Sunday, July 30, 2006

Saké tasting/dinner party

We had a very successful saké tasting/dinner party at our house this past Thursday evening. Our friends Mayu and Wes came over early and Mayu made an extraordinary meal of vegetable aspic, soba noodles, tofu and daikon salad with goma dressing, garlic grilled chicken wings, grilled summer vegetables, and stir-fried eggplant, pork and garlic chives with miso. Our friends Patrick and Sophie brought sticky rice with durian, thai custard, and mango for dessert. I provided the saké.

Our first saké of the evening was a surprise smash hit. I was worried about what the boys would think as I poured a cloudy, sparkling saké (Harushika Tokimeki “Palpitation of Saké” sparkling junmai saké, SMV –80, acidity 5.5), but to my surprise, everyone said they loved it and would drink it again. As expected, it was very sweet, but it also had a very distinctive "saké" taste. This saké isn't available locally, so I had to order it from True Sake in San Francisco and I will definitely be ordering more!

Next, we had a comparison tasting of three junmai sakés:

~Fukucho “Moon on the Water” junmai ginjo (Seimaibuai 55%, SMV +3, acidity 1.4)

~Ginga shizuka “Divine Droplets” junmai daiginjo (Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +3, acidity 1.2)

~Kanbara “Bride of the Fox” junmai ginjo (Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +3, acidity 1.6)

Mayu liked the very dry "Divine Droplets," while everyone else preferred the Kanbara "Bride of the Fox."

I served the next tasting in white paper cups. I did a bit of testing beforehand and determined that the cups were neutral in taste and scent so I went ahead with them, disregarding their total lack of elegance.

This tasting was actually guessing game with four sakés including a nama, a taru (cedar aged) saké, a very dry junmai, and a honjozo.

~Ichinokura taru saké (Seimaibuai 55%)

~Kagatobi yamahai Junmai (Seimaibuai 65%, SMV +12, acidity 1.8)

~Kaguyahime “Princess of Bamboo” honjozo junmai (SMV –2 acidity 1.1)

~Ohyama “Big Mountain” nama (SMV +3, acidity 1.5)

At first, I was planning to keep score of everyone's guesses, but that went by the wayside rather quickly and I asked everyone to score themselves. That didn't last long either; everyone was having too much fun tasting and watching as the others made their guesses. Nearly everyone guessed the taru saké; the Ichinokura has the taste of cedar that you would expect to find in a taru. Next easiest for people to guess was the dry Kagatobi yamahai junmai. The honjozo and the nama were a bit more difficult to discern, but this was also rather late in the evening, so taste buds might not have been working at optimum levels...

The only sad part of the night is that the photographer (me) did a horrible job and most of the pictures turned out dark or blurry. Well, now we have a good reason to have another tasting and I've already got some more "games" in mind!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New tasting flight at Saji Ya

I am very lucky to have a great Japanese restaurant, Saji Ya, within walking distance of my house and I usually eat there a few times a week. They have a nice saké selection and I was really happy when they recently added a tasting flight with 3 sakés (served in wine glasses) for $12.00 (which I think is a bargain!)

The sakés featured are:

1. Otokoyama “Man’s Mountain” Junmai (SMV +10, Acidity 1.6, Alcohol 15.5): I’ve had this elsewhere and I have to admit, it’s not my favorite. I think that it’s enjoyable for the first few sips, but I find that it is a little too dry and acidic for my taste. It even feels “tongue puckering” to me. I think many people actually prefer the drier sakés, in fact, this is my boyfriend's favorite of the three.

2. Suishin Junmai (SMV +3, Acidity, 1.7, Alcohol 15-16%): Now we're talking! Saké expert John Gauntner says this about it in one of his newsletters:

"This is one of those sakés that has been fairly famous for so long it ends up being overlooked, which is a shame. A classic Hiroshima style, soft and gently sweet, but a bit more bolstering acidity than most sake of this region. While simple and straightforward, it is incredibly versatile, and is enjoyable either chilled, at room temperature, and even very gently warmed."

I think the best part about it is the deep “savoriness” in the follow through. I don’t yet completely understand the term “umami,” but this saké has what I imagine umami to be.

3. Yaegaki nigori (SMV –12): The jury is still out on whether I am truly a fan of nigori saké, but this one is certainly pleasant. At first whiff, there is a strong aroma of fruit juice and at first taste it’s like creamy spiked fruit juice. I would definitely order this one again.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

What I bought at Surdyk's today

Today was the last day of Surdyk's famous wine sale, so I went bright and early to stock up! Surdyk's is by far the best source for saké in the twin cities. The buyer, Noel Nichols, is very serious about saké: he went on a "fact-finding" mission to San Francisco and when he came back he moved all the saké to it's own refrigerated section and went so far as to put in bulbs covered by UV filters (they are possibly the first retailer in the country or even the world to take this precaution). That is serious!

Here is a list of what I bought:

Takasago Ginga Shizuku "Divine Droplets"
Hakutsuru draft (6 bottles of the 180 ml size: it's good to have something on hand to drink when I don't feel like thinking about it)
Fukucho "Moon on the Water"
Ichinokura taru junmai cedar aged saké
Kanbara "Bride of the Fox" (Foxy Lady on the Surdyk's sales slip!)
Kurosawa junmai daiginjo
Meibo Yowano tsuki junmai ginjo "Midnight Moon"
Yaegaki nigori
Ichinokura junmai nama saké "Hyakkoi"
Ohyama nama (2 bottles - I've had this before and I love it!)
Tsukino Katsura junmai-daiginjyo nigori
Hitori musume nigori
Gekkeikan Black & Gold

It's a good thing that I don't cook, because I have no room in my refrigerator for food!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Eat-Japan :: All about saké

I somehow came across and was thrilled to find that they have an issue of their magazine nearly entirely devoted to saké. I ordered a copy from London and it arrived this week. Happily, it is big and glossy and gorgeous and full of information on saké.

The supervising editors of the issue are Haruo Matsuzaki, "one of the foremost saké critics in Japan today" (and a contributer to Philip Harper's new book which is scheduled to be released in October) and John Gauntner, "the leading non-Japanese saké expert in the world." As you would expect with two such illustrious saké experts as editors, the issue covers all aspects of saké, including brewing, saké types and tastes, how to enjoy saké, and much more.

I found the article on saké breweries particularly interesting. The photography allows a glimpse into the world of kura (saké breweries) which most people don’t usually get. You can read all you want about the intense working conditions, but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

Possibly the most useful information is the section on specific breweries with descriptions on some of their saké. Each saké is illustrated with a nice color photo, so it is easy to match the saké you are drinking in your home to the ones being described. Of course, these are saké available in London and I’m not sure that they are all available in the US, but I recognized many that I’ve either tasted or seen.

It cost about $28.00 including shipping to the US, a bit much for a 120 page magazine, but I think it is well worth it for those who, like me, like to get all of the information on saké that they can find.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Takara Sake USA in the NYT

I found a short article in the travel section of the New York Times today on Takara Sake USA. It led me to their web site which has some interesting information, including a very general guide for pairing sake with food. Whatever you feel about saké made outside of Japan, it's hard to find fault with Takara's corporate slogan: "We proclaim ourselves a 'Harmonist' a term coined out of our sincere desire to act proactively in creating a positive rapport between people and nature." Actually, I really enjoy their Takara Sierra Cold, which is one of two sakés served at Mai Village, my local Vietnamese place. The description on Takara's site claims: "Takara Sierra Cold is an innovation in sake brewing. It is fermented with a specially developed yeast that allows for the rich flavor of a premium type of sake. We have made this product with an alcohol content of 12% for those who prefer a milder taste." It is just plain easy to drink.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The first time...

I can’t remember my first taste of saké, but I do remember the first time that I had saké that was extraordinary. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it was. It was in 2003, the first time I ate at Kai, one of my favorite restaurants in NYC. I was on my own that night, so I decided to indulge myself and I ordered the 8 course menu with the saké pairing. I can’t remember what I ate or drank, but I’ve been obsessed with kaiseki ever since, and from that evening, I’ve progressed to the point I’m at now: obsessed with saké.

Previous to that evening, I had wanted to like saké. I loved that it is such an ingrained part of Japanese culture, that it is served from cute bottles, in cute cups, that it seems exotic… But, up till that night at Kai, I had never had a saké that would tempt me to try it again.

After the first revelation, things proceeded slowly. I had a lot of super hot saké at my local Japanese restaurant and that seemed fine to me. I started reading saké descriptions on menus and paying a little bit closer attention to what was available. My total and complete conversion into a saké fanatic took place just this year, on a trip to
Japan. Before the trip, I somehow found out about Fukumitsuya, a saké shop and bar in Tokyo. I was able to visit and, luckily for me, the man behind the counter spoke great English and he was very willing to talk to me about saké and recommend some that I might like. I did find some that I loved, in fact, I brought 4 bottles home with me. Ever since then, I have been on the hunt for all of the saké and all of the information about saké that I can get my hands on. This blog will be my place to keep and organize some of that information.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Divine droplets

Had the rest of the Divine Droplets tonight. Maybe I was in a different mood tonight, because it tasted much better than last night. The shameful truth is that I left the bottle out on the counter overnight and I didn't even put the cap back on. I decided to drink the rest anyway...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My first post!

This is my first (test) post. I can't wait to start writing about saké!