Saturday, October 28, 2006

International Virtual Sake Tasting

International Virtual Sake Tasting October 2006

The Sake Diaries joined with Melinda at Tokyo through the drinking glass, Tim at, and Etsuko at Tokyofoodcast in what might be the first Virtual Sake Tasting ever held. The plan was simple. We picked a date, chose sake that was available to all of us, and gathered some friends together for our tastings. Each of us will report on our group’s tasting on our respective blogs. Special thanks go to Tim who created our attractive tasting sheets and who, along with Melanie, who did the bulk of the planning.

We picked four sakes that we would all taste and decided that we would each pick a fifth “wildcard,” which would be tasted by our group alone.

Our sakes:

Shirakawago Sasanigori
Rihaku Wandering Poet”
Tamanohikari Omachi junmai daiginjo
Urakasumi “Zen” junmai ginjo
and my wild card
Nipponia Nippon junmai

None of these sakes were available for me locally, but that is the greatness of the internet and also modern day travel. The Shirakawago Sasanigori, Tamanohkari Omachi, and Urakasumi I got at True Sake on my recent trip to San Francisco, Nipponia Nippon I got in Tokyo on my trip there in June, and the Rihaku I ordered from Sherry-Lehmann over the internet.

sake tasting at Saji Ya with yummy treats

For my tasting it was me, Rob, Mayu, Lauren, Mia and Nate. We decided to hold the tasting at Saji Ya for several reasons, not least of which is the food, including the special "rock star roll" that sushi chef Manny makes for us.

Now for the fun part: the tasting! There were two clear favorites of the night. The Nipponia Nippon “won” the tasting with 4 of us choosing this as our favorite. The second place winner was the Urakasumi “Zen” which Mayu and I chose.

Taking notes

Each sake was graded on a scale of 1 to 10 on the following parameters:

Overall rating 1-10
No Nose 1 – Fragrant 10
Sweet 1 – Dry 10
Simple 1 – Complex 10
Quick Finish 1 – Lingering 10

Here are the averages for each sake:

Shirakawago Sasanigori (Alc 15.3%, smv +0, acidity 1.5, polishing rate 60%)
This milky offering produced widely varying opinions from the tasters. I personally wasn't crazy about it and almost wondered if our bottle had gone bad...
Overall: 4.3
No nose to fragrant: 5.2
Sweet to Dry: 6.2
Simple to Complex: 6.5
Quick finish to Lingering: 6.2
Comments: "Wrong; medicinal or cleaning product," "tastes like clay," "excellent unfiltered variety; surprisingly sublte, floral," "chemical," "chalky, sour."

Rihaku "Wandering Poet” (Alc 15.2%, smv +3, acidity 1.6, polishing rate 55%)
I thought this was a nice, light, but well-rounded sake.
Overall: 5.2
No nose to fragrant: 4
Sweet to Dry: 3.7
Simple to Complex: 3.3
Quick finish to Lingering: 4.5
Comments: "Quiet, light; dry start, slightly sweeter middle, dry finish; high acid," "easy to drink, butterscotch," "great aroma; nice finish, easy to drink; sweet," "an 'everyman's' sake; would appeal to the masses, middle of the road fruit," "very smooth."

Tamanohikari Omachi junmai daiginjo (Alc 16.2%, smv +3.5, acidity 1.7, polishing rate 48%)
Maybe tied with Nipponia Nippon for my second choice.
Overall: 5.5
No nose to fragrant: 5.2
Sweet to Dry: 5.8
Simple to Complex: 5.8
Quick finish to Lingering: 6
Comments: "Dry, acid, light; light fruit at the middle and end; nose = cinnamon," "grassy; not a favorite; chocolate-ish; butane," "starts with sweet flavor; finish is dry, crisp."

Urakasumi “Zen” junmai ginjo (Alc 15.5%, smv +1, acidity 1.3, polishing rate 50%)
I had this before at Sakagura in New York and at the time, I felt that it was overwhelmed by the food I was eating with it. I'm glad that I had the chance to try it was my favorite of the night!
Overall: 6.8
No nose to fragrant: 4.7
Sweet to Dry: 5.2
Simple to Complex: 6.2
Quick finish to Lingering: 6.8
Comments: "Fruit; melon; savory," lots of flavors; very fruity," "strong notes of licorice," "black licorice."

Nipponia Nippon junmai
According to the brewer: "Beautiful red color comes from ancient rice that is partially used to brew. Perfect balance of sweetness and acidity." The man behind the bar at the Ginza Fukumitsuya said this is light and smooth and tastes like rose wine.
Overall: 7.8
No nose to fragrant: 4.3
Sweet to Dry: 5.3
Simple to Complex: 5
Quick finish to Lingering: 6
Comments: "Sweet, fruit, apple juice," "no nose; maybe raspberry? stawberry? fruity," "very fruity; a little bit of Japanese plum flavor," "fabulous, super sweet, but not overwhelming."

The tasters with their favorite sakes:

Rob: Nipponia Nippon

Lauren: Nipponia Nippon

Urakasumi "Zen"

Nate: Nipponia Nippon

Mia: Nipponia Nippon

Valerie: Urakasumi "Zen"

Our tasting was pretty casual and we relied heavily on Tim's tasting sheet which we really appreciated, especially as the evening progressed and our note taking tapered off a bit. Overall, the evening was a great success and we hope to participate in similar tastings in the future. The most important thing is that we all had a lot of fun and learned a lot.

Rob and Valerie – a successful tasting


Melinda said...

What a smart idea! It never crossed my mind to have the tasting at a restaurant. Sounds absolutely fabulous! And I'm dying to try that Nipponia - very interesting indeed.

Reading your post was so fun. Again, a totally different approach to the tasting. I wonder what Tim's will be like. Funnily enough, both Etsuko and I served similar foods - sashimi, miso, nabe, kind of traditional stuff, but looks like you went with more modern Japanese fare. Hope you'll be open to having another virtual tasting in the future!

etsuko said...

Your tasting sounds fun and very nice! You got me really interested in Nipponia Nippon. You got it in Japan from Ginza Fukumitsuya? I am definitely going there.

Getting all 4 sake was not easy here in Tokyo, either. I had to place an order and wait a few days. The store said the wait could be two weeks, even!

Really enjoyed reading comments from your group.

Timothy said...

Hey Valerie!
well, that was a smooth move having it at a restaurant! and it looks like you snuck in a ringer with that Nipponia - everyone seemed to love it! The foods I picked were more snacky in nature, but I don't think anyone went home hungry.

I think we all had a little trouble getting all 4 sakes - I was sweating the Zen til the last day! but we did it! Let's do this again!

Melinda said...

Well, you guys know the thorn in my side was the Shirakawago...

Hey Val, I wanted to ask you - what did you pair with the Shirakawago? It looks like Tim and Etsuko both put it with savory dishes, and it was a hit. I used it as a sort of apertif, and it didn't quite have the same impact.

Ted said...

This virtual tasting was a lot of fun on this side of the Pacific and it looks like everyone there with you had a good time too.

I really liked reading some of the comments. Just reading words like:
*tastes like clay, or
*cleaning product
was cool.

I've struggled trying to come up with something better than 'nyah-nyah' for some kind of tongue-on-the-upper-palate kind of feeling. And, when I said 'kind of petroleum-ey' to one of our guests, he couldn't quite get that I had meant it in a good way.

Good fun, and something we should all try to do again.

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