Cheez with KinmukuSummertime – and the living is easy… or so the song goes. With back to back Summer-themed tastings put together by NYC Sake Sommelier extraordinaire Cheez, it has indeed made this summer’s living quite easy to enjoy.

I attended a tasting dinner last monday at amazing Sakagura and was treated to, as usual, a really remarkable evening. I even played hooky from my Japanese class in order to attend, but boy, it was worth it. What struck me first and foremost, is the breadth of tastes, textures and colors in both the food and sake. Needless to say, I was in hog heaven the whole time.

Cheez put together another take on enjoying sake in the summer months. She also prepared a really helpful placemat that artfully listed out the sakes and the food being served in order. dynamic duo Cheez & ChristopherThis was also nice to write my notes on. The emphasis here was on quality and there were a few A+ standouts. Christopher from Joto Sake was on hand again to translate Cheez’s introduction to each sake. All around the staff at Sakagura was extremely helpful, organized and accommodating – this attention to detail really helps you relax and just enjoy yourself.

On to the tasting! Below I’ve listed each sake in the order it was served and a few comments on the taste and the food that went with it. Click on the sake name to see the bottle.

himezenour hostess Yuki1) Ichinokura Himezen. (“Princess Food”, Junmai, ALC 8%, SMV -65, Acidity 5.0, Miyagi Prefecture) This is a well known and popular aperitif style sake. It’s quite sweet with it’s SMV of -65, but it doesn’t come off too sticky sweet. It’s quite reminiscent of a good plum wine with hints of other fruits such as grapes – kinda like grapejuice. These flavors are made more remarkable when you think they were arrived at using only rice, water, koji and yeast. You’d swear they stuck some fruit salad in the vat. The low alcohol content is the perfect excuse for frequently indulging in this treat during the hot summer months. Can’t argue with that!

umenishiki 2) Umenishiki (Gorgeous Plum“, Junmai Daiginjo Namazake, SMV +4, Acidity 1.2, Ehime Prefecture) Normally, Nama sakes pack a fruity wallop. They are unpasteurized, so they maintain a lot of that zing and springy-fresh flavor. Umenishiki is unique because it is a daiginjo, quite a rarity in the world of Nama. This sake is just like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday‘.. So young and vibrant, yet with a commanding elegance. Unlike Audrey, however, this sake has a HUGE nose! The aromas are complex, tropical and seductive. The taste delivers on the fruity promise of the aroma, but has a touch of a dry finish. superb! This sake was paired with “tokoroten” or a unique seaweed gelatin topped with a light soy vinegar. Both paired nicely in the elegance department.

otokoyama daiginjojewel box3) Otokoyama (“Man’s Mountain”, Junmai Daiginjo, SMV +5, ALC 16.0-16.9%, Hokkaido Prefecture) If Umenishiki is Audrey Hepburn, Otokoyama Daiginjo is definitely your Cary Grant. Otokoyama is most widely known in it’s rough and tumble Junmai version – Hoowa! The Daiginjo is interesting. It’s quite dry with a touch of graininess. Rugged yet elegant, this tastes like a manly-man’s drink. Sakagura paired Otokoyama with a wonderful Salmon Sashimi and vegetable salad with Otokoyama Daiginjo sake lees dressing! Sake lees are the fermented rice solids that are a by-product of the saké brewing process. This dressing was Tangy, a touch salty and the mix of this with the dry Otokoyama was spectacular.

kinmukuinside jewelbox4) Koshinokanbai Kinmuku (“Winter Plum”, Junnmai Ginjo, ALC 16.5%, Seimaibuai 60%, Niigata Prefecture,) I found this sake to be the delicious plain jane among the group. Clean spring water taste with only a slight hint of fruit. More than taste, the viscus texture of this sake jumped out at me. This sake definitely took a back seat to the stunning “Sakagura Summer Jewel Box” main course. This was a delightful bundled up package of 20 or so bite sized tastings. This totally reminded me of the kaiseki dinner Scott and I had at Sugiyama. Up against this explosion of taste and color, the Kinmuku worked mostly to cleanse the palate.

momokawa_tokubetsu_honjozo.jpghanahato with ice 5) Momokawa Tokubetsu Honjozo (ALC 15.5%, SMV +2, Seimaibuai 60%, Aomori Prefecture) This Sake was a surprise addition to the line up, as it wasn’t on the original tasting menu. I was excited to try it as I knew the Momokawa brand from their American production Brewery in Oregon. This, however, was the real deal imported from Japan. Like the Kinmuku, it was clean and smooth. A little like “barely there” underwear, the structure of this sake was a little hard to detect. Especially up against all the tastes of the jewel box.

Hanahato6) Hanahato Kijoshu ( “Gorgeous Bird”, Aged sake, SMV -44, Acidity 3.5, Hiroshima Prefecture) Aged for 8 years, this sake is a study in complexity. This brew could easily pass for Sherry and it’s a fabulous way to end a meal. The Chef served milk sorbet with seasonal fruits. The bitter chocolate tones in the Hanahato were screaming out for mousse au chocolate… or maybe that was me screaming out? In any case, I love chocolate and think that’s the best way to end any meal, Kijoshu or no. This sake also had a unique presentation – they served it in stemmed glasses with a single marble sized ice cube. quite striking.

Wow, what a night! Many thanks to all the great folks at Sakagura for putting together such an enjoyable evening. Above all, I’ve learned that Sake really is a drink that can adapt to ALL seasons. Now I can’t wait to see what Autumn has in store…

I go on and on all the time about how lucky I am to live in new york… and how amazing all the NYC sake bars are… and how the Liquor stores in the Big Apple have such a great selection of sake… and did I mention how lucky I am to live in New York?

true sake interiorHowever, as Pee-Wee Herman once said, everyone’s got a big “BUT”. In my case, New York is great, BUT the one thing we don’t have? True Sake, of course.

For those Sake fans among you who are infrequent travelers like myself, you may not be aware of True Sake in San Francisco. Well, let me spread the good word! This well designed shop is America’s first store dedicated exclusively to selling sake. The store is owned by Beau Timken, one of the premier sake Gurus in the States. true sake shelfHe’s a passionate advocate for Sake appreciation and obviously works hard at helping educate consumers in the U.S. to the sheer joy of Nihon-shu. Right ON!!

Now, I’ve never been to True Sake, but it would, of course, be a “must see” destination on my next trip to San Francisco.

In the meantime, I really enjoy getting True Sake’s monthly Newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter on the True Sake website. As a self professed sake geek, I look forward to mine every month. It’s well written and really informative. As a matter of fact, I’m now an active “bottle sniffer” as a result of reading the newsletter! He introduces new sake imports, does interviews with sake personalities and answers reader’s questions.

Sake: A Modern GuideMr. Timken has also written a book, the recently published “Sake, A Modern Guide“. I highly recommend it as a great addition to the handful of books available in English on the topic of sake. It offers a great overview of Nihon-shu, up to and including sak-tails. For those that think Sake Cocktails are controversial, I hope this is an eye opener. Sake is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated and enjoyed some more. From all I’ve read, that seems to be the main message of the book and from this Sake oasis in San Francisco: try some sake and then try some more. find out for yourself what you like and don’t like. Drink the brands and style that taste best to you. It’s all about finding what works for you and enjoying it. So True!

True Sake
560 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-355-9555
www.truesake.com

Welcome to Cha-An.Hidden up a flight of stairs, Cha-an is a quaint little tea house on east 9th street. Once you enter, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Japan. The interior is understated, zen and totally beautiful.

The main attraction here is usally the tea ceremony, but if i’m headed out to an event in the 100 degree heat, you can imagine, Sake must somehow be involved.

I got an email from Chizuko, the talented sake sommelier at Sakagura restaurant who told me she was hosting a Summer Sake tasting dinner with food created in collaboration with the Chef at Cha-an. I’d been anxious to try this place and this was the perfect opportunity.

Like I said, it was hot. hot-hot. Walking anywhere in this kinda heat can make anyone wilt. I was bouyed, however by the thought of sipping chilled nihon-shu all night.

PlacematWith my eyes on the prize, I made it to cha-an on time. Scottie was a good sport and trekked all the way down from the upper west to join me for this special dinner.

Cheez greeted us at the door and once we were seated, we were on our way…

This evening was a combination Sake Lecture and Sake tasting with coordinated food pairings. I’ve been to this type of fun event before (see the drunkest I’ve ever been on sake…) but this evening was really special and very high quality.

cheez and ChristopherYou can tell both Cheez and our wonderful Chef put a lot of effort into their presentation and it really paid off.

As for the lecture portion of the evening, Cheez presented each sake in Japanese and Christopher was on hand to translate. I’m jealous and wish my Japanese was that good! Cheez created the placemat and program herself and they were great. It adds so much to the enjoyment of a tasting if you have the information in front of you as to what your tasting. It really helps me to have a visual reference

Let’s cut to the chase! Here’s a rundown of the summer sakes we had and the food that went with them.

Scott Likes the Food!1) “Yuki No Bosha” Junmai Ginjo (SMV +1, ALC 15%, Seimaibuai: 50%)
Paired with Small Jack Sashimi.
This was a delicate pairing and got the evening off to a great start. The Yuki No Bosha was an inspired choice to serve at the beginning. It’s fragrant and saucy and contrasted nicely with the sashimi.

2) “Tomoju” Junmai Ginjo (SMV +2, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai: 50%)
Paired with Chilled Tofu with Japanese cucumber Sauce.
Um, Yum! this really hit the spot. The dish was a chilled tofu with a yummy and refreshing cucumber sauce. The Tomoju was also a delight. I first tried Tomoju at Naka Naka. As before, this sake comes across as balanced with a touch of a dry finish. For me, this was the highlight of the evening.

Timothy Likes Sake!3) “Kokuryu Tokusen” (SMV +4, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 50%)
paired with Grilled eggplant with miso.
This sake was a bit more on the dry side and still enjoyable. The eggplant was quite well done – not a hint of bitterness.

4) “Kasumitsuru Shiboritate Namzake Genshu” (ALC 20%!, Seimaibuai: 70%)
paired with Deep fried shrimp and corn balls
This is the same sake I won in the raffle at the Joto Sake Event at Sakagura last month. It’s a big bold Undiluted and Unpasteurized mega sake. They served this sake with Ice on the side to give us the option to try it “on the rocks”. Scott and I agreed that’s the best way to really enjoy this one. The strong sake stood up well to the rich fried shrimp balls. again, yum. BTW, we’re all starting to feel good at this point.

5) “Shichi Hon Yari” (SMV +4, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai: 60%)
paired with Fillet of Squid with mochi rice.
pouring.jpg At the Joto tasting in June, I loved this Sake, but tonight in the 100 degree heat, I really tasted the full on Gin Crisp dryness of this sake.

6) “Kamoizumi Kome Kome” (SMV -60!, ALC 7, Seimaibuai: 60%)
Dessert of Cream with Watermelon compote made with Kome Kome.
I was happy to hear that we would be Eating Kome Kome rather than sipping it. With an SMV of -60, it’s off-the-charts sweet. The watermelon was refreshing and unique.

It was a long enjoyable night of great food, great sake and some great information. I’ll be back at Cha-an soon for a regular dinner. And given the very hot and humid conditions, Cheez was really able to show us what cooling down with warm weather sake sipping is all about. I’ll be practicing what I learned all summer long, for sure.