Our friend Rick Smith of New York’s only all sake Shop, Sakaya, recently held a tasting devoted to Daiginjo. I found this tasting to be interesting on many levels. Instead of opting for a “vertical” tastings where one might compare three grades of sake from the same brewer, Rick-san chose to taste three Daiginjo sakes from different brewers! And what better treats to taste than daiginjo!
Now, Daiginjo, in some quarters, has a rap sheet of being expensive and elegant to the point of being vacant! However, Rick’s “Different Daiginjo” tasting shows us this is anything but the truth.Â Â Â Â
Â Â Â Â The first sake I tried was theÂ Kirinzan Junmai Ginjo. I have to confess out the gate that I kinda of have a ‘sake crush’ on this brew. I mean, just look at that bottle. The guys up in Niigata know what they are doing when it comes to the packaging design! This fantastic Kirinzan sake is made using the largely Niigata-identified rice strain Gohyakumangoku. However, Gohyakumangoku is a rice with a little secret. It tends to crack when ground down to smaller and smaller sizes – which is exactly what is needed for daiginjos. So why go to the trouble to use a troublesome rice? for the same reason you’d climb Mount Fuji – because it’s there! The Brewers love a challenge. How is the taste? Bracingly clean and laced with a mild nuance of citrus-y goodness. A classic Niigata sake made with the signature soft & pillowy Niigata water. A beautiful bottle for a very beautiful product.
Next up wasÂ Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo. Â The big story with Tamanohikari is the rice. Â It’s made using an ancient strain of rice known as Omachi. Â Omachi rice is sometimes called the ‘Grandfather’ of rice because it is so old (perhaps the oldest surviving rice strain?) and has not been cross-bred with any other rice varities which is so common with sake rice. Omachi rice is not known particularly for it’s fragrance, and that seems to me to lend the Tamanohikari a down to earth vibe that makes this a very like-able and quite approachable Junmai Daiginjo. The taste is quite delicious and this rice gives Tamonohikari a nice viscosity. Lovely to look at in the glass and lovely on the palate.
Last but not least was theÂ Kamishibito Kuheiji Daiginjo Muroka.Â Â Now this Daiginjo uses the most popular of any sake rice by far, Yamadanishiki. This Kuheiji is a “Muroka” sake. That means that this sake was not charcoal filtered at the end of the production process. This fine charcoal filtering can really clean the color of sake to a crystal clear color, and some argue, strip away some personality, too. I’ll just let that debate rage on and let you know that Muroka sake can have a unique richness you won’t find as easily in micro-filtered sake. In this case, Kuheiji a distinctly rich daiginjo! It is a wonderful rich and luxurious sake with the rice milled down to an amazing 40%. Nice clean finish with superior balance.
Â All this in depth Daiginjo study has got me thinking… I have to get out there and taste more, more, more daiginjo grade sake!! Far from being vacant, Daiginjo is alive with nuance! This is not something to drink just because it’s there, but rather because it has such an expressive taste.
Oh, and if I ever really do climb Mount Fuji, note to self… Daiginjo in the fannypack.