Monday, May 11, 2009

Saké at UNLVino: Pacific International Liquor Inc.

Another Saké table at the UNLVino grand tasting was manned by Pacific International Liquor, Inc., who were also at UNLVino last year. They represent several different Saké breweries. At this table, I made quite a fascinating find, which I will tell you about last.

The Shichiken "Seven Wise Men" Junmai Ginjo (about $30), which is made in the Yamanashi Prefecture and has a SMV of +4, was said to be a "Saké lover's Saké." It starts off with some bitterness but smooths out on your palate and during the finish. It is full bodied and has a distinctive steamed rice flavor. It definitely is not something that someone new to Saké would likely enjoy. I was a bit torn over the taste, not fully sure whether I liked it or not. I might prefer to drink it with food.

The rest of the Saké comes from Nagai Sake Inc., a brewery located in the Gunma Prefecture. The brewery was founded in 1886 when Shoji Nagai came to this area seeking an exceptional water to make Saké. This prefecture is well known for its mountain spring water as well as the beautiful Mizubasho flowers that bloom in the spring and summer. The name of the line of Sakés I tasted, Mizbasho, derives from these flowers.

The Mizbasho "Early Bloom" Junmai Ginjo (about $20) is made from Yamada Nishiki rice, which has been polished to 50%, and has an SMV of +4. It was a full bodied Saké with a smooth taste of fruit, including melon and pear, and a slight touch of honey. It had a fairly lengthy finish and I very much enjoyed it. At this price point, I think it is a very good buy, as well as a Saké for those new to Saké.

The Mizbasho Junmai Daiginjo (about $25/500ml) is also made from Yamada Nishiki rice, which has been polished to 50%, but has an SMV of +3. I found this Saké to be a little sweeter than the Ginjo, as well as more floral and elegant. It was also very smooth, with a long finish, and definitely would be even better paired with food. If you concentrated more on the taste of this Saké, you realize its complexity. I definitely recommend this one.Finally, one of my top finds at UNLVino, was the Mizbasho "Pure" Sparkling Saké ($50). Now I have had several other sparkling Sakés and they are usually casual, fun little drinks. Nothing serious, just a refreshing and slightly effervescent drink. But this sparkling Saké is the real deal, a serious drink on the level to compete with French Champagne.

The brewery actually uses some of the French Champagne methods to create this Saké, such as an in-bottle secondary fermentation. In the spring of 2003, brewery owner Sho Nagai, working with a Frenchman, desired to produce a top notch Sparkling Saké. It took five years of experimentation to finally create this one. Besides the "Pure", they also make a sparkling "Nigori."

The famed Yamada Nishiki rice is used and it has an SMV of +10, making it very dry. It also has an alcohol content of 13%. It has a pale color with plenty of small bubbles within it. It is definitely dry, almost austere, and has the taste of a good Champagne. You get some subtle apple and pear flavors, with a touch of almost yeastiness. It has a lengthy finish, making you desire more. If you did a blind taste, I doubt anyone would know this was made from rice. I highly recommend this sparkling Saké!

Luckily for me, the ULVino wine auction had a lot of three bottles of the Mizbasho "Pure" Sparkling Saké. I placed my bid and fortunately, no one else outbid me. I actually got the Saké for close to half price. What a steal! I can't wait now to share this sparkling Saké, though I won't tell them at first that it is a Saké.

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