune Junmai DaiginjoI brought this bottle to TasteCamp for the BYOB event, and it received rave reviews from a number of bloggers.  It is not cheap, at around $125, but it is a very impressive Saké, which enthralls with its complexities. They don't get much better than this Saké and it truly is worth the price. This is a Saké that will live on in your memory for a very long time.  

Runner-Up Saké: The Kubota Manjyu Junmai Daiginjo is sublime, with a subtle nose of floral aromas and melon. It is lightly creamy in the mouth, with a clean, elegant and smooth taste. It is subtle and complex, definitely something to sip and savor, pondering the flavors that flit about your mouth. It is also pricey, $75-$90, but once again, it is an impressive Saké that is well worth the cost. 

Favorite Domestic Saké: Domestic Saké is continuing to improve and my current favorite is the SakéOne  G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu. It has a fruity nose, some melon and pear, and on the palate, is rich and creamy with flavors of melon, pear and even some pineapple. The finish is fairly long and smooth with hints of spice at the end. It is an easy Saké to enjoy, even for newbies, and at only $20 for a 750ml bottle, it is a good value too. 

Favorite Stores for Saké: There are only four all-Saké stores in the U.S., and I have visited two of them.  Sakaya, in the East Village of New York City, remains a great choice and I have not been disappointed in anything I have purchased there. This summer, I also returned to True Saké, in San Francisco, which was the first all-Saké store in the U.S. It has truly gotten even more compelling, its shelves nearly overflowing with a diverse selection of Saké, some exclusive to their store. It too gets my highest recommendation.

Favorite Local Stores for Saké: In the Boston+ area, finding good Saké can be difficult, but the situation has improved since last year.  More wine stores are stocking Saké, which pleases me immensely. Here are a few local wine stores which carry good Sakés and deserve your support:  Urban Grape (with over 30 Sakés), Lower Falls Wine Co., Ball Square Fine Wines & Liquors, Wine Connextion (excellent discount prices), and Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet.

Favorite Restaurant Saké List: Though the list is a bit pricey, Oishii does have a very impressive Saké selection, with everything from Junmai to Daiginjo, from Nigori to Koshu. It is available by the glass, tokkuri, half-bottle and full bottle. Go ahead and splurge and enjoy some fine Saké with top notch Japanese cuisine.

Favorite New Saké Book: Sadly, there exist only a small number of books on Saké, and we are lucky any year that a single new book gets published on Saké.  The Niigata Saké Book: A Prefecture Guide is an inside look at the Saké brewing industry in Niigata, as well as providing plenty of basic information about Saké. I would like to see other prefectures come out with similar books, though I must note this book is not without its flaws, including a very high price.

Most Misunderstood Fact About Saké: What is Junmai? Even people who consider themselves knowledgeable about the basics of Saké seem to make this mistake. They believe that a Junmai requires a seimai-buai of 70%, which means at least 30% of the rice must be polished away. Though that was once true, it has not been true for seven years.  As of January 1, 2004 the laws in Japan concerning Junmai changed, eliminating any polishing requirement for a Junmai.  Now, a Junmai is just any Saké that is made with only rice, water, koji and yeast
Second Most Misunderstood Fact About Saké: You will often hear that Nigori Saké is "unfiltered" but that is not true. All Saké must legally be pressed, or filtered, which is the process of removing the Saké lees. So how do the lees end up in Nigori?  Well, when pressing, a brewer uses a filter with larger holes so some of the lees enter the Saké, which is a legal loophole.  True, unfiltered Saké, called Muroka, is still pressed but it is not later charcoal filtered as is done with most Saké.

Favorite Saké Humor: Let me end with my own humorous list of Top Ten Rejected Saké Names.  I hope you enjoy. 

For more Saké related items, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everything in this review post. You can also look forward to many more Saké posts in 2011.

What were some of your favorite Sakés and Saké related items this year?

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