Tomoe_sushi.gif“Japanese Roulette” is a dangerous game. This is what I call the act of blindly picking unkown sakes off the menu just to “try something new”. The highest risks can have the best rewards, but sometimes things don’t quite go your way.

Manzairaku_junigo.jpgScott and I have been to Tomoe several times, and it’s our open little secret that it’s the best sushi at any price in NYC. The line starts outside half an hour before the doors open… and it’s worth the wait. Normally, I order the best sake on the menu that I know – our dear old friend Hakkaisan. However, I noticed a name on the sake menu that I had never heard of – and with Scott’s permission, I ordered a carafe of this unknown.

What I ordered was Manzairaku “Junigo” No. 12 (Junmai, ALC 15%, Ishikawa prefecture). The carafe arrived and with the first sniff, my sake-spidey sense told me something was wrong. The smell was flat and a tad unwelcoming. Well, you can’t judge a sake by the nose alone,right? Well, then I noticed as I poured, this sake had an unmistakable yellow cast. This was particularly alarming as the Tomeo sake menu described this Junmai using only one word…”clear”. Ok, I’m starting to panic a bit now.

shirakawago.jpgMy first sip of this Junigo and it tasted off. flat. reminded me of somthing like mothballs or tree bark. But, being the optimists we are, Scott and I agreed that the sake perhaps needed to simply warm up ten degrees or so. Ice cold sake direct from the fridge sometimes affects the flavor. Once it warmed a bit, we sipped again. Oi. still no improvement. Now denial started to set in.

“Maybe it will taste better with food?” I suggested. Our amazing sushi deluxes arrive and we dig in. Well, even the best sushi in New York, was not camouflaging those mothballs. As a lame last ditch effort to figure out what the heck was up with this train wreck, I hypothesized… Maybe it’s a taru? A heavy handed Cedar-tinged taru can taste weird, right? A quick check in with the waiter and he confirmed it’s not a taru.

At this point I just give up. It most likely was just old sake past it’s prime. I wasn’t man enough to complain and send it back. Maybe Junigo Junmai was supposed to taste like mothballs? Screw it! I’m not gonna waste all this amazing sushi on some sucky sake.

Then in the back of my mind I hear Bonnie Tyler singing…

I need a hero!
I’m holding out for a hero til the morning light
It’s gotta be strong
And it’s gotta be fast
And it’s gotta be larger than life
I need a hero!

There must be a sake here that can swoop in, save the day and restore my faith in Japanese Roulette!

super_nigori.jpgSo with nothing left to lose, I grab the waiter and we order a nigori i’d never tried before. Scott loves those funky nigoris, but if this one sucked, the whole evening, sake-wise, was down the tubes! no pressure. I got a 300ml bottle of Shirakawago Sasanigori (Junmai Ginjo Nigori, SMV +1, ALC 15.5%, Gifu Prefecture). The moment the Shirakawago hit the table, I knew things were going to be OK!

First off, the little shot glasses that came with the nigori were beautiful and gave me hope the sake would be too. The nose and texture of this nigori was really great. it went down smooth and worked perfectly with the amazing sushi we were having. The mouthfeel was creamy, but lightly so. The well balanced Nigori was there to support the sushi, not demand center stage. delicious! Not only was the evening saved from disaster, but I discovered a nigori I actually really dig! More than that, I learned that it’s OK to take risks out there in Nihon-shu Land. You can’t win them all, but chances are high you’ll come out ahead.

After all this sake Sturm und Drang, I needed to end the meal with an unmitigated sure thing. Green tea ice cream, please… two scoops.

I’ve been a hard working sake-geek lately and you’ll see in the navigation links above, I published some new pages on my blog that I hope everyone will find interesting and/or useful!

1) Tim’s Sake Database. I’ve started a database to record all the sakes I taste. I only have about 20 sakes in there now, but I will definitely add more as time allows. Since tasting recommendations can be so subjective, I’m using both a Gauntner-style Sake Fueled Geek Out Weekend! “tasting profile” chart as well as a totally biased score of 1-5 based on my personal review. Also, each page will record whatever technical data I can gather on each sake such as SMV, ALC percentage, Prefecture, etc.

2) Sake Basics. I thought it would be fun to put together a “Sake 101” page that covers all the basics for people who are just getting started. Please check out my animated Seimaibuai (a.k.a. rice milling percentage)! Did I mention I’m a sake-geek?

3) NYC Sake Resources. Duh! I should have done this a long time ago. “Saké and the City…” This is a simple listing of sake resources, links, shops and restaurants that i’ve come across in New York City. I’ll add to this as I visit other cities or when I find new and exciting sake resources.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

jeffersonsJust like Weezie and George Jefferson, I made my way on up to the East Side last sunday afternoon. It’s not a common haunt of mine, but predictably, it was sake that lured me out of my geographic comfort zone.

My Sake Buddy KC organized a really fun and relaxed B.Y.O.S. event at the ‘De-luxe apartment in the sky’ of his friend Hideo. Guest of honor was again our friend Mr. Sakurai, of Dassai Brewery who is in New York for a few weeks.

The set up of our event was simple, everyone bring your own sake with appetizers provided and dinner afterwards. Let’s start tasting!

daishichi1) DaiShiChi Kimoto Honjyozo (SMV +1, ALC 15.5%)
KC suggested we start with the largest bottle as that would take the longest to finish. I like the way this guy thinks! So, we popped open the huge 1.8L bottle. There is really something festive about these huge bottles. Having them around means you’re having a party or at least a lot of people over for drinking. DaiShiChi is an interesting brand. As faithful readers of my blog know, this is the company that makes, quite possibly, the world’s best sake, Daishichi Myouka Rangyoku.

The DaiShiChi Kimoto Honjyozo was, of course, not in that league, but it’s fun to look for a family resemblance. This Brewery is known as an innovator in the Sake production process, being especially well known for their unique method of milling the rice. The Kimoto Honjyozo had a noticeable grainy flavor. It hinted at a dryness that was more pronounced that you might expect for a sake with an SMV of only +1. A good way to get the party started.

Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri 2) Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri (Junmai, Seimaibuai 60%)
Masumi is another well known brand that takes it’s production methods seriously. With a SeimaiBuai of 60%, this sake could technically qualify as a Ginjo, but they choose to to keep it labeled a Junmai. I found this sake to be sprightly, very clean tasting, and a touch on the dry side. KC was telling me that the especially long and colder fermentation of this sake makes for a more complex taste. And I think the bottle shape is cool.

otokoyama momenya 3) Otokoyama Momenya Tokubetsu (Junmai, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 55%)
Yet another sake from another really well known brewery. Otokoyama is well known for it’s “Man’s Mountain”. This is a Tokubetsu Junmai take on their Manly-Man traditional Junmai. I was excited to taste and see what I’d find. To my surprise, I initially noticed a flat taste. Then came an earthy, grainy, expressive palate… finishing up with a very Otokoyama-ish super dry finish.

4) Tomoju Junmai Ginjo (SMV +2, ALC 15.5%)
This was a treat from a brewery I know a little less well – Aiyu Brewery in Ibaraki Prefecture. I found the taste to be medium dry. and well balanced. This would be considered a “rich type” sake. We all agreed there was a looooong finish. Quite a treat. Maybe I should get to know Aiyu a little better.

5) Kurosawa Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 15.5%)
Next we had a sure fire winner – and I wasn’t disappointed. Kurosawa is a superstar that always comes through, at all their grades. This was my first time trying the Junmai Daiginjo, so I was like a kid at Christmas when this one hit the table. I was interested to learn that they only make 1500 bottles a year of this Daiginjo grade. That’s not a lot… it made it taste even more special. In brief, I’m in love. This gem was super clean and delightful – A classic Daiginjo with great balance and elegance.

Trifecta of Dassai 23, 50, Nigori 6) Dassai 23:
Sakurai-San stepped up to the plate next. He brought with him the “trifecta” of Dassai goodness. In the spirit of “eat dessert first” we went straight for the superlative Dassai 23 Daiginjo. This Sake has been profiled here before. The rice used to make this elixir is milled down to 23% of it’s original size before brewing. That is the smallest seimaibuai in the known universe. It’s light, but flavorful with hints of the most delicate fruit. Being both complex and balanced, this is a sake for serious sipping. you don’t want to be distracted from the flavors by anything. This sake demands your full attention!

7) Dassai 50:
Next was the Dassai Ginjo with a seimaibuai of 50%. This sake tastes fresh and easy to drink. It’s not fussy or overly complicated, but just plain good! Sakurai-san told us this makes up 70-80% of the Dassai production. I understand why it’s so popular.

8) Dassai Nigori: (Seimaibuai 50%)
Last was the Delightful Dassai Nigori. For those Nigori fans out there, this one can’t be beat. Scott and I brought this sake (with mixed results) to Thanksgiving dinner as a dessert wine. I enjoyed it, but I think most guests didn’t know what to make of it. The wonderful thing about this unfiltered sake is the slight hint of fruit with a touch of natural carbonation sparkle. And who couldn’t use a little more sparkle in their lives?

senkin.jpg 9) Senkin Ginyu Sizuku Junmai Daiginjo (SMV +5, ALC 16%)
Last but not least, was MY contribution to the B.Y.O.S. event. I brought a super fruity perfumy Trickle sake. Did I mention this was Fruity, fruity fruity? Trickle sake is made when sake is not pressed through a filter by machine at the end of the process, but when the sake is allowed to drip naturally through the filter. This is a labor intensive process that produces an amazing treat. With an SMV of +5, I tasted more fruity complexity that out and out dryness. remember SMV is just a guidline! This sake was a special treat and akin to having a fruit salad after all that sober dry sake we had at the beginning of the evening. My palate was barely holding together at this point, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of this yummy treat.

Around this time, our chinese takout arrived and I was never so happy to see a dumpling in my life. After 9 taste tests of all kinds of sake, I needed some grub. I’m telling you – you haven’t lived until you paired a trickle Junmai Daiginjo with steamed shrimp dumplings.

Then it hit me – Now I finally see that the Upper east side is nothing to be afraid of. As a matter of fact, it’s quite nice! Sorry, George and Weezie… your secret is out.