5 Sakes that you should try right now.

Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai “Drunken Whale”.

From Kochi prefecture, which has the dubious honor of having the highest per-capita consumption of sake in Japan. I am not sure which came first, demand or style, but sake from Kochi tends to be really clean and dry, even though the prefecture is really far southwest and sake from the surrounding regions tend to be much richer. This one is perfectly clean and goes down like water. Great as an aperitif or paired with lighter fare and ideally suited for people who are into “clean and crisp” beverages – pilsner, vodka, Pinot Grigio.

Mizuno Shirabe Ginjo “Harmony of Water”.

 Kyoto has some of the softest water in all of Japan, and this is the sake that, in my mind, most clearly conveys the relationship between the relative hardness of the water used in production and the resulting sake. It is delicate and soft, the Japanese would describe it as “feminine”. It has a very subtle golden spoon fruitiness and a round mid-palate that speaks quietly of the rice without being heavy or rustic. Its texture is soft and almost evanescent and seems to dissipate through one’s upper palate – the tell-tale sign of soft water.  It is a really pretty sake, and perfect for first-time or novice sake drinkers because it’s so approachable.

Joto Daiginjo. 

From the Nakao brewery in Hiroshima, a  brewery that has always been at the forefront of yeast and fermentation research,  and which also produces our most expensive sake, the Maboroshi Junmai Daiginjo “Mystery”.  In the early 1940’s the brewery’s president (grandfather the current president) had been conducting some yeast research  in conjunction with the National Research Institute of Brewing, and after evaluating over 2000 strains he was able to isolate a specific strain of yeast that had very powerful fermentation capabilities and yielded an intensely fragrant sake. Because they were later able to propagate the yeast onto apple rinds, the yeast is now called Apple Yeast. The importer convinced the current president to bring back his grandfather’s original recipe, and that is what the Joto Daiginjo is – the original Apple Yeast sake. It has a bright and very persistent fragrant character, a fruity palate,  and silky mouth-feel.  It is delicious and a bargain for a textbook example of a Daiginjo.

Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo “Ferry Boat”.  

Watari Bune is a heirloom strain of sake rice, one of the last remaining non-hybrids, and a parent to Yamadanishiki. It fell out of favor because it is a lot taller than most modern strains, and ripens much later, often going into October, and those two factors make it susceptible to mosquitoes and typhoons. Bringing it back into production was a labor of love and persistence. It took about 2 years for the brewer to hunt down seedlings and convince the government officials in charge to give him some, and then, starting with only 14 grams of seedlings, it took 3 years to grow enough rice to be able to make a tank of sake. Along the way, he also had to convince some local farmers to grow the rice for him, and had them trained by an expert on the rice strain – 35 years later they still tend the rice paddies. The sake is really fragrant and complex, with layers of flavor that open up as the sake warms up a bit. It is unique and elegant and a great discovery for wine drinkers that prefer the aromatic qualities of wines like Riesling or Gewurtztraminer.

Mutemuka Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu “Mutemuka”.

Back to Kochi for something really different. The Mutemuka brewery has been around for over 100 years, and is a pioneer in organic farming. This sake is unpasteurized and undiluted, and is not subjected to charcoal filtering; further, it is aged at room temperature for a year before being shipped. In consequence, it is dense and has an opulent, savory quality – cocoa and nuts, and earthy, mouth-filling umami. This is the sake for rich and hearty food – Indian, Mole, grilled anything. Intense and deep, it is a meat-lover’s, whiskey and stout drinker’s sake.