Summertime – 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. This 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.
1) 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!
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.
3) 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 sakÃ© brewing process. This dressing was Tangy, a touch salty and the mix of this with the dry Otokoyama was spectacular.
4) 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.
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.
6) 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…