Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Niigata, Obata Shuzo & Sake
The Echigo Toji, or Guild of Niigata Master Sake Brewers, are very talented and knowledgeable, renowned throughout Japan. If you see the term Echigo on a Sake label, it usually is an indicator that the Sake is from Niigata. The prefecture has around 96 breweries, the second most of any prefecture, and their annual production places them in third place. However, they excel in making premium Sake and about 62% of their production is premium, compared to the national average of 26%. In addition, their per-capita Sake consumption is 18 liters, higher than the national average of 7 liters and the highest in Japan.
A significant portion of the Sake made in Niigata is produced in the traditional Niigata style, described as tanrei. This term loosely translates as "clean, smooth, and gentle" and refers to a smooth, easy drinking Sake which is sure to please those new to Sake as well as long time Sake lovers. It is a style I very much enjoy.
Obata Shuzo is a Sake brewery, founded in 1892 by Yososaku Obata, and located on Sado Island in the Niigata Prefecture. The island, because of its remoteness, was once a destination for political exiles. Exile was a severe punishment, second only to execution, and once you ended up on the island, you were likely there for the rest of your life. In modern times, Sado Island has been in the forefront of wildlife and nature conservation. For example, they have devoted much effort to protect and conserve the Toki, the Japanese Crested Ibis, which is extinct in the wild but was successfully bred on the island. There are about six Sake breweries situated on Sado Island.
The Obata kura, sake brewery, is still owned by the Obata family and their family crest is Four Diamonds, each which represents an element crucial to Sake brewing. These elements include rice, water, humans, and climate/nature. Their motto is "to brew sake where the four treasures may work harmoniously." Their goal is to make well balanced Sake and they produce only about 120,000 bottles annually.
At a local wine shop, I bought two Sakes from Obata Shuzo as I had never tasted any of their brews before and I was pleased that I had done so as both were pleasing and tasty.
The Obata Manotsuru "Crane" Junmai (about $15/300ml), which is pictured at the top of the post, has an origami red crane, which is a symbol of good luck. It is made with Koshiibuki rice, which was milled down to 65%, and has a Sake Meter Value of +6 to +8, meaning it is more on the dry side. This was a crisp, smooth and clean Sake with flavors of melon and peach. It had a rich mouth feel and the finish was long and satisfying. A pleasant, easy drinking Sake which would pair well with a variety of foods. It would be an excellent introductory Sake. This is the type of Sake you could easily drink all night.