Niigata Nocturne

Aoki_sake_co_ltd.jpgToshi over at innovative Sake Hana (265 E. 78th St. Bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave.) surprised me again with a notice about a “late night” sake tasting. The timing was definitely off-hours being 11pm to 1am but it was a really fun idea! I’ve often been up drinking sake to the wee hours – why not do it on purpose this time!? This particular midnight madness was an exploration of the sakes from Niigata prefecture.

So, I had a little rest after work and then headed over to Sake Hana at 11pm. The tasting was already in full swing! I wasn’t surprised to see KC at the bar already sipping and taking notes. So I sauntered up to the bar and dug right in myself.

Kobaiyashis.jpgI was first formally introduced to sakes from Niigata during the Joy of Sake event when I visited the folks at the Niigata sake importers table. It was there that I met Mr. and Mrs. Kobaiyashi who work on bringing delicious Sakes from Niigata to the U.S. They were on hand again tonight and very gracious about explaining about Niigata sake. This late night event offered me a great opportunity to try some more and learn some more.

Mr. Takafumi Aoki of the Aoki Sake Brewing Company was on hand presenting three sakes produced by his brewery. The first sake I had from Aoki was Kakurei Junmai Ginjo (SMV +2.5 Acidity 1.5). I enjoyed this sake very much. It was a great re-introduction to the Niigata flavors. It struck me as crisp and sharp. I also agreed with the tasting notes provided that this sake offered a hint of mineral on the palate.

kakurei_plum.jpgNext up, Aoki-san poured me Kakurei Daiginjo (SMV +5, Acidity 1.5). I saw a lot of people flocking to this bottle repeatedly, so my expectations were a bit raised. This Daiginjo did not disappoint! It was floral-fruity and soft. The taste just smoothly glides along your palate from start to finish. Just Delicious. This is the kind of sake you would think of when trying to explain to someone how elegant the Niigata sakes can be. Definitely my favorite of the night. Aoki-san was a very enthusiastic Ambassador of Sake from Niigata and tasting this Daiginjo made me enthusiastic, too!

Kakurei Plum Sake was the third sake I tried. Not to be clear, this is not plum wine made directly from plums. This is a plum sake made by soaking plums for three months in Kakurei Junmai Ginjo sake. To me, it tasted similar to plum wine but lighter an cleaner, not sticky sweet. I thought while tasting that this has the sweetness to make a good aperitif sake to start off a meal. Also, this sake as an amazing label design – wacky and totally fun.

kiminoi_yamahai.jpgThe unique Kiminoi “Emperor’s Well” Junmai Ginjo Yamahai (SMV +2, Acidity 1.6) was the next sake up. My first thought when I tried Emperor’s Well was: “You got your Peanutbutter in my Sake!” “No, you got your Sake in my Peanutbutter!” It’s true! To my taste, this Sake had very distinct peanut aromas in the nose and it spread like peanut butter over the palate. The tasting literature provided called this nose like a malted chocolate milk. This is one of those I would Label a “tasting” sake. It’s so unique that you should present it at a tasting to show the extremes to which sake flavors can go, but perhaps not something you would sip on to relax after a long day at the office.

Last Sake I had was Manotsuru “Nature Island” Daiginjo (SMV +5, Acidity 1.1) By the time I got around to trying Nature Island, the sake had warmed to a little closer to room temperature and I got distinct earthy flavors with each sip. Overall it had a very autumnal feel with hits of that wonderful leafy aroma you smell in the fall. I only tasted a bit of fruit at the very beginning of each sip.

Takafumi_Aoki.jpgThey were also serving Karen “Coy” Junmai ( SMV -23, Acidity 2.9) which I did not try. Karen and I have had some run-ins in the past and we’re not really on very good terms right now. Maybe we’ll be talking to each other again someday, but for now, we kept our distance. Karen – if you want to talk, call me.

This late night Niigata rendezvous was a ton of fun. Toshi was an amazing host and always making sure everyone was comfortable and had their glasses filled. The Niigata delegates did a great job in introducing their sake even if the hour was very late and they had been pouring all day long. Staying up late was fun, too… and if there’s any good reason to stay up past your bedtime, a little Niigata Nihonshu may just be it.