Sunday, September 11, 2016

GIFU SAKE: Discovering Japan's Premium Tastes

We attended an artisan Sake Seminar led by connoisseur and author Toshio Ueno-who gave attendees an overview of this distinct alcoholic beverage-plus offered tasting notes of the select seven sakes- tasted. The event was held in the fabulous event/tasting room Astor Wines-399 Lafeyette Street, NYC 

the Master Sake Brewers lined up for a ceremonial bow before the seminar began. Very cool.
sake pouring---and no-this was def not akin in any manner of speaking- to the usual house pour of hot sake we inhale at or local Japanese restaurant.

We spent a 6 week vacation in Japan- back in the mid 90's when the post college-the budget was fairly minimal-so while we fell in love with Japanese tradition and culture (and hot springs!!)-the finer points on premium sakes eluded us. We could not get over the full sized vodka bottles being sold in all those vending machines!
Well as one can see from the above snapshot-Japan shares the latitude of the other fine wine making countries of the world.
Sake in a wine glass---a first for us- but also a first-the glasses were placed on top of  the brewery names of what we tasted. very helpful! Left to right-lower-middle then top row...1) Iwamura Brewery: La Chatelaine Karakuchi Junmai- spicy w orange peel and green apple notes (Junmai), 2)
Tokoro Shuzo Co. Bojimaya Cho-Karakuchi (Junmai)- dryer than first taste... crisp aroma and refreshing finish, 3) Nihon-Izumi Brewery Co. :Ryu no Hitomi (DRAGON EYE)-light rich with dry fruity hints,(Junmai Ginjo) 4) Watanabe Sake Brwery Co., Cody's Sake Junmai Ginjo
Crafted by American Daryl Cody-clebrating his 10th anniversary as master brewer-medium to light sake with  tropical hints expressive polish on the palette quiet on nose (Junmai Ginjo)
and the last three-with higher alcohol content - and non pasteurized =5) Kosaka Shuzoujou Co. : Hyakushun Jikagumi Muroka Nama Genshu
fruity rich pleasantly sweet-and we thought had a bit of smooth refreshing smoky taste-unfiltered, unpasteurized and undiluted and our fav (Junmai Ginjo)- 6) Yamada Shoten Limited Partnership:Junmai Genshu Tamagashiwa-made using Hida-homare-a premium sake rice - well rounded-known by its nickname Maneki-neko (welcome cat or lucky cat-o we liked this too course) - (Junmai) 7) Chigonoiwa Sake Brewery Co Chiconoiwa:Junmai Ginjo Genshu-made from rice grown/harvested-from "top 100 terraced paddy fields" in Japan (Junmai Ginjo).

Sake is uniquely brewed-it more akin to beer making than wine-so we thought...and like all premium alcohol-the 'terroir', water characteristics, climate and type of rice factor in big time-resulting unique tasting sakes. FYI-Japan's rice varieties-and there are many- are amazing, have distinct textures-and tastes...and so we learned-sake rice (saka mai) structurally differs from table-eating rice.
The area of GIFU-which is right in the middle of Japan-was the focus of the sakes we tasted...and accordingly-has its own unique sake rice Hidahomare-as well as clean pure waters...that factor into the taste of the rice grown there-as wells the sake brewed there. 

one of the secrets of Gifu the original G-Yeast strains used...derived from No.9 strains-known for its pronounced fruity aroma and highly 'fermentative' nature. Koji the unique mold-Japan's national fungi-is used to convert starch into sugar...

sake has more alcohol content than wine...some sake is unpasteurized too. Other tidbits-the sake brewing season is October-March....after the September sake rice harvesting in September. Gifu sakes is known for its more subtle tastes versus other Japanese sakes made elsewhere.

One interesting question-before we had to leave-focused in on the effect time plays into the sakes tasting differently in Japan -than the same-in the USA- because of shipping, port time, and conditions (maybe). 
Sake was traditionally sold- in wooden box measuring cup (masu) and it was used to drink from too...and still is
Established 146 years ago-Watanabe Sake Brewery is  masterly crafted-for the past ten years by the first American brew master...Darryl Cody...pictured above-on the right. Organized by GIFU Prefectural Government in Japan-the tasting was one of many events held in NYC...

we fell in love wt the beautiful ceramics on display-including this gorgeous sake set-that captures the 'overflow'-which is another whole sake drinking tradition...

no surprise here...the type of glass shape effects the taste of the sake...just like wine! For more in:
For more information: