With 2008 coming to a close it’s only natural to want to look back and ponder the best sakes of the year. In other words, it’s time to announce the 2008 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards! Let’s honor those sakes that stood out from the pack and made 2008 the best year for sake yet.
And the Masu goes to: Born Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo
This year, pure decadence won out over the usual delights that most sweet and fruit-driven namas have to offer. Born Nama is a rich and compelling sake. It is aged for a year, giving it a greater complexity that speaks volumes on your palate. Being unpasteurized, this brew gives that fresh wake up call to your taste buds that only a nama can deliver, however, this sake sings a sultry ballad and not a sugar sweet pop song. Enjoy with someone you love, in a place you love, with some food that you love and you’ll love it – I promise.
“Best One Cup in the U.S.”
And the Masu goes to: Kikusui Funaguchi Shibori Honzojo Nama Genshu
I have a special place in my heart for sake sold in the “one cup” size. These tiny servings are wonders of engineering, not to mention portion control! The supply of sake sold in the one cup size is limited in the U.S., but of what you can get, Kikusui Funaguchi is far and away my favorite! The taste is full and strong and fruit-forward. Also, being a genshu, this sake is undiluted and can have a lot of impact, but in a good way. It’s a delicious tidbit to drink at a picnic or just on the go. I always try to have a few in the fridge ready to jet off on adventures when I am.
“Best Sake under $20”
And the Masu goes to: Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto
It’s just great the the papers are finally telling us we’ve “technically” been in an economic recession for the past year. While everyone loves to turn to booze when times are tough, expensive sakes can sometimes be just out of reach. What’s a sake lover,who has been socked in the wallet, to do? I recommend Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai as a very affordable drinking sake that happens to taste spectacular, too. You’ll get all the flavor and quality of higher priced brews, in a delicious package that retails for under $20. If that makes it a little more affordable to choose a sake to drown your sorrows, my work here is done.
And the Masu goes to: Kuro Obi Do Do Yamahai Junmai
Fukumitsuya Brewery has style, no doubt about it. If you’re in Ginza or Kanazawa, a trip to their retail shop is all the proof you need that these folks understand design. This extends to the stunning packaging for their latest import, the delicious Kuro Obi Do Do or “black belt” in english. The gorgeous abstracted Kanji on the label stand out in silver relief against the black background. The best news of all is that the yamahai sake inside the bottle is as snazzy as the label. The depth of flavor will pair well with many foods, but I match this brew with cheese in particular. Black Belt is the new black.
“Most Deserving of a 99 Rating from the Wine World”
And the Masu goes to: Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo
Oh, all those vaunted wine experts are just crazy for their numeric wine ratings! That little number can make or break the fortunes of any wine. Luckily, we’re not so bound by this system in the world of sake. However, I can’t help feeling that every now and again, this rating system could be used as a bridge to convert some wine enthusiasts into fervent disciples of sake. Enter scrumptious Masumizumi Junmai Daiginjo. This sake strikes me as tailor-made to get a magical rating of 99 from the biggest names in the wine biz and also as the perfect brew to ease wine lovers into sipping on some sake. As I know all too well, it only takes that one magical taste to get hooked on nihon-shu permanently.
And the Masu goes to:
Sawanoi “Kioke Jikomi Iroha Kimoto Junmai”
All the foodies I know really connect with those sakes that may strike some as, well… funky. Sawanoi Iroha is the perfect example of a sake that can stand up to a foodie’s favorite flavors. In a word, “Umami”. This is considered the mysterious “fifth taste” that is often translated as ‘savoriness’. In a world of sake filled with those light and fruity Junmai Daiginjos, a little savory can go a long way to perk up your palate. My “a-ha” moment with this sake came the instant I paired it with shitake mushroom. The two together created pure foodie magic and made me a believer in Umami ever more.
“Best in Show”
And the Masu goes to: Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo
Oh Dassai 23… How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… um, 23 ways? Well, 23 of course stands for the ultra low milling rate of the rice used to make this dreamy sake. 77% of each grain is ground away prior to brewing, an astounding feat in and of itself, but what does that do to the taste? Dassai 23 has a smoothness on the palate that is hard to match, yet with the unmistakable characteristics and consistency of a sake that has been lovingly hand-crafted in small batches. This brew can be a real splurge but it’s worth every penny and it will restore your faith in the power of pure, delicious flavor to elevate the soul.
Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and Iâ€™ll be on the look out in â€˜09 for any new sake stars on the horizonâ€¦ Kanpai and Happy New Year!